Sexism in the classroom

The first university class I ever taught, there was this guy. He would sit with his arms crossed, not taking any notes. He’d bore holes into me with his laser beam eyes, trying to throw me off my game. At first, I couldn’t figure him out. I was only 27, a few measly years older than my students. I was, quite honestly, terrified. And he knew it. And he loved it. He would challenge almost everything I said, especially if what I said had to do with pointing out anything to do with gender.

Flash forward to today. I’m teaching creative writing and it’s only my second time doing it. There’s this guy, broody, tall with dark eyes. He’s a good writer and he knows it. He also knows I’m nervous. He sits forward on his desk and glares at me. He checks his phone and leaves the room while I’m talking only to return with his unblinking animosity.

“Why are you glaring at me?” I ask him. “It makes me feel like you don’t like me.”

“I don’t,” he says.

So, this will be a short entry because I’m honestly busy (not just busy in the way we always say we’re busy, as if it’s a virtue, this busy-ness). What is going on here?

Yesterday, I was talking to a couple male colleagues in the lunchroom. They both said that even though they scored great on “rate-my-teacher” that they never looked at the site.

“I don’t score all that great,” I said.

Now to be fair, I know both these guys work their asses off, but so do I. I care about my students, give them supportive and honest feedback. I meet with them. I prepare for my classes. And I know some male colleagues who do none of these things, and whose students still love them.

When I told these male colleagues that I thought maybe women were judged more harshly than men, they both looked skeptical. But there is some pretty clear evidence that this is true.

For example, take a look at the recent article in Time in which a group of trans-men compare their experiences as women before they transitioned to their experiences as men. They describe the increased authority that they are given at work, the ease with which their work is praised, and the alarming comments that they hear other men make about women when they don’t think one is around. In general, the article implies that women are treated worse and that this is unfair, but near the end entertains the idea that having increased testosterone makes a person better at decision-making, which seems to confirm this antiquated idea that men (or people with more testosterone) make better decisions than women (who suffer from their hormonal imbalances).

An example of how this translates in the classroom comes from a Dutch study which shows that women are judged more harshly by students and that this negatively impacts women’s rate of promotion compared to that of their male colleagues. An even more compelling example comes from a 2014 study which asked students to evaluate the teachers of online courses. When the students perceived that the teacher was male, they gave him high ratings. When the same teacher pretended to be female, “she” received much harsher reviews. Perhaps just having a pronoun with an “s” increases your testosterone and charismatic decisiveness–who knows?

None of this, of course, surprises us, but what I’d like to hear some discussion of is our strategies for resilience.  In the Trump era, we are seeing more and more of this shit. But what fascinates me is my own response to it. I know it’s horseshit but still feel hurt–I want to hide, I feel shame. Please woked-up ladies and enlightened gentlemen, I need your insight here. Why do we roll over? What are the alternatives to rolling over? And what is the best response to this constant micro-aggression and belittling?

Get Outta My Bedroom, Trump!

My boyfriend brings his tablet to bed. “Did you hear the latest on Trump?” he asks. “No,” I say. I don’t want to hear it. “Get that thing out of our bed.”

I’m serious.

I have a good man. It’s what you’d call a reciprocal relationship. I do my share of the laundry, cook dinner half the week. He doesn’t think that changing diapers is a favor and likes to give and receive oral sex. But this whole thing with Trump right now, it doesn’t affect him the way it affects me. Why? Because he’s a white straight man and Trump’s America is a white straight man’s America. And the fragility of our little domestic utopia is clearer to me now than it has ever been before

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The headlines are all saying the same thing: women are under attack. Yesterday, Trump defunded Planned Parenthood. He wants to control women’s bodies, their wombs, and this gesture is far more threatening than a quick grab of the pussy (although the two, I insist, exist on a continuum). (Mother earth is also under threat; as is PBS and the Council for the Arts. Not to mention black people and muslims. It occurs to me that here he is: the Antichrist.)

