Feminism

the lie that made me give up

[content note for explicit discussion of rape, emotional and sexual abuse]

I was raped twice.

And that statement, right there, as straightforward as it seems, is fraught with the complexities and ambiguities and lies and mixed-up realities of living in an abusive relationship for almost three years. I say the word twice and I’m not lying but it doesn’t communicate the heavy weight of the truth. The truth is that I point to those separate instances as rape because they are, in retrospect, very clear: I said no. Repeatedly. I physically resisted. I cried. And still he didn’t stop– he did whatever he wanted and then said you Goddamn fucking bitch this is all your fucking fault when he was done.

At the time I didn’t understand that saying “no,” out loud, made it an open-shut case of rape. There was no consent. He knew there was no consent, that I did not want to have sex with him, at all. He just didn’t care. What he wanted mattered more, and he could trust that I was so entrenched in the lies of being worthless and unlovable and no good for anyone else but him that I wouldn’t tell anyone. He knew that I wouldn’t think of the word rape and apply it to what he’d done. And he was right– I didn’t realize he raped me until years later. Even though I’d said no, stop, please don’t, I don’t want this.

Until I gave up.

I gave up because I thought that if I stopped resisting it would be over faster. I gave up because I thought that maybe if I stopped being such a buzz-kill he’d be able to become fully erect and it wouldn’t hurt so goddamn much. I gave up because, really, fighting was pointless.

The reason why I knew it was pointless was all the times that came before. The times that I don’t call rape.

~~~~~~~~~~

We’d both grown up in purity culture. We both had absorbed similar messages about sex and abstinence and while I got a lot of if you have sex you’re worthless garbage ideas, he knew that it was a moral failing for him to “take advantage” of a woman and that any sexual contact at all with any woman who wasn’t his wife was some form of sexual predation– that wanting to be sexually physical in a relationship made him a “wolf.”

It was a reality we struggled with. I thought that because I’d “surrendered my purity” in a thousand insignificant ways (wearing fitted clothing, leaning over in front of him, kissing him) I’d have to stick this relationship out, no matter what. I was done. If I didn’t marry this boy, then it was all over for me. I’d ruined any chance of happiness I had with another person. But still, the niggling thought of I shouldn’t let him kiss me anymore was a pinprick in the back of my mind.

I also loathed our physical relationship. Everything he asked me to do made me feel degraded and dirty and hardly anything felt good. I’d thought kissing and “heavy petting” and third base was supposed to be this inexorable temptation, as compelling as the Apple in Eden. Not revolting. Not repulsive. But, I figured I was just one of those women where sex would be a sacrifice for my husband.

His feelings were different: he thoroughly enjoyed everything he made us do, but occasionally would enter a fit of conscience. We can’t keep doing this, he’d say, and I’d agree, and do everything I could to keep the relief off my face. Finally, I’d think, it could stop. He wouldn’t keep badgering me into giving him a blowjob. I wouldn’t have to keep the pain off my face when I could feel his fingernails scraping inside my dry vagina. If I thought about the future, after we were married, it was always with the optimism that things would be better then. Marriage would be a magic wand and solve all these problems.

What I came to realize, eventually, was that he didn’t really want us to stop. He just wanted to think he was a good person who didn’t take advantage of women– it was me. It was my fault. I was the temptress that lured him back in, again and again.

It was a Wednesday evening, after church. I’d worn a fundamentalist-appropriate going-to-meeting skirt, but it was a nice one that I didn’t want to rumple while we watched a movie. It took me a few minutes to decide what I wanted to change into, studying a loose pair of pajama pants and my jeans. We were in the middle of one of his purity fits, and so I decided to wear the jeans. They were tight and he wouldn’t be able to get his hand down them. But as I put them on I knew — I knew— he wasn’t going to be happy. I felt choked. I couldn’t swallow around the constricted feeling, and my heart was a terrified fluttering bird inside of my chest. My fingers turned ice cold and I could feel myself shaking as I pulled on the jeans and buttoned them up.

He was waiting for me outside the room, his mouth open to say something; then he saw me, and it shut. He stared, coldly furious, at what I was wearing. And then he hissed “what the fuck are you wearing?“, grabbed my arm and hauled me back into the room. He kept his voice low– can’t have anyone overhearing what he was about to do– and I braced myself. I knew how to weather this storm, I knew what the end result would be.

“Uh … jeans?”

He rolled his eyes. “What are you, an idiot? Of course they’re jeans. Why are you wearing jeans?”

“Because they’re comfortable?”

“As comfortable as pajamas? Seriously, Sam?”

I stared at the floor.

Mercurial, he switched tactics. “Baby, baby, don’t you want to … y’know?”

I managed the smallest nod and hoped to God it was perceptible.

“Don’t you know how much I love you? Don’t you understand that I just want to be with you?”

“I know.”

And so I changed. I endured an entire film of him stuffing his fingers inside of me, scratching and clawing, and I, again, did my best to pretend that it was good, so good, for me. I think I was convincing.

