I decided to go directly to the point and start having difficult conversations!
I wanted to talk in this video about the situation in which there is not rape but things are still wrong. Situations in which there is one part coming home feeling guilty and ashamed and it is not the one that should feel like that.
This is a story to show men the part of the story that they are missing and how important is to be aware of the other half.
TW: This video and post may upset some people who have had traumatising experiences in the past.
For those of you that prefer reading than watching here is my blog post!
While uncomfortably landing in this new adventure of doing videos I have been thinking a lot about the kind of conversations that we need to be having, what part of my story can resonate with people and how can we discuss some of the topics that only now we are starting to scratch.
I spoke already about not being a feminist before and how I have evolved on so many levels. One of the things that I find myself doing is revisiting things of my past with these new lenses. True, often I find myself feeling embarrassed or sorry for some of the beliefs that I held and wonder how much harm they did, but it also allows me to change some unfair narrative that I had internalised. Feminism has given me a broader and more critical understanding of society and that has helped me to let go of some shame and guilt that I had been unfairly carrying around.
To be honest this new understanding also makes me angry, not only for the person I was but because of the certitude that it has happened and still happens today to many women. 12 years later we are still lacking language, space to speak up, and overall understanding of those apparently grey areas.
No, I am not saying that they are rape, but I think we need to change and do better in general. I am saying that is ok to demand moral responsibility and overall decency in situations outside the reach of the law. It might not be illegal, but it still shouldn’t happen.
When I was 21 years old, I went to an amazing party, it was all very flashy, very glamorous, there were even famous people… all very exciting for me; to be honest, that period of my life feels very fun now that I am mum of 2 socially distancing in Belfast.
We met a couple of guys that night, your classic really hot and confident guy and his friend. You know, the funny nice friend of the confident guy, the harmless one. I ended up kissing the handsome one (you would have too). Nothing really happened but we changed numbers and he invited us to another party at his house.
That party was again crazy and full of people and drinks and loud music, and I ended up talking a lot with his friend from the first day! The guy was indeed and as I suspected very nice, funny, and 33 years old; he was approachable, and we laughed. I thought he would be a perfect match for my sister, and I gave him my number when he asked.
We texted the weekends after, end up meeting for a drink and briefly kissed, it felt a bit awkward. We kept texting quite jokily, informally and flirty. I have recently found an email to my best friend doing a funny translation of the messages that we had sent to each other one night. While I was reading the email, all very funny back then, with the eyes of a 33 years old feminist woman, I felt sick in the stomach about the whole situation: how obvious it was what he wanted and how much I wanted him to stop being so insistent but without making him stop liking me (mental note: explore in another video why young women desperately need to be liked by men as an expression of worthiness and approval in a society that clearly states that it is our currency).
“you are making me feel like pretty woman pre-Richard Gere” or “we both know that even if you are pushing it, what you really want is a long conversation with me, change opinions, enjoy my amazing sense of humour…right :)?” I think you can say almost anything as long as you add an emoji at the end to show that you are not too much, that you are still fun and easy-going. I wrote to my friend “what do you think, is he a psychopath and I should block him or should we justify it as an unbearable desire of sleeping with me?” My friend didn’t reply so I assume we agreed via phone to justify him, I mean, they were just pushy SMS and he was a nice guy, we all justify much more than that.
Shortly after that night I got out with my friends and got drunk and for some random reason that I still can’t understand I called him and told him to come and meet me. I guess I wanted that extra bit of emotion and attention, who doesn't when you are 21 and loving life. He was in his house, in pyjamas and about to go to bed, so I insisted, I said that being over 30s seemed awfully boring and that it was his loss, so he came, he got dressed, drove for over 40 minutes and he picked me up in his car.
As soon as I put a foot in the car I felt awful. That instant feeling of understanding what I had put myself into and the obvious assumption that there was no return point. The guy had driven for 40 minutes and I owed him sex, it wasn’t exactly written anywhere but it was just understood. I was very young (even if I felt I knew it all!), and I was drunk in the car of a man that I didn’t really know, and I wasn’t attracted to. I remember that he was wearing his glasses to drive, and it made him look strangely old and serious, he didn’t even seem that funny anymore, so I talked and try to hide my awkwardness.
I thought we were going to his house or another bar but he brought me to what he said it was his sister's empty house. Apparently, she had given him the keys of her apartment because she had left the country and he was going to help her rent it, or something like that. I don’t even care if it is true, as far as I knew that could be a house paid for hours to bring women. I had no fucking clue of where I was.
I was really uncomfortable, I was completely un-attracted to the person in front of me and as much as I didn't think he was the type that would kill me and cut me in pieces, he was still a man that had driven for 40 minutes and got out of his pjs with the idea of having sex, something I felt that it was my fault, something I felt that I owed him, something that seemed very obviously happening because it was the easiest way out of a situation that I had created in my stupidity.
