A Woman’s Body is not a Commodity

Are we becoming inured to sexual assault narratives?

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Being​ ​woken​ ​by​ ​a​ ​mouth​ ​salivating​ ​between​ ​my​ ​legs and​ ​readying​ ​me​ ​for consumption​ ​is​ ​how​ ​I​ ​remember​ ​my​ ​life​ ​as​ ​a​ ​young​ ​bride.​ ​

Batting​ ​at​ ​the head​ ​with​ ​a​ ​limp​ ​hand​ ​while​ ​struggling​ ​to​ ​wake​ ​up​ ​was​ ​pointless,​ ​ditto rolling​ ​over,​ ​and​ ​by​ ​the​ ​time​ ​I​ ​was​ ​awake,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​too​ ​late. This​ ​is​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​enduring​ ​memories​ ​of​ ​the​ ​ill-fated​ ​union​ ​I​ ​entered into​ ​aged​ ​19​ ​and​ ​exited​ ​three​ ​years​ ​later.

Another​ ​is​ ​my​ ​then-husband​ ​accompanying​ ​me​ ​to​ ​the​ ​doctor’s​ ​after​ ​I returned​ ​from​ ​a​ ​study​ ​trip​ ​abroad​ ​during​ ​which​ ​I​ ​was​ ​raped​ ​by​ ​an acquaintance. “He​ ​forced​ ​himself​ ​on​ ​her,”​ ​he​ ​tells​ ​our​ ​family​ ​physician. It only takes five words to downgrade​ ​horror​ ​to​ ​a​ ​euphemism,​ ​my​ ​person​ ​to​ ​a​ ​pronoun, and consign​ ​us​ ​both​ ​to​ ​namelessness.

This​ ​man​ ​I​ ​loved — a​ ​handsome​ ​professional​ ​nine​ ​years​ ​my​ ​senior​ ​with many​ ​letters​ ​after​ ​his​ ​name — routinely​ ​objectified​ ​me​ ​without​ ​a​ ​second thought.​ ​Like​ ​his​ ​beloved​ ​car,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​just​ ​another​ ​accessory​ ​designed​ ​to enhance​ ​his​ ​social​ ​status. “This​ ​is​ ​my​ ​wife,​ ​she​ ​speaks​ ​three​ ​languages,”​ ​is​ ​how​ ​he​ ​used​ ​to​ ​introduce me​ ​at​ ​social​ ​gatherings.​ ​It’s​ ​been​ ​many ​years​ ​since​ ​the divorce​ ​but the​ ​recollection​ ​still​ ​stings.

Being​ ​denied​ ​a​ ​first​ ​name​ ​and​ ​introduced​ ​as​ ​some​ ​property​ ​complete​ ​with features​ ​list was dehumanizing.

And yet, good guys often do the same.

In​ ​a​ ​dominance hierarchy,​ ​this​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​talk​ ​is​ ​routine. ​It is​ ​something​ ​many​ ​women​ ​have​ ​gotten​ ​used​ ​to​ ​as​ ​it’s​ ​easy​ ​to​ ​overlook,​ ​easy​ ​to​ ​tune​ ​out,​ ​even​ ​easy to​ ​dismiss​ ​as​ ​normal​ ​under​ ​certain​ ​circumstances.​ ​We​ ​let​ ​it​ ​go​ ​because​ ​running the​ ​risk​ ​of​ ​unwanted​ ​confrontation​ ​by​ ​drawing​ ​attention​ ​to​ ​language​ ​seems more​ ​trouble​ ​than​ ​it’s​ ​worth.

I’ve​ ​done​ ​it,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​know​ ​that​ ​I’ll​ ​do​ ​it​ ​again,​ ​because​ ​I​ ​haven’t​ ​got​ ​the emotional​ ​wherewithal​ ​to​ ​fight​ ​every​ ​battle​ ​that​ ​comes​ ​my​ ​way.​ ​Let’s​ ​face​ ​it, who​ ​does? That’s​ ​how​ ​we​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​forget​ that ​words​ ​matter. ​We​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​forget​ ​words​ ​are​ ​how we​ ​humans​ ​​communicate​ with one another,​ ​and​ ​that’s​ ​why​ ​we give​ ​harassment​ ​a​ ​free​ ​pass:​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​the​ ​peace.

