“I wish I had faith that we would see a substantial change in my lifetime”

Following our recent op-ed on the issue of rape culture, we have received many responses, on this blog, on Facebook, on Twitter and other social media platform urging us to spread the word: according to this excellent article in The Nation by Jessica Valenti, there is a rape pandemic in the United States, and it is time to stop addressing the rape issue as if it was a developing countries’ problem, or a bleep in the crime reporting radar. As far as we know, The Guardian is only mainstream media outlet to have ever used the term “rape culture” in an article recently, despite the intense coverage on the South Delhi gang rape or the horrific details of the Steubenville, OH gang rape of a teenage girl by the local football team – the latter only made possible by the power of hacktivist group Anonymous. From the deafening silence of police departments nationwide to the media’s tendency to blame the victim, we have decided to shift the focus and address the question from a young, female, american, empowered point of view. Nashville, TN resident and burlesque dancer Shanden Key contributes to the OISC on the issue of rape culture.

Not a day goes by that I am not confronted with something that defends or apologizes for rape. Be it in the feed of my various social media sites, reading or watching the news, or simply being out in the world with other people. It seems everywhere I turn, there is blame being hurled when it comes to rape. Sadly, infuriatingly, ludicrously, however, the blame is almost always placed on the victim.

The trend of rape rhetoric towards blaming the victim is not new, we have all seen or heard it. Yet I am filled with rage. Not so much because of the the WAY rape is talked about, but for the commonality with how it happens. The worst thing about it is the frequency, the ease, the regular everyday-ness with which people question what a victim of rape has done to encourage, entice, or ENTITLE their rape occurring. Because after all  even if you said no, explicitly, while fighting back (which is only the circumstance surrounding a portion of rapes) there was still SOMETHING that you must have done that granted another person dominion over your body. Nullified your choice. Took your power over your being away from you.

“The notion that my hemline would override my saying no or my physically sparring with my attacker leaves me in a state of panic.”

I am sickened by the fact that my primary thought when I read an article on rape today, is how must women who do NOT fight back, who are NOT vocal in their non-consent feel? If the women who do those things are questioned so preposterously,  how must a silent victim feel? The notion that my hemline would override my saying no or my physically sparring with my attacker leaves me in a state of panic. An all encompassing heart stopping, gut wrenching, crippling fear. A fear that penetrates to the bone, to my core. A fear that I am somehow able to overcome with, in my opinion, an ease that is too easy for any woman, let alone a survivor. But I am not the rule. There are many victims who have lost their entire lives because of their assault, & I use those two terms specifically. People who can no longer leave their homes, do their jobs, or even participate in regular social interactions because of a sexual assault, those who have yet to overcome the terrible crime that was perpetrated against them, the VICTIMS of rape.

I am not capable of a line of reasoning that allows me to comprehend how questioning a victims actions leading up to a violent crime of this sort are even rational.

We do not question why a person would own an expensive television, or keep valuable jewelry in their home, or why they would choose to own a nice vehicle when one of those things is violated or stolen. Which makes it all the more ridiculous to question the theft of an individuals ownership of themselves, their power, their comfort, their body. Our bodies are the one thing we all posses that is entirely ours. No one can question your right to your SELF. But that is exactly what rape is. It is a dismissal of your power & humanity. And that is what happens to so many people all over again when they report their sexual assault. They are re-traumatized by the authorities and doctors that they go to for help, the friends and loved ones they seek comfort and solace in, and when you take into account that two thirds of all rapes are committed  NOT by strangers, but by someone the victim KNOWS, all that is made even more terrifying.

“Even more depressing is the fact that I can understand the hesitation to report a sexual assault.”

According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) 54% of rapes simply go unreported. I can not even begin to explain to you how heartbreaking that is to know. But even more depressing is the fact that I can understand the hesitation to report a sexual assault. And all of that understanding is rooted in the ways rape is addressed in our daily lives. If I could have knowledge of the number of times someone has said one of the following about rape: “They were asking for it.”, “What was she wearing?” “Why would anyone ever allow themselves to be put into that position?” or the worst of all, “Well, that’s not REALLY rape.” I think I would be forced to let go of every bit of information and knowledge that I hold within me. I do not think that I would be able to contain figures that extensive and still be able to perform even mundane everyday tasks. Because for some reason, those are the reactions that so many people in our society have. THAT is why so many victims stay silent.

