A writer named “Tove K Danovich” wrote an article in Aeon Magazine titled “Was I Raped.” In the article Danovich describes being “raped,” yet, she can’t decide whether or not it was really rape. And we are supposed to accept that whether or not it is “rape” should be her decision. The article is indicative of how feminists think about the issues of rape, promiscuity, and shame.
“Danovich” is a very Jewish sounding name, but “Tove” is a Nordic first name, she has blond hair and blue eyes and her twitter photo currently features her in a Christmas hat. So perhaps she is Slavic or only partially Jewish. In high school Danovich describes the milieu she was involved in, and note the use, in this paragraph, of “we:”
During my teenage years, other girls were having sex with older men – much older – and we saw it as perhaps an eccentric preference. How could it be abuse if you were willingly, happily returning for more? In Michigan, where the age of consent was 16, we counted down the days until we could legally do what we’d been doing all along. I went to a boarding school for the arts, the kind of place where problems that could send you home or to a hospital were more pressing than statutory rape. Friends had eating disorders, trouble with their antidepressants. Their parents had too much money or not enough. Kids found ways to get high on drugs that left your system quickly – Adderall, Robitussin, methadone, cocaine. They were bussed off to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings before they even hit 18.
Danovich describes the “boyfriend”(if that’s the right word for it) and the milieu she become involved with when she went to college:
I went to college in New York City: 18 and working in a restaurant whenever I wasn’t in school. When I started visiting and then hooking up with a crush, a fellow writer whose poems my teachers had idealised during class, I was thrilled. He was handsome in a movie star way, artistic, and – there’s no nice way to say this – a drunk. The only times we saw each other, he was either drinking or on his way to drink somewhere else. He would come over to my apartment, look at the lone, half-empty bottle of vodka and ask what mixers I had lying around.
Because his friends were my friends, we’d go out drinking – me with my fake ID – and crash on a floor or a couch or curl up like dogs on a futon. I thought I was in love (the way all teenagers think they’re in love) for a week, maybe two. Then we drifted apart to other people and other parties.
She writes the following about something that happened later(emphasis added):
He and I and a female friend met up one night in early December. We had some drinks at her apartment. We talked about sex and love and writing because what else do writers talk about on a cold night? I beamed about some guy from school I’d started dating. Around three or four in the morning we fell asleep. The other girl slept in her bed. ‘You two were hooking up. You’re fine on the futon, right?’ It wasn’t really a question.
She’s dating someone, someone she is “beaming” about and yet she is willing to sleep next to the guy she used to “hook up” with? Does that seem strange to Danovich? She gives no indication that it does, and it evidently doesn’t seem strange to her friend. It’s a fair bet that in the slut-culture milieu she is involved with, that kind of behavior is not considered abnormal. The guy she was dating and “beaming about” is not mentioned again. Continued:
What happened next was carved into my memory for months. Then it wasn’t. Now dredging it up feels like remembering a story about someone else. After not thinking about it and not talking about it for so long, what happened finally faded into the realm of facts. We were sleeping. Then we weren’t. I woke up and his hands were fumbling under the blankets. Then we were having sex or, rather, he was having sex with me as I lay there, pretending to still be asleep. I didn’t want it to happen. I didn’t say no. The loudest thought in my head was that I didn’t want to wake the girl sleeping not so far away from us. That seemed more important somehow.
Why didn’t she say no, or push him away? Other than not wanting to wake up her friend, a pretty inane reason, she doesn’t say. In similar rape narratives the woman doesn’t say no because she is “terrified” or “in shock” but that doesn’t seem applicable here. To deconstruct the narrative further, note that she has had “some drinks” and “pretends to be asleep.” “Pretends to be passed out” would be another way to phrase it. After all, how many women can completely sleep through sex unless they are drunk? Alcohol would explain why “the loudest thought in my head was that I didn’t want to wake the girl sleeping not so far away from us.”
She can’t decide whether or not it was rape, writing that “What happened had felt like, not rape, but maybe its younger sister – clearly related but with a personality of its own.” She also writes that:
I didn’t tell people what had (or maybe had not) happened. Not because I was afraid or traumatised: I was ashamed. If I couldn’t stop something like this in a studio apartment with a friend sleeping less than five feet away, what could I protect myself from? Maybe I wasn’t the powerful young woman I thought I was.
Shame. As much a part of human nature as anything else, some women feel shame for being promiscuous, in Danovich’s milieu that is unacceptable. Instead of aspiring to be a woman of virtue, the Tove Danovich’s of the world are supposed to aspire to be a Strong Woman. She is ashamed, she says, for being unable to live up to that, for letting herself have sex when she “didn’t want it.”
