Last week on the oracle that is Twitter I learned from a journo friend that another name had been pulled from the hat of secrets. Another of the nation’s avuncular darlings inconveniently reminded of their past misdemeanours. People erupted over the latest in a long line of disappointing media males, questioned then charged over an allegation dating back to the 60s. I’m ashamed to say I thought “Christ, does that still even count?”
I fired off a casual reply without thinking: “He tickled my midriff while posing for a picture when I was 14.” I instantly got a capitalised ‘WHAAAAT?” from my journo friend and a similarly enlarged exclamation from a female comedian. I was surprised at their incredulity. Then various women I don’t know from Eve either followed me or retweeted me in silent almost eerie sisterhood. Solidarity. Why? I hadn’t meant to ‘say’ anything.
I certainly didn’t think it was sinister back then, and even now, hearing of his rape charge, I’m still not overly suspicious of his ‘harmless goosing’ of me as a 14 year old girl; there were a lot of men starting to show me and my friends attention whether they knew our age or not. It happens.
But in my automatic instinct to reduce this to nothing lies the bigger problem. Women (young girls, people, everyone) don’t even acknowledge stuff to themselves sometimes, let alone share it.
I wrote in last week’s column about my behind being touched in a New York bar recently and my not wanting to make a fuss. My insistence to myself that it was harmless. All the recent accusations against media men have made me think of something else I downplayed – an event I have only a few times dully acknowledged to myself as a sexual assault. It was a long time ago. I think I’ve only ever vaguely told two people.
Do I think that I should be retrospectively handed the term victim? God, no. Would I if pressed reveal his name? No. Would I even, if I knew he was reading these words now, expect him to show signs of recognition or remorse? No.
But do I now, despite all my inner impulses to not make a fuss, believe I was definitely raped? Yes I do.
I was pinned to a passenger seat, my feet by his feet, my arms by his arms, my knees by his knees, my voice said no, all strength to counter the act snuffed and my choice taken away from me. It was quick, he zipped up, and he drove off. I felt numb and thought no more about it. If it’s quick, contained, and it doesn’t make you cry it can’t be rape, right? Rape is a big word.
Afterwards I even thought ‘the sex’ had been his right. We were ‘seeing each other’, we’d ‘had a drink’, I’d probably ‘flirted’. Perhaps even some part of my nascent sexuality thought it was normal.
Because I have not been terribly affected by it I feel guilty for using the word when others have suffered far, far worse. But there should be no degrees of rape. It is, or it isn’t.
I think just one of the many problems women have with reporting rape is that some women struggle to conciliate themselves with the times, in lust or intimacy, they might want the man to be forceful. Maybe that is why we stay quiet.
As a culture we have exploited and sanitised submissiveness and dominance. High street shops sell handcuffs. Music videos and movies and bestselling badly-written books use the language and the imagery of victimisation in sex. Our sex, our liberality, our pursuit of satisfaction strings us up.
We’ve probably made it harder for women to realise (to admit, and to tell) that they’ve been raped, not easier. Even now, I am struggling to decide whether after so much time has passed the act still stands. I share my own experience so that people dubious of all these belated accusations in the press might come to appreciate that it can take a while to say anything to anyone, particularly yourself.
Perhaps women are feeling a solidarity in the air; are being given the courage to come forward, irrespective of the time lapsed. Perhaps we’ll remember this time, now, this horrid muck, as something that made women stronger, and men better.