By Alicia Whavers
TRIGGER WARNING: This post is about sexual assault, more specifically detailing date rape.
In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), I would like to share my thoughts on the subject of date rape. This post was inspired by one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite plays:
“waz a man faster n my innocence/ waz a lover/ i made too much room for/ almost run off wit alla my stuff/ and i didn’t know i’d give it up so quik”
Ntozake Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf
When I turned 16 my mother formally told me that I was allowed to date. That I could have a boyfriend, and that I was to be careful. Now, at 16, I didn’t really understand what “being careful” was. I just assumed that the bigger picture was not to bring home any children.
I was 17 when the film For Colored Girls came out in theatres in 2010. Me being me, I decided that I would have to read the book, or rather the choreopoem, before I could see the movie. And in doing this, it opened up another dialogue between my mother and I.
“You know when I was your age, there was no such thing as date rape”.
My mother has this uncanny ability to say things with a very blunt and informative manner. I feel like it comes from her being a substitute teacher. She said that statement with such a forward manner that I was immediately puzzled. I asked her what she meant. Date rape is an event, an assault, and one that was not created with the modern times. How could rape not be a concept in the 70s. And then she explained it to me.
She said that the idea of a woman going on a date and then being expected to have sex was the norm. I knew that. More than half of all the dates I have witnessed on television or film ended with the female asking the male in for some “coffee”. It was part of the whole game. But I also had the mindset that a woman didn’t have to invite her date into her home, it was more of a formality (and writing this now really shows how even I had deeply sexist ideals embedded into my brain as a young female).
My mother shook her head, and said that I was sort of off track. I remember my eyes widening and my stomach churning as she elaborated. That women were not only expected to have sex with their dates, but if they had sex forced upon them, then it really was not seen as rape. I asked how that could be possible. She said it fell into the same “boys will be boys” category. That there were men who believed it was their right to have sex with their date. And in the event of rape, that it was hard to prove, or take to court, or taken seriously. The concept that a woman had the right to deny a man sex if they were together was basically ludicrous.
That was when it hit me that when my mother said “be careful”, she meant a lot more than me not bringing home unexpected grandchildren. Now sex being used for gain was not a foreign idea to me. And men forcing themselves upon women was not foreign either. I went to an all girls high-school, where we were taught about sexual assault and abuse. That is=t was wrong and that you had the right to speak out about it. That you had the right to say no, and understand that no matter what you did, it was not your fault. And of course, we were taught safety practices.
But thinking back on all that I was taught, very rarely did we ever broach the subject of date rape. Not that I believe it was omitted or glanced over for any particular reason.
I cannot imagine a world today, where I could be sexually assaulted by my partner, and not have it considered a punishable offense. That in exchange for my partner’s company, and perhaps a free meal, that I would have to pay with my body and be expected to, and that I had no say in the matter. That me providing sex was my duty, whether I wanted to or not. And if I didn’t want to, then too bad.
How many women unwillingly had sex with their partner because it was expected of them? How many women went to their family, friends, authorities about their assault and had their cases brushed off, or swept under the rug, because “hey, you got a free meal out of it didn’t you”?
We are the new age of enlightenment; a generation filled with technology and forward thinking people. Equality is en vogue. But in truth, how far have we progressed?
When I go on dates, I plan my outfit accordingly; making sure that it was nice and appealing, but nothing that would make my date get the “wrong idea”. How I try and subtly make it clear that they are not getting anything more than my company for the night. And how everywhere I go, I am told to dress, act, speak, and look a certain way, to not seem like I am “asking for it”. How my entire life, I have been taught to protect myself from sexual assault overtly or covertly, because if I get sexually assaulted, then it was my fault. And how I was taught that date rape is hard to prove, especially if you have been having sexual relations with a person. And it horrified me that just a few decades ago, it wasn’t even a concern.
I won’t even get into the catch 22 that comes with a woman refusing to have sex (prude – because if you don’t “give up” anything, you will not hold on to your man), or if she wants to have sex (slut- because you must have standards and you would give the wrong impression if you “put out” within the first 3 dates). And I haven’t even touched the subject of same sex relations, or women assaulting men, all of which are important issues that need to be seriously addressed. And I didn’t bring up all of the different tools and practices that people employ to successfully sexually assault another person. And now, I realize how big a subject matter this is, and how I don’t think I could ever run out of something to say about it.
But what I can say is this. That no one, absolutely no one, should be pressured into having sex because they were taken on a date. No matter how many times they have gone out, or how much the person paying has spent, or what you wore, or how flirtatious you were. It is not your obligation. It is not their right.