~~~~~~~~~~

It’s months later. It’s after the rapes, after so many threats and half-breaks-ups and so many pinches and so many times of being hauled out of rooms. We’ve just listened to a chapel message, and I’d learned to identify Dread curled up in the pit of my stomach. It was coming. That conversation was coming. Again. He’d have another purity fit, and I’d have to deal with the mountains of shame he’d hurl at me after it was over and he’d given up.

We were supposed to meet in one of the atriums to go to lunch. I saw him waiting for me, and it was all there: the slumped shoulders, the facial expression that I knew to be the one he put on we he wanted people to think he was convicted and sorrowful and spiritual. And we had the conversation, only this time I was done. I was done pretending. I knew how this was going to end– with him screaming at me and blaming me and mountains and mountains of goddamn you fucking bitch. So I decided to skip it. I decided that instead of agreeing, I was going to soothe his conscience. I was going to tell him that no, no it’s fine and I was going to make up some reason for him not to feel guilty anymore. I was going to smooth over whatever ruffled feathers he had and move on.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I was giving him all the ammunition he’d ever need. I gave him exactly what he wanted, actually– proof. I was the temptress, the Apple, a reincarnated Lilith. I was the problem, not him. I didn’t just soothe his conscience– I expunged it of all guilt. I gave him the power to destroy me and then abandon me and then tell everyone who would listen that it was me. I was the one to blame.

~~~~~~~~~~

I’ve talked to many women after I put all of these pieces together, and I started seeing patterns in what he’d done. Other people have been through this, and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned since I started blogging is the breathtaking power in “me, too.” I don’t know how many people will read this and identify with it, but I hope that if you do you’ll see what I eventually saw.

This is one of the ways we are kept silent. This is one of the ways that you don’t hear us talking about what we’ve been through. Because we feel guilty, and complicated, and confused, and we don’t know how to name what happened. We feel that it’s our fault, but we also feel used and robbed of … something. For women who grow up in purity culture, it’s common to look at all of this and tell ourselves that we’re just feeling the after-effects of “losing our purity.” Next time, it will be better. Next time we won’t let this happen.

And the word for what all of this is goes ignored.

Coercion.

Photo by Helga Weber
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  • Enough of raping
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  • That whole system is just so evil. I’m glad you’re out of it; it breaks my heart that anyone is still in it.

  • Caroline M

    This is heartbreaking. I can’t imagine being with a man who treats me without respect and dignity, who cares only about his own pleasure. But I know that those men are there, that they are not few, and that many women all over the world are suffering. And the despair of that knowledge is suffocating.

  • Men who rape are not men… but coward animals.

    • I understand what drives this sentiment, and I appreciate the sympathy.

      However, statements like this only contribute to helping rapists get away with it. Rapists are men and women. They look and act and seem just like everyone else in the world. They’re your friend– possibly the best friend you have. They do all the things good people do. They give to charity, they volunteer.

      They’re completely human and they make the choice to abuse and rape people and there’s nothing about them that makes them easy to spot. Saying “they’re coward animals” makes it difficult for victims to be believed– after all, they know the gal, the guy, they’re not animals they’re my friend.

      It also made it harder for me figure out I’d been raped. After all, rapists are animals and my fiance could be a wonderful man some of the time.

      So, thanks, but please don’t keep saying this and if you see/hear someone saying this, correct them.

  • I’m sure you get this all the time, but the way you articulate what happened to you and how you felt really draws the reader in to feel what you felt along with you – very powerful stuff!

  • I’m sorry for your experience, that’s terrible. It was the boy who was the problem, not a system though. (i say boy, because he didn’t act like a man) A desire for purity isn’t bad in and of itself, but people who abuse the for their own pleasure are very bad.

    • A desire for purity isn’t bad in and of itself, sure.

      The system, though? The whole system that tells women who have sex that we are torn-apart roses, half-eaten candy bars, glasses of water that have been spat in, useless scotch tape with dirt and hair and lint stuck in it, used toothbrushes, and worn-out shoes? The system that not only condones but actively encourages the harm and damage of women by perpetuating the myth that the hymen tearing is the “cementing of the marriage covenant”?

      The system that is built on a woman’s ‘virginity’ literally being worth money? The system adopted and developed during a time when you could sell your wife when you were done with her?

