Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Eight years ago today, my whole life changed forever as I was raped for the second time. I can't tell you much about the events as I know little more than I did the next morning. It appears that after dinner and drinks with a close friend, my drink was spiked and I was raped while unaware of what was happening. I don't know where it happened, I don't know who did it or how many people were involved and I have no details. Part of that is down to the fact that my memories of it are completely gone and part is down to the fact that the friend who was with me lied about the whole thing through her teeth and the rest is down to the fact that the police failed in every possible way to investigate it when I reported, preferring instead of go off-road rallying* and generally rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.
One of the things that changed the most for me when I was attacked the second time was my overnight immersion into the world of rape culture. Even a rape eight months previously hadn't given me such a baptism of fire because that was the kind of rape that people could pooh-pooh and ignore because I was pissed and when I'm pissed people find me flirty. Plus I was alone in a room with him and I sort of knew him and I wasn't a virgin and I'd drunk alcohol before, so it was fine. I was totally asking for it and it was all bullshit anyway. As taster courses of rape culture go, it was up there but I was too busy sobbing all the time and being homeless to see the societal message. And of course, I thought the same as them. It never occurred to me to blame him for being a rapist, only myself for being there. Self blame is very common after sexual violence and when everyone around you seems to share the point of view, you don't think to query it.
But my second rape was different. By society's standards it was a 'proper' rape, real 'rape-rape'. It featured strange men, alleyways and violence. My garments were rended. Other men rushed to my honour at one point. Apart from the distinct lack of smelling salts in Soho, it was textbook and I was (after my initial failure) now the right kind of victim. I took myself to the police and asked for help at the blackest, bleakest time in my life and instead of cradling me protectively against the Big Bad Wolf, they dropped me from the top of the beanstalk. My prior lack of virtue tainted even this 'right rape' and I was of no interest to them. They made this clear to me by focusing hard on other cases of more deserving victims and winning awards for them at the same time they said they couldn't do their job on my case. More than my rapist, they made me feel like damaged goods as I had to literally beg for help, but the more I did the more they realised I wouldn't be as pliant for them as I had for my attacker and they didn't like the challenge.
It shocked me to my core. Until then I had no real idea that women faced these kind of challenges and prejudices when they tried to report a very serious crime. I'd heard a few mutterings, but had naively assumed those women were the minority. The one woman I knew who'd been raped up til that point had had a fantastic experience with the police despite not getting a conviction and her officers remained in touch for years afterwards offering support. In my bubble where I knew bugger all, I thought that was the norm. It was quite the eye opener to discover otherwise. Frustrated by this lack of support, I felt compelled to speak out about being raped as if the more people I spoke to, the more I would realise the naysayers were the minority.
Sadly it took years to find people who were unconditionally supportive and in the meantime I filled my rape bingo card twice over. I heard the myths repeated, my character assassinated and found wanting in a myriad of ways and yet each comment and cutting remark educated me as to what other women were hearing and had been fighting against for years. I got a good education in the culture we have that pays lip service to the idea that rape is a 'very bad thing' but fails to do much about stopping it or punishing it. It's one of the things that's kept me determined to to do something (anything) and one of the most difficult things I've been through, helping as it did, compund the original traumas. It was liked I'd skipped rape culture 101 and gone straight to PhD level.
Unfortunately this week is the perfect introduction to rape culture. We have Julian Assange preening on a balcony and twisting himself in knots as to why he's above going back to Sweden to answer allegations of sexual assault and rape. Tonight one of his supporters named one of the accusers live on Newsnight and then justified it by saying his wife is a rape victim so shrug, he can do whatever he wants. Ignoring the fact that quite a lot of men have wives who are rape victims because they are ones who raped them, this is simply outing two women for the price of one and is a dangerous precedent since many men will know a close relative who has been raped and may think it gives them carte blanche to do whatever they like instead of think about the person involved (see also my old friend Naomi Wolf who reared her head again.)
