TW. Reading the recent posts (by NinjaCate and Slaybelle) on harassment and rape made me remember some tidbits of my upbringing, re: statutory rape (I wasn't raped - just about the attitudes and discussions).
Lately, all these tidbits of random rape culture experiences, harassment, or WTF moments are pouring back to me as I contemplate my past. My memory had been shot for a while after some trauma and I think that it is returning, and I have new eyes on events of my past.
The Parental Sex Talk
Lacking any mention of "consent."
When I was in late middle school and early high school, I had a couple friends, who were 13, 14, 15-ish who would "date" college aged guys, and guys right out of college.
My sex talk mostly consisted of me telling my parents I was planning on waiting until marriage, my mother saying, "oh, nobody really does that" and then telling me that my youngest brother is a condom baby so I was going to have a bunch of accidental pregnancies despite my best efforts because women in our family, apparently, are "Fertile Myrtle." She actually assumed I was already having sex, when I wasn't, and didn't believe me when I said I wasn't.
My parents gave me a sex talk when I was like 4 or 5 and didn't understand much of anything they said because they focused on the science stuff, and then again when I was 15, and that was this gem of a conversation you see above. They like to tell the story of that first sex talk, because I was so confused I asked if I could watch Mom and Dad do it so I could understand. Blegh!
There were a lot of predatory older men who hung around our neighborhood of upper middle class white people. A lot of us teenagers worked at the local golf/tennis club, and the men would gawk at the girls and try to buy them beer. Golfers used to call me out of my backyard (which backed up to the course) to ask me how old I was and if I'd ever had beer. Maybe they liked my haircut, or those shorts I was wearing. These could easily have been people that knew my parents. They sometimes asked if my parents were home.
My parents used to say, "Older guys only want one thing!" and wag their fingers, tisking at the girls I hung with. I was in a holier-than-thou Christian phase, and so I smugly thought, "yeah, those guys just want sex out of those girls!" and I viewed my girlfriends as stupid and the men as manipulative. I never thought about what that situation was really about: coercion and statutory rape.
While I would 99% agree with the quote from my parents, my issue comes with their tone. They never gave this situation the gravity it deserved. It was said in a "you know, too much ice cream will give you a stomach ache" tone. No one told me what it really means when an adult is pursuing a kid - whether he has sex with her or not.
I remember thinking, when I heard accounts of statutory rape, that it was a lesser rape. That it always meant consent was had, and just that our laws were refusing to recognize that love can happen at any age.
I am outraged that I thought that. I am outraged at myself, and I am outraged that no adult in my life - even as open as my parents were about sex with me - even once fucking talked to me about what consent really means.
All I ever heard about, regarding statutory rape, was about some poor guy's life getting ruined because his girlfriend's dad suddenly didn't like him and decided to have him arrested. Or maybe she got pregnant which let the cat out of the bag. In those cases, she was the one who got pregnant because she was too young to be having sex because she did not understand birth control. That was the tone.
There was never any chance that she was coerced, or pressured. There was never any chance that she thought maybe he was her only chance at a future, and she had to please him. There was never any chance that a full-blown adult was capable of sexually manipulating a kid. And, of course, there was never any chance that he should have known about using a condom.
"Older guys only want one thing!" said in a cheerful, finger-wagging tone reminds me a lot of "Boys will be boys." The statement is applied across the board - a freshman girl dating a senior guy, or a freshman girl dating a 25-year-old guy.
My [almost] Statutory Rape
And how not disgusted my parents were about it.
I wasn't really raped, in two ways: 1) I never had any kind of actual sex with this guy, though I was inappropriately touched and we made out, and 2) I was 16 at the time, which was technically age of consent in South Carolina (but, he was in his 40s, so.... I'm going to give it an "almost").
I could maybe classify this under "Not Rape" (major TW) as has been mentioned the past couple days around here, although nothing violent happened.
I worked at a small, family-owned sporting good store on Saturdays in high school. Because everyone was at soccer games, almost no one came in. I watched TV most of the time. The owner's cousin "Jim" oversaw their online sales and pretty much acted as a manager. He made a point of coming in on Saturdays to work, even though it was his day off.
