Thank You, Slutwalk
July 31 marks the one-year anniversary of the night I was raped. On August 6, I will be participating in Slutwalk when it comes to Philly. They could not have picked a better date. I find it ironic that the very word that kept me from getting any help that night a year ago is now the very same word that is saving me.
I know that Slutwalk has many critics, and in a way I think that most of it may stem from simple ignorance. I don't mean this as an insult, but rather that until someone is in the situation of rape, they simply can never understand.
You will never understand the 3 am feeling of laying on the cool tile of the bathroom floor after puking up every last morsel in your stomach because your body is so disgusted by what happened to you. That feeling of searching through the numbers of your phone trying desperately to find that one person who will believe you, but then not being able to make the phone call because if you have to say the words out loud, than you will be admitting that what just happened was actually real. That feeling of when you finally get the courage to tell someone and they write you off and tell you it was just bad sex, or that you know how guys are when they drink - you just have to be more forceful when saying no. That feeling when the person who told you that was your sister. The feeling of not even being able to let a guy touch you or kiss you without it sending you into a breakdown, but you can’t explain because they wouldn’t believe you anyway, so you’re just written off as the cold fish, the prude, the bitch. When all you desperately want is for someone to wrap you up in their arms and repeat the most beautiful three words you have ever heard, I believe you…I believe you. The feeling of being in a group and someone says a rape joke and you smile and look away when all you want to do is scream and ask them how dare they say something like that in front of you, how dare they ever say something like that…but then everyone would think you were crazy or try and figure out what happened so instead you avert your eyes and leave the room at the next possible chance, and then you find yourself on the bathroom floor again.
You will never understand that feeling of being completely alone. That feeling that even your own body has betrayed you, and is no longer your own. That feeling of hating yourself more than you’ve ever hated any other human being. You will never understand…and if you do, I am so sorry.
In the months that have come after my assault, one of the biggest ironies I have found about people who refuse to believe or blame survivors is the fact that you don’t know how much we wish you were right. You don’t know how much I wish it was just bad sex. Or that I just exaggerated it in my head. Or it was just the result of morning after regret. I would kill for it to be something I made up in my head. Because then I wouldn’t have to deal with the flash backs. Then I wouldn’t be asking myself every single goddamn second of every day what I could have done differently, why I didn’t act the way that I always told myself I would. I don’t need you to ask me those questions, because I’ve asked them of myself more times that you could possibly imagine.
I wish I had asked for sex. But I never did. It’s a much better picture, though, isn’t it? It’s a lot easier to think about than me sobbing and begging over and over again for him to stop. But no one wants to hear that story. It’s so much easier to just write me off as a “slut” and be done with it.
I am shy and quiet but I have always been someone who is very opinionated when it comes to something I care about. Because of that, I have been seen as a feminist for as long as I remember. I have never shied away from the word. For some reason I’ve always loved it. But the night of my assault made everything worse. Because I knew the statistics better than anyone, I knew the system inside and out and how it failed so many girls just like me. I knew all of the strikes against me. He was in the military, I had a few drinks, I wasn’t wearing a turtle neck and sweatpants, I had kissed him, I had sex before in my life (and god forbid, actually enjoyed it).
I knew what they would make me out to be. He would be the man serving his country so full of promise, and I would be the dirty slut who asked for it and was now trying to ruin his good name.
I have gone back to the hours afterwards a million times. I have asked myself over and over how I could possibly be a feminist, and yet I let that happen. Why didn’t I get help? Why didn’t I go to the police? So many women go forth and press charges, stand up for themselves, even in the face of the harshest victim blaming. I have hated myself over it. The hardest thing to admit to myself was that I was a coward. That I was more scared of my family and friends seeing me as a slut. That I let that fear lock me up in a prison of silence and self hatred.
