Rape Culture? Blame Grandma

At five, relatives used to kiss my cheeks even as I winced and turned away. 

Jordan Bosiljevac, The Forum, Claremont McKenna College

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.



23 thoughts on “Rape Culture? Blame Grandma

  1. Bartleby the Scrivener

    So if I understand things correctly, according to her, since none of the sex I’ve ever had has never been acting to disrupt the structure of “racist, classist, ableist, patriarchal, hetero and cissexist” culture, all the sex I’ve ever had is rape? Since consent was not ‘available’ to either of us, I find myself wondering who was raped. Was it me or my partners? Is all hetero or cissex rape, since engaging in such goes directly to reinforcement of the paradigms of hetero or cissex culture?

    Lastly, I find myself wondering about who she is going to blame when she can’t get a job. While she will surely not blame her lack of critical thinking, I’m torn between thinking she’ll blame the “racist, classist, ableist, patriarchal, hetero and cissexist” culture or her teachers for helping her in her pursuit of what I suspect is a degree that is of rather dubious marketability.

    1. Rob McMillin

      Outside of academia, Women’s Studies majors result in jobs that entail the heavy use of phrases like, “Would you like fries with that?” This is why the rape culture myth is so important to keep breathing: Title IX provides sinecures to the otherwise unemployable.

  2. Patrick Maupin

    If you’re truly pissed that Barleycorn’s links get more clicks than yours, you gotta start posting higher quality links. Your great post doesn’t address half the shit in that link, but to be fair, I’m not sure anybody could think deeply about that without going insane.

    Where was my trigger warning????

    1. SHG Post author

      Day by day, I realize how much I don’t understand. And yet, the explanations don’t help.

  3. lawrence kaplan

    SHG: You are a “wealthy (?), heterosexual, cis, white, western, able-bodied male. How is it, then, that allowed your grandmother to kiss you on your cheek? What happened to the exercise of your consent which it seems that only you and those like you possess?

    1. SHG Post author

      Thanks for the question mark. Yeah, beats me. I kinda loved my grandmother, but never really gave a second thought to the fact that she kissed me. And to make it worse, I still kiss my father (who turned 90 yesterday, I hasten to add).

      1. Patrick Maupin

        Fortunately, my 100 yo stepfather seems happy with a handshake. I’m sure I _could_ kiss the male in-laws if it was a thing, but I’m more than happy that it’s not.

        1. SHG Post author

          I knew someone would have to make a thing out of that. It makes him happy. I can suffer. Though I do kiss my son (which he truly hates, but let’s me do anyway). That pretty much covers my guy kissing thing. Happy now?

          1. Patrick Maupin

            Sorry, didn’t mean to make a thing out of it. Because it’s not part of my family’s culture, I’m… relieved, I suppose, that it’s also not part of my wife’s family culture. I’m not trying to micro-aggress. Probably typed more than I should, since I just had a couple of margaritas at the workplace Cinco de Mayo celebration…

            1. Patrick Maupin

              Oh, yeah. And tamales and flautas and these jalapeno/cream cheese/bacon slider/popper things. It’s hard to go wrong with jalapenos and bacon, although we have a few new guys who aren’t from around here, and I had to explain to more than one of them after watching them stuff it in their mouths that they don’t want to swallow it whole — the jalapenos are fastened to the bacon with a toothpick. It was almost like Gerald Ford in San Antonio all over again.

            2. Patrick Maupin

              No doubt. But on the off-chance that my 5 second intervention helped to insure the couple of months we have invested in each of these guys, it seemed worth the effort. OTOH, one of them is awfully quick with really bad puns, so maybe I should have re-thought my strategy there.

          1. Bartleby the Scrivener

            Please thank your father for his work to keep our country a place where my children and I can vote, speak freely, and enjoy the other benefits of our fine country.

            (I am sorry if I this was intrusive or too far off-topic)

            1. SHG Post author

              He only did it because chicks dig guys in uniform.

              Oh, I’m gonna catch grief for this one, but he said it, and he’s really old. Give him a break.

  4. lawrence kaplan

    Of the culture of rape I will speak
    If its root cause you’re longing to seek
    You’ve not far to go
    Take it straight from this pro
    It’s grandma’s kiss on the cheek

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