Our culture has an opportunity right now to get it right. “It” is the connection between sex, rape, and power. Penn State’s behavior gives us an opportunity to put into public discussion what other institutions, including the Catholic Church, did not. We have the power to decide, at this very moment, that rape is an act of power over a victim. And, as Jackie Dishner’s said so clearly in her Ms. Blog article: “Do not let [any] ‘Jerry’ convince you this is horseplay. Abuse is systematic, deliberate and requires enablers. So if there’s any game at all, it’s called pretense, and there are no winners.” It always enrages me that the abused is the one to feel shamed and dirty. The rapist hides, and continues to rape.
Wait. Watch. Wonder. Photograph by John O. Nolan. Used under a license from Creative Commons.
Rape always involves an enabler. Someone who will look the other way.The second a witness makes a deliberate decision not to help a victim–whether it’s a child or an adult–the tipping point shifts and the enabler emerges.
Why do enablers look the other way? Because institutions are very powerful. Institutions employ us, give us our paychecks and benefits, pay our insurance. We are afraid of losing our income, so when we see our institution doing something wrong, we remain silent. We rationalize this behavior by saying we are loyal. We say we aren’t going to judge. We say we aren’t going to rat out our boss, our co-worker, our company. When we don’t say “I witnessed a crime, and if you don’t report it, I will, ” we choose to be an enabler.
In the not-too distant past, a girl who was abused kept her mouth shut. She would be blamed for “starting trouble.” She would be warned not to make trouble for the boy’s “future.” She would be threatened. How long in the past did this happen? About two weeks ago, when women stepped up to confirm that Herman Cain, a man running for President of the United States, had groped them. Other women condemned the accusers as “wanting attention.” No woman wants to be groped for attention. Yes, there are people (women and men) who lie to get attention, but there are far more people who claim raped women are exaggerating. And those accusers are enablers.
Kelly Salasin who writes the Empty(ing) Nest blog, writes touchingly (and bravely) about the shame of her giving up the right to say No. It’s a touching blog because she acknowledges her own weakness, and her own suffering. A suffering that has lasted 25 years and changed the way she thinks about herself, relationships and closeness.
Broken Glass At Work 6, by Eric Schmuttenmaer, "akeg" under a Creative Common license.
Many years ago, I did say “No!” but there were no accolades. I fought off an older boy’s drunken advances when I was 16. He picked me up at my house like the gentleman he wanted my mom to believe he was. At the dance, he drank too much, and then he took me to his apartment, poured me a bourbon, which I did not want, and stuck his tongue into my mouth. He insisted angrily that I drink, so I took tiny sips, hating the soapy, burning taste. His experienced hands snaked into my bra and up my skirt. I said, “No!” while pushing him away, and he easily pinned me to the couch. I alternately pleaded and cried and demanded to be taken home. Tired of my squirming and screaming or too drunk to finish what he had wanted to do, he cursed me and slapped me. But he picked up his keys and said he’d take me home. He skidded off the road several times, but he got me home alive.
My mother was waiting up and saw me beaten and teary. She called me a whore and I, not knowing how else to save myself from her wrath and punishment, told her “nothing happened.” Everything had happened. But as the enabler, she cared only that I was still a virgin. I was “gounded”– kept in my room for a week. And the guy? He told everyone he’d had consensual sex with me; that I was a tease. This was in the years when a girl’s reputation could be ruined by locker room talk. And it was.
I did not recognize my mother for the enabler she was that night. I did, suddenly, understand that some mothers will not protect their children. Because they need to use the power that was denied them. To my mother, it was more important to protect a man than protect her child. If my clothes were torn and my eye was swollen shut and blackened, I must have tempted a man three years older, five inches taller, and 90 pounds heavier. I must have been the “whore.”
I was not raped physically that night. Rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power. And I learned everything I ever needed to know about being powerless that night, those many years ago. The incident changed the shape of power and to whom I hand over my power.
Enablers want other people’s approval more than they can approve of themselves. They will drink the Kool-Aid to get admitted to a group for the acceptance a group offers.
What does this all mean? I’m asking you to consider who you are when you “don’t judge,” when you turn away, not wanting to get involved. Because if you do not help, you are an enabler. You have the power to change a life forever, one way or another. Choose wisely.
I did not want to write this blog. My blog is about creativity, and the many ways you can be creative. I avoid writing about politics and religion. But this week, I read this blog by Eve Ensler, and I knew that post was filled with the creative anger that creates change. And I wanted to stand up and be counted.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer with a colorful past. She still hates the taste of brown liquor. She will not be an enabler.