Am I safe here in Canada? Will my daughters be safe? Will they have access to the same—not better, the same!—choices that I had? (It’s hard not to feel hysterical when this shit that you thought was so done comes back. )

In my life, I’ve had five pregnancies: two births, one miscarriage and two abortions. My first abortion was a medical abortion which I had when I was twenty-one. It was April 11. I marked it in my journal, and it was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. You see, being prochoice doesn’t mean you’re proabortion. I was raised in a family that frowned on abortion, although saw it as sometimes necessary. My mom was raised Catholic, and she had chosen not to have an abortion with her final child despite my dad’s desire that she have one.

Despite this, I told my mother right away. Both my parents said they would help us if we wanted to keep it, but we decided that we didn’t. We made an appointment at the clinic for a medical abortion, the kind where you drink a glass of orange juice with something in it and then a suppository that starts your contractions. It’s supposed to be more natural, and I guess it was, because it was excruciating.

At the clinic, there were two girls in the waiting room. We sat beside each other in identical teal chairs. They were speaking in Spanish. It wasn’t a clinic that offered any services other than abortions, so I knew why they were there. I wanted to test out my Spanish so I asked them where they were from. They hesitated but then I guess they figured I was safe.

“Mexico,” one girl said.

Now, just like those Mexican girls, America’s daughters will be looking for their abortions in Canada. The ones who can afford to anyway.

After I drank the juice, I went home to wait. A few hours later I started to get these horrible cramps. I bled and howled and screamed for a day, my boyfriend smoking and reading paperbacks on my back porch because I wouldn’t let him in the house. Eventually the pain passed. My breasts stayed tender and swollen for about a week and the bleeding stopped at around the same time. There were tulips in the garden.

For a few years I held a tiny vigil on the date. I imagined this little soul that was back out there, waiting for me to be ready again. I remember thinking, you can come back when I’m ready little soul. And exactly eight years later it happened again. This time I wasn’t in a relationship and the dad wasn’t sticking around. But I was 29 now and ready, so I kept the baby to raise on my own. If I didn’t have the abortion at 21, I’m certain that I would have had one this time.

Nothing can prepare you for the challenge of being a single parent. Few divorced people can really understand what it is like to actually be a single parent, completely on your own, with no support from your child’s father. Even fewer men can understand what it is like to give birth to an infant and be its sole provider in a world that is by and large hostile to women and children. That some rich white men are now making this decision for countless women makes me physically sick. It makes me have truly murderous thoughts.

Because of the difficulty of raising a child on my own, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to handle that kind of stress again. My second abortion was a few years ago with my current partner, before I was certain about the relationship and where it would go. I wanted to keep the pregnancy, but he didn’t. And I knew that having a baby on my own again was not an option. I remember clearly the moment I knew I was going to abort. It was 10 pm and the kids were in bed and we were arguing. Ever since the pregnancy test, he had become recalcitrant and  cold. Our arguments had a blunted, circular rhythm and I was so frustrated I could feel the moons of my fingernails pulse. At that moment, the road was clear. I picked up a glass of water and hurled it at the wall. Its arch was so clean and true that it became emblematic. I left the shards of glass on the floor and walked to the depanneur to buy a beer, knowing that I’d made my decision.

We went to a feminist clinic near his apartment. The streets were icy that morning, and I was nervous. The last time I’d let someone perform a vaginal exam was during the birth of my daughter, an experience that was so traumatizing that I had nightmares about it for over a year and refused to take her or myself to the doctor. But now I was going to the doctor for the first time in years, and it was to get an abortion no less.

And to my surprise, everything about the procedure itself was positive. The nurses were respectful and casual. They calmly told me about the procedure and what my options were for sedatives. The doctor was a woman, like me, who was funny and engaging and didn’t talk down to me. I decided that I didn’t want to go through the agony of my first abortion. A natural birth experience was something I wanted, but a natural abortion I could live without. The medication made me drowsy, I went to sleep, and when I woke up, I was on a small couch in the recovery room. There was no bleeding. I had a follow-up appointment at the clinic a week later, and I still go there every time I need a pap smear. This clinic, run entirely by women, provided me with the best medical care I have ever had at a time in my life when I was so raw and emotional that a trip to the supermarket required a herculean effort.

A couple years ago, still with the same man, I found out I was pregnant again. Our relationship, more stable now than it was before, was ready for a child. Because I wanted a natural birth this time, I had a homebirth with an unregistered midwife. Blue eyes, curly light hair, our daughter looks like something out of a Dick and Jane Primer. She’s the poster child for Trump’s new fascist era, and if I hadn’t had that abortion before, she probably wouldn’t exist.