We also had George Galloway insinuate that Assange was only guilty of 'bad sexual etiquette' and one didn't have ask permission 'prior to each insertion', leading me to think that Galloway is the kind of man who thinks as long you ask if you'd like them to be the cat, they can get away with anything. He's reduced rape to something as minor as keeping your socks on or hogging the duvet. But at least he didn't try and bend scientific fact like Todd Akin who insisted that in 'legitimate rape' a woman's body can do something nifty to prevent a pregnancy. He didn't elaborate if he thought the human cervix was really like a heavy pair of curtains on a stormy night or if rapist's sperm is different and can be turned back at the door like it's got fake ID, but frankly, I don't know how he'd have sounded more stupid. Thank god Obama had something vaguely sensible to say in return and so did the amazing Shauna Prewitt who did get pregnant after a rape.
This rape apologism was all just in the past 24 hours, but we've also had Tony Benn waffling on about non consensual relationships being different to rape, Ken Clarke rating rapes on a handy chart of seriousness, Ched Evans' victim being repeatedly named on Twitter under the justiceforched hashtag and women who opposed this being banned while Ched's crew stay in the game no matter how many rape threats they issue. The Reddit rape thread was ignored as a learning tool and still written off as lies even though it was men doing the describing for once. The big punchline at Edinburgh is rape and violence against women. No wonder rape reporting is down in this climate of intense justification, disbelief and lack of anonymity. We're going backwards.
Part of me wishes I'd had a bit of a background warning of what rape culture would have in store for me when I was reporting, but part of me knows deep down that I was only able to do it because I had no expectations to scare me. It was so hard to do when I thought everyone would believe me. I couldn't have done it if I really thought the authorities would doubt me. I'd have stayed quiet and although ultimately it wouldn't have made any difference to my rapist, it would have eaten away at me. Words are my defence and solace and to be silenced as well would have broken me in a way that everything else hasn't. I worry that the Assange fan boys and ill informed politicians and those who name victims after a conviction are shouting victims down and silencing them where their attackers couldn't. This is the consequence of a culture that only takes rape seriously if it and its victim tick all the boxes. It's imperative that we speak up and that we don't just leave it to the victims to do it. This is the one time when saying 'my best friend is a rape victim' does count if you're offering to be an ally...
*This is not a weird policing euphemism. My investigating officer took six weeks off to go rallying in Australia, leaving my case at the back of a drawer mid investigation. At least when he was on another continent, he wasn't faking the paperwork...
Saturday, 4 August 2012
This may come as a shock to some people who are full of biological tickings, but I genuinely don't want kids. I just can't picture myself either pregnant or a parent and to have kids you have to do at least one of those things. At the age of 33, I've never felt any desire for a baby. A good friend had her first daughter in March and she's brilliant. I've spent a few lovely afternoon rocking this tiny trusting little thing to sleep and hearing her snuffly little breaths as she succumbs. I've also handed her back and not felt any yearning to have one of my own. My ovaries haven't called out to me at all, just lain there as sleepy and undynamic as the rest of me.
Because that's the thing. I could want babies as hard as I want. I'm not well enough to have them anyway. My chronic fatigue doesn't really fit in with the rigours of giving birth or months of broken sleep to feed a baby in the night and from what I've seen of babies, they are unlikely to fit my current routine of resting for half an hour each time at 11am and 2pm and 5pm to prevent the incidence of crashing for days of exhaustion and pain. They are also hugely incompatible with the medication I take both as foetuses and breastfeeding infants and having to come off those for 9 months would leave me exhausted by constant pain, diarrhoea and nausea. And nausea is a given. I've suffered from it almost daily for 20 years and take stong prescription anti-emetics three times a day which don't completely stop the nausea, but have saved from the social shame of boaking in bins on the street. These drugs are only allowed for up to 7 days in pregnancy and only for hyperemesis gravida so I'd be cast adrift with just own gag reflex. The thought of nine months of my regular queasiness brings tears to my eyes. Adding in the thought of extra pregnancy related vomitiness and I feel quite distraught, clutching my pill sleeves to me anxiously.
I thought I was doing quite well coming to terms with the balance between biology and life. Although I've not had the desire to make babies so far, I have no idea if it might hit like a tidal wave if I met someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but I've been preparing myself what to do if I end up wanting something I just can't have. I'm probably more in the childfree by choice camp, but I can relate to the childless team too. I might have reconciled myself not birthing any babies, but will I be lucky enough to meet a man who feels the same way or will being ill and unable to have kids cause disappointment there too? Unlike most things you do frequently, you don't get any better at being disappointed. Each little drip of dismay builds a bigger stalagtite of pain. Being ill has already cost me my educational aspirations, a proper career, any chance of a decent pension for old age, friends, relationships, social life and self confidence. It's entirely likely it might make it hard to find someone too, so I find it's easier to just not let youself desire what you can't have.
