#AzizAnsari7: Unrapeable Unvictims

The following are excerpts from Flirting with Danger: Young Women’s Reflections on Sexuality and Domination, a study of 30 young women carried out by Lynn Phillips in 2000. (You can read the whole thing on Google Books; what you’ll find here is only a small sample of all its fascinating findings and keen thinking from Phillips. I cannot recommend it enough.)

I will not be passing comment, but allowing the participants’ accounts of their experiences and mental processes speak for themselves. This is designed to be a companion piece to #AzizAnsari7: Feminism and Victimhood.

NB. The sample was drawn from the student body of “a small, progressive, liberal arts college that has a reputation for providing a non-traditional, profeminist, politically and intellectually challenging learning environment. Seventy percent of the students are female, and the student body is more diverse than most private colleges in terms of race and social class.”

A note from the author, Phillips:

“To my surprise, although I had carefully steered away from any mention of violence or victimization in my description of the study, twenty-seven of the thirty women (90 percent) described at least one encounter that fit legal definitions of rape, battering, or harassment. Yet also to my surprise, only two women ever used such terms to describe a personal experience, and both of these women went on to describe other violent or coercive personal experiences that they did not consider rape or abuse.

The young women were eager to talk about the pain and mistreatment they had endured, and they were quite willing to use words like “rape,” “battering,” “victimization,” and “abuse” to describe other women’s experiences. These women expressed great concern about violence against women in general. Indeed, several offered rather eloquent analyses of gender and victimization. But when it came to naming what they had gone through personally, women tended to say things like “let’s just call it a bad night” or “things just went really badly.””

 

 

From the interviews:

 

It was violent and hurtful and really scary. But I don’t think I could ever call it rape. Let’s just say that things went badly.”

(Olivia, 22, “heterosexual,” “Caucasian”)

 

Oh, it wasn’t really rape, per se. He was just a real asshole. He was this slick, obnoxious character who was out to prove what a stud he was and how mean he could be. I wouldn’t say I was abused. He just really roughed me up to prove he was some kind of man. He was a total jerk. He is just this vicious guy and I just happened to find him attractive for some reason at the time.”

(Robin, 21, “heterosexual”; asked to describe her race(s), she wrote, “I cannot”)

 

I left home when I was fourteen. I stayed with my teacher, which was really great, but when I look back at it, it was a little weird. He was so cool, though. I mean he took me in and fed me and took care of me. I love him for what he did for me. I wasn’t in love with him. I was more just very grateful. We were like this funny couple, because he was about thirty-five and I was fourteen. He was really sensitive to the fact that I was so young. So we never, I mean, it wasn’t sexual. He was cool about that. I would just undress for him and he would masturbate, or I would jerk him off, or sometimes give him head. But he never laid a hand on me. He knew I was just young. We had to be really careful about going out and everything, because we couldn’t let anybody at school know. They would just think like it was abuse or something, and they would make me go back to my mom or to a shelter. They would have made it into something abusive or illegal. But it wasn’t, because he really protected me. If it wasn’t for him, I would have had it a lot worse.”

(Diana, 21, “bisexual,” “white”)

When Phillips asked whether she ever thought her relationship with her teacher qualified as statutory rape or sexual abuse, Diana answered,

“No. I wasn’t into the sexual part, and he knew that, which is why he never forced intercourse or anything. I think he respected that I was too young. I never really thought of myself as being coerced or anything, I just thought, “This is what I owe him. He takes care of me, and I should do this to make him happy.” If it wasn’t for him, I’d be on the street. Well, maybe that does make it a little coercive. I mean, it was sort of, do that or find somewhere else. It didn’t really occur to me that I had a lot of choice. But he was so good to me, I could never think about it as abuse.”

 

One participant, Cynthia, described an encounter with a man who forced himself on her during a date, ripped her clothes, and then left her by the side of the road. When Phillips asked what she called that experience when thinking about it to herself, she replied,

“I mostly think of it as a really bad night. If you’re asking do I think I was raped, no, I wouldn’t really call it that. I mean, I was forced, yes, and I was hurt, and things didn’t go how I wanted, but I was in the car with him. It was all really complicated. I mean, I was there, I could have chosen not to go. So no, I don’t really call it rape.”