 

After my daughters are both asleep, I head to bed without my phone. I leave my laptop on the kitchen table. The nightstand is now a place for Lydia Davis and Thomas King. I don’t want Trump’s face in my bedroom any more than I want a hologram of a tiger. It’s not relaxing. It gives me nightmares. My boyfriend, understanding this, leaves, because he loves me, because he respects me, because he knows that this affects me more. He takes the tablet to the study where I can’t see it, but I still hear it growling softly behind the door.

 

 

Dan Lyons and the Beached White Male

My dad was here recently and he was reading a book. Not unusual, at least not the last part. But here was a book that was making him laugh, not just the usual muffled chortle but the full-bellied chuckle, or the yelp of a laugh when something funny jumps out and surprises you. I needed to read the book I decided. I could use a good laugh. And it was funny.  I read the book, Disrupted, in about a day. It was hard to put down.

There’s nothing funnier than a white guy making fun of other white guys. Although sometimes I wondered exactly what I was laughing at.

For those of you who don’t know, Disrupted is Dan Lyons’s memoir, released this year, that details his colourful time (well, perhaps that isn’t the word, the main colours in the book are orange and white) working at HubSpot, a company that hires almost exclusively young white people and tries to redefine very traditional methods of corporate manipulation as “revolutionary.” Lyons’s book is significant for the blow it takes against these start-up tech companies, their Orwellian attempts to brainwash their staff (attempts that are largely successful according to Lyons) and the malevolent cheerfulness that defines the staff members’ interactions with one another. Lyons, a 52 year old journalist from Newsweek recently fired and with two children and an ailing wife to support, finds a job in HubSpot’s marketing department, working with people half his age and eventually under a psychopathic boss whose management style combines inappropriate personal revelations with verbal and emotional abuse.

I’ll admit, it’s a compelling read. One of the things that fascinates me about the book is the snapshot that it gives me into a world I will never be part of: the book implies that HubSpot, like many other tech start-up companies, has an unwritten policy of firing any woman who reaches the age of 35, so there goes my dream. But reading the book, I’m struck not by the tech-world’s exotic landscape but by its odd familiarity.  At one point, Lyons names it for what it is: “This is the New Work, but really it is just a new twist on an old story, the one about labor being exploited by capital. The difference is that this time the exploitation is done with a big smiley face” (121). I agree with Lyons in all respects but one: the smiley face isn’t new at all.

Indeed, the culture that Lyons describes is not all that different from the corporate indoctrination I was subjected to at one of my first jobs in 1999, two years after the internet first went public.  I wasn’t working for a sexy tech company, though. I was working at the Bread Garden along with a bunch of other teenagers. 

I remember my first day on the job at the Bread Garden, a twenty-four hour bakery-cafe on Vancouver’s west side. There were four of us, all being trained to “join the team” at the new location.

The assistant manager, let’s call him Mitchell (not because I’m worried about protecting his identity, but because I honestly can’t remember what his name was) was in charge of my training. He was, in the words of Lyons, someone who had definitely swallowed the kool-aide; he believed the corporate bullshit that he spoke thoroughly, believed so wholeheartedly in the disgusting food and fake hospitality that we were selling that he had almost become a poster cut-out of himself.

In truth, Mitchell frightened me just a little. His smile seemed buttoned in place, like the smile on a Raggedy Ann doll. His movements were so exaggerated, they seemed to pantomime themselves, and his head looked too large for his neck to support it, as if it had been cut out from a magazine and pasted onto another, smaller figure. 

“You see,” Mitchell said to us, “there is no hierarchy here. The dishwasher is just as important as the general manager, the manager, she has her job, the dishwasher has his job. Both are necessary.”

“Is the dishwasher paid the same as the general manager?” I asked.

“Well, no.”

“Then it’s a hierarchy,” I said.

The assistant manager did not unclasp his smile, but his head stopped bouncing. He looked at me as if seeing me for the first time, it was the first and only time I remember him looking me right in the eyes.

Tasks were soon delegated; I was put on dishwashing.