So when I read things like this catty little article about 'If Maeve Binchy had kids...' rammed full of the same smug insinuation that you aren't a proper woman unless you've had kids, I get a surge of energetic rage. No words irritate me more than 'you're not a mum, you wouldn't understand'. Setting aside the fact that insultingly seems to suggest being a dad is inferior to motherhood, it's also utter horseshit. Some people find that becoming a parent changes their emotional landscape and they have a vulnerable side and a sense of feeling they never expected. It's kind of inevitable that having kids is lifechanging, even just practically. But it does not give you the monopoly on emotional intelligence and feelings and it's both wrong and privileged to say it does.
Plenty of people get to understand life and themselves on a higher level long before they have babies. Some learn from childhood as difficult but not unheard of things happen like losing a parent or sibling or grandparent occur. Abuse and bullying teach children an adult view of the world and their own vulnerability they shouldn't know so early. We experience commitment and pain and loss and achievement through our teens as we study, work, fall in love, build friendships and have life change as we grow up. Adulthood brings more life experiences for most people as often your role as a child changes to an adult who cares for other family members and you see their vulnerabilities and needs and find a way to balance them up with your needs. Life happens with all its ups and downs and many people have responsiblities for themselves and others. Divorce, bereavement, family breakdown, ill health, rape and mental illness has taught me plenty about myself and " the feelings of intense vulnerability..., passionate love, joy, bewilderment and exhaustion" women can experience. If you haven't encountered or thought about these things before you have your first child, I think you're either having babies far too young or you've lived a emotionally sterile life and you're the one who knows little.
"No matter what your experience of adult love, there is nothing as strong as the bond between a mother and a child" says Amanda Craig, missing the point that most people will have been the child in that mother child bond before they become parents themselves and must fundamentally know a fair bit about its power and emotion before they start the bond anew. For her statement to make sense, she must be prizing the mother part of the bond more and even then putting the caveat of biological motherhood to keep out the riff raff who didn't give birth as if that's somekind of velvet rope we must all clamour to stand behind. To me you cannot exalt motherhood by leaving out those with maternal instincts. Plenty of women who haven't given birth to a particular child mother them. There are legions of grandparents who sacrifice their retirement to help raise grandchildren, childless aunts, relatives, stepmothers, godmothers, family friends, adoptive and foster mothers who love the children in their lives unconditionally and offer huge sacrifice and engagement over the years despite a lack of a mother child bond borne of birth. These are the women elbowed out by the change from Mothering Sunday to Mother's Day and pushed further to the sidelines by women such as Craig painting such a narrow picture. And that's before we look at the lack of men in these kids' lives that this diktat creates.
Craig is crass and childish in her article. Not only was it published the day Maeve Binchy was buried and used as a dig to suggest this warm wonderful woman known across the world but deeply loved in Ireland was somehow personally and professionally lacking, it came across as Craig attempting to show off. The whole thing could be read as 'look what I've got!' and it is spectacularly charmless. I imagine Craig to be a 'smug mummy' after reading this, that breed of woman who becomes subsumed in her children to the point that she no longers functions as a separate person, relegating everyone else to bit parts and orbiting round her offspring. I admire the commitment, but in the same way that I question being zealous elsewhere in life, I don't think it's particularly healthy and I think that in defining yourself entirely in relation to another person instead of yourself it is the opposite of "bring[ing] about a deeper understanding of human nature" but a way to narrow your horizons.
But what would I know? I've never used my womb for anything apart from storing some hormones and plastic and my ovaries have been on sabbatical since 2001. Craig insinuates that I and my ilk have achieved nothing and are silly and shallow. One of my dearest friends is due to give birth to her first daughter next month and I am ridiculously excited, planning to fuss over her all her life and show her that love and support also comes from people who aren't related to you and that its an achievement and a valuable life skill to be able to charm impress the majority of the planet you aren't biologically connected to. I won't be passing comment on her mother's parenting skills and she won't be passing comment on my lack of them. We'll probably have much more time to do stuff that way if we join forces instead of trying to split society like Craig insists on attempting to do....