      That system?

    • Not a system? Let me think.

      1) Woman who was raised to believe that her sexuality belongs to her and that she shouldn’t do anything sexual that she doesn’t enjoy gets groped, or harassed, or raped by her boyfriend or fiance, once. Woman immediately dumps him. If he raped her, the authority figures she talks to–being part of a system which holds that her sexuality belongs to her and that no one can ever have the right to make her to something sexual she doesn’t want–make their best efforts to nail the rapist.
      Alternatively,
      2) Woman who was raised to believe that her sexuality will never belong to her and that sex is something she’ll owe to her husband gets groped, and harassed, and raped by her fiance, repeatedly. The results are detailed on this blog. Horrifyingly. Her rapist ex-fiance goes on to marry another woman and become a youth pastor, still supported and uplifted by a system in which he did nothing wrong, or if he did, it’s still not as bad as being born female would be.

      Beyond that, “a desire for purity” is vague to the point of meaninglessness, but since you brought it up in this context, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it has something more to do with policing womens’ sexuality than, e.g., preferring to drink filtered water.

  • That’s the way it goes, precisely. Ugh. I’m so glad I’m out of it now.

  • Sorry to go off-topic in this very powerful entry, Samantha, but I have to show you this. A movie called Old Fashioned recently released that from what I can gather, takes a big chunk of the worst of purity culture and makes it into a romance movie.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2048824/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1
    I heard about it from Internet critic Brad Jones who did a video review of it with his friend Dave Gobble. Here’s the link to his review in which he describes the movie from start to finish.
    http://www.thecinemasnob.com/midnight-screenings/midnight-screenings-old-fashioned
    I think you should do a review of it at some point. Judging from what Jones mentions, you’d be able to rip it apart.

  • JJ

    It is with sadness that I say ‘thank you’ for this. It has taken me a long time to see through all that was ‘presented’ to me, all that I was ‘forced’, forced, into, made to believe it was all me, not just by the perpetrator but by my own mother… And even though I can see it, and the way you have said it makes it so much more clearer, I don’t know what to do with it… I don’t know how to claim back that power… except to say ‘Me, too!’

  • Thank you for writing this, Samantha. It’s a narrative that happens in way too many women’s lives, and needs to be shared by brave people like you.

  • Tim

    This story is so awful in so many ways, and I can only imagine it’s difficult both to remember the details and put them out in public like this. I want to say, “thank you for being so brave,” but that sounds pretty trite. But, thank you. And I’m so sorry you were made to endure that experience.

    I started reading this blog mainly for a very simple reason. I don’t want any of that to happen to my daughters. And it won’t, at least they won’t suffer exactly that – they’ve been exposed peripherally to evangelicalism, but they haven’t been raised in that environment, won’t hear those stories about roses or spit directly or go through any of the no touch before engagement dating rituals. They won’t experience that. But coercion is common both inside and outside evangelicalism and they need to be able to recognize it and have tools to deal with it.

    I hate to dwell further on your painful story, and if you don’t want to get into it, I would understand, but you describe essentially all sexual contact with your rapist/fiance as being pretty icky and just not pleasant for you. I’m not sure from your narrative whether this is predominantly A) the purity culture programming was so strong that being relaxed and open to getting aroused with anyone would have been difficult (much less someone who keeps saying “oh no, we shouldn’t be doing this,” while he’s ignoring every signal that you totally agree that you don’t want him to be doing it.) B) that there was just some essential sexual compatibility issue, pheremones or something, that made arousal with this guy impossible, or C) he was just that horrible of a lover (digitally penetrating a dry vagina when there are clear signals she isn’t into it seems just extremely ignorant? or possibly sadistic – i.e. deriving sexual pleasure from what is obviously someone else’s pain or debasement)

    A dear friend of mine was coerced by her boyfriend (who is abusive) and went on to marry him and suffers regrets about that pretty often. But she really was aroused by sexual contact with him and enjoyed making out. She just wanted to save sex for marriage. He didn’t; his view trumped hers. Not ok.

  • Wow… thank you for posting this. Your writing is great, and telling about your experiences really helps show how purity culture (which claims to be about respect and having healthy marriages) can contribute so much to rape culture and all these horrible things.

  • Jerri