Lyons memoir has many similar anecdotes. At HubSpot, the hierarchical structure of the company is intentionally unclear, but what is clear is that only the people at the very top will ever make any real money. When Lyons tries to go over the heads of middle-management, his desk is moved into the call center, a place where it is too noisy to work. Words change their meaning to suit the corporate agenda. (The best example of this is the word “graduate” which is used to refer to those people who have been unceremoniously fired.) HubSpot, like the Bread Garden, sees everyone as “part of a team.” Instead of receiving decent pay, the employees are given a wall of candy, beer parties and a foosball table. They are told they can have as much vacation time as they want (so that they don’t actually have to be offered any vacation pay) and are constantly being asked to attend meetings that are more like pep-rallies.

I don’t think anyone who worked at a low-level service industry job recently will find any of this new. In fact, the only thing that is new about this is that Lyons, a middle-aged white guy with oodles of privilege, is having to experience what the rest of us have been swallowing for more than twenty years.

Lyons describes the world of journalism as highly critical of jargon, a world that would make fun of places like HubSpot. For this reason, he fails to fully integrate into the culture and becomes hated. He can’t get excited about horseshit. I relate to this too. At the Bread Garden, nobody liked me, that was clear, and this was largely because I couldn’t handle the horseshit–or, more precisely, the insistence that we made things out to be something that we knew they were not. 

Let’s take this idea of the customer. We were not supposed to call them that. Mitchell said that they were guests.

“If they’re our guests,” I said, “then we are terrible hosts. What kind of a host makes you pay for your food and doesn’t sit with you when you eat it?”

By this time, Mitchell was getting used to me. His strategy was to mostly ignore me, except when he felt that I could be doing my job a little bit better like upselling which I hated.

Upselling was part of the game, and Mitchell was the master of the upsell.

“Would you like a fresh tasty roll with that salad?” He would encourage us to ask.

“I can’t say that,” I said. “It’s not true.”

“It is true, besides which, it doesn’t matter.”

“We put them in the microwave. They taste like rubber afterwards.”

“Let the guest decide,” he would say. “They can always refuse.”

Like the BreadGarden’s rolls, HubSpot’s software, according to Lyons, sucks. More money is spent on Marketing and Sales than on Research and Development. This corporate model, of spending more on trying to sell your product than you do on making your product good, is at least as old as the Bread Garden. What is maybe new, or interesting, about it is that it is now spreading to the tech industry which in 1999 employed well-paid, and well-qualified, engineers and software developers. Now it works just like the Bread Garden.

Why not just play along? Lyons tried, he tells us. He just couldn’t hack it. Did I try? I’m not as confident. The truth is that I was sly and dishonest when it served me. I often ruined food on purpose so that I could eat without paying. The company would offer incentives to reward us for selling things, like frappes, the late nineties equivalent of the iced latte. I made a point of stealing whatever was being dangled in front of us that day, even if it was something that I hated, like frappes, which tasted like cold sweet snot, if you can imagine what that might taste like.

Lyons is also corrupted by his environment. He becomes manipulative and conniving like his cooworkers, at one point sending artisinal brownies to an insulted cooworker when he has only contempt for her in his heart. He imagines himself as an anthropologist, observing the peons around him as poor helpless saps that are indoctrinated into a culture that he is somehow immune to.

Immunity. That really is what this is all about. Let’s take a step back here and look at me, at the Bread Garden, and Lyons at HubSpot. I’m 19. I’m from upper-middle-class parents. I’m going to university. I’m good looking. I’m smart. Most important: I don’t need this job at the Bread Garden. Lyons. He’s White. He’s a man. He’s 52. He’s a published author and a respected journalist. He’s been offered a job writing for HBO. His idea of a shitty job is one that requires moving to another state. Despite his attempts to create readerly sympathy, few of us are going to believe that he was really in such a dire situation after being sacked at Newsweek. Poverty for this guy is spending a holiday in Maine. In short: he doesn’t need this job at HubSpot.

So what? The guy has a right to his opinion.  Absolutely, and I have a right to my opinion too. Lyons has every right to hate Spinner, the hateful PR woman who demanded the sycophantic apology, or Marcia and Ashley, the women who blacklist him from participating in (or taking over) their corporate blog. I have every right to hate Mitchell for forcing me to tell lies to people and sell gross things like frappes and listen to the corporate desecration of the English language.