In the weeks that followed I clung to feminism like it was the only possible thing in the world that could save me. Feminism gave me a name for what happened to me. Even though in the back of my mind I always knew what it was, I couldn’t admit it, rather I would say something happened that I didn’t want to, or I was sexually assaulted. Feminism told me that it wasn’t bad sex or kind of rape, it was rape. And for the first time, I admitted it to myself out loud, even if I couldn’t admit it to anyone else. I ordered and read every single book I could get my hands on. I spent hours online going from website to website. I found myself on Tori Amos’ website, Welcome to Barbados, reading these words: "The idea is to rescue myself from the role of a victim. That I have a choice left. Though I can't change what has happened, I can choose how to react. And I don't want to spend the rest of my life being bitter and locked up."
Over the years, I had written papers on sexual assault and had never been able to fully comprehend the difference in calling someone a victim or a survivor, but in that moment it clicked. It is not just a simple play on words. Once you decide to switch, it makes all of the difference in the world. Feminism told me it was okay to feel pain and that I was not alone. But I still needed more.
I didn’t know exactly what more I needed until I stumbled upon slutwalk. I discovered slutwalk about a week before the first march was set to take place in Toronto, through an article on feministing.com. I spent the next few hours reading everything I could on the march and the reasoning behind it. And over the next few weeks I followed everything slutwalk. But that first day made me realize what I had been searching for. Feminism gave me ways to deal with the pain over what happened, but for me there was a whole other side that came out of that night. I was mad…no, I was furious. If I couldn’t change what happened to me, then I would be damned. If I couldn’t change the culture that allowed it to happen. I saw all of these amazingly strong women and men combining their anger into something good, to make sure that no other girl would blame herself, would ever have to feel the way that I did.
From that moment on, I became the proudest damn slut you have ever seen. I no longer let anyone tell rape jokes in front of me, and I preached the ills of victim blaming via facebook, complemented by sharing numerous articles. In my own way I was fighting back, and at the same time, rediscovering the girl I lost on the bathroom floor so many months ago.
Don’t get me wrong, it was not a complete 180. I was still not ready to share my own story with the people in my life (though I’m proud to say a few now know). I still have the occasional flash backs. I am still dreading tomorrow. I am dreading going back to the girl I was. I still occasionally think that if I had done one thing differently then maybe none of it would have happened. I’m not perfect. But every day I get a step closer to healing, and a step farther away from that night.
I know this is long and disjointed. But I also know that I will not fix it, that it will take everything to keep me from deleting it and once again trying to just completely forget the past. I sat down meaning to write this as a defense of slutwalk, a way to get people to come out and walk in Philly, but most importantly as a thank you to the movement and all of the people behind it. Though I think I may have missed all of those points entirely, all I can tell you is that what I wrote here was real, it has helped me, and knowing the power of words, I desperately hope it helps anyone else who needed to hear any of it.
I survived the anniversary of my rape. And before I know it, Saturday will be here and I will finally be able to do the walk that I have waited months for. I will pull out the outfit that has been sitting in the back of my closet ever since July 31st, one year ago. I will fight past all of the memories to wear it and walk along side so many other women exactly like me. I will chant, and scream, and laugh, and I’m sure shed many tears. If I am brave enough I will tell my story. If not, I will listen as so many courageous women tell theirs. But I will not be silent. On Saturday, nobody will be able to tell me that how I acted that night was wrong. No one will be able to tell me it was my fault. No one will be able to tell me that I asked for it, or that I am not allowed to feel the way I do. Because for the first time, without any doubt, I will know that they are wrong, and I will know that I have hundreds of people along side of me who know the same thing. I will have hundreds of people who believe me, and that is something I never thought that I would be able to say. For the first time, without a shadow of a doubt, I will be able to say that I am a survivor, and I will never be made a victim again.
So thank you, slutwalk and feminism. Thank you for remembering the pain with me tonight, but reminding me of the healing that comes with tomorrow. Thank you for being there for me in the times when I needed you the most. Thank you for telling me that it was okay to be angry. Thank you for proving to me that people can make a change. Thank you for helping me find myself again. Thank you for believing me. Thank you for making me a survivor.
Thank you…thank you….thank you.
More articles by Category: Body image and body standards, Feminism, Gender-based violence, Media, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Rape, Sexuality, Sexualized violence, Sexism, Gender bias, Discrimination