    I married a guy because I convinced myself I was ruined. I’d been taught all my life that your first sexual encounter binds you eternally to a man and everything after that is adultery. That was soooooo long ago but I still fight the demons of my raising even though I no longer believe it.

  • Tim

    Did you seriously read the entire Wheel of Time? I read the first eight books at one go quite a few years ago, all absorbed in keeping the characters and details straight, anxious to see what would happen next. Then, while I was waiting for the next one to come out, I realized that a lot of the events weren’t really advancing the overall plot, that a lot of the many female vilians were sort of indistinguishable from each other, and that I suddenly had a life again. I’ve wavered since on whether I should read to the end just to see how it comes out. I’m open to your opinion on that, though I’m not entirely convinced on the likely superiority of a trans Rand.

    More on topic, thanks again for this post. The way he coerced you into participating in your own abuse and manipulated you into shouldering blame for it. sucks so bad. I’m hopeful that my girls being warned about this kind of behavior will recognize it (it really is hard to recognize bad behavior in someone you care about, have hopes and dreams about and who has been grooming you for a long time. Not easy at all.)

  • Rebekah

    As others have said, you are very brave and thank you for sharing.

    I’ll be honest though, as someone who has never been in an abusive relationship (of any kind really) I find myself thinking sometimes ‘why didn’t you leave?! or how could you think that was normal/ok?’ even if I know that is naive and it isn’t that simple and is a common pattern in abusive relationships. Listening to stories like yours and reading more has helped me understand more the thought processes involved and why someone would ‘choose’ to stay.

  • Good for you for having the strength to get out. I’m glad you never got married or had kids with him.

    My best friend almost married a guy she knew was wrong for her because her “purity” was tied to him, and any future relationship was “ruined.”

    She broke off the engagement and I’m ashamed that secretly I thought she was making a huge mistake. We were both very much in the thick of evangelical culture at the time. I’m so glad she thought for herself and fought for her own life and happiness.

  • Linda Carter

    One myth that the “purity” culture promotes is the idea that a woman having sexual feelings, a sexual drive, or sexual needs doesn’t exist. If a woman isn’t supposed to get sexual pleasure from encounters, that why would it matter if the woman wants to or not? Why would there be a need for foreplay? or reciprocating the oral-genital stimulation? That’s the real core, it seems to me, of the purity culture: women aren’t supposed to be sexual, and if a woman IS sexual, then she’s a whore.
    Oh, and if a woman is supposed to undergo this torture to “please her husband,” what does he do to please her?

  • Crystal

    I haven’t much to say. I’m very angry.

    First off, lots and lots of hugs.

    Second, I spit on him, and cheerfully watch him drown.

    That is all.

  • Bless you, Samantha, and all in your generation who are speaking out about this. (And bless the inventors of the Internet as well.) Your ability to articulate your experience and feelings amazes me. And yet I know that if I had been able to talk to anyone – to share my experience and hear those of others – at your age, I could have been much more articulate too. 30 years of trying to forget has not made sorting this out any easier. I tried to forget because I didn’t know what else to do. I tried to forget until I couldn’t forget anymore . . . when my story began showing up in my art . . . when my college boyfriend found me online and I started having panic attacks . . . when my marriage was disintegrating . . . when I started realizing I had forgotten whole sections of my life . . . when my children were the age I was then and I began to see myself in them . . .
    30 years ago, I could have told you why I connected a particular Bible class to the bad things that happened to me. Now, I rely on blogs like yours to tell me. When I find myself reading fast –to keep my stomach from flying into my throat and to keep myself from knowing what I have worked so long not to know– I know I’m on to something.
    30 years ago — back before “purity culture” had a name—back when raping your wife was perfectly legal in my state – I could have told you that bad things happened to me, but I couldn’t have told you they were sexual assault and rape. It took me almost 30 years to call them that. Frankly, it took the Internet.
    Thank God for the Internet. Thank God for brave women and men sharing their stories. Thank God for brain research and EMDR and other research-based, trauma-informed therapies. Thank God for a way to share and talk to someone else. Unacknowledged trauma is the most damaging kind of trauma. Suffering alone is the worst.
    I have a lot more to say, but for now, I will just say, “me too.”
    Bless you.

    • Crystal

      Hugs, friend, for you and Samantha. Lots and lots of hugs and hoping many happy sunbeams will shine in your lives.

