despair and fury: being a woman in rape culture

[content note: rape, sexual assault, depression]

This is an extremely difficult post for me to write. The words have been simmering inside of me for a long time, and I hope that getting them out of me will … help. I wrote a post a little while ago that talked about the depression I’ve been struggling with, and as you can probably tell from my lack of regular posting, the past two weeks have been rough.

I consider myself fortunate in that my depression has always been situational– while it certainly isn’t fun, that it’s been a rather normal reaction to life events means that when life settles down, so can I. I’ve never worried about being depressed because I knew there would be a bend in the road, a light at the end of the tunnel, and I’d come out of it. Eventually. All I had to do was buckle down and muscle through it.

This time, though … I’m not sure how to get around this depression because while it’s still situational, the “situation” isn’t ever going to go away. This time, I’m depressed because rapists get away with it.

I don’t think that’s a fact that’s going to change at any point in my lifetime … and that’s just fucking depressing as shit.

I came to the realization of why I’m depressed shortly before Christmas. I was speaking with my partner about a man we both know to be a sexual predator when I just … snapped. I was remembering all of the times this person had grabbed my ass without my permission or the times I’d watched him drunkenly grope and forcefully kiss his way through a party– and the fact that he was surrounded by a community of men who find this behavior acceptable and will call any woman who complains about it a “bitch.” And, suddenly, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I’d removed myself from that group of people, but the group still exists and that behavior still happens, and nothing is ever going to happen to him.

I hid myself in the closet and beat my head into the wall until everything in my vision was a little fuzzy and dark; I wanted to claw out of my skin, to rip my heart out of my chest so it would stop hurting so badly. My rapist, the last time I heard anything about him, was a youth pastor, and married to the woman he’d cheated on me with– a woman, because of what he told me, I suspect he might have assaulted. By all accounts he’s happy and successful and chances are he will never be brought to justice for all the women he’s harmed. And that … was overwhelming in a way that I can’t put into words. That night, I hated this world and everything about it. I was hysterical with fury and pain.

Since that night I’ve been struggling to deal with this reality that I’ve been able to emotionally ignore for so many years. I can’t escape it now, and the burden of waking up to a world where the men I know to be rapists are happy and hale and will– almost absolutely– never see the inside of a prison makes me want to shrink as far into my bed as I can bury myself.

Today it took me three hours to drag myself out of bed, and all I ended up doing was moving to the couch, cuddling with Elsa, and crying myself to sleep again. I thought I might be getting better, that surrounding myself with tea and good books and good movies and cuddling with Handsome was working.

But, last Wednesday, I was riding the DC metro and I watched a man violate every single one of a woman’s boundaries while she was helplessly trapped on a train with him with no where to go. I stood there, helpless and enraged, not knowing what to do, while I watched him slowly escalate his behavior until he attacked her and she tried to fight him off and I start yelling at him to stop, but he ignored me until Handsome grabbed his shoulder. And then he spends the next five minutes yelling at every single last person on the train about the “dumb bitch” who interfered.

And I stood on that train until he got off, and I sobbed, because I saw that other people had noticed, and I and Handsome had been the only ones to even move when he attacked her. I cried harder when another passenger confronted my partner and told him that he should have “left it alone.”

I don’t know how to live on this planet. I don’t know how to live on a planet where Fifty Shades of Grey is a box-office success and women tell me that I need to take responsibility for being raped because obviously I ignored the many neon-billboard signs that my rapist was an abuser because I thought he was hot. I don’t know how to live in the same country as a woman who tells rape victims that they need to repent. I don’t know how to live in a world where it’s rare and unusual for someone to step in, even when a sexual assault is obviously happening right in front of them.

And while I know this is a bit melodramatic… I feel like Elijah saying “I am the only one left.” And of course that’s objectively ridiculous. There are so many incredible people out there fighting for the same thing I am, who speak up when they see something happening. It’s just difficult to remember that when you’re the only “bitch” at a party telling someone to quit it, or the only person on a train willing to speak up.

It makes me angry, too, because it’s not as though being a feminist takes any of my fear away. I am just as embarrassed and awkward and afraid of rocking the patriarchal party boat as anyone else. I am just as terrified of confronting someone on the train and making myself a target. The difference is that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t do something, and it infuriates me that so many know that people around them are being harassed and assaulted, and they care … they just don’t care enough.

In the end, that is what I find truly depressing.

So, I’m throwing this post out there, hoping that it could make someone understand exactly what is at stake when they keep their head down and “mind their own business,” when they are bothered by that guy at a party who just won’t leave that woman alone but don’t want to get harassed for saying something about it. If these words do anything, I hope that it convinces at least one person that taking all the heat and flack and cursing and raging is worth it.