And​ ​soon​ ​it’s​ ​not​ ​about​ ​words​ ​anymore​ ​but​ ​about​ ​body​ ​language​ ​as​ ​the preferred​ ​method​ ​of​ ​getting​ ​one’s​ ​point​ ​across.

Like​ ​many​ ​who​ ​read​ ​the​ ​transcript​ ​of​ ​the​ ​conversation​ ​between​ ​Donald Trump,​ ​​Billy​ ​Bush​,​ ​and​ ​​Arianne​ ​Zucker,​ ​​I​ ​suddenly​ ​found​ ​myself​ ​faced​ ​with the​ ​shameful​ ​remnants​ ​of​ ​a​ ​long​ ​repressed​ ​memory.

​That​ ​of​ ​being​ ​pulled​ ​by the​ ​crotch​ ​on​ ​an​ ​Amsterdam​ ​dance​ ​floor​ ​toward — and​ ​by — the​ ​man​ ​I was​ ​dating at the time almost two decades ago. As​ ​a​ ​reflex,​ ​I​ ​refused​ ​to​ ​dignify​ ​the​ ​gesture​ ​with​ ​any​ ​acknowledgement. I also decided​ ​no​ ​one​ ​around​ ​me​ ​could​ ​possibly have​ ​seen​ ​it.​ ​With​ ​a lump​ ​in​ ​my​ ​throat​ ​and​ ​a​ ​knot​ ​in​ ​my​ ​stomach,​ ​I​ ​wrapped​ ​my​ ​arms​ ​around​ ​my date,​ ​and​ ​carried​ ​on​ ​dancing.

For​ ​dignity’s​ ​sake,​ ​or​ ​at​ ​least​ ​that’s​ ​what​ ​I​ ​told​ ​myself​ ​at​ ​the​ ​time.

Even​ ​though​ ​I​ ​wouldn’t​ ​understand​ ​this​ ​until​ ​much​ ​later,​ ​what​ ​happened there​ ​was​ ​sexual​ ​assault. It wasn’t ​new​ ​to​ ​me​ ​at​ ​all,​ ​but​ ​it was something​ ​I had​ ​become​ ​expertly​ ​skilled​ ​at​ ​denying. So​ ​strong​ ​was​ ​my​ ​denial​ ​that​ ​I​ ​refused​ ​to​ ​see​ ​other​ ​humans​ ​degrading​ ​me as​ ​wrong.​ ​

Instead,​ ​I​ ​saw​ ​myself​ ​as​ ​the​ ​wrong — rather​ ​than wronged — party,​ ​and​ ​carried​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​shame​ ​as​ ​a​ ​result,​ ​shame​ ​that​ ​was neatly​ ​tucked​ ​away​ ​from​ ​view,​ ​deep​ ​inside​ ​my​ ​heart,​ ​silent. I​ ​still​ ​carry​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​shame,​ ​but​ ​something​ ​changed​ ​after​ ​the​ ​Trump​ ​tapes:​ ​I started writing about it.

I’ve​ ​come​ ​to​ ​equate​ ​silence​ ​with​ ​tacit​ ​complicity. Silence is an unspoken ​acceptance of every​ ​instance​ ​of​ ​sexual​ ​assault​ ​I’ve​ ​ever​ ​experienced​ ​as a black​ ​mark​ against my character, my morals, my intellect. In​ ​the​ ​same​ ​vein,​ ​I​ ​struggle​ ​with​ ​the​ ​word​ ​victim​ ​because​ ​it​ ​implies — to me — an​ ​abdication​ ​of​ ​agency ​I ​can​ ​never​ ​agree with, regardless of how accurate it might be. Instead,​ ​I prefer​ ​the​ ​word​ ​survivor because​ ​surviving​ ​means​ ​rising​ ​above,​ ​overcoming, moving​ ​on.

Because,​ ​again,​ ​words​ ​matter. ​While​ ​I​ ​may​ ​not​ ​have​ ​had​ ​any​ ​choice​ ​in how​ ​my​ ​story​ ​unfolded,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​a​ ​choice​ ​in​ ​how​ ​I​ ​tell​ ​it.​ ​Also,​ ​I’m​ ​lucky:​ ​I have​ ​the​ ​privilege​ ​of​ ​still​ ​being​ ​alive. Sometimes,​ ​there’s​ ​no​ ​escape​ ​from​ ​sexual​ ​assault​ ​and​ ​it’s​ ​fatal; sometimes,​ ​there​ ​are​ ​no​ ​survivors,​ ​only​ ​victims.

