For day sixteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Latoya Peterson’s essay, “The Not-Rape Epidemic.” This was another of the most powerful in the book for me on first reading, and it’s informed a lot of how I think about rape culture and my own experiences. Peterson, the editor of Racialicious, tells the story of her own “not-rape” and a later experience in finding herself at a later rape trial of her “not rapist.” She also talks about the common experiences of young women with molestation, harassment, and statutory rape and the myth of the “cool older boyfriend.”
I consider myself lucky. Like Peterson, I’ve experienced some “not-rapes” in my life. I’ve been in a few situations where men demonstrated their physical power over me just to make sure I knew that they could do it if they wanted to. But I wasn’t the one that John* raped. I was lucky enough to simply get felt up and fingered in a bar without being asked. Later, John raped his girlfriend, and some small part of me felt relief, then guilt, then sympathy for the girlfriend and anger at my male friend, who had told me that John was a good guy, that John was single, and that John and I would make a good couple.
I’m also lucky because I wasn’t one of those 13-year-old girls with 19-year-old boyfriends, but boy did I want to be. Peterson’s absolutely right when she says that it’s “cool” for middle school and high school girls to have older boyfriends, to get picked up from school by a boyfriend with a car. I had a 15-year-old boyfriend for a couple of weeks at age 11, but I was lucky that I told my mother in time, and that she knew what to do. It was embarrassing as hell, but could’ve been much worse. When I think about sitting in a circle of his friends in an empty apartment, I feel kind of sick playing the coulda shoulda woulda game. The characteristics Peterson describes, such as having an “adult” body at a young age, were characteristics most of us unpopular girls ascribed to, but it’s obvious that a blessing can also be a curse. Of course, if a young girl is pressured into sex, it’s easy for others to blame her for her “adult” body, as if that were her fault. “Well how was he supposed to know you weren’t ready?” We need to examine the “cool older guy” stereotype, but we also need to think about how youth and sexuality are presented, and how 19 year old boys could consider this kind of behavior “okay.” “I don’t need credit cards” underwear for six year olds? Yeah, let’s think about that.
*Names changed to protect the guilty.