Phillips then asked her how she would define that same experience if it had happened to a friend. Laughing, she responded,

Wow, that is so awesome! If my roommate came home and told me the exact same story had happened to her, I’d tell her, “You call the hotline, you call the police! You’re a victim! That guy raped you and you should report it!” Wow! But, I don’t know. For her it would be rape. For me it was just so complicated.

No, I don’t think of it as abuse or victimization or anything, because even though it may have looked that way with his hand over my mouth and his hurting me and all, I just don’t think I could ever call myself a victim, because I like to think I have it too much together to ever let myself be victimized like that. I went into the whole thing willingly, and even though I got hurt, I figured, well, I wanted to be a grown-up, so this just comes with the territory I guess.”

(Cynthia, 22, “bisexual,” “white”)

 

“I think maybe victimization or rape should be reserved for really bad cases of rape. To say my experience was rape maybe waters down the cases of real victims. It feels, I don’t know, kind of unfeminist. There were a lot of factors why he did what he did to me, so it’s awfully complicated to talk about. The fact that he forced me, it happened within a whole lot of other things. So I don’t think it would be fair to women who are outright attacked to call myself a victim of rape.”

(Evelyn, 21, “heterosexual,” “Caucasian”)

 

“… how can I say it’s rape when I went up there? You know, what was I expecting? It’s true I was really naive, but I feel that it doesn’t really do me any good to explain that to anybody, because it’s like nobody can really understand.”

(Robin, 21, “heterosexual”; asked to describe her race(s), she wrote, “I cannot”)

 

“I don’t think women ever want to be abused. I wouldn’t say I was abused, because I knew this guy might want to have sex. I didn’t think he was going to force it so far, but I did decide to go to his apartment. I chose to be in that situation. I didn’t like it, it was really horrible, but I just should have made a different decision.”

(Louise, 21, “hetero,” “white”)

 

“It was my own fault, in a way, because I was trying to be so grown-up and just assert myself and what I wanted. I played around, I hitchhiked, I picked up men I shouldn’t have. I look back at it now, and I think, “Just who the hell did I think I was?” I mean, I had no business getting into half the situations I was in. I just should have known better. I just should have known, you can’t play with fire without expecting to get burned.”

(Laura, 22, “bisexual,” “bi-racial/West Black Indian, white American”)

 

“I thought it was really cool and I expected we would kind of work up to things and then see what happened. I definitely didn’t expect to have sex with him, not then and there. It didn’t occur to me that he would try to force anything. It was so exciting, and we were kind of drunk and away from home and the whole thing was just so exciting. I didn’t mean to lead him on, but I see it now from his perspective, and I was all over him, and in the beginning I was into it just as much as he was. But I was thinking like, making out, not sex. But I guess I must have been sending out totally mixed signals. I can see how he would have assumed that since I brought him back to my room, and my roommate wasn’t there, and we had been fooling around, I mean it’s understandable that he would have thought we were going all the way. It went too far for me and I was getting scared. I totally tried to stop it, but he was like, “Come on, who are you kidding? You know you want it just as much as me. You know you wanted it all along.” He just didn’t take no for an answer, and we, or maybe I should say he had sex with me, because I was just laying there wishing this wasn’t happening. I look at it as a failure of communication, really. He was young and I sent him mixed signals, so of course he was going to see that as an invitation to have sex. I just should have chilled out and been much more careful about the kinds of signals I was sending out. I should have realized I might be leading him on.”

(Claudia, 21, “heterosexual,” “Caucasian”)

 

“I’ve always told myself that we really just didn’t communicate at all about what we wanted. I should have told him up front that I wasn’t planning to go home with him. But that felt kind of weird. I mean, you don’t exactly flirt with somebody and also tell them right out, you know, I don’t want to have sex at the end of this, even though I probably should have. What I think happened is that he misunderstood, or I just wasn’t clear like I should have been. So he probably thought this was just normal and maybe didn’t know I was scared. And maybe being rough and forceful is just his way of having sex. I mean, who knows, really? For me it was a terrible night and I was scared and hurt. But for him, he probably didn’t mean for it to be like that, exactly. When I pulled back, that probably hit a nerve and he just felt he should force it further. I would say that he probably didn’t mean anything by it, it’s just that we kind of didn’t connect.”

