Uncategorized

Belated Father’s Day Post: How Rape Culture Sucks for Men Too, and My Best Memories of My Dad

I didn’t write a Father’s Day post on Father’s Day because I felt conflicted about it. So I am going to tell you a personal story that is about me, about sex, about violence, and why I feel conflicted about honoring my father. I am going to talk about rape culture, and why rape culture is horrible for men like my father, and daughters like me. And then I am going to share my best memories of my dad.

[TW for discussions of rape, incest, domestic violence, consent and boundary invasion, and emotional manipulation]

It wasn’t trouble at first. I was five or six, and I asked my mother where babies come from. As a doctor, primarily working with babies, and also as a woman, my mother didn’t beat around the bush. I’d seen my father and my brothers naked, so the body differences were easily explained, and then she told me about IT. Sex. She told me the exact mechanics (though simplified, of course), and she told me it can feel really good. It was all well and dandy but for two things: I had no context for which to think about sex except my parents (meaning I associated sex with my father, mostly), and we live in a rape culture.

As a decently aware child, newly aware of sex, it didn’t take long before I noticed it. A lot. Everywhere. It was in advertisements, TV shows, movies, cartoons, books, the news…and it didn’t take long before I noticed that scenes of violence on TV and in movies had quite a different charge when the characters were men and women versus men and men, or women and women. I figured out that the difference was because men were thought to be stronger and women weaker, that men were to dominate and women cower in fear. I figured out that those scenes often had sexual overtones that the male-male or female-female violence scenes didn’t usually have. I learned about domestic violence and rape. I learned about child molestation. And I learned about incest.

From the time I was about eight to the time I was twelve or thirteen, I was afraid of adult men. I would literally cross my legs when my parents introduced me to male colleagues at work. I thought all adult men wanted to fuck me (sometimes I still misjudge whether a man is talking to me because he wants to sleep with me or because he genuinely wants to talk). As far as I remember, nothing ever happened to me, but I was always afraid.

When I was very young, somewhere between 6 and 8, I had a rape dream. Specifically, I had a dream my father came into our toyroom while I was there alone, naked. He was holding some scary looking device, and he told me that “they” said he had to have sex with me. He had to make me pregnant, or “they” would kill us. I woke up screaming, and got into bed with my younger brother to feel safer.

Now, even before this my relationship with my father wasn’t smooth. He used to spank us as a form of discipline, but that wasn’t what frightened me. What scared me was his temper – our punishments were never consistent responses to misbehavior but meted out according to how long or short his temper was. When the fuse blew, there was screaming in our faces, angry swearing, and the inevitable march to the bedroom, where we would be spanked and left to think about what we had done. If I screwed something up, maybe I didn’t set the two pieces of wood at an exact right angle when gluing for the first time ever, it was screamy-go-away-and-stop-fucking-up-my-projects time. To this day, I cannot hear anyone say “shit” the way my father does without feeling a frission of guilt and fear. So the rape dream just took all the already extant nervousness and fear, and tightened it into a distrustful ball in the pit of my stomach that I still carry around.

My father would hug me, or blow kisses at me, and I would squirm away. There is not a single picture of me sweetly interacting with my father after age seven. I am always next to my mom or my brothers, or frowning uncomfortably. I would ask him not to hug me, not to blow kisses at me. He seemed to think this was cute kid-rebellion, and less cute teenage rebellion when I got older, and he would smile, wink at me conspiratorially, and do it again. The fist in my stomach coiled ever tighter.

My father generally had trouble hearing nos. I imagine part of this was due to his work as a doctor, with lots of female nurses (he never mentioned any male nurses to me) he was used to ordering around. If he offered me a bite of his food, he would literally hound me until I gave in so he would shut up. If I asked him not to touch me, he would make a point of doing it. If I told him I wouldn’t do exactly what he said, or sometimes even what my mother said, he would yell and threaten to take away whatever thing I owned that was most precious to me at the time.

I was far from a perfect, easy child, and my mother fucked up towards me a lot too. Still, it was my father’s anger, which I connected to images of male anger, which were connected to images of men perpetrating domestic and sexual violence, that held power over me. I let him blow kisses at me, demand hugs from me, force bites of his food on me, and I quitely seethed and cried and felt horrible for feeling creeped out by my own father, who had never laid an inappropriate finger on me.