Lyons quit HubSpot only to be told that he was actually fired. I also quit the Bread Garden. I remember that I sat on the patio to craft my letter of resignation on a napkin. I offered two-weeks’ notice, but was told I didn’t need to come back. I remember being vaguely surprised that they were so happy to see me go.

But I could always leave, that’s what strikes me about it now. The Bread Garden was not a real job for me but an act of rebellion, against my mother, who wanted me to go to University. 

When my mother heard that I wasn’t doing very well at work, she said, “Well, we didn’t raise you to work at a place like the Bread Garden.”

And as elitist as it sounds, it’s true. My parents didn’t raise me to eat shit. They didn’t raise me to be an assistant manager. 

That is what ultimately strikes me about Lyons’s book. Look at how lucky he is! Look at how easy it is for him to leave!

But what about Mitchell? What about Marcia and Ashley and Spinner? Certainly a little compassion needs to be offered to these middle-managers, not brilliant enough or lucky enough to reach the top, but just stupid, loyal and unlucky to not be born brilliant or rich. What about all the people who don’t even figure into this equation – the black people and really poor people who don’t even get an interview?

At the beginning of Disrupted Lyons mentions an article that appeared in Newsweek in 2011: “…headline THE BEACHED WHITE MALE. The cover depicted a middle-aged white guy in a suit, soaking wet, facedown on a beach at the water’s edge–maybe not dead, but definitely washed up” (16). The article is apparently about something called the “Mancession”, men who had been laid off and were now, “emasculated, psychologically destroyed, humiliated in front of their wives and children, drifting through life like castrated zombies” (16). While Lyons expresses his disapproval of the overt sexism and lack of diversity in the tech industry, he seems to be quite unaware of their subtle workings in his own writing: the man without his privilege resembles unsurprisingly a woman, emasculated, castrated, stripped of his patriarchal authority. Like the housewife he feels he must both dominate and impress, he is a zombie, forced to obey the dictates of a male authority.

The word zombie is in itself worth considering. Amy Wilentz notes that “the full-blown zombie was a very logical offspring of New World slavery,” which also then connects this imagery to race. Now, I imagine the whale in Moby Dick, significant not just for his tragedy but for his colour: white. That he will  join the ranks of the oppressed, women, people of colour, the old and disabled, is really what this book is about, it’s about a man who has had everything lose himself for a moment and experience his own uniquely human vulnerability.

It’s for this reason that the end of the book is so disappointing. When Lyons lands his job in Hollywood – in a milieu where he celebrates “spending weeks on end sitting in a room with writers who talk about huge cocks and dry Vaginas” – I feel depressed. After all, Hollywood is hardly the bastion of diversity and gender equality, even if it is a fun place where the new man can be sarcastic and crass. I liked Lyons better when he was grappling with horseshit, not writing it.

The culture of forced “awesomeness” (a word that seems to pepper every exchange at HubSpot) is not newly awful. The fact that these tech-companies make no money is fascinating and is perhaps what distinguishes them from companies that sell microwaved bread rolls. If you know very little about economics and are interested in understanding how these stupid companies work in that respect, then this book is definitely worth your time. But what interests me about this book is its unconscious meditation on privilege. Dan Lyons’s memoir is fascinating not just for what it exposes about tech companies, but for giving us a glimpse into what it’s like to be a white man who loses some of his privilege and has to, however momentarily, become human.

Am I Becky?

Tenesia was my best friend in kindergarten. She was also my most memorable opponent. You can picture me with my blonde hair and pale blue eyes, looking like a Nazi poster child in need of a bath, and Tenesia with her gravity-defying hair, her broad cheeks and full lips, looking like an escaped member of the Jackson Five. Most days, Tenesia and I were thick as thieves. I loved her.  In my dirt yard in New Mexico we chased cockroaches, squeezed the ends of succulents, swam946030_10152809166910623_400021861_n in the pool. We liked roller skating up and down the block together. We loved to move, hated boys, climbed trees, ate enchiladas, talked and talked. 

Continue reading Am I Becky?