(Diana, 21, “bisexual,” “white”)

 

“I should have been more assertive. I was trying just to get out of the situation as gracefully as possible. I was just trying to make him feel like, I don’t know, like trying to make the best of it by trying to make him come as fast as possible. I sort of told him, like, “Let’s wait,” but he kept going, so I figured I’d just better try to get him off so he would stop. I don’t know, I should have been more assertive when I was trying to tell him I didn’t want to. Maybe my no wasn’t no enough.”

(Robin, 21, “heterosexual”; asked to describe her race(s), she wrote, “I cannot”)

 

“It was horrible. I mean, not just like bad sex, but really like violent. It was practically rape, had I not consented. If I hadn’t consented to him, it would have been rape.”

(Olivia, 22, “heterosexual,” “Caucasian”)

 

“I mean, I was crying and sort of pulling away, and hoping he’d notice I was upset and stop, but I didn’t exactly tell him no. I could have said, “Get the hell off me! I want to go home!” But I didn’t. I just laid there crying and hoping he’d stop. Maybe if I’d said something, who knows? Maybe things would have been different. But as it happened, I never exactly said no to him, so I really just have myself to blame.”

(Rachel, 21, “heterosexual,” “white”)

 

“It was very alienating. It was a very strange situation, and it was this weird combination of feeling turned on, but feeling repulsed and feeling in a lot of physical pain. He was really big. The intercourse was kind of rough and hard. And the other thing is, I said, “All right, fine,” because I expected him to put the condom on and then [be] inside me, but he didn’t put the condom on. It was before I could even really get back and take the wheel for a minute. But I think that was the point where I really lost control, because all of a sudden he was inside me, and I was like, “Are you going to put the condom on?” And he was like, “Don’t worry, don’t worry.” It was like, shit, you know? It’s so hard to say no and push somebody off you, especially when he’s really big, and plus, I’m in this thing. I don’t want to ruin the magic of this weird moment. So that was the point I remember thinking, “This is not going to be a good day. He’s inside me without a condom.

It was like a kind of weird violent kind of thing. I don’t feel like I could have really said no. I don’t know if I necessarily would call it rape. But I would say that he was so strong and big and on top of me and it was like he was totally in control from the get go. Sometimes I think it was rape and sometimes I don’t know if it was rape. You know, when somebody says to you, “I know nice girls like you don’t have a condom,” but I do, and then having sex with them. I don’t know, because “rape” is such a loaded word, it’s really hard. It’s really scary to think about using it in terms of your own life. I remember times when I felt like I was raped, or I let myself kind of be raped, or kind of taken, but in terms of that incident, I think I was seduced. I don’t know if I’d say I was raped. Number one, because I feel like I want to have enough faith that I have enough strength of character as a person to be able to, if I really didn’t want to, to say no. And it wasn’t that I said no.”

(Melissa, 21, “heterosexual,” “Eastern European-American Jew”)

 

“We would be having sex, again, and I wouldn’t want it, but he was my boyfriend, you know, so I never really felt like I could let him down by saying no. But a lot of the times it hurt me. He wasn’t the most considerate lover. So I would lie there underneath him, crying, while he was doing it. I didn’t feel like I could exactly say no, but I hoped that he would see me crying and just stop, I don’t know, out of guilt or concern or something, even pity. Of course he never did. He’d just keep going, and then afterward, he’d say, “Didn’t you like it?” And I would say, “Yeah, it was good.”

(Wendy, 22, “heterosexual,” “Puerto Rican/Italian”)

 

I guess it’s a hassle always stroking their egos, like you know, “Oh, you’re so great,” and “Oh, I really love what you’re doing,” you know, even when you don’t. But believe me, it’s more of a hassle not to. Because then you have to feel guilty and everything. Because then it’s like you have to take care of the fact that he might feel bad, or inadequate, or something. And it’s just easier to keep them feeling good about themselves. I think maybe the main thing is that I don’t want him to see me as a cold bitch. And if I don’t act like, “Oh, this is really good for me,” then I think men see you as a domineering bitch. So I guess it’s like, men get their needs met directly, but women need to get their needs met indirectly. I guess it sort of sucks, but it’s better than taking the chance of pissing them off. If you piss them off, even if you’re the one who’s getting hurt, you could be in even more trouble. So he could take it out on you that you’re implying he’s a bad lover, and then he could make the pain you were feeling during sex seem like nothing. Some guys just really go ballistic when their male sexual egos are bruised. I just can’t be about taking that chance.”

