In this series about toxic masculinity and how it permeates every aspect of our lives, Star LaBranche talks about a painful episode and how she found the strength to recover from it.
I still blame myself sometimes. I still sit and think: of course I was raped; I don’t know enough self-defense tactics, and I wasn’t able to correctly assess the situation and fight my way out of it. I wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t smart enough, and I didn’t have enough witty comebacks. I was vulnerable, and that was my fault. He used my vulnerability, and that was his right.
This toxic thinking is shrieked back at me from all corners of existence. From the misogynists telling women that wearing short skirts is what led to their violation, to the women insisting that they handle sexism with a cheeky smile and a dirty joke that makes men blush.
Rape Culture is Real and Pervasive
The logic all squarely points to women as the only ones with conscious choice in rape culture. Men simply are and simply do. They rape. They harass. They continue the cycle. We have to stop it (them), we have to react to it (them), we have to best it (them) with our snappy one-liners and superhero reflexes and ability to tell the goddamn future.
The Truth is that No One is Strong Enough to Deal with Rape Culture All the Time
I reject these ideas. Every single last one of them. The most vulnerable, the most insecure, the most optimistic, the most wide-eyed of us still deserve to live free from sexual assault and harassment. It’s not about becoming impervious to sexism: it's about stopping sexism from happening. The punishment for being naive or inexperienced should never be rape.
Change is Possible, and it’s Happening, But Not Quickly
In the end, change is happening. But it is slow and painful. Like shedding a comfortable skin that has been a part of our culture too long. I think ahead to future generations who will look back on media and news from our time and be absolutely baffled.
How could we have allowed this to happen? How could we have not seen the facts as they are laid out in front of us? How could an entire culture have turned their back on so many people and decided they must have been lying, and if there was proof, it must not have mattered?
What Can We Do in the Meantime?
It’s easy to feel hopeless and helpless in the face of rape culture. It’s exhausting to face every single day only to have to explain to people who never experience it that it’s actually real. So frequently I keep thinking there’s no point in talking about it because I’ve had entirely too many people tell me I must have misunderstood his intentions or wasn’t I just a little bit to blame for the circumstances?
But talking about this is exactly what we need to do, if we’re able. Sometimes I visualize my words flooding someone’s consciousness, and while it won’t be the deciding factor in changing their minds about an issue like this one, but that my words, the words of so many other people who have survived rape and sexual assault, will become raindrops in a powerful hurricane. And has anyone ever successfully argued with a hurricane?
I am Strong, I Always Have Been, I Always Will Be
We have been taught that strength looks like this or that. We have been informed that strength must be hard and unyielding and aggressive. But your strength can look like whatever feels right for you. It can be soft, it can be vulnerable, it can be quiet.
All it needs to be is yours.
Have you experienced sexual violence and wish to speak up? Do you have advice for others who have gone through this? Do you want to see your opinion or experience published in this platform? Send 500 words to firstname.lastname@example.org
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