Tamsin

 I am lucky. My parents raised me to know that no one should touch me without my consent. I was taught a little about consent in sex education and Keeping Ourselves Safe programmes at school. I have been less affected by rape culture than many people I know. I have never been raped or sexually assaulted.  But I still have stories to tell.
I was bullied at primary school. When I told a teacher about one of the most persistent bullies, she responded “He just likes you and doesn’t know how to behave around a girl he likes.” That seems to be a common narrative: if a boy bullies a girl, it must mean he likes her! And this gets used to excuse bullying and violence.
When I was nine, a boy in my class decided that I was his girlfriend. I didn’t get any say in the matter. He declared it to all and sundry, and seemed to take delight in invading my personal space, trying to kiss me, and generally making me as uncomfortable as possible. I avoided him, and at least once, I physically shoved him away from me; it didn’t seem to deter him. The other boys in the class followed his lead and often teased me about him. I remember being told that I was making him sad by avoiding him. It wasn’t until around ten years later that I realised that his behaviour was harassment.
The worst part was that my teacher encouraged him. She thought it was cute, and also seemed to think that his “crush” on me would mean I could be a good influence – at least once, she sent him to sit next to me when he misbehaved. Once, when I was feeling miserable, she tried to cheer me up by telling me that “[harassing boy] thinks you’re the bees’ knees!”
Again, it’s the narratives: if a boy harasses a girl, it means he likes her, not that he likes making her uncomfortable. If she avoids him, it means she’s shy, not that she’s scared of him. Plenty of “romance” stories legitimise this sort of behaviour. If rape culture is a continuum of hostility to consent (and it is), this is rape culture.
I have other stories, too. Like every woman I know, I’ve been catcalled and harassed on the street. I can never remember which seat of a taxi I’m supposed to sit in to have the best chance of escaping if the driver tries to rape me. I was taught at school that it was one of the back seats, but which one?
I remember being taught about stranger danger; I remember learning SONGS about stranger danger, but I was never taught that most rapists are known to their victims. In sex ed, we were taught that sex without consent is rape and that it’s OK to say no, but we were never taught what meaningful consent looks like or how to respect other peoples’ boundaries.
These are just some of the ways in which rape culture manifests all around us. On their own, they can seem like small things, maybe. But they’re so ubiquitous. Rape culture is ubiquitous. We need to recognise that, and change it.

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