(Cynthia, 22, “bisexual,” “white”)

 

“I hooked up with this guy and he took me out to dinner and then we sat around talking. And I mean we hadn’t even kissed yet or anything, but he says, “Is this really all you want to do?” like I was a little kid or something. I wasn’t really too sure how I felt about him. I mean, I had just met him that afternoon, but he had taken me to dinner and everything. So I was thinking, “What must he be thinking?” And then I got thinking, “Here I am all alone in my hotel room with this guy and I don’t know a soul in this town, and if I say no and he rapes me because he thinks I led him on, well then, who’s going to believe me, and who’s even going to hear me if I dare to scream?” So I just basically gave him a blow job to satisfy him so that I wouldn’t have to have actual sex with him. I really didn’t want to have sex with him, but I felt like I had to give him something, and that just seemed like the least offensive way to go. Least offensive to me without offending him.”

(Chloe, 22, “heterosexual/bisexual,” “Caucasian”)

 

“I got into this situation where I went up to this guy’s apartment, and we were making out and things, and I didn’t want to have sex, but he did, and it was a long struggle and everything. And he did hit me and stuff, and then I was like, “Okay, fine.” I just, you know, because if I really try to fight him and then I get beat up, what am I going to say to my mother? That was like the main thing in my mind, was like, “Oh no, what if he punches me or cuts me or something? What am I going to say to my mother?” I kept seeing me really feeling different if it would have been another guy. I really wasn’t attracted to him, and I was trying to get attracted to him or like, get turned on, but I couldn’t.”

When Phillips asked the participant why she tried to make herself attracted to this man, she explained,

“I was thinking that if I can get turned on, then this will be consensual, like, a good experience. It was like I was trying to manipulate my own mind or something, so that this wouldn’t seem as bad as it really was. I mean, especially for my first experience, I wanted it to be something I wanted, not something that was forced on me. So I tried really hard to make it into something that I wanted, but I couldn’t. I just really couldn’t.”

(Robin, 21, “heterosexual”; asked to describe her race(s), she wrote, “I cannot”)

 

“I kept telling myself, just relax and try to like it. Try to think of something exciting, try to think of someone you would like to be having sex with so you can get aroused and then this won’t really be what it is. If I could just find some way to be turned on, at all, then I would know I was in it and then this wouldn’t be really like rape.”

(Jocelyn, 19, “hetero,” “mutt”)

 

“Sometimes I’ve just slept with men because I have to. They give me money, and I give them sex. It’s totally like prostitution, because I know they really have the power, that I’m being treated like an object to them, a whore that they can do what they want to. But there’s something about money that gives me a power. I would never feel okay about it if I did it for free. If they don’t give me money, then they’re in control of me. If there’s money involved, then I have some control, too. It’s like, they may fuck me, but I set the terms of how I’m going to get fucked. It may not be real power, because they can still fuck me over, but it’s mental power, which helps you control how much damage, or what kind of damage they can do to you.”

(Elaina, 22, “lesbian/bi,” “white”)

 

“It’s important to me, I guess, to present myself like I know what I want, even though I really just go along with whatever the guy is doing.”

(Wendy, 22, “heterosexual,” Puerto Rican/Italian”)

 

“I know a lot of women, like one in three, get raped in their lifetime. But I know it could never happen to me. Not that it couldn’t happen, because it could, I mean, God, it sort of has. But for me, I say it was kind of like rape. For other people, it’s rape. But for me it’s just like it was kind of like rape. Kind of like acquaintance rape, but not really that.”