With​ ​this​ ​in​ ​mind,​ ​is​ ​it​ ​any​ ​wonder​ ​so​ ​much​ ​silence​ ​surrounds​ ​sexual assault?

Much​ ​like​ ​denial,​ ​silence​ ​can​ ​be​ ​an​ ​act​ ​of​ ​self-preservation. I’ve​ ​pretended​ ​all​ ​was​ ​well​ ​so​ ​I​ ​could​ ​keep​ ​going.​ ​I​ ​used​ ​to​ ​tell myself and​ ​whoever​ ​enquired​ ​about​ ​my​ ​love​ ​life that​ ​I​ ​was​ ​a​ ​weirdo magnet,​ ​on​ ​account​ ​of​ ​my​ ​attracting​ ​men​ ​with​ ​a​ ​non-standard​ ​take​ ​on human​ ​relationships.

The​ ​way​ ​I​ ​saw​ ​it,​ ​I​ ​happened to have ​an​ ​unfortunate​ ​gift​ ​for​ ​bringing​ ​out​ ​the​ ​worst​ ​in some​ ​men,​ ​the​ ​same​ ​men​ ​Donald​ ​Trump’s​ ​son​ ​Eric​ ​called​ “​​ alpha personalities”. To any woman ​​​familiar​ ​with​ ​sexual​ ​assault​, the term means ​domineering​ ​men​ ​who​ ​zero​ ​in​ ​on​ ​a​ ​woman’s​ ​insecurities​ ​before they​ ​pounce.

Or,​ ​rather,​ ​before​ ​they​ ​​“move​ ​on”​​ ​a​ ​woman. Again,​ ​words​ ​matter.

As​ ​a​ ​somewhat​ ​introverted,​ ​bookish​ ​type,​ ​being​ ​approached​ ​by​ ​an​ ​“alpha personality”​ ​was​ ​always​ ​a​ ​source​ ​of​ ​much​ ​consternation​ ​to​ ​me. What’s​ ​a​ ​shark​ ​doing​ ​talking​ ​to​ ​a​ ​minnow,​ ​I’d​ ​ask​ ​myself. But​ ​because,​ ​out​ ​of​ ​principle,​ ​I’ll​ ​talk​ ​to​ ​anyone — curiosity​ ​drives​ ​me, after​ ​all — I​ ​once​ ​ended​ ​up​ ​in​ ​a​ ​very​ ​destructive​ ​relationship​ ​with​ ​a​ ​skilled conversationalist​ ​and​ ​orator. And then I discovered he never wrote any of his speeches nor had he read a single one of the books he alluded to. He also had his own book entirely ghostwritten by his long-suffering assistant without crediting her. His culture was a fabrication, a mirage, something he wished he had but never possessed.

And yet, even​ ​that​ ​man’s​ ​legendary​ ​temper​ ​was​ ​no​ ​match​ ​for​ ​a​ ​charisma​ ​which seemed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​all-encompassing. I​ eventually ​understood​ ​it​ ​was​ ​easy​ ​to manipulate​ ​those​ ​who​ ​looked​ ​up​ ​to​ ​you​ ​as​ ​long​ ​as​ ​you​ ​didn’t​ ​live​ ​among them.

At​ ​the​ ​time,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​in​ ​a​ ​precarious​ ​professional​ ​situation, ​and​ ​he​ ​was​ ​in​ ​a position​ ​of​ ​power. It​ ​never​ ​even​ ​crossed​ ​my​ ​mind​ ​he​ ​could​ ​only​ ​have​ ​been​ ​interested​ ​in​ ​the packaging​ ​I​ ​came​ ​in​ ​and​ ​the​ ​labels​ ​on​ ​top​ ​of​ ​said​ ​packaging​ ​rather​ ​than what​ ​the​ ​packaging​ ​contained. ​Because​ ​I’ve​ ​only​ ​ever​ ​identified​ ​as​ ​a human​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​a​ ​pair​ ​of​ ​lumps​ ​on​ ​the​ ​front,​ ​a​ ​pair​ ​of​ ​humps​ ​on​ ​the back,​ ​and​ ​a​ ​trio​ ​of​ ​penetrable​ ​holes. But​ ​to​ ​men​ ​like​ ​him,​ ​lumps,​ ​humps,​ ​and​ ​holes​ ​are​ ​all​ ​I​ ​am,​ ​and​ ​all​ ​I​ ​can ever​ ​be — a​ ​sexual​ ​relief​ ​solution​ ​at​ ​worst,​ ​a​ ​social​ ​adornment​ ​at​ ​best.

