Seeing is more than a mechanical process, it’s a neurological one.
The lady doctor on the radio asks “Was it a rape? I really want to know, please call in and give me your opinion.” She’s describing a personal incident. As an 18-year-old model, left in Paris by her starry-eyed mother, LadyDoc is ostensibly in the care of her agent. The agent sends LadyDoc alone to the apartment of an older, male executive. The business he desires isn’t modeling. He reaches up her dress. She demurs. She did not, not at the time nor later, wish to have sex with the man. Paralyzed by confusion she allows him to use her. An enduring sense of muddled shame haunts her. “I wanted him to like me,” She admits, live, on the radio.
Was it rape?
Did she allow his hands to rove? Yes. Does that define “mutually consensual”? In her own opinion she’s too young, inexperienced, too vulnerable to give informed consent. She fears owing the man his grope, as so many girls do who have been raised to be nice, compliant, good sports. The feminine ideal pre-supposes a masculine ideal. A girl raised to defer has a hard time coping with outrageous requests. In the eyes of the law she’s a legal adult. Old enough to have excused herself. To have exited. What happened? The lady doc begs us to tell her. People, bless their hearts, try really really hard to pigeon hole experiences. To label things. To organize events into kingdoms, phyla, and principal taxonomic groups in order to understand and make sense of incidents utterly random in nature.
Bad stuff happens no matter who/what you pray to.
Define “bad stuff.” Nowadays We would be roundly disappointed by an abusive agent. Eighteen-year-old models are urbane. Social norms change faster than laws. Once upon a time a man could put away his wife for little reason leaving her financially adrift. Laws change in response, not pro-actively. Now? Innocent spouses may be granted alimony for life in addition to child support. As the courts adjust to reflect the new normal, social mores shift again. This shift never ends. In modern times wives often make equal or more money than husbands. And men? They are likely to fight for visitation. One no longer need prove a mother is “unfit” for a man to have full or half custody. No one debates that men can be caring, nurturing, interested parents.
Men are people too!
Mores change, perspectives change. Here is a true story, from decades back. Imagine a yachting club in Hawai’i. A female club employee goes to the restroom to change clothes for her shift. Male employees drag her out to the lobby, half-dressed, as a joke. She fights back, legally. The owners of the club refuse to view this as a serious matter, claiming this is routine “horsing around.” Their risk managers strongly disagree. In her case the laws have changed swiftly enough to protect her rights. Had the incident happened in 1940 I’m not so sure. The young women I work with are unsympathetic, mentioning that people who can’t stand the heat ought to stay out of the job market. The older women I work with side strongly with the right to a non-abusive workspace.
Humiliation is cause enough for complaint even without threat of physical danger.
Abuse lies in perception. What one person deems “horsing around” doesn’t make it so. The law allows for perception to be in the eyes of the victim. If I feel uncomfortable around off-color jokes, sexism, bigotry etc. I’m entitled to freedom from vulgar harassments (theoretically.) In practice? The nine women who comprised the staff at a bank were no less raunchy than the six men I once worked with at a motorcycle shop. Whereas the men silence themselves, at my request, when I enter the room – the women? “Oh don’t be a prude!” they chortled. They refuse to admit to bigotry and offense, claiming they think of me as “white.”
They figure (wrongly) that since I’m not black I can’t be hurt.
Chris Rock expressed himself well when he explained Hollywood is not guilty of burning cross bigotry. Nor, Rock continued, is Hollywood guilty of “get me a lemonade” racism. What Hollywood types exhibit is a sorority you’re-nice-but-not-one-of-us, so sorry dontcha know, subtle, excusable, apparently acceptable racism. The kind that is hardest to reveal, toughest to explain, difficult to see. Like LadyDoc’s rape. Not so black and white. Sorority bigotry is 50 shades of grey. When sixty years ago people were fighting and dying for basic human equality am I justified in noticing the whims of liberal white folk? When woman are traded, trafficked in subhuman sexual slavery is it fair to complain about the modeling agent’s behavior?
Yeah sure. Exploitation of the vulnerable is always evil, is it not?
Defining evil via sins and taboo is messy. I can never pin down every single incident. Step back for the big picture. Range is more common than exacting tiers and levels. Getting back to LadyDoc, let’s not forget some young minxes by age 18 know exactly what they want when they flirt with silly old men. They are the abusers. Others fancy themselves in love. Social mores reflect poorly on the executive. He seems to be taking advantage of his position of authority. But we can’t be sure. I’ve known more than one older man who did right by a young lover. Each human relationship is unique, fragile and beautiful in its own way. A friend of mine took issue with the word “beautiful.”
Is there beauty in sadness?
Is Truth is beautiful? One might safely argue there is nothing nice about an agent feeding emotionally immature, defenseless model wannabes to an exploitive executive. Growing up is a heartbreak. A certain kind of person makes sense of tragedy by imagining that a Higher Power manipulates incidents for overall greater purpose. This sort of person is primed to accept abuse, re-framing events as “sacrifice.” Another kind of person closes down emotionally. They remain distrustful the rest of their lives. That’s lonely Truth. There are other options: sweetheart, darling maybe the universe isn’t that personal. Maybe bad things happen because some people are shits.
Sometimes poor judgement, inexperience, immaturity or stupidity is the root cause of tragedy.
Seriously. Until or unless one is willing to consider bad things happen due to poor judgement, inexperience, immaturity or stupidity we’re left asking unhelpful questions like “Why didn’t I speak up?” Why didn’t I leave? Why did he do that? Or the mother of unhelpful questioning “Don’t you think what he did was wrong?” Sure, yeah, the listening audience might vote forty to one the agent and executive were a pair of royal schmucks but that ain’t healing, that ain’t helping and that won’t preclude history repeating itself. A better lesson to learn is how to navigate uncharted waters.
Listen to your body.
Imagine your future self. Will she be saying, “against my better judgement I ____________?” (Feel free to fill in the blank with anything you damn well know is against your better judgement that you did anyway.) Stop asking yourself why you did it. Stop asking other people if they would have done it. Stop wondering if the other people who used you were wrong, bad, or mean. Do something proactive instead. Take your trembling, anxious, unhappy self out of situations. Don’t apologize for being self protective. You ought to be safe not sorry. Unless you’re having fun with it. Roller coasters are fun. Horror movies are fun. Working as a model is fun. Being mistaken being misunderstood ? Not so fun.
Think with wide open eyes, heart pounding, reflexes flexing. Let your body know her mind. Then even when bad things happen, and bad things will – you won’t feel ashamed. You’ll feel angry. If a modeling executive reaches up your dress uninvited, sweetheart, dear darling, you have my permission to be furious.
I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat. -Rebecca West, author and journalist (21 Dec 1892-1983)