Art by Liza

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  • Am actually disturbed right now because of your story, is really bad for a man to rape a girl….is against humanity and punishment await that person doing that..
    My advice to you is to forgive and pray for him/them for God to change them and make the society better because only God can heal your wounded heart.
    Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld from Glo Mobile.

    • Not good advice. Women have been praying for god to change the hearts of rapists for thousands of years, with no effect at all. Samantha was right – stand up, do something, and challenge those around you to do likewise. I occasionally ride the DC Metro, and Samantha has inspired me to be more on the watch for problems, and to get involved when I see them.

    • Pat Griffin

      “My advice to you is to forgive and pray for him/them for God to change them and make the society better”

      If God cared, he would have already done something. If you care, it is up to you to do something. Praying is doing nothing.

      • i wont say i know how you feel but the truth is that only God can make you happy right now……. i understand God might be slow but his always on time.

  • I wish there were somewhere truly safe for good people. I think of something I read once, that we can make each other a safe place “until a saner day comes”. We can be each other’s sisters and brothers; we can be each other’s support. We can do what you did — we can have each other’s backs. One step, one word, one breath at a time.

  • Fledgeling Feminist

    Thanks for putting this into words.

  • Goddamn. You and Handsome stopped an assault in progress – that makes you my hero, and braver than most.

    God willing that creep will think twice about ever trying to assault anyone ever again, now that he actually faced some push-back from strangers. You might have saved some other women from assault last Wednesday, Samantha. Again, you’re a hero.

  • revelationmuzic, I don’t think she was asking for advice. And praying isn’t going to change anything if you don’t also act. James said that faith without actions to back it up was useless and fraudulent.

    James 2:15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

    It seems to me that that this is what she is asking: that we be willing to act- and not just stand and let these things happen while muttering a prayer.

    Samantha, Thank you so much for writing this and sharing it. I feel this rage too. Sometimes the cone of silence that people apply to me when I speak out makes me feel like giving up. But there are people like you out there too. I intend to go on.

  • Politeness is overrated in the face of sexism, racism, abuse, and any kind of hate. I’ll take their “bitch” and raise them unladylike, confrontational, and annoying as hell.

    • Sylvia

      LOVE THIS!!!

  • “I don’t know how to live on this planet.” Mm. I feel that.

  • Sylvia

    I’ve been on three sides of this: the person being assaulted when nobody was willing to stand up and stop it; the person speaking up and being “unladylike, confrontational, and annoying as hell,” as someone said above; and to my shame, the person NOT speaking up while I saw what was happening.
    Maybe if enough of us speak up and keep being bitches about it, maybe men will stop. We can always keep shouting it from the rooftops, and hope for change.
    I don’t like the depression, but I am no longer willing to stick my head in the sand and pretend the world is sane. I hope you don’t mind if I pray the Rosary for you tonight.

  • Samantha, that’s a lot to deal with. I don’t have much else to say other than I hope you’re able to feel better soon, and I hope I’m able to show as much courage as you did in calling out the assault when you saw it happening.

  • As awful as it is now, it is getting better. It’s better than it was fifty years ago, when it was better than it was fifty years before that. It’s appalling that this is the world we inherited…but people like you make it better, slow and painful as the process is. Never doubt that you inspire people, that your words have power.

  • Crystal

    I’m sorry to copy this comment from your post on Fifty Shades, but I read this link – http://the-daughters-of-eve.tumblr.com/post/111850672917/i-stopped-a-sexual-assault-on-the-metro – and I’m grateful for what you did.

    I’m proud of you. If only more would stand to be counted, including myself.

    There’s a song I’ve loved – it reminds me of what you did. Or rather two of them:
    Twila Paris – Band of Survivors (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrzjOnBlh2E)
    Matthew West – Do Something (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0I2csO7_pOI)

    I especially love Matthew West’s song.

    If only more men and women would stand up for us. I want to cry right along with you. I’m having a terrible day myself and reading what you did makes me feel just a little desirous to do right as well. It’s encouraging seeing you stand up like that, and I want just a drop of your courage.

    I might not agree with you on everything, but I RESPECT YOU.