Jim asked me a lot of questions about boyfriends. I always had them, but it was still new to me because I was new to being attractive. I was big breasted, athletic, and had red hair (which has always attracted creeps to me).
He complimented my physical appearance. He talked a lot about my breast size, even having me model sports bras for him once. He told me about his sexual adventures with random women.
He asked me a lot of questions about how physical I got with boyfriends. I loved having this adult conversation with an adult, since obviously this wasn't a parent-grade conversation and because I had no older siblings. At that point, I did all the things a good Catholic girl did with her boyfriends - lots of heavy petting and oral. I had never orgasmed but I faked them all the time - when I disclosed that to him, he gave me a lot of sexual advice to tell to my boyfriends.
He tried to get me to go on dates with him, repeatedly. But never did he frame it like that - it was always about, "we should hang out," "we should go get drinks," etc. I know he knew how old I was. We always made a vague plan to hang out but it never panned out because I kept myself busy, and (rightly) my boyfriends fucking hated this guy, even though they never knew the half of it.
He gave me a $4/hour raise. In 1999-200s, at ages 14-17 I was making $12/hour watching TV at a soccer store, probably because I was cute.
When my parents asked about my job, I was pretty up front about Jim, but my feelings were good about him, because I felt very adult and wanted. I felt HOT. I would tell them things like, "Jim thinks I can get any guy I want if I wear X" or "Jim thinks that even though I am a little bit bigger than the other girls, I'll be more attractive to real men" or "Jim wants to take me to X to do X one day."
I told them how he bought me expensive gifts - including a $500 pair of Oakley sunglasses. He bought me lunch every time. Sometimes, if we knew it would be slow, we'd lock the door and leave and go to breakfast - he always paid.
AND WHAT IS THEIR RESPONSE? "Oh ok honey! Careful he's not trying to have sex with you!"
My mom even used to mention that he creeped her out. Never once did she say, "you are being sexually harassed at work and you should report this/quit that job/tell this guy to fuck off." I didn't even fucking know it.
It's possible my mother has internalized rape culture enough not to recognize this.
I knew he was trying to have sex with me. And they should have fucking known too. A good Catholic girl, I wouldn't have consented to sex. However, I wanted it and probably would have eventually had it gone on longer, or had I lost religion at that point.
My friends knew that Jim liked me, that I had a weird older "almost boyfriend," etc. Sometimes they would come in to visit me at work so they could hang around him and get sexually harassed. I bet he was in heaven.
The real kicker was that he told me he was going to marry me after I graduated high school. I thought this was the greatest possible news anyone would ever give me.
In the last few months of working there before I quit to focus on getting ready for college (and my more lucrative babysitting gigs), we made out a bunch of times. I moved on, and he called me sometimes when I was off at college but after that, I never saw him again.
It took years for me to recognize just how creepy this situation was.
I do not feel particularly traumatized about Jim. I recognize him for what he is now, and I am pleased that my confidence was high enough that it didn't entirely ride on him. I do feel startled by a few things:
-Mostly my parents' absolute nonchalance about this. WTF, parents? I was slowly becoming the victim of coercion by an older, predatory guy who was my BOSS - and you noticed yet thought it was innocent. Did you think I was just able to fend for myself? I was, turns out, but for not any of the right reasons.
-My obsession with Jim's attention. This is how I know it was unhealthy, now. I was really focused on what I wore for Jim, the fact that an older man thought I was beautiful. Because that is the thing we are taught to value, as women. His male gaze was important. That marriage promise? Bonus. I remember thinking, "finally, my life is all figured out, I won't die alone, and I won't have to attract men or deal with high school boys anymore." At 17.
-Jim's forwardness. Jim clearly knew there would be no consequences to this behavior - he may have even thought it was fine and never once considered it predatory. He pursued me as if he knew he would win, knew I wouldn't be upset, and knew my parents would not be a factor. It was as if he already knew all the right moves, and recognized my vulnerabilities.
Thanks for reading this. In traditional HML fashion, it's a bit long-winded.