TW: sexual assault
In high school, there was a foreign exchange student from Hong Kong. Cute, little ole’ racist me was horrified that Joe Li didn’t have flip-flops (don’t all Asians wear flip flops, hyuck hyuck?) so I bought him a pair. Joe Li fell instantly and madly in love with this strange white girl who had gifted him a pair of $1 sandals. I went to prom with Joe because he asked me to and afterwards, he would walk me to every one of my classes. He would wait outside the door and we’d walk to my next class together.
Here’s the thing though: I didn’t like him back.
I didn’t mean to buy his love with two thin pieces of foam and some plastic thongs. I underestimated the price of his heart and now I felt trapped. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings so I awkwardly let him escort me to class. When he would call the house phone, I’d beg someone else in my family to answer it and say I wasn’t available.
It really was agonizing. Joe was a Christian but I also added “Not being a good witness” to the pile of anxiety surrounding letting him down easy. Eventually, I got the cajones to tell him that I just wanted to be friends but it took far longer and caused far more anxiety for me than it should have.
During the Brett Kavanaugh hearings when the national conversations around sexual assault and consent exploded all over social media, I found myself extremely upset, and not just because old Christian white men were saying incredibly ugly things about women everytime I opened my eyes.
Some memories came up.
Culturally, Southern white women are socialized to prioritize politeness above almost anything else. We learn quickly that making other people (or at least certain groups of people) uncomfortable or angry should be avoided at all costs. (PS- I don’t want to speak for other groups of people, but I’m aware that other groups are also socialized this way). It is this that made my interactions with Joe Li so awkward and terrible. If I had been clear up front, it would have spared both of us some heartache.
During the Kavanaugh hearings, my brain started to process a few times in my life when I had been touched by boys in ways that made me wildly uncomfortable. When these things happened, I froze. I wasn’t supposed to be “tempting” to anyone and yet, here we were, with his hand on my thigh or on my butt. What’s worse, because I wasn’t supposed to be tempting anyone, I didn’t have the language around consent that would have helped me identify why I was so uncomfortable. Of course, I knew the words, “Stop. Don’t touch me. Get-your-motha-fuckin-hands-off-me” but I had never heard those words discussed in the context of consent. In all my youth groups and church camps and Christian books about sex, I had never heard consent discussed.
It took me 20+ years to get angry about those times instead of feeling ashamed because it took me that long to learn the language of consent. It took me 20+ years to realize that what happened wasn’t my fault, I didn’t want it, didn’t ask for it, and my little evangelical brain couldn’t process what was happening so I didn’t demand that it stop. Truthfully, I’m glad that I waited to process these experiences because if I had been slut-shamed (Well, what were you wearing? Why didn’t you say something?), I don’t know that my faith could have handled it. I already carried so much shame from myself that shame from others would have broken me.
Purity culture told me to not be tempting. When that failed to work, purity culture had neglected to give me any framework for understanding that I could be in charge of my own body (even if I came off as rude or impolite or made the guy feel embarrassed) because I shouldn’t need those skills if I was being a good girl. I found myself ill-prepared for having authority over my own body. Sure, I was mad at the boys but I was more mad that I spent 20+ years blaming myself for those things happening and that it took me so long to figure out that I wasn’t to blame. How many grown ass women are walking around blaming themselves for things that aren’t their fault?
Ugh. I’m getting mad all over again.
Purity culture can suck it, as far as I’m concerned. And if a dude tries to touch me ever again, well, I’ve practiced “Get-your-motha-fuckin-hands-off-me” and I’m ready to use it.