At five, relatives used to kiss my cheeks even as I winced and turned away.
Me too! In fact, even today I avoid social kissing, when someone I meet goes to kiss me on the cheek, and I don’t want them to. I don’t mean to be rude, but I just don’t like kissing, or being kissed by, random mouths or cheeks. But then, I make a choice.
These incidents, unfortunately, are not unique to me. In discussing this experience with friends, we coined the term “raped by rape culture” to describe what it was like to say yes, coerced by the culture that had raised us and the systems of power that worked on us, and to still want ‘no.’ Sometimes, for me, there was obligation from already having gone back to someone’s room, not wanting to ruin a good friendship, loneliness, worry that no one else would ever be interested, a fear that if I did say no, they might not stop, the influence of alcohol, and an understanding that hookups are “supposed” to be fun.
We are all the product of our life experiences, from grandma’s kisses to whatever feelings of social inadequacy we carry around in our pockets. We act, or don’t, based upon the secret private forces inside our heads that tell us to do, or don’t do, something. Jordan is right that it’s not unique to her.
But what distinguishes her philippic against human experience, language and, ultimately, any personal responsibility for her decisions is this:
[W]e coined the term “raped by rape culture” to describe what it was like to say yes, coerced by the culture that had raised us and the systems of power that worked on us, and to still want ‘no.’
Consent is a privilege, and it was built for wealthy, heterosexual, cis, white, western, able-bodied masculinity.
The bad news, Jordan, is that you are not oppressed. You go to college. You aren’t tortured by the Viet Cong. You don’t go to bed at night hungry, or wonder whether you will have a cardboard box to shield you from the rain. Your biggest problem is that you are conflicted about whether to have sex, and feel a nagging pain because you sometimes agree to it when you really don’t want to.
And this started with grandma’s kiss, which made you wince.
At the National Review, Katherine Timpf ridicules this foray into extreme infantile indulgence:
She does, however, clarify that you can actually be a person in one of these groups, or, as she explains it, “a person oppressed in these systems of power,” and still be capable of having “empowering consensual experiences.” Yep — even if you’re a female, you’re still capable of maybe actually wanting to have sex and enjoying it sometimes! Glad she clarified. If she hadn’t, I would have never imagined such a thing could be possible.
So what do we do? After all, there’s no way to tell if a woman is actually wanting to have sex or just saying that she wants to have sex even though she doesn’t because she’s a helpless victim of male oppression that makes it impossible for her to use the right words.
Timpf has the wrong expectations here. She’s asking for a rational outcome from an outpouring of blind emotion. Just because a college student and her friends came up with a phrase that would make Humpty Dumpty blush, “raped by rape culture,” doesn’t mean anyone should repeat it or take it seriously.
Lest you think Bosiljevac is just complaining, she does offer a solution:
“First, we have to realize that all oppression is connected, and all rape is racist, classist, ableist, patriarchal, hetero and cissexist,” she writes. “We cannot make consent available to all if we are not simultaneously disrupting these structures.”
There is an easier solution, Jordan, and one that requires no new cool phrases. Make wiser choices and then take responsibility for them. It’s possible that no one will love you if you decide to say no (or use words like “cissexist”), but you can’t force anyone else to love you any more than they can force you to have sex. Choices have consequences for all of us. Even you, Jordan. Get over your childhood traumas and grow up. Or not and enjoy your cats and bitterness.
But leave grandma out of this. Maybe she held you when you scraped your knee. Maybe she wiped your little tushy when she changed your diaper. Hopefully, she loved you without reservation, and maybe she would be the only person on the planet who won’t ridicule you for writing this childishness.
Yes, I get it that kisses on the cheek from shriveled up old folks are yucky. While I try to avoid them from acquaintances, and refuse to tolerate them from people I don’t know, grandma got to kiss me. Not because I liked it, but because it was the least I could do in appreciation of her love for me. I did nothing to earn her love, and yet there it was.
Have you, Jordan, done anything to earn the love of another? Despite the ridiculous “raped by rape culture,” you may find that you enjoy the vast privilege of being able to make grown up decisions with a full belly and a roof over your head, and that should soothe your conflicted feelings and allow you to focus on how you can do something to deserve the love of other people, instead of whining about your oppression.
Grandma would want you to do that. Grandma would want you to be happy. Grandma would want you to put away your childish toys and grow up to be a confident, responsible woman. Don’t disappoint grandma, Jordan. She deserves better. Whether you say “no” or “yes,” mean it and take responsibility for it. That’s what grandma would want.