Jian and all the boys like him

The first time we meet it’s at the Ivanhoe on Main street, a bar where drug addicts and students mingle. Located by Vancouver’s bus depot which marks the border to the lower east side, it is the kind of place I would not go alone, although it is a popular enough place among my peers. Beer is cheap, two dollars a glass. This is Ivanhoe1999, I’m only 20 years old, but that’s old enough to know the beer here tastes like piss and the carpets smell the same. This is where I meet the guy who turns out to be my rapist, although I won’t know to call him by that word until much later.

After all, what is rape? It seems like something that should be relatively straight-forward in its definition, yet when you talk to people it is clearly not all that clear. What constitutes consent? What is the difference between date-rape and aggravated sexual assault? Do rapists who make an “honest mistake” get put in the same category as the armed cartoon-like stranger lurking in dark alleys?

 Increasingly, popular discourse has been willing to entertain the idea that rape is not something done solely by masked criminals. Discussions of rape come in and out of public discourse with relative frequency, and the term “rape culture” which was coined by radical feminists in 1970s has received increasing attention with the spotlight now on Jian Ghomeshi. At 20, I had not heard of “rape culture”. However, my early experiences around sex were marked less by eroticism than by shame and power. My first sexual experience, when I was twelve, happened in the bedroom of a boyfriend who decided to take off my shirt and suck on my barely existent nipples. I did not object; I was too surprised. I was also too uncertain. Perhaps, I thought, this is normal. In hindsight, it was a ludicrous attempt at adult sexuality, but in truth it scarred me.

What scarred me was not the act itself, which was only unpleasant, but my boyfriend’s retaliation when I broke up with him the next day. In what can only be described as a kind of public shaming ritual, he found me in the park, threw me on the ground by my hair and spat on me. He said something– slut or bitch, I can’t remember. Around me stood a circle of my peers– some of them my friends– who did nothing. Their silence was what I remember, and their lack of willingness to look at me. I was so aware of the existence of rape culture before I actually heard the term, that when I finally did hear it, it was like discovering the name of a bird or a flower that you’ve, quite literally, seen since childhood.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of women– from bell hooks to Camilia Paglia– who reject the concept. On the Canadian scene, rape culture made its way into The National Post with commentator Barbara Kay last year. She claims that the term mischaracterizes male behavior and results in misandry: “You can produce any culture you like if you dumb deviancy down. If you change ‘against her will’ to ‘without her consent,’ as we have, that is a huge paradigm shift from what we used to think of as rape: i.e. forced sex. And if a drunk woman can’t give her consent, another moved goalpost, she is ipso facto raped.”  Kay’s comments here– which claim a radical distinction between acts that are against someone’s will and without someone’s consent– advocate a return to the masked criminal definition of rape. More significant, Kay’s comments represent questions of the law as questions of cultural definition, which is interesting for those interested in the dialectic between culture and law, but fundamentally misleading. (For a more detailed look on the importance of consciousness and active consent see Supreme Court ruling here.) Kay’s thesis is unsurprising to those familiar with her conservative anti-feminism.        

More surprising (at the time) was Jian Ghomeshi’s lack of comment last year during a debate that he organized between Lise Gotell and Heather McDonald around rape culture on his radio program Q. Ghomeshi’s reluctance to intervene when McDonald’s denial of rape culture quickly turned to rape victim-blaming shocked many of CBC’s faithful listeners.  Canadians were perhaps less surprised by Ghomeshi’s lack of comment on rape culture when he fell from grace after showing CBC producers a video of him appearing to sexually assault a woman. It wasn’t exactly the first time a celebrity’s reputation has been bemoiled by a sexual assault accusation, but it was a story that I followed obsessively unlike many of the others. Why? Because in this particular instance, the person in question was somebody I liked. Also, because it appeared that the issue was not whether there was consent; the stories seemed to suggest that absence of consent was precisely (and importantly) what turned him on.

A woman goes back to a celebrity’s house. A woman who is planning on having sex with him. Instead of kissing her, he slaps her, instead of seducing her, he degrades her. He then pretends like everything is normal. He might offer her a ride home. He might ask her if she will see him again for cocktails. For those who have read accounts of the women accusing Ghomeshi, the stories all sound strangely familiar. They follow a pattern of normalcy, bizarre and disorienting violence and then normalcy again. What makes him so successful in evading reprisal is that he is, otherwise, as a lover at any rate, so incredibly boring.

