Consent, rape, and narcissism

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about consent. Here’s why:

Two and a half years ago, I was raped. I’d had a short sexual history with the guy, which came to an abrupt halt. A few days later, he came into my bedroom and felt, well, entitled. It was everything but consensual but I somehow managed to toss it out of my  mind and return to regular life the very next day.

Now, I’m not usually one to repress emotions. Quite the opposite. My friends and family have to be extremely patient with my flip-floppy and extreme moods. In fact, I’ve been diagnosed with mania, also known as bipolar disorder. I take issue with the “disorder” part of that label; I’m sure there are those whose bipolarity is debilitating and requires medication, I’m just not one of them. All of this is to say that I cannot understand why I repressed that experience.

I knew it was rape while it was happening, and I knew it was rape afterwards as well. It’s not as if I ever pretended it was “just unwanted sex” (which, I would argue, is also rape), but for some reason I was unaffected by the experience. Until recently.

Graduating from college meant a lot of things I didn’t expect. For one thing, I was not prepared to deal with just how damage I had done to my body during those last two years of crunch-time, squeezing in the last few classes and wishing I could just do journalism instead already. But it also meant that I had a bit of time to face the things I just didn’t have the time to face during my time in college.

It’s really ugly, actually. I hate feeling like a rape victim, and I hate what the rape has done to my sexuality. But the worst part, even worse than dealing with the consequences of the actual rape, is talking about it with people.

Rape is one of those magical, powerful words that all my anthropology professors warned me to pay close attention to. Chances are, if there’s some sort of weird ju-ju vibes that come whenever a specific word is uttered or even insinuated, that word has some pretty important stuff to say about the society.

To me, rape is non-consensual sexual behavior. Rape isn’t just penis-vagina penetration. It’s also viewing boundaries as negotiable. The very act of negotiating someone else’s boundaries is where rape can occur. And those boundaries do not have to be spoken to be understood. If you put your hand in a place it’s not been before, you know that’s crossing an unspoken boundary, because people don’t just go around touching people left and right. And if I move your hand away, but keep kissing you anyway, and you put it back, that’s when rape begins.

Unless, of course, domination is involved. But this is where my understanding of sexuality begins to break down and you all get to see just how limited my mind still is. Still, I’m trying.

To jump to another point that I swear relates to this blog post… Our society is obsessed with narcissists. A lot of people have already talked about this obsession. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, even House; all these TV shows are about narcissistic men who we love to hate.

Essentially, narcissism is an inability to practice consent. A key factor in practicing consent is giving up personal power in order to engage in a truly communal decision-making process. In conversations, a narcissist is the person, usually a dude, who gets on a roll and starts steam-rolling others, usually women, by speaking over them, rolling their eyes, scoffing, and tearing other people down. A narcissist will always find a way to make everyone around them feel guilty and turn everything that comes their way into a personal attack. On the outside, narcissists seem motivated by ego and power, which is why they make excellent CEO’s (I’d argue that the 1% is an army of narcissists). But take a Freudian-deep look at the background of a narcissist and you’ll find that the rigid walls they build around themselves stem from a place of severe pain and brokenness.

At the same time, our society is also captivated by rape. I can list a good ten recent popular movies that involve some permutation of a woman being brutally assaulted by a man in a sexual way. On a deeply primal level, I understand this captivation. But on an intellectual level, I am mortified by it.

What I am talking about here is that we’re seeing rape without talking about it. In other words, we see rape happen all the time, up-close and personal on the big screen, but we don’t understand it. We don’t rationalize or support it, but we also don’t discuss the why and how it happens.

I think it’s this mystique, the “you know it when you see it, but can’t exactly name it” vibe, that gives rape its power, danger, and feeling of inescapability.

When I first named my experience as rape, I felt shame, which turned into self-deprecation. How could I let this happen to myself? I’m smarter than that. I probably just didn’t make my needs known clearly enough, I lead him on… the usual bull shit that people tell rape victims.

And then, of course, I felt sadness, which was nearly debilitating. All manner of absurdist nightmares haunted me for a lengthy period of time. I’ll recount one of them briefly: I dreamt that my father stabbed me right in my heart. He didn’t hesitate or blink an eye, but it also was not a violent act. In fact, it was very mundane. I looked at him and said, “What the hell, Dad? You stabbed me,” to which he responded by rolling his eyes and saying, “Oh. Well, do you want me to take you to the hospital?” So he did. We drove in stale silence, and then I woke up and went to class.

It doesn’t take a psychotherapist to interpret that dream. Terror happens in broad daylight, where everyone can see.

