Pepper Spray and Bravery: Talking About Rape
"Mom, someone said I need to get pepper spray."
This was my daughter talking. She's 18 and mere days away from leaving home for a college campus a couple hours away from here. Away from home. Away from me.
We were at the local Home Depot-ish store, doing one of our seemingly never-ending shopping trips to get her geared up for dorm life. Closet organizers? Check. Command wall hooks? Check. Underbed storage containers? Check.
Pepper spray? Oh God.
We asked the salesperson where we might find pepper spray, and without batting an eyelash, he led us to the correct aisle. There it was, a small section, maybe three rows down, three rows across: protection against attackers.
Just the simple act of picking up a package and placing it in our already-stuffed cart was a wordless affirmation to my girl. An acknowledgement that yes, she might need it. She might find herself being hurt by someone, and she might need to spray them in the eyes with this noxious chemical in order to save herself.
"Mom...how do I even use this?" She was looking at the package. We'd picked out a pink pepper-spray dispenser, just because. Shouldn't your anti-rape arsenal be pink? I looked at the package with her. "Oh...there's directions on the back. We'll read them when we get home." Pepper spray? Check.
We didn't read the directions when we got home. Our days have consisted of checking lists, procuring the items a young woman needs to make herself a home-away-from home. I didn't think about talking to my daughter about what she should do if she finds herself being attacked.
But now I know I have to. I have to tell her my story, and I have to make sure she really, truly understands that there is a very real threat out there. A threat that might look like a cute athlete or a shy bookish sort or a sensitive hipster. A threat that is just waiting for her guard to be down, not lurking in bushes but walking down the same hallways she will be walking, eating in the same cafeteria and shuffling laundry to and from the same washers and dryers.
Last week, I wrote an essay. I wrote it from my perch on the couch, on a drizzly Sunday. In between laundry and Lifetime movies and getting my daughter packed and trying really hard to remember that I have other kids who needed me, I wrote an essay about rape.
My rape. There. I finally, finally said it. Well, typed it. But...phew.
I wrote it, cried a tiny bit, and then found myself struggling with it. It was powerful, at least to me, and it seemed to be something that would help other women, other girls, who had been through it. But. I struggled over whether or not it was something I wanted to put here, on my silly little blog where I talk about Louis CK and single parenting and giant tampons.
The truth? I was afraid. Afraid of my kids seeing it, because although I play dumb sometimes, I know at least two of them have been here. I mean, really...who can blame them? I remember holding my breath, listening to my mom talk on the phone about me, about her life. My ears would catch the words Jennifer and she and I'd strain to hear. The modern day version of eavesdropping is done online, right? This wasn't something I wanted them to overhear.
Another truth? I was ashamed. I thought about different people in my life, besides my children, and imagined their reactions. "You were a slut!" "You totally got yourself into that situation, Jenny. Duh." "Oh my gawd...who was it? Tell me their names!" "You have no proof. It's your word against theirs!" and the worst of all..."Well, you were drunk. You asked for it. You deserved it." Yes. I was ashamed to divulge something awful that had been done to me, because I thought it would make me look bad. Make me look whorish or loose or like a lush. In this age of oversharing and TMI, this was the ultimate overshare. Was it too much information?
I'd never done an anonymous post before, but this one seemed like it would be a good candidate.
So, I consulted three women. The first? Kristen, who writes at Abandoning Pretense. I chose her because she's younger and hipper and is infinitely more current on what's happening in the blog scene. And I trust her. The second? Jill, who is better known as Scary Mommy. I chose her because I trust her with my words, and if I did decide to pursue the whole anonymity route, her website was my first (and really, only) choice. The third? My homie/bff Danielle. I chose her because she's not involved in the blog world, not one bit. I jokingly call her my moral compass but it's not really a joke. She has a level head, she doesn't ever judge me and I trust her more than just about anyone else I know. Let's just say, if you need dirt on me? She'd be the first place you dig. You dig?
All three of them readily agreed to read it. And all three responded immediately. Interestingly enough, one of the first thing all three of them said to me was this:
"I'm so sorry this happened to you."
They all liked it. Two said, almost immediately, "Fuck it. Fuck them. Put your name on it. You owe those guys nothing." The third one came around to that, eventually. They collectively coddled me while I fussed about the anonymous thing. They put up with facebook messages and texts and my super annoying habit of hand-wringing and second guessing myself. Most importantly, though? They all supported me. I am so grateful for that. There wasn't a shred of disapproval, not one little voice asking, "Are you really sure this is something you want to do?". And that was the nudge I needed.
Jill ran my article on her site. You can read it by clicking here on the title: "Why Hello There, Old Rapist In My Facebook Newsfeed."
So there it is. I'm admitting it. I'm coming clean. I'm doing this because I have a daughter, and I have sons. I am doing this because of the hundreds of comments on that piece, the comments like, "I saw mine at the store" and "You are not alone" and "The song Funky Cold Medina makes me want to vomit." The comments from women who were once 16 and went to a party and had bad things done to them, women who were once 5 and were violated by men with whom they shared DNA. Women who have been carrying around this hot coal of embarrassment, of self-blame and doubt and all those other things our culture has taught us about victimization and sexual offenses and being female.
And most of all, I'm doing this because we need to talk about rape. We need to educate our daughters, we need to educate our sons and we need to stop being so mother-effing ashamed of it, and of ourselves.
One of my best friends says that part of us just stops growing when something traumatic happens to us. Like, say you're ten and your parents get divorced. She thinks that for the rest of your life, there will always be a sad ten year old somewhere inside of you.
I think about the bad things that have happened to me, and about how many sad versions of myself there are:
The 9 year old me, looking down at the angry red hand print my stepfather left on my thigh.
The 15 year old me, stuck on the floor between a bed and a wall, feeling indescribable dread.
The 39 year old me, watching my husband leave our house, leave our family before dawn on the last day of school.
But now there's this brave, 47 year old me...the one who has been through some hell but who has lived to tell about it.
I'm ready to tell, folks. And it feels great. Scary, but great.
Posted by the_happy_hausfrau at 11:23 AM