My rapist is also boring. He is the nephew of my English professor. It is my second semester at college, and I love this professor. The last Friday of the semester, my professor invites our class to join him at the Ivanhoe. It must be winter, which in Vancouver means rain.  Class gets out at dusk and the sky, which has been heavy all day, begins to fall. Because I love this professor so much, I’ve come to the Ivanhoe even though it is a bar I do not like.

I bring my friend, Mindy (not her real name), because we plan on partying later. Mindy is hot in the most conventional sense of the word. Six feet tall, blonde, her mother was a British model when she was young. Mindy looks like a Bond girl and has also done some modelling. But she isn’t available because she’s married to a tattooed drummer named Eli (also not his real name). My professor’s nephew, let’s call him Jason, wants to sleep with Mindy. He is trying to impress her, trying to be funny and/or clever. He keeps talking about the books he has read. He’s in grad school. He doesn’t know that Mindy doesn’t take his uncle’s class, that Mindy works as a waitress and that she is not interested in college. Mindy is not impressed.

“Who is the loser?” she asks, although not loud enough for him to hear. She doesn’t like the way Jason styles his hair, which is parted in the middle and in a sort of bob; it lays flat against his head. He reminds her of a goat. Predictably, Jason starts hitting on me when he realizes Mindy is taken. I don’t mind his hair. I think he’s kind of cute. “What are you girls up to after?” he asks. “We’re thinking of getting some coke,” I say. Jason wants to hang out, wants to pay for the drugs. We let him, but we get sick of him soon. He’s trying too hard. We do not care about how smart he is. We leave him on the street corner halfway through the night, jumping into a cab and telling him bye. We are mean to him. By this point, he already has my number.

Why do some men rape?  December 2012: a group of men gang-rape and kill a young woman in Delhi. This was not a date rape. It was a premeditated, clear-cut aggravated assault. A medical student, Jyoti Singh had been to a movie with her male friend. They thought they were getting on a bus, but it would prove to be a torture chamber, where she would be repeatedly raped and beaten for hours, finally dying from internal injuries sustained after her attackers decided to rape her with a rusty steel pipe. She and her companion were found at the side of the road barely breathing, thrown from the bus after her rapists were finally through with her. Rape is fairly common in India; however the violence of the crime, the level of planning that it required and the fact that it resulted in virtuous woman’s death, left many people around the globe stunned.

Why would anyone do such a thing? In the early days after news of the Delhi attack spread Heather Timmons asked this question to psychologist David Lisak.  Lisak lists biological, historical and cultural explanations for rape, but ultimately warns against seeing rape as motivated by something purely sexual: “I think sometimes the sexual element clouds our understanding of what rape is. Fundamentally, it is targeting a group of people they hold hate for.” In short, rape is a hate crime, motivated by a profound antipathy towards women and targeting that part of her anatomy that makes her female. But rape is also about entitlement and control. If a man feels that he is superior to a woman, then rape is a way of asserting that superiority, of proving to her and to himself that she is the weaker sex. What happens when the victim doesn’t die? What happens when she doesn’t even act damaged? The date rape survivors who move on with their lives–we are harder to immortalize. We are easier to hate.

Jason calls me to see if I might like to come to Victoria to visit him. With Mindy’s negative impression of him out of the way, I say yes. “Bring some work to do,” he says. “I have a paper to write that weekend, but I’d really like to see you.” Jason is a graduate student at the university that I am thinking of applying to for my undergraduate degree. I am attracted to him. I want to see him. I know that I will probably have sex with him. Saturday morning, I catch the ferry from Tsawwassen to Vancouver Island. It is a grey day. The sky is heavy. I feel nervous, knowing that I am going to the house of someone I do not know very well, but I don’t really worry too much. He is my professor’s nephew after all. At the ferry terminal, Jason is waiting in a black Tercel. He waves to me, and I throw my bag in the back of his car. We give each other an awkward hug.  

“Sorry about being rude to you that night,” I say.  

“Yeah,” he says, “that was pretty lame.”

