I’m 35 years old. Technically, that makes me a Millennial—albeit an “old” one. I was already in a serious relationship before Tinder launched and the coining of the term “rape culture” is really just putting a household name on what my friends and I have been familiar with since we first started getting cat calls at eleven years old. I don’t have a single female friend who hasn’t been at least sexually groped once in her life.
Is rape culture getting worse? Do young(er than me) women have it tougher than my generation did? Taking geography, race, sexual orientation, gender and a host of other variants out of the mix for a moment, are we simply living in an era where rape culture isn’t just more common, but blatantly running rampant?
I don’t know, because I can only talk from my own perspective.
Two weeks ago, I went out with a girlfriend to Portland’s so-called “entertainment district” in Old Town. It’s a stretch of blocks spilling over with 20-somethings in teetering heels and an alcoholic haze. It was a rarity. I can’t recall the last time I’d been to a club club, with the whole velvet rope and sticky dance floor. But we didn’t care. We were there to have fun, to dance, and to slump back to our nearby hotel room to sleep off the damage that our kidneys are no longer used to. It was also one of the few nights we got to dress up. Not that it matters, but I was wearing a tight purple dress with a plunging neckline—the kind of neckline that requires cutlets duct taped on underneath all that purple silk to keep things in place.
In the middle of that night is when it happened and, like a car crash, you don’t see it coming. My friend was on the dance floor, and I slipped away to the bar. While I was waiting to get the bartender’s attention, two young men next to me became that kind of still every woman knows.
“You should fuck her,” said one of the men to the other. It was loud in the club, and yet his words were clear. He must have been screaming. His friend muttered something I couldn’t make out. “Look at her dress! She wants you to fuck her,” his friend urged. Again, the other man muttered, but it was in such a way that I knew he was saying no. It went on like this for another minute, until I was too embarrassed to keep standing there pretending not to hear.
That’s what I remember from that night, the one we had planned for so many weeks. Not the fun of dancing ‘til everything shut down, the expensive dinner beforehand, or the getting ready for hours while we ordered room service. It was being sized up by a pair of men who, perhaps, could technically be my children given their age, and deciding that because of my dress I desperately wanted them to use me however they pleased. I remember the embarrassment, the shame, and the disappointment in myself that I didn’t say anything to them. I’ve been in two bar fights in my life, both with men, and both because they groped me. Yet in those two instances, the “gropers” were overtly aggressive and falling down drunk. That doesn’t excuse them, but for some reason it made them a lot less scary.
But two men, seemingly clear and sober at a bar? Something about that shut me up. Something about them made me choose flight over fight. Something about that moment showed me what women today, particularly the 20-somethings, are staring down daily. Rape seemingly has become not just a culture, but a part of our culture.
What does this have to do with health and well-being? Everything. When our mental, emotional and spiritual health wanes because we’re hyperaware that our physical health is in danger, where does that leave us?