So, there we were, both fully aware of what was happening, only one of us really looking forward to it. We went to a room and what was my surprise when I saw that it was a room full of wall-to-wall mirrors! In my drunken head, I thought that they (suddenly it was a bigger group or organisation) that recorded porn behind those mirrors and then sold it online. I mean, it was a completely empty house and we were in a room with wall-to-wall mirrors, it made sense!
Very smartly (and trust me, I have told this part of the story to friends in stand up comedian style so many times!) I thought the best way to protect myself from being exposed online was to make random faces that showed very clearly how bad the sex was, so there I was, with this guy on top of me and me looking at the mirror making funny faces, rolling my eyes, and showing clear exasperation. AND HE DIDN’T NOTICE! How can we have sex with someone miming to the mirror how uncomfortable they are and not realise!? What kind of enthusiastic consent is that? How focus only on yourself you need to be?
Anyway, he finished, so of course, sex finished (not that I was in the mood to want any extras) and as soon as it did and while he was in the bathroom dealing with the condom I felt extremely upset, really sad and angry.
There is a moment, just after a man comes, in which the fear is gone. I mean, what are they going to do? Rape you? I knew (not that you ever know, I guess) that he was not a killer, and I honestly don't he wouldn’t have raped me if I had said I wanted to be brought home; but my educated guess is that he would have insisted and if I kept saying no he would probably have been angry and insulting but probably not physically aggressive. Anyway, that whole insisting and insulting situation was not something I was feeling strong enough to do in my drunkenness so it just felt easier to go along with it. To do it. To pay my debt. I was the one that had called him after all.
I was very rude after that, I looked at him with repulsion, I showed no interest for his boring stories of Sunday football with his mates, I didn’t pretend sex was good when he asked. I just wanted to go home, to get away from it all and deal with it in my own bed. He couldn’t understand anything, he was looking at me as if I were some sort of complicated weirdo.
I imagine in his head things played in a completely different way. “This girl, who is an adult, is easy (I kissed his friend the first time we met and him shortly after, that should be enough to define me as a person, right?) she is flirty and clearly asking for it and she was the one who called me! She even insisted! I drove a long way to be there, we had average sex and then she became so rude! Why did she have to ruin everything? What the fuck is wrong with women?”
The truth is that I never really mattered in his story. I doubt he thought about it or ever tried to see it from my point of view, I highly doubt he had carried around the feeling I had in my stomach, his gut saying something wasn’t ok. I think this whole post if he ever reads it, would sound alien to him and he would tell himself over and over how he did nothing wrong, how there is no way he could have known.
While in the car I was hating every inch of my body, just hoping he wouldn’t speak, just hoping he wouldn’t touch me. He left me home and I told him to have a nice life making clear that I didn’t want to hear from him again. I got into bed and cried. I felt so stupid, so dirty, so weak.
It was just sex, I told myself. It is not a big deal. And it is true, I don’t think sex is. I have had casual fun sex before and after and have good memories about it, I have no problems whatsoever with an active sexual life. This felt different because it was different.
Not once I have claimed that he raped me or that what he did was illegal, but I can say now that what he did was wrong. That it was HIS responsibility to give me an out, to give me choices, to read my body language and understand that I was uncomfortable (I WAS ROLLING MY EYES IN A MIRROR WITH HIM ON TOP OF ME!). He should have never brought a drunken girl that was 12 years younger than him to an empty apartment, without at least checking in to see if she felt comfortable. He should have had some kind of awareness of the situation and the power he held. He should have known better and done better and all of it is on him. Not me. Him.
I am 33 years old now, the same age as he was then, and I would expect better from me, I completely understand the implications of it all. Why do we expect any less from men? What kind of message do we send when they are excused for things that we wouldn’t dare to do? Why it is only recently that I have started to put the responsibility on the person holding most of the power?
I am sharing this story because I sadly know that a lot of women can relate to the random fear of “what if I say no” or the resignation that it's easier to say yes. To the guilt of “I have brought this to myself” or to the feeling of owing men sex. I think women would understand the claustrophobia of a situation with not many open doors, the feeling that is just easier to do it, and move on. And that power that you get back after they have come, a power that tastes like dirt and shame and sadness.
And I am sharing this because I know, even more importantly, that men need to sit down and revisit their own stories, they need to ask themselves if they pushed it too hard, if they were giving women options, or if they created an environment in which saying no was too difficult. Men, including (if not especially) the good men need to ask themselves if they have been having sex in those grey areas, and if as a result someone was left a bit emotionally bruised.
I will tell my daughter that is not a good idea to be drunken and get into strangers’ cars or houses, but my parents told me that too! That was never the problem! What will make a difference is that I will sit with my daughter but mostly my son and explain to them that sex comes with a responsibility to take care of the other person involved, that they will need to create a situation in which there is no difficulty or pressure if someone changes their minds, that they need to see that there is enthusiastic involvement from their sexual partners and care about their pleasure. Those are the conversations we should be having, that is what we should be aiming for, that is what the bare minimum should look like. And that is what would change everything.
No, it wasn’t rape, but it was definitely wrong.