Being asked to write this op-ed was instigated by my posting of a response to a comment about rape rhetoric of this nature. Someone somewhere on tumblr commented on a photo of a participant of a SlutWalk who was topless save pasties with “but then again, its kind like putting a meat suit on and telling a shark not to eat you”. The response to that comment, the reason I reblogged the exchange, was this:

“We (men) are not fucking sharks!
We are not rabid animals living off of pure instinct.
We are capable of rational thinking and understanding.
Just because someone is cooking food doesn’t mean you’re entitled to eat it.
Just because a banker is counting money doesn’t mean you’re being given free money.
Just because a person is naked doesn’t mean you’re entitled to fuck them.
You are not entitled to someone else’s body just because it’s exposed.
What is so fucking difficult about this concept?”

And that is my question. What IS so difficult about that? Why does our culture allow such commentary and action without repercussion? Why is it that we are in a place as a society that a person’s hemline alone grants another person the belief of entitlement to their body?

“I know how I would be presented to the public were I sexually assaulted. I would be painted with the brush and scope of the media’s choosing”

I am a woman. I am in a committed monogamous heterosexual relationship. I am a cat owner. I am an eldest child. A friend. An aunt. An army brat. A 9-5er. A Nashvillain. A soon-to-be motorcycle rider. A fashion addict. An avid reader. A photography enthusiast. A homebody. I am so very many things, but I know, were I to be sexually assaulted, something I would report and legally pursue, something I would take action against, I know that my main identifier in the media would be none of those things. I would be “a stripper.” You see, I am a burlesque dancer. I regularly take to the stage to peel away other’s labels and notions of what I should be, my insecurities, and most obviously my clothes. I am a stripper. A part of the sex industry. I am not ashamed of this. I am proud of and love myself. I have learned so much about myself and the world and where I fit into it since I began this private to very public journey over two years ago. I love the things and people that this facet of my life have brought me. Yet I know how I would be presented to the public were I sexually assaulted. I would be painted with the brush and scope of the media’s choosing, until I fought back. And then things would likely get worse. I am lucky to know that my immediate circle would be there for me were something so tragic and terrible to happen, but I also know what I would have to deal with publicly. I know that I am strong enough to face that. To not back down until the end. But again, I am not the majority. Over half of all rapes are not reported, and many that are never make it to trial, much less result in jail time for the rapist.

Because we live in a world where the victim is put on trial in rape cases. More so than any other crime. Which is so shocking because my mind cannot fathom something more criminal than a rape. A rapist is a murderer who’s victim lives, sometimes in the loosest sense of that word. Yes. A murderer. Not an attempted murderer, a murderer. And we should treat this crime as such. The severity with which we deal with rape and sexual assault must be made to match the severity of the actual crime. Victim blaming must be brought to an end. We have to put a stop to the way our culture validates and supports the notion that any person is entitled to forcibly violate another because they have some skewed justification for it in their mind. No one person is entitled to another. Ownership of another person is illegal, those feelings of entitlement are unacceptable.

I wish I could say I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I wish I had faith that we would see a substantial change in my lifetime. I wish, I wish, I wish. But I do not have that much faith. I am too weary and hardened to think that such a monumental change is possible in the next 50 years. I would love to be proven wrong. That would fill me with more joy than I could ever attempt to put into words. So what do we do? How do we make a change? We continue to engage and educate. We hold more SlutWalks. We maintain an open dialogue of support for those victimized. We keep living. We do not allow the hate and violence to win. We make our lawmakers, our politicians, our police, our communities CHANGE. We refuse to allow the status quo to remain where it is. We show our outrage at the notion of “legitimate rape” and victim blaming. We do this until things are different. We force a a change in the way rape is dealt with and talked about.

We keep fighting back.

Shanden Key has been many things in her young life; kindergarten teacher, secretary, student, the Nashvillain is powerful, fearless, and takes women’s issues to heart. Recently deemed “best newcomer” in Music City Burlesque, Shanden’s alter ego, Shan de Leers, is gracing the stages of Tennessee with strength and talent. 

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About shandeleers
A member of Nashville's Music City Burlesque & instructress at Delinquent Debutantes Finishing School, Shan de Leers is a southern bred traveling burlesque performer.

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