Slowly, I began openly discussing the rape with friends and family. Unsurprisingly, everyone is extremely supportive. They reaffirm my belief that the rape was not my fault, and encourage me to report him, or at least confront him. I’m lucky to have such a strong network of people that love and care about me, and who I can talk to.

But other women are not so blessed. Other women have been told, repeatedly, that they are to blame for the hurt and subordination they are forced to endure. Their clothes, their bodies, their behavior is to blame for their outcome.

And this is not just a media thing. This is a culture thing.

You hear it all the time. You’re sitting in a bar with a few friends, a woman walks by wearing a tiny skirt and high heels, and one of your friends says, “God, look at that girl. She’s just asking for trouble.”

This is the moment when I’m told I should just shut my mouth. Everyone’s having a good time, right? Why spoil the night by creating a scene? And this is a story I’ve swallowed myself over the years. Time and time again, folks tell me that I should calm down. Not everything has to turn into a political debate.

Now, there are some (including me, sometimes) who would say that there’s a way of confronting intolerance without making things uncomfortable. This is a story I myself am trying to unlearn.

But staying silent is part of the problem.

Instead of laughing along or trying to change the subject, I’ve taken it upon myself to confront the person and describe how, by limiting their focus to how the woman looks or acts, they are turning women into objects, thereby perpetuating a system of patriarchy and oppression. And then, if a male tries to tell me that I’m being too sensitive, I’ll respond that he should shut his mouth because he doesn’t know what a woman’s experience is because, at the end of the night, he will be able to walk home alone without worrying about getting raped, while I will have to white-knuckle a can of pepper-spray on my walk home, or else enlist the help of a man to take me home.

Seriously. It’s happened on multiple occasions. And it’s chopped my list of potential new friends at least in half, which hurts.

I’ve also brought up my own rape experience. In those situations, the conversation either stops there, or the man will argue with me. Something along the lines of, “Well, I can’t say anything now because you brought up the r-word…”

I can’t argue with stupidity, so I usually just excuse myself because I need to puke, or warn them that I’ll puke on them right then and there. But the bottom line is that rape is not something we’re allowed to talk about. And that is what makes rape so dangerous.

After the shame and sadness, the feelings started drifting away. I’m sure there are some residual things left in there, but for the most part I’ve moved on with my life and focusing on other things. But there are still two things I want to say:

  1. What happened to me was not my fault. But I also don’t want to place all the blame on the guy who raped me. Rape is not a sexual thing, it’s a power thing. It comes from a need to reclaim some personal agency that has been stripped away from a sick society. Instead of focusing my shame, anger, and then sadness on me or him, I’m choosing to call on my society to start talking about rape. Talking about it will help take away that mysterious quality, make it easier to understand, and eventually unlearn.
  2. I need feminism because our society teaches us “don’t get raped rather than don’t rape.” To all those guys out there who think that this is not their battle to fight: wake up. This is as much your battle as it is mine. Rape culture also turns all men into oppressors, even allies; they are guilty until proven innocent. Use your voice. Talk to your friends, even if you think they’re “not those kinda guys.” Find a way to understand how disempowering it is for a woman to not be able to walk herself home at night. And the next time you feel the need to comment on the way a woman looks, take a second to think about how the people around you will feel about that comment, even if it’s coming from a place a good intentions. Chances are, there’s a woman standing right next to you who has been raped, and who is unable to speak up about it.

6 Comments on “Consent, rape, and narcissism”

  1. Alexandra says:

    I am so proud to call you my friend and to hear you speak and share these words. You are an inspiration and a warrior and you are taking a courageous step forward for all women. Thank you. Thank you thank you, THANK YOU.

  2. sabra daly says:

    Damn, girl. You have a beautiful, clear “voice” about this! I especially liked the part about how society teaches us that we shouldn’t get raped, rather than that we shouldn’t rape. That put it in a new light for me. NICELY SAID.

  3. rapey ray says:

    “I’d had a short sexual history with the guy, which came to an abrupt halt. A few days later, he came into my bedroom and felt, well, entitled. It was everything but consensual but I somehow managed to toss it out of my mind and return to regular life the very next day.”

    Wasn’t rape.

  4. ^the commentor’s name is “rapey ray.” Sounds like you might be on the verge of being trolled. I’d forget about it.

  5. Maxwell says:

    Ray has no idea what he is talking about. Non-consensual behavior falls under the category of rape. Whether someone is pressured into it or has had previous sexual encounters with the individual is irrelevant.

  6. […] In the wake of the Steubenville rape case verdict and a recent “falsely-reported” rape case at my alma mater, I feel compelled to talk about the day I confronted the guy who raped me. […]

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