(Tonya, 18, “straight,” “Jewish/white by race and religion”)

 

“I wasn’t stupid. I knew when I decided to become a slut that I would never be able to cry rape, even if I ever did get raped. I basically gave up any right to say rape, but it was worth it to me. I just wanted to be sexual, and it was worth the price. So when I was seventeen and this guy sort of, well, it would have been rape if it had happened to a “nice girl,” but when that happened, you know, I said to myself, “Well, you knew this could happen when you stepped out there. You can’t turn back the clock now.” I just felt like I was, what is it they say, paying the piper? So I just figured it came with the territory and I couldn’t ever really complain.”

(Theresa, 19, “heterosexual,” “bi-racial”)

 

Similarly, participant Laura decided that she was “not rapeable” because she “always went into things with [her] eyes wide open.

I always know exactly what I’m getting into. I chose to be sexually active, I mean very active, a long time ago. I help myself to what I want, and there are never any surprises. And so when there are surprises, like something I can’t handle, like when I get myself in over my head, I know that this is what I’ve chosen to do, that I am the one that let it happen, you know? And so, even in the times when I haven’t had any control over a situation, you know, like once it starts, I know that I always have control because I’m the one who has chosen this. Well, maybe not chosen this situation exactly, but I’ve made a choice, and nobody can take that away from me. There’s really nothing I can’t handle.”

The time when that guy sort of, like, beat me up over the condom thing, I mean, I was furious, you know? I mean nobody treats me that way. But even though it hurt a lot and everything, I mean, I didn’t really let it bother me too much. I mean, I figure, I made my bed, and I chose to lie in it [laughing]. Wow, how’s that for apropos?”

(Laura, 22, “bisexual,” “bi-racial/West Black Indian, white American”)

 

“They wouldn’t get it. I know they’d be like, “What’d you do, what’d you do?” to bring it on myself. My boyfriend doesn’t understand. He just thinks he would have fought, so I could have fought. So it comes back down on my head. Even though my girlfriends would be supportive, the other people in my life would think I had no right to say “rape” because I should have fought him more. Based on my boyfriend’s reaction, I wouldn’t expect to get support. Far from it.”

(Robin, 21, “heterosexual”; asked to describe her race(s), she wrote, “I cannot”)

 

“They would never say, “This was rape” or “This was abuse.” They’d say, “What were you doing? Why didn’t you stop him? Why do you want to make such a fuss?” It already felt like shit. Why make it worse by sticking your neck out by saying, “I was raped” if you know you’re just going to get rejected? And then why even call it that to yourself if you can’t talk about it to anyone else? That would just make you feel even worse.”

(Elaina, 22, “lesbian/bi,” “white”)

 

 

The one comment I will make is that while the young woman of the Aziz Ansari story seems to have gone through some very similar thought processes as many of these women during her “lousy romantic encounter”, she succeeded afterwards in locating some moral responsibility outside of herself. Of course we can’t know for certain, but it is entirely possible that the #MeToo discourse, and contemporary feminist conversations about affirmative consent, made it possible for her to resist the true rape/true victim, victim mentality and victim blaming narratives that led the young women of the Phillips study to blame themselves even for physically violent sexual assaults and rapes.

So when a woman like Bari Weiss of the New York Times writes that applying the MeToo hashtag to Grace’s story “trivializes” what the movement “stood for”, I do have to wonder what she thinks the aims of feminism are supposed to be. Justice for just a few powerful women, perhaps?

I would say that the progress from the mentality displayed by the young women quoted above, to that displayed by Grace, is precisely what #MeToo stood for. The movement was always supposed to reveal the prevalence of sexual misconduct, to show up the pattern so that women could identify a systemic problem and begin to combat it rather than blame themselves for it in private.

 

So to all those who like Bari Weiss, Whoopi Goldberg and Ashleigh Banfield told Grace she had only herself to blame: remember Lucretia? The Roman woman who Tarquin raped (at knife point, so the tale goes, on pain of death), who stabbed herself to wipe out the shame? Shakespeare called her Lucrece and noted that her father approved of her suicide. Remember her? Because when you tell women like Grace to turn in upon themselves to locate the problem, you reveal that we haven’t come far since 500 BC.

 

VouetLucrecePostdamMe

 

One thought on “#AzizAnsari7: Unrapeable Unvictims

  1. Pingback: #AzizAnsari7: Feminism and Victimhood | Science and the Sexes

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