    You are one of my heroes and a very strong influence on my life. Thanks and lots of love, Crystal

  • Tom

    I feel sick to my stomach and broken in my spirit over what so many men do to women, and what they get away with. I always think, “what if that woman was my fiancee?” Even listening to stories of creepy men and guys who tried to pick her up from before I met her made me angry to my core – and then I despaired.
    I can’t really say I feel the same as you – I’m not really on the receiving end of it all. As a man, I wonder all the time what I can do to stop this – it all seems like such an avalanche of evil. So far, all I’ve been able to figure out is just to listen to and believe the women who speak out about it, to always be present to what is going on around me, and be as good to the love of my life as I can for as long as I can.
    Thank you for being who you are Samantha, and continuing to speak up and act against all this violence against women. We need your voice, along with the voice of every woman being crushed under the oppression of this patriarchy. Your faith, the faith of every one of you, daily humbles me and challenges me deeply to do better.
    I pray that as the Body of Christ, we would all wake up and realize that the body will perish if any of our individual members die.. I pray we do it sooner rather than later.

    • Crystal

      Thank you for caring, Tom. I’m a young woman. As a man, you can protect us. You can step in like Samantha did and care. You can – if possible – comfort the crying ones and lift up the oppressed. I beseech you not to stand by if you hear of anyone attempting a rape – please go to a superior, step in yourself, take a photograph – whatever you must do, do it. It is your duty as a human being – and possibly even as a man – to stand for ladies. Teach women self-defense, and if a woman wants you with her, go. If she doesn’t, respect that. Don’t tolerate dirty jokes about us, and keep your eyes and ears alert.

  • Stef

    This reminds me of a situation that I was in when I was 16 years old. I am from Germany so I have been using public transportation most of my life and I had my fair share of bad situations. In that situation my friend and I were standing in the bus and an older man sat down in front of us and just stared on us in a way that made me really uncomfortable. At some point I just started staring back, because I was getting really pissed off and he looked away eventually. Two seats opened up and my friend and I moved to that seat. And then I saw a girl even younger than me and my friend sit down next him and I decided to keep an eye on her. I did see how he broke several boundaries and when he just leaned over and kissed her I exploded. When I confronted him a lady just looked at me and told me that I was crazy and that I should just leave that poor man alone. I don’t know if she didn’t see what had been going on and that’s why she got mad at me, but even when I tried to explain what happened she just made a sign with her hand like I was crazy. And I bawled my eyes out. The girl had jumped out of the bus so I couldn’t check on her. My friend comforted me, but it still hurt a lot that apparently some people thought I was the one who did something wrong.

    • Crystal

      Perhaps these people get mad at those who try to help because they enjoy seeing a woman sexually assaulted or think “it’s a man’s right” when a man should not be forward with a woman. Sickos.

  • Samantha,I think you are incredibly brave and I am so sorry for all the shit you have had to deal with. Sometimes I wonder if we’d all be better off obliterated by an asteroid. I do take comfort in the eventual Parousia, but my soul still cries out, “How long, O Lord?”

  • Slow Learner

    One thing I have found helps* in these situations is to remember that you don’t have to do it all at once.
    You don’t have to go from 0 to confront the asshole in one step. It’s okay for your first response to be saying “That’s not okay,” then turning to the person next to you “Don’t you agree? That behaviour is not okay.”
    It’s easiest if you have some friends/a partner around you, but even if you don’t there are probably people around you who don’t like what they’re seeing.
    So sometimes you’ll get unlucky and the person you ask will be the evil fucker who says “What’s not okay? I don’t see the problem, if she was just nicer then…”, but other times you’ll get someone who agrees with you, and then someone else who agrees with you, and then a bunch of you can confront the asshole, and it isn’t that-one-weirdo vs asshole, it’s crowd-vs-asshole, and you’ll feel safer and more comfortable confronting them as well as being less likely to face a backlash.

    Not a panacea, not a guaranteed 100% solution, but a tool that I have found useful and hope others will also find useful.

    *I think I got this from Cliff Pervocracy, but I’m not 100% on that.

    • Have you seen the Ted Talk on how to start a movement? The guy says that, while the first person to do something is important, finding the first follower (like by doing what you’re suggesting) is crucial to getting others to join in as well. Great minds 🙂

  • In 27 years of teaching mid school and high school I am haunted by one student. At the beginning of the year she was from outward appearance similar to all the other female students. Hearing through the grapevine her mother married the father of a student I had in another class, and he was a ganged up nightmare. In a matter of weeks the girl started dressing in multiple layers, shying away from all boys, wouldn’t look me in the eye and totally withdrew into herself. Under state law teachers are required to report such changes in a student behavior, which I did and every other teacher she had did the same. There was a parent teacher conference with the family and child services was brought in. They moved out of district by the end of the semester. It is haunting to see such evil destroy a life and stand by without being able to help.

  • Take a step back and take care of yourself. Think of it as putting on your airmask on first in the airplane so that you can help others.

    Spend some time with your husband and pursue your other interests and recharge.

    My friend works reconstructing Haiti and he constantly remember the “starfish” metaphor. (He can’t save the washed up starfish, it’s a useless pursuit. But to the ones he throws back in the ocean and saved? It mattered to them.)

    Be well!

  • Sam

    Proud of you Samantha. Thanks for reminding me to be on the lookout and to speak / act when I see abuse.
    > I don’t know how to live on this planet.
    You’re doing a fantastic job.

  • It’s incredibly difficult being one of a handful of voices crying in the desert. My passion lies on a slightly different plane, but I feel this dispair as well. I had a crisis moment during my series on biblical counseling. The people who lead this movement are highly influential, and their teaching is everywhere. Critiquing the material left me exhausted and triggered. I had to seek support to stay with it. I’m glad I did.

    You don’t have to be an army of one. There are others who are willing to fight this evil; some of them just need to be empowered. That’s what you are doing, and you’re doing it well.

    My suggestion: go to therapy if you aren’t already. The support and emotional containment a therapist can offer is so amazing. You need good people in your corner on those rage-sobbing-in-your-closet days. Please think about it.

    • That Other Jean

      Seconding the idea of therapy, if you’re not already there, Samantha. Depression is awful, even if you can articulate every reason that you’re depressed. But please remember that you did the right thing intervening when a woman was being sexually harassed on the Metro. You and Handsome are great role models, and if more people followed your example, the world would be a better place. Thank you.

  • Tamara

    As a show of solidarity, I want you to know that I stand up to this behavior when I see it, every damn time. And my partner does too. So does my sister and most of my friends. I know because I’ve watched them do it. I know it often feels like we’re going it alone, but know that we’re out here too, lots more of us than it sometimes seems.

  • Aibird

    Your words are how I feel a lot of the time….

    you are a hero, even if you can’t always see it. You stood up and stopped that assault. You speak up and tell the truth. For those of us who feel we have no voice, you remind us that we do. In a world that tries to silence survivors at all costs, hearing your words and seeing you write this, gives people like me courage to keep on fighting, to try to speak up ourselves.

    You are not alone. We’re with you on this, even if you can’t always see us or hear us.

  • Tim

    “I’d removed myself from that group of people, but the group still exists and that behavior still happens, and nothing is ever going to happen to him.”

    I’m glad you’ve removed yourself from that group of people. I hope the group you’re hanging out with now has a culture that wouldn’t think of behaving that way and wouldn’t tolerate it for a second it if happened. There are places and groups like that, and it’s within our ability to create those environments. You’re contributing to that with the work you do, and there are a lot of other people who are doing that as well. I hope you are able to feel safe within the group of people you are mostly around now.

    Regarding nothing ever happening to this sexual predator, you were comparing yourself to Elijah, but you sound kind of like the Psalmist to me as well (think Psalm 10, for example https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+10&version=NIV ). I think it’s absolutely important to do what we can when we have the opportunity. But it’s reasonable for a part of our hope to come from the belief that there is a just judge who is looking out for the innocent, the victims, the helpless, the afflicted, the oppressed, and who will call the predators to account. I think Beroli is right – that it was worse 50 years ago and worse still 50 before that, and I think it’s reasonable to see God working progressively through you and people like you.

  • I feel like Elijah saying “I am the only one left.”  That’s one of the worst pains… I feel it so much. My husband feels it, too. As I read this, I knew your pain better than I wish I did. Thank you for not being silent. I’m so sorry for what you suffered. It’s terrible, evil and I hate it.

  • Clare

    I am that bitch too. In fact, I look forward to being that one bitch who says something. If helping someone avoid a predator means that I am a bitch, then I will own that title. Happily.

    • Tamara

      I love the comment X 100

  • Keep fighting the good fight. I’m very glad you intervened against the guy on the metro. I honestly don’t think many people think what that guy did was okay, but far too many will do nothing because they’re afraid of getting involved. People like you set a good example to those who sat by and did nothing, so maybe the next time one of them sees something similar happen, they won’t be afraid to act. Also, while this may not seem to be the case when you’re neck-deep in the worst of it, things really are getting better all across the world in regards to the way women are treated. Remember that and remember that every little action you take really does help.

  • J. Rachel

    Relate to the despair. Hang in there. No easy answers – if any – but have found the crying and grieving help me find the strength to continue.

  • krwordgazer

    All I can think is that as women, we don’t owe it to the world to be sweet. I mean, a man is expected to stand up for himself, and he’s looked down on if he doesn’t. A woman is expected to submit and give in and be passive, and she’s considered a bitch if she doesn’t. Well, then the world is going to have to get used to women being bitches, because we don’t owe it to them to be what they think we should be.