No, Doesn’t Always Mean No

Louisa Leontiades Abuse, Abuse-General, Vile Depths

For any woman who has been through the mangle of life like I have punctuated by violence, alcoholism and promiscuity, rape is not far away.

That time in the woods at age 17 where I shouted for help – but fairly quietly so as not to anger him further and out of shame walking into the woods willingly in the first place, that time in the club where someone put horse tranquilizer in my drink and then later punched me in the face because I wasn’t moving enough enough to simulate enjoyment as he raped me and the time I actually plucked up the courage to go to the police after being raped in my drunken sleep and was put through 10 hours of test, waiting and interrogation, just to be laughed out in the end because my case wasn’t ‘legitimate’ enough.

And now, some years later an avid watcher of every crime drama going, I see televised depictions of violence and abuse almost daily. It’s addictive, because in TV justice is always served. And for a while I ran my victim script imagining a scenario when my rapists would get their come uppance. On TV rape is always ugly, never deserved and the bad guy is put away by the end of the episode because ‘No, always means No.’

But that’s not entirely true.

I can understand of course, why that always has to be the line in our culture of legal, illegal. Ethical, unethical.  But language both drives and is driven by, humanity and culture. Defining polar opposites of  ‘yes and no’ means simply by their definitions these opposites are reinforced. Of course they do exist but as with everything else… they exist on a spectrum. Our positions of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are only two binary values in a world full of grey.

The fact that we only have two options to choose from, sometimes forces us into saying things we don’t really mean. Because one can still say yes with reservations. Or indeed no with a thinly disguised willingness to be persuaded. Sometimes ‘No’ doesn’t really mean ‘No’. Given that women in our society are taught to disguise and suppress our sexual desires, it should come as no surprise that unless we’ve grown to know our own boundaries, we often have no idea what we want, and how to express it.

Rape on the telly vs. Rape in Reality

In crime TV, the man often comes from the position ‘she meant yes even whilst screaming uncontrollably’ whilst the women come in all shapes and sizes from hookers and drug addicts, to doctors and students. Whoever they are, whatever they do, their No, always means No.  And this being drama, the rape often follows an ‘idealized pattern’. Force is involved and often blood with plenty of tense music thrown in.

I never heard the crashing chords of Carmina Burana whilst being raped. In the woods, the birds were singing when he pounded into me, choking off my cries with his arm pressed down on my neck. It wasn’t like the TV dramas, and the trauma I suffered was only part and parcel of the slow and steady degradation of my self esteem, until saying No meant…

Well you know, I’ve been raped twice already so it’s not like I believe in my own self-worth enough to even make a legitimate attempt to refuse you. Instead I’ll just get drunk, make myself into a victim and wait for the inevitable.

couldnt say noI’m no rape apologist. I was not ‘to blame’ for my rapes. I wasn’t to blame for the ketamine. Or the punching. Or his actions when I was unconscious. But I do and must take responsibility for the creation of my life even if at the time I had no resources to do or be any other way. I was a sad sorry state of a human being and I acted – and could only act – according to my awareness. I loathed myself and my subconscious entered into the situations where my life could be created accordingly. But in the same vein, I believe that putting all the ‘blame’ on my rapists is also to totally disregard their human condition.

Not all rape are like mine. Some cases are horribly clear cut. Many more are not. But to use blame in all cases, perpetuates a black and white dichotomous judgment and does little to solve the issue. We are rarely creatures who give an unambiguous answer because our motivations are multi-stranded. Whilst I will not make any call on anyone else’s situation, in my own cases those opportunist and ego driven men who had little awareness outside their own desire, who were immature and lacking in integrity, spotted the stray and weak member of the herd. Me.

There are many of those men. Because whilst we hope growing in integrity is part and parcel of growing up… it is not something we receive or can receive an education in. It is a path; our path through life. It goes at its own pace. And we need better education. I do not blame my rapists, even if I hope they will take responsibility for their lives and move forward into a state of integrity. Instead, years later and healed, I thank them for being part of my journey and helping me to understand the depth and pain we can sink to. We co-created that hideous pain my rapists and I. And pain is the greatest teacher.

That’s why the ‘No always means No’ education is ineffectual. It’s not addressing reality, it’s addressing an ideal. As much as we women would like to believe it, there’s also no shortage of men who know it isn’t true. Who know, that no might mean yes, or might turn into a yes through coercion or simply silence…. giving them the permission our society gives them to fulfil their needs.

Are they all evil bastards? Hardly. Are we all human beings with their own set of diminished resources and issues? Of course.

We would do far better by realizing that education in an ideal isn’t preventative, even if it is the only solution we have – after the fact – to govern ourselves.

If we could only bolster and encourage the self-esteem and worth of our women and work towards eliminating society’s preoccupation for squashing female voice, then our own personal resource banks might be strengthened. It’s not always that the blame can be neatly apportioned on one side or the other. In many cases, the self-worth of a woman is already diminished by our oppressive structure.

Our men need to respect and value women as they value and respect themselves and to understand clearly that they have no right to stick their penises wherever they want despite their desires, beliefs and the state of the woman in question. And the female herd would be infinitely better protected if all women were encouraged to love themselves enough to say NO, and mean it.