Yet Occam’s razor suggests another explanation for her shame. It’s a common narrative, girl gets drunk, girl’s inhibitions are lowered, girl has sex, girl is ashamed of herself for it the next mourning. This makes much more sense to me than Danovich’s version of it. Danovich, however, can only contextualize it using feminist terminology.
When feminists imagine “rapists” they typically imagine men like those in Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s rape hoax story, the hated out-group. Yet the man who Danovich is accusing is a part of the milieu, part of the in-group. Danovich is frustrated that others don’t see her side of the story. She writes that(emphasis in original):
A few years after the event, a boyfriend was invited to a party likely to be attended by my assailant (‘attacker’ still feels too strong a word). I was at a loss to explain why I didn’t want him to go. I’d already told him what had happened to me, couching it in the same vague terms I’d always used to describe it to myself. We were sleeping and I guess he just kind of had sex with me. Or something. My boyfriend didn’t think that sounded bad enough to keep him from going.(….)
(….)The girl who had been sleeping not-so-far-away had, by now, heard my blurry version of what had happened – yet she still invited him to parties and even set him up on dates with her other friends. Your life can go on as usual after maybe-rape-maybe-not because you can treat it as nothing more than a (serious) misunderstanding.
Was what her assailant did really so bad? It’s likely that he interpreted her willingness to sleep next to him to mean she was willing to sleep with him. She obviously sees this, which is why she can’t quite bring herself to call it rape.
It’s a thorny issue. She doesn’t think her assailant deserves to go to prison, but Something Has To Be Done. She writes that:
Labelling these events has consequences. If someone were to ask me whether all rapists should be punished for their crimes, my ‘Yes’ would come without hesitation. If I acknowledge what happened to me as rape, the logical next steps in my script are to go to the police, press charges, and attempt to sentence someone I knew, and had once respected, for a serious crime.(…..)
The legal system’s definition of rape isn’t the same as that of feminist academics, thank God. The answer to this dilemma, according to Danovich, is “restorative justice,” referring to a concept created by feminist academic Mary P Koss:
Her first concern is for the victims who often bear the brunt of criminal proceedings. ‘In theory, we’re assigning blame to the perpetrator, but we all know that in the process people evaluate the blame they want to assign to the victim.’ Rather than putting criminal proceedings in the hands of prosecutors, restorative justice empowers the victim and is focused on repairing the harm caused by an act rather than doling out punishment for it. Koss, whose work often focuses on college students, is frequently confronted with people who – as I was – are deeply conflicted about the effects of coming forward. ‘They don’t want to ruin a person’s life, but they do want to tell their story,’ Koss said. ‘They want to be validated and believed and seen as legitimate.’ Three things that, unfortunately, can be hard to find.
Restorative justice comes with some important caveats: offenders must be first-timers who admit their culpability and show real remorse. A version of this process can work alongside the criminal justice system – this is not an either/or. For unacknowledged victims who are confronted with a choice between silence and the possibility of putting someone in jail for committing a crime that doesn’t feel to them quite like a crime, this third option might provide a welcome relief. Especially in the first years after I was assaulted, being heard was the panacea I never felt I could ask for.
Frankly, while it’s not comfortable to label yourself as a victim of sexual assault – especially after spending years denying it – it is better than the alternative: the years of self-questioning and niggling reminders that you failed yourself in the one moment when it mattered.
What Danovich wants, essentially, is for blame for what happened to be transferred from her to her assailant. She wants validation that she didn’t do anything wrong, that she didn’t “fail herself.”
Had this process, “restorative justice,” been done in her situation, she imagines that the man would have apologized profusely and taken all the blame for the situation, lifting the blame off of Danovich’s shoulders. But what if he didn’t? What if, furthermore, he were a member of the out-group? What if he asked for a rational reason why she just couldn’t say no? What if he asks for a rational reason why she is so ashamed and self blaming?
In that case the process would work rather differently, the Mary Koss’s of the world might seek to expel the student or even get him in trouble with the legal system. Feminist ideology will be enforced, dissent will not be tolerated. The blogger Chateau Heartiste defined the goal of feminism as “to remove all constraints on female sexuality while maximally restricting male sexuality.” It’s an apt definition.
Of course, the dream of creating a world where women never suffer from shame is a dream like communism, a dream based on denial of human nature. Danovich doesn’t choose to be ashamed of herself, she just is. But like communism, it’s a dream that can last a long time. Expect to see more of this kind of nonsense in the next few decades.