When I was 15, standing in the kitchen with my mother and father, brothers over in the living room watching TV, I snapped. He blew a kiss at me, and I told him I hated him. I imagine I probably said some other hurtful things. Then my father grabbed me by the throat and shoved me against the flimsy closet door. He was yelling, and I can’t for the life of me remember what he was saying. I wasn’t being choked or squeezed – just held against the door. My brain went fuzzy, but I retained enough sense that when my foot came up to kick him, just like my martial arts teachers taught me, I didn’t whack him in the nuts. I put my foot on his leg and pushed him away from me. He started towards me again, yelling and red faced – but I got in my guard stance in a way that clearly gave him pause, and he finally realized that my mother was yelling at him.

After that, he and my mom sent me to therapy. I told her about that event in the kitchen easily, even though I cried a little. It took many more months before I would tell her about the rape dream I had as a little girl. That session, I was in tears for the whole hour. With my permission, she brought in my parents for a joint session. I did my best to calmly explain that I was upset because they, particularly my dad, never respected my boundaries. When my dad cut me off to explain that that wasn’t fair, my therapist intervened. Although they nodded through everything she said, nothing changed.

Years later, when my parents were divorced and my father and I had both gone through some intense, non-coinciding periods of soul-searching, and both become Buddhists, I sat down over lunch to talk to my dad. I brought up that day in the kitchen, still vivid and scary enough to make me cry. My father cried too, over the injustice that I would not trust him because of something that happened three years ago. I shut down, and gave up on our relationship.

So it has been to this day. In college, I dodged his calls. He visited for Parent’s Weekend once. I said I had to study. He said he would watch me study. I blew my lid. He went back home angry at my “lack of hospitality.” I live in Korea now. I’ve been here nearly two years, and have had extremely infrequent contact with him. Right when I got to the point of missing him, of actually looking forward to calling him on Skype, he started sending me emails, indignant that he couldn’t contact me on Skype, and asking me if I’d changed my name there without telling him. Needless to say, I no longer miss him.

I know my father loves me. While he has severe boundary issues and needs to be educated about consent, he is mostly harmless. He struggles with loneliness and as a result is severely clingy. He has never done anything inappropriate, other than the spanking and that day in the kitchen. Nevertheless, the feeling I get in the pit of my stomach around my dad is the same feeling I get when a guy I am profoundly not interested in starts turning his comments unwelcomely sexual. He creeps me out.

My revelation about why this was came from the post Schrodinger’s Rapist, and from reading about consent on the Yes Means Yes blog. My problem with him has always been a problem of consent, of my right to accept or reject interactions with him, of my absolute need to be able to say no, when my brain was awash with images of rape and intimate violence. What I had seen and continued to see of our culture told me that ignoring consent to interaction was a rapidly sliding slope down into violence. If I couldn’t trust my father to respect a firm, clear, and kindly stated request for space, how could I trust him at all?

I hope these readings have finally given me a vocabulary for having a truly meaningful discussion with him about our issues. I don’t miss him, but I do miss my Dad. I have this picture from when I was five. I am wearing footie pajamas, my hair still wet from a bath. My dad is wearing a white collared shirt. I have him by the ears and I am crushing our noses together. Both of us are grinning like idiots. I miss my dad.

So here are my best memories of my father:
Our bedtime ritual, in the room I shared with my two brothers, was called “lie-by time.” My parents would take turns lying next to each of us for a predetermined and equal amount of time. We would talk, or someone would read a book aloud. Sometimes one of us would agree to go absolute last, and get both parents at once. It was wonderful, and made us feel safe, and usually we would fall asleep before they left the room.

On other nights, when my mother was on call, my father would read books to us (his rendition of Gollum sent me screaming from the room once, much to my brothers’ delight), or tell us stories. He was an amazing story teller. It was always about Mighty Mouse, calling us from his house on the moon via the secret red phone hidden in our bedroom wall. We would get into our shape-changing spaceships (this was the interactive part, where we could tell him the shape of our ships…I remember a lot of food-ships), and fly to help him while our next door neighbor gaped from his window and convinced himself he was dreaming. Usually, we had to help Mighty Mouse stop the Snorts from eating all the Moonflowers. The Snorts had trumpet-shaped noses and Moonflowers were their favorite food. Moonflowers were also the only homes for the endangered Moondragons, so of course we had to capture the Snorts and send them back to their home planet. I remember one night my parents were out and my uncle was putting us to bed. We demanded a story, and we spent the whole time telling him “that’s not how Dad tells it!”

Finally, my dad grew up playing the accordion with his father, and taught himself to play the guitar. He would play a polka on the accordion, or sing while playing his guitar, and I would sit by his feet and stare into the fire he’d built, toasting marshmellows and wiggling my feet in my footie pajamas.