“Take​ ​it​ ​like​ ​a​ ​woman,”​ ​he​ ​said,​ ​knowing​ ​I​ ​loved​ ​him​ ​fiercely,​ ​defiantly, defensively,​ ​and — clearly — unconditionally.

Pinned​ ​down​ ​by​ ​the​ ​wrists​ ​in​ ​the​ ​guest​ ​room​ ​of​ ​a​ ​full​ ​house​ ​in​ ​a​ ​remote location,​ ​there​ ​was​ ​little​ ​I​ ​could​ ​do​ ​but​ ​submit​ ​as​ ​quietly​ ​as​ ​possible.​ ​I​ ​didn’t want​ ​to​ ​make​ ​a​ ​fuss,​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​wake​ ​anyone​ ​up,​ ​and I​ ​didn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​be​ ​​forced​​ ​to​ ​do​ ​anything​ ​if​ ​I​ ​could​ ​​choose​​ ​to do​ ​it​ ​instead.

To​ ​be​ ​clear,​ ​I​ ​made​ ​the​ ​decision​ ​to​ ​give​ ​in​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​have​ ​the​ ​decision​ ​be made​ ​for​ ​me. ​Admittedly, the​ ​distinction​ ​between​ ​the​ ​two remains​ ​blurry​ ​and​ ​thus ​questionable.

This​ ​decision — or​ ​how​ ​I​ ​remember​ ​making​ ​what​ ​I​ ​refer to as ​a​ ​decision — was the​ ​only​ ​act​ ​of​ ​self-preservation​ ​within​ ​my​ ​reach,​ ​with​ ​self-respect​ ​written​ ​in tall,​ ​bold​ ​capital​ ​letters​ ​on​ ​the​ ​price​ ​tag.

Even​ ​though​ ​I​ ​should​ ​have​ ​known​ ​better​ ​then,​ ​I​ ​somehow​ ​managed​ ​to convince​ ​myself​ ​I’d​ ​bounce​ ​back​ ​again,​ ​as​ ​always. Self-delusion​ ​was​ ​my​ ​armor. After​ ​all,​ ​my​ ​lover’s​ ​behavior​ ​was,​ ​I​ ​reasoned,​ ​​a​ ​side-effect​ ​of​ ​living in​ ​an​ ​overly​ ​macho​ ​​culture ​and​ ​I​ ​was​ just ​meeting​ ​expectations. Never​ ​mind​ ​that​ ​those​ ​expectations​ ​were​ ​someone​ ​else’s​ ​and​ ​not​ ​my​ ​own. What​ ​I​ ​needed​ ​and​ ​wanted​ ​that​ ​night​ ​was​ ​a​ ​hug,​ ​a​ ​little​ ​affection,​ ​not penetration​ ​I​ ​wasn’t​ ​ready​ ​for.

In​ ​case​ ​this​ ​is​ ​still​ ​a​ ​source​ ​of​ ​confusion​ ​to​ ​some​ ​men,​ ​sexual​ ​intercourse​ ​is not​ ​the​ ​most​ ​valuable​ ​gift​ ​you​ ​can​ ​bestow​ ​upon​ ​a woman. Nor​ ​is​ ​it​ ​an inalienable​ ​right​ ​of​ ​yours​ ​like,​ ​say,​ ​free​ ​speech. On​ ​this​ ​subject,​ ​had​ ​my​ ​lover​ ​tried​ ​talking​ ​to​ ​me​ ​that​ ​night,​ ​he​ ​may​ ​have realized​ ​I​ ​had​ ​lips​ ​on​ ​my​ ​face,​ ​too.

But​ ​he​ ​didn’t.

