Lived Experience/Memoir / Rape Culture

Rape Culture Within A Sexually Dysfunctional Family: Rape Culture 208

When you are raised as a girl within a sexually dysfunctional family, as I was, it takes a long time to learn what you need to unlearn from that experience. There is a strange sort of clarity that only arrives in its own time, always somewhat at a distance (at least in the beginning), and which cannot be brought about through force; either by one’s own will or that of another (such as during frequent appointments with a therapist, psychiatrist, or psychoanalyst). For me, this clarity has only begun to surface after years of hard work. My most recent examples of this come from memories I have been consciously holding onto for half my lifetime. Unlike a vast majority of my memories, which are repressed and inaccessible (see also: too dark and dangerous to engage with at this time), I am dealing with memories that have been conscious and accessible since the time of the events they recorded.

Trigger warning: descriptions of sexual aggression towards myself as a teenager, by several members of my own family (emphasis on one in particular)

The first event I am dealing with in this piece of writing (though hardly an isolated incident) happened one night when I was a teenager. It was night time and I was in my room changing my clothes. As I recall, the lights were off in my room, but my windows—which were on the second floor of the house, partially occluded by the garage, and facing the quiet suburban street—were open. It was Summer and muggy. No one was home in the house across the street, into which I could see from my window. For only a brief moment in my bedroom alone with the lights off, my teenage body was undressed. This event hardly qualifies as a controversy. However, my parents had somehow witnessed this event from the street while pulling up to the house in their van, and were outraged. I remember clearly being yelled at and shamed—particularly by my father—the very next day. I was made out as a villainous temptress and my actions condemned as the behaviours of a whore.

The act of walking around alone undressed in my bedroom in the dark was implied within all this belittling and condemnation as being functionally inseparable from my sexuality — which was itself functionally inseparable, in the shared thoughts of my parents — from the act of having sex. I was being hyper-sexualized at the time and yet didn’t know it (at least, I could sense it but couldn’t say what it was). I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t wrap my head around it. In fact, all I knew was that I was being sexually harassed by my own parents, but I didn’t know what in the world to do with it. Or about it. In particular, I knew without a shadow of a doubt, that my father was acting out in a sexually aggressive manner towards me. He had already habitually done this for over a decade, both towards me and in front of me towards my two sisters and mother; so I already knew this behaviour quite well.

What I didn’t know at the time was how to reflect upon this event through the eyes of an adult who is capable of a healthy relationship with a child. That is to say, I didn’t know exactly how fucked up this event was, or why, until very recently. But it suddenly occurred to me—from a safe emotional distance—that my parents weren’t concerned for my safety in that moment. They weren’t thinking of me as a young adult who is vulnerable to predation by pedophiles and other adults with nefarious ulterior motives. They weren’t even thinking of me as their child. They were thinking of me as a a kind of sexual predator. They were thinking of me as someone who was acting in such a way as to deliberately bait anything or anyone that should come my way from making decisions that had the potential to open me up to sexual predation; and in fact, they were implicitly blaming me in advance for any wrongdoing someone else might perpetrate upon me (and perhaps, retroactively as well, for the wrongdoing they had already done to me over the entire duration of my life up to that point).

They were teaching me, as they had been teaching me all my life, that my body is inherently dangerous — not even necessarily to myself, but to people who might be enticed by it. In their paradigm, it would always be my fault in the event I was sexually violated. And from this distance, I can clearly see as if through the lens of a camera over the driveway of that house looking down the street, how my father must have stopped the van just to make sure he got a good long look at his own teenage daughter in the window. But somehow I was the predator.

A second event that comes to mind is within a few days, when the entire household had become acutely aware of the beautiful young woman in the house next door, who every morning after a shower would dry her hair while topless in front of a window that was open and facing into our back door landing (where we had no drapes or blinds). Unbeknownst to her, she became the object of intense ridicule, sexual innuendos, and “jokes” in our household by the end of the same day—for doing essentially the exact same fucking completely asexual thing as I had, only with the lights on. As nearly anyone might within the walls of their own home. Hell, some people even do it daily!

At the time, what this taught me about myself was that something about me was different, dirty, and shameful. What this taught me about her was that she was oblivious, ridiculous, and stupid. And what it taught me about my family is that hyper-sexual thinking runs rampant through it. At the time, I even thought parts of this reality were legitimate, sensible, and normative. And now, what is literally an entire lifetime later from the time of this event, I have a different view. My parents and middle sister were never capable of viewing this woman’s behaviour like I am today. Where I recognized femininity and beauty, they only saw absurdity. And where I would now recognize self-esteem and self-confidence, they only saw desperation. And where I am as certain now as I was then, that I saw self-determination and autonomy, I’m confident they only saw someone who is unconsciously obtuse.

They saw only what they wanted to see—not things as they really were. They wanted to witness a sexual act in her behaviour without seeing themselves as voyeurs of it (in the paraphilia sense of the word). I didn’t know how to see myself in the initial shock (and the brief moment of adoration that followed before I turned away unseen) of walking to the back door and seeing her there without deliberately peeping on her. But I recognize myself now: I was an unintentional observer, and my own sexual orientation never had any bearing on what I saw (and my opinion of what I saw had no bearing on her either).

That my parents especially didn’t want to see themselves as voyeurs of yet another undressed young woman is important, because this puts a third and final memory into perspective, of an event that followed by just a couple weeks later. I had decided one afternoon to take a hot bath, and our tub was in a dimly lit room (which at some point previous, was a side door into the house, but had been reconstructed and partially bricked up except for the doorbell, or we wouldn’t have ever known). The room had a tall window that faced out towards a brick wall in the neighbour’s yard. On previous occasions, the lighting in the room was so low even at its brightest that I nearly fell asleep in the tub. On this particularly memorable occasion, I lifted the blinds half-way up the window to let the sunlight in before I turned away from the window, disrobed, and dipped in.

Not two minutes after I was fully submerged into the tub, I heard the doorbell ring. Then it rang again. Then I heard loud knocking on the window at the back of my head. I turned, and there was my father, standing outside the window, scowling at me because the blinds were open while I was taking a bath. He didn’t go away until I got half-way out of the tub to close the blinds, struggling to cover my bare chest with my free arm. I have rarely ever enjoyed a bath since (not entirely because of this event, though it hardly helps the matter), and never took another one again in that house. And who can blame me? Oh. Except Dad, that is.

That event was the turning point for me. Instead of continuing to rationalize through my experiences following the logic of a pedophile and a sexual predator, as to why it was that my own family members (and my father in particular) were sexually harassing me, I began to resist; starting with planning my escape—a full three years in advance. It’s now been over ten years since I left, more than two years since I cut all my remaining ties to any of my biological family, and a mere matter of days since I took my power back from my perpetrator. But no one will ever take that from me again.

One thought on “Rape Culture Within A Sexually Dysfunctional Family: Rape Culture 208

  1. Pingback: Sexual Abuse Leads To Sexual Dysfunction (Perspective On Consent): Rape Culture 305 | HaifischGeweint

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