Not All Men Are Rapists
Yes. An inflammatory headline. Since the recent Steubenville rape case and excavating and writing about my own experience as a victim of attempted rape when I was in college, I’ve grown increasingly anxious about raising daughters. Suddenly the world seems overrun by malevolent men keen on using and abusing women, then posting the results online, adding further degradation and humiliation to the female victims.
I attended a conference recently where one mother talked about Steubenville from the point of view of a woman raising sons, how it’s just as important for the parents of young men to discuss rape and assault as it is for those of us raising daughters to warn against it.
There’s an undeniable culture of misogyny running through our culture; in the ethos of certain rapper’s music, various male sports organizations and locker rooms, in corporate boardrooms and women betraying women in order to acquire the love of a man.
News headlines and social media would have us believe that misogyny is the rule, rather than the exception.
The other night, as aol.com informed me of yet another teenage female abduction, I spiralled into a very dark place so much so that I had to actively reprogram my mind to focus on the many times in my life, when I put myself in precarious situations, that an act of chivalry set me back on the right path.
I was a very naive college freshman at the University of Southern California in 1983. My dad and stepmom ran a tight ship during my childhood. My stepmom in particular had a bloodhound’s nose able to sniff out any would-be deflowerers lingering in the hedge outside our front door.
She managed to keep me chaste and safe all the way through high school graduation, so by the time I got to my college dorm room I was a hormonal nitrogen bomb just waiting to explode.
Thus began the campaign to lose my virginity. I met a square-jawed, blue-eyed God during college orientation. We spent the weekend wearing out our lips. As soon as I arrived the first semester I sought this devilishly handsome young man out. Thus began an exhausting, exhilarating month of heavy petting until one night, after two beers, I asked him to take my virginity.
His response was to hold my face between his hands, look me in the eye and say, “I can’t do that when I know you’ve been drinking. What if you regret it in the morning? I couldn’t live with that.” I argued vehemently that I knew exactly what I was doing and it was time. He argued just as vehemently that it was a bad idea. What a chivalrous, well-raised sweet man.
Soon I was distracted by a Bad Boy living in my dorm in the hallway named The Swamp. He was the guy who went through girls like a hot knife through butter. A shameless heartbreaker. Soon I came into his line of vision and he invited me to one of his fraternity parties. I was intoxicated by his rascally nature, the way he gamely did beer funnels and tequila shooters. The way all the girls wanted his attention, but he was focused like a laser on me. We ended up back at his dorm room, some poor girl trying to intercept us on our way in. He brushed her off and locked the door behind us.
Once inside we fell in a passionate heap onto his bed and things progressed, right up to the moment when I told him I was a virgin. It was as if my body had suddenly become a live wire, electrocuting him so thoroughly that he flew off of me practically leaving a body-shaped hole in the opposing wall of his dorm room.
His bad-boy veneer dropped, he was sober as a nun when he came back to me half-dressed and confused on his bed. He kneeled before me and took my hands in his. “I’m not the right guy to take your virginity. I’m an asshole. That girl in the hallway, the one who tried to stop us? She’s my girlfriend. You need a good guy. You deserve a good guy.”
And just like that I found myself being gently expelled from his dorm room and the door closing, ever so firmly, in my face.
There were two more men who turned me away when they discovered I was a virgin. I was beginning to feel very sorry for myself. As though I might be forever burdened by this toxic virginity. Until I met my college sweetheart. I was sitting in the Commons restaurant with my mom when a young man and his friend approached our table. He was holding a flower he’d taken from his table and handed it to me. “I just wanted to tell you that you’re the most beautiful girl in the room.” Then he walked away. And my mother swooned.
My college sweetheart was a USC football player. He had women lined up willing to be his sexual partners. When I told him I was a virgin I thought he might just turn around and walk into the waiting arms of a more seasoned lover. Instead we dated and he waited. Not forever, but until we were both in love. We were together five years. It wasn’t a perfect relationship, but he was the right man to take my virginity. I’m grateful it was him and no other, my first love.
As I remembered these experiences I remembered that rapists are exception, not the rule. Most men are chivalrous and even vulnerable to women in ways we don’t fully appreciate. Women have a great deal of emotional power over men and can harm them deeply if we’re not careful.
I don’t want to infect my daughters with my fear that men will do them harm. I want to teach them how to stay safe, but also to respect men for their strengths and fragility. To remember to be smart — and hopefully not as naive as I once was — but to also to have an open heart and appreciation for the opposite sex.
I’d love to hear the stories of how you talk to your daughters and sons about what it means to respect the opposite sex. And also what they can do to keep safe without stigmatizing either sex??