I don’t say anything. I know he’s right. The conversation shifts to innocuous subjects. He is casual, friendly. I feel that I have been forgiven, and notice that he has changed the style of his hair. I also notice that he is older than me, well-established in his twenties. His hand, clutching the steering wheel, looks bonier than my own hand which is still soft and girl like. The tendons stick out like ropes along his forearm.

Jason lives in the basement suite of a house. Glass doors lead onto a patio. The apartment is nice, sparse but well-lit with only one room, a bed in one corner next to the bathroom and a small screen which separates the bed from the desk. Immediately upon arrival, Jason gets into the shower. I am surprised by this, but I don’t say anything. Instead, I put down my bag and sit on his bed. I remove my hairpins and lay them on the bedside table. I wait.   A few minutes later he gets out of the shower. He comes to me on the bed and removes his towel. He has an erection which is level with my face. I think I laugh. I can’t remember. He then leans over and kisses me, but without tenderness. He is pressing my shoulders down on the bed. My feet are still on the floor, and I feel them lift as his weight settles on me. I am surprised, but I kiss him back. After all, this is why I am here. Then he is fumbling with my jeans. He pulls them down, pulls down my underpants, and thrusts his penis inside me. “Wait,” I say. I am not ready, he is hurting me. He says nothing. His eyes look into mine but they are not friendly. He does not try to kiss me again. His eyes are black, opaque, like drops of crude oil.

“Stop,” I say.

“Shut up,” he says.

He is holding my hands on the bed, his arms weighted against my arms. I squirm but it only excites him. He finishes, a short hard grunt. Then he gets up and dresses.

“Do you want to get something to eat?” he asks.

His face is now casual, friendly. I know that something important has happened but I don’t know what to call it.

According to the American Psychological Association, normal responses to sexual abuse include shock, fear and disbelief. However, these are short term responses and are often replaced by defense mechanisms that have more far-reaching effects. Of the various defense mechanisms which are a response to trauma, repression and denial are considered two of the worst, since they alter the nature of reality and can lead to maladaptive behaviors. Unlike repression, suppression, the conscious effort not to think about traumatic events, is actually quite adaptive. According to Harvard researcher George Vaillant, suppression is “the defensive style most closely associated with successful adaptation.” Humor is also thought to be one of these more adaptive defenses against trauma, as is sublimation– the use of art, writing, sports or other socially acceptable pursuits to channel the negative energy generated from a traumatic event.

In rape cases where a high-profile figure is the accused, public backlash against the accusers is almost a given. People like me, who watched events unfold in Ghomeshi’s case last year, were fascinated to see how this progressed. First one accusation, the predictable argument, the now cliche invocation of Fifty Shades of Grey, and finally the shattering of Ghomeshi’s defense with a slew of credible women all claiming to have been assaulted by him at one point. The backlash against these women was also predictable– why didn’t they come forward sooner? Why not press charges?

I’m guessing that most of these women chose to forget about it. They chose to forget about it because it was something they could, more or less, forget about. Was the backlash against these women that they had not come forward, or was it because they weren’t damaged enough? The expectation that a woman be somehow destroyed by sexual assault, permanently damaged, incapable of moving on with her life is part of the same cultural attitude that permits rape and sees women as natural victims. And if Jian is allowed to be irrational and mercurial why can’t the same defense work for those he assaulted? Objections are made when date-rape is discussed at the same time as rape’s more violent manifestations, but I think this objection is misplaced. No one is disputing that what happened to Jyoti Singh is worse than what happened to me or many other women who have been date raped, just as no one would dispute the distinction between petty theft and armed robbery. However, both are theft, and in the case of date-rape and aggravated sexual assault, both are rape.  They follow a similar logic; they are both defended and supported by rape-culture. 

Sunday morning I leave before dawn and take the bus to the ferry terminal. Jason is still sleeping and I make sure not to wake him. The air is damp and it plays lightly in my hair, which I now wear loose around my shoulders. In September, I will go to the university. I will see Jason around campus. I will chat with him. I see him around campus with his girlfriend. I store what has happened between us, a kernel for a future mind, an event that is so mysterious and so banal that it becomes archetypal. Or perhaps, an event that is so universal that it needs a symbol, something feminine and ordinary, like an egg or a lost hairpin.