And​ ​so​ ​I​ ​learned​ ​“Take​ ​it​ ​like​ ​a​ ​woman”​ ​doesn’t​ ​mean​ ​“I​ ​love​ ​you”.​ ​It was​ ​nothing​ ​but​ ​a​ ​command​ ​to​ ​submit,​ ​a​ ​reminder​ ​I​ ​was​ ​his​ ​for​ ​the​ ​taking. An​ ​erroneous​ ​assumption​ ​on​ ​his​ ​part. A​ ​woman​ ​can​ ​belong​ ​​with​​ ​a​ ​man​ ​but​ ​she​ ​can​ ​never​ ​belong​ ​​to​​ ​a​ ​man. ​Even if​ ​she​ ​loves​ ​him. ​Even​ ​if​ ​she’s​ ​living​ ​with​ ​him. ​Even​ ​if​ ​she’s​ ​married​ ​to​ ​him. Even​ ​if​ ​she’s​ ​the​ ​mother​ ​of​ ​his​ ​children.

As​ ​my​ ​lover​ ​discovered,​ ​willingness​ ​and​ ​consent​ ​should​ ​never​ ​be​ ​bullied out​ ​of​ ​a​ ​woman as the​ ​human​ ​body​ ​can’t​ ​fake​ ​what​ ​the​ ​mind​ ​doesn’t​ ​want.

Not​ ​that​ ​the​ ​pain​ ​his​ ​assumption​ ​caused​ ​me​ ​even​ ​registered. The​ ​illusion​ ​of​ ​his​ ​discovery​ ​was​ ​mine,​ ​and​ ​mine​ ​only.

When​ ​​lewd​ ​remarks​ ​Trump​ ​made​ ​about​ ​women​ ​in​ ​2005​ ​resurfaced during the 2016 presidential race,​ ​women in America ​started​ ​sharing​ stories of sexual​ ​assault.

Online, in print, on TV, we grew a momentum designed to send one simple message to men: enough! The conversation lasted a hot minute. On Nov 8, 2016, America​ ​had​ ​the​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​let​ ​Trump ​know​ ​she​ ​wasn’t​ ​his​ ​for the​ ​taking. She​ ​submitted​ ​instead,​ ​courtesy​ ​of​ ​an​ ​archaic electoral​ ​system​ ​set​ ​up​ ​centuries​ ​ago​.

As Dr Christine Blasey Ford put her life on the line to try and educate America about the character of Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, sexual assault was once again under the spotlight. For another hot minute. And women were back to being the target of slut-shaming, ad hominem attacks, and, in the case of Dr Blasey Ford, death threats.

Since​ ​the​ ​day​ ​of​ ​his​ ​inauguration,​ Trump has​ ​been​ ​reminding​ ​us​ ​daily​ ​that​ ​our​ ​bodies​ ​solely​ ​exist​ ​for​ ​the​ ​sexual enjoyment​ ​and​ ​reproductive​ ​use​ ​of​ ​men​ ​like​ ​him, men​ ​who​ ​legislate​ ​about​ ​organs they​ ​do​ ​not​ ​have ​and​ about ​how​ ​to​ ​use​ ​them. That​ ​America​ ​should​ ​now​ ​be​ ​represented​ ​at​ ​home​ ​and​ ​abroad​ ​by​ ​an ​individual​ ​who​ ​deems​ ​it​ ​acceptable​ ​for​ ​half​ ​of​ ​the​ ​population​ ​to​ ​treat​ ​the other​ ​half​ ​like​ ​a​ ​commodity is an ever-growing orange stain on the moral fabric of this country.

Aghast,​ ​I​ ​observe​ ​this​ ​America​ ​reified​ ​by​ ​the​ ​current administration​ ​and​ ​see​ ​a​ ​country​ ​with​ ​which​ ​millions​ ​of​ ​women​ ​like​ ​me have​ ​little​ ​in​ ​common​ ​besides​ ​mutual​ ​contempt. Rape culture and sexual assault have become so normalized that even so-called feminist editors won’t publish pieces about it unless they’re “original” or the writer is a celebrity. If you’re not willing to turn your story into clickbait, forget it.

I’m expected to share all the juicy details in the bid to force readers to empathize but self-respect continues to prevent me from selling off my privacy to the highest bidder.

If you need to be titillated because you can’t read between the lines then you, too, are part of the problem, regardless of what gender you identify with.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

The human condition is not a pathology・👋ASingularStory[at]gmail・ ☕️ https://ko-fi.com/ASingularStory

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