My dad did a lot right. He taught me to have principles and stick by them. He taught me to do my research, to love reading, and pointed me towards Buddhist philosophy during a difficult time in my life. He gave in to most of my desires for material stuff, and he and my mom routinely took me to bookstores and shelled out literally hundreds of dollars sometimes for books which would all be read within a month, sometimes less. He and my mother sent me to a wonderful summer camp, a wonderful private high school, and an amazing college, and also supported me on a six month trip through Latin America and ten months in Egypt.

But I don’t trust him. I find it difficult to interact with him. I find it difficult to be grateful to him and to love him. I find it difficult to remember the good stuff, because mostly I remember that feeling in my stomach, the feeling of my own skin trying to crawl away. Until I get past that, I won’t be able to have a good relationship with him. Until he acknowledges that my feelings are legitimate and understands the behaviors that trigger those feelings, and most especially until he truly understands why that incident in the kitchen still makes me tear up, I will not be able to get past it.

I have a lot to apologize for too. I didn’t have the words to explain how I felt. I knew I couldn’t tell him about my dream, and he wasn’t receptive to discussions about my boundaries or that day in the kitchen. So I lashed out. I punished him. I told him I hated him. I told him he was a horrible father. I avoided him, and made sure he knew it. And I may possibly have influenced my younger brother’s opinion of him, although I know there was plenty sour between them already. I am not a saintly victim. But what I was? Afraid. Feeling powerless. Feeling unable to tell anyone how I felt, and once I did, unable to use that talking to improve my situation. Afraid some more.

I foresee more therapy when I go home. Hopefully joint. Hopefully I have the conceptual toolbox to present to him that can make a difference in his understanding of our relationship, which is currently mostly that I’m difficult and I was an angry teenager, and he lacks something as a father that would make his kids love him the “right” way.

 

In sum: rape culture is bad, for women and for men. The pervasive images in our society about sex, men, women, and violence reflect and excuse and help perpetuate a culture of actual violence, a culture where women are taught to be careful, to fear, that they must protect themselves, while many (most?) men remain blind to it. It is a culture in which many men view it as their right to do what they like with bodies of women, even their daughters, and to lash out with petulant anger when they are thwarted. Women who are not sufficiently compliant are not independent agents and mastresses (masters/mistresses, whatever your preferred term is) of their own bodies, they are shrill, angry, masculine, bad harpies that must be disciplined. My father never blew kisses at my brothers after age seven, and never tried to make them hug him. I was a girl, so I was expected to be sweeter, huggier, intent on getting paternal approval in the form of the blown kisses I so hated. My requests were not respected. My nos were not respected. This is not because my father is some creepy child-molesting dude. It is because society thinks it is normal for young men to test their wills against their parents, while young women should be more compliant. It is because society thinks it is normal for young men to need their space, but young women do not.

When girls and young women and older women (trans women included in all these categories, perhaps especially included) see images everywhere of gendered and sexualized violence, they realize that this is not just fiction, not just for entertainment. This really happens, and it could happen to them. They can see that society considers violence against them to be somewhat natural and excusable, they see the women, even the fictional women, giving IN as a strategy to avoid that violence. They see women at every turn caving to men, and often, sickly, falling in love with men who have creepily manipulated and “bested” them. While it may not affect everyone the same, or as profoundly as it affected my relationship with my father, it does affect us all, and how we interact with each other. If my dad had been educated about these issues, I have no doubt that he would have viewed my protests in a different light, that he would have seen my consent to interaction as important, and avoided a lot of our most trying moments. If I had been educated about these things, I would have been able to explain how I felt, instead of lashing out. If I hadn’t grown up in a rape culture, I might have felt safe talking about these things with my parents. I might have never have felt them in the first place.

For girls like me, for men like my father, and for all the survivors (of all genders) of violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape, our culture of permissiveness, of apologizing for the perpetrators and blaming the victims, must end. It most profoundly affects the direct victims of that violence, but it affects the rest of us too – in the ways we are “allowed” to be, as men and women, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. It makes us question whether or not we will be supported and validated and heard, and makes us blind to the ways we hurt one another. Most of all, it affects our ability to trust one another, whether we are intimate partners, family, friends, or strangers.

Advertisements

Discussion

7 thoughts on “Belated Father’s Day Post: How Rape Culture Sucks for Men Too, and My Best Memories of My Dad

  1. Wow! This is a remarkable entry with many things worthy of response. Not necessarily by me, and perhaps especially not by me, but worthy of response by someone competent to respond. The one thing that stood out the most was your mentioning of how your father’s treatment of you was different than of your brothers. I had never thought of it like that. I also think I am very lucky, having read this, that my father treated both me and my brother in precisely the same way. Well, obviously not precisely emotionally or intellectually, as would be expected, but the