  • Rapist are sick people, they don’t care how you would feel when they take advantage of you!

    • I think “they don’t care” is absolutely true, and I appreciate the support.

      But, just so you know, using “sick” this way is ableist. There are many “sick” people who would never hurt anyone, and using “sick” when it could be replaced with “evil” or “bad” hurts people like me– good people like me who now have to worry if being honest about mental illness means people will think we’re dangerous.

      I don’t want to chase you away, but it’s my comment policy to let someone know when they’ve said something that violates it.

  • Humbled, to say the least. Your post and the comments by others really spoke to my heart. I will remember what has been said here when I am asked to counsel someone who is experiencing relationship difficulties or has questions about intimate contact.

  • I did not grow up in the “purity culture,” but man oh man is your story familiar. I’m sorry you were violated. Thank you for sharing.

  • Rose

    Much compassion for what you went through. Can almost feel your pain through your writing. I did want to echo a previous commenter, though, that a desire to remain a virgin in and of itself is a good desire. A system that tells you that if you have sex before marriage you are “marred for life” is a very very bad system. I grew up valuing virginity until marriage (for both men and women), and was also taught God’s grace and forgiveness whenever we sin. They can both be true.

    • The phrasing seems to imply that being raped, as Samantha was, is a sin–just one God can “gracefully forgive.” Do you see how monstrous that idea is?

      • Rose

        Oh my, Beroli, that’s not what I was saying at all. Please forgive my lack of clarity. I was only talking about people who choose (choice) to have sex outside of marriage. There is grace and forgiveness for that, as it is also possible to remain a virgin until marriage. (rape and any kind of abuse COMPLETELY excluded). Just trying to say the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

  • John W. Baker

    To justify that behavior in the name of Christ is taking his name in vain.

    The irony, really the utter depravity, of the system is that it teaches you that your hymen is the most important thing in the world, but then if you are assaulted tells you to quit feeling sorry for yourself and get over it because “it’s only your body”!

    This is a crazy-making system. It shames victims who try to uphold their “purity” and shields the perpetrators who assault and rape them in utter disregard for the very same “purity.”

    “There is a man going round taking names…And everyone won’t be treated all the same. When the man comes around” – The Whirlwind is in the Thorntree

  • It’s actually a relief to find stories like this. Disturbing on one hand, but a relief on others, because I’m not alone. On my own website, I describe in detail a “friendship” much like this, in the College Memoir section, “Shawn.”

    In my case, he refused to be called my boyfriend, kept saying he wasn’t attracted to me, but kept coming over and inviting me over. I went along with what he wanted because I was in love with him, and enjoyed what we did. It was never full intercourse, but all sorts of other things. Yes, we were both evangelicals. But afterwards, he’d subject me to late-night hours of lectures on how I shouldn’t let him keep doing these things, ripping on my character, and tearing down everything about me from the way I dressed to my basic personality (I’m an introvert). Then when he finished his time at that college, he said he didn’t even want to be friends with me, because of all the intimate knowledge he now had of me.

    That wasn’t the end of it; after he left that college, I found out his brother had just died, and it threw him into a depression. In fact, the entire time I knew him, his mental state was affected by his brother’s chronic illness. So I do wonder how much of his treatment of me came more from psychosis than some basic character failing like narcissism. This may be why, after he left, we were able to come to a kind of friendship-from-a-distance, while he worked through his mental issues.

    Still, it stayed with me for years, first because he shamed and blamed me, and second because I still enjoyed the memories of what we did. I was supposed to see it as sin and feel sorry for it, and did for a long time. But the older I get, the less shame I feel over it, and the more I want to say, What’s wrong with enjoying it? What makes me angry is that I was shamed over it, and that he blamed me for everything and made me feel like crap for the same desires he confessed having.

    For years, I felt like it was my own weird relationship, but the Internet shows me that there are others out there who’ve been there.

    • Billy

      When you engaged in all that “everything…but” (penetration) with him, as a Christian girl, did you ever feel any guilt about it?
      I ask because I read of Christian couples engaging in A LOT of that, including heavy mutual oral. Many give-in & experience complete penetration, which is what all that foreplay does, builds the appetite & allows sexual release (instead of the guy rubbing between her thighs or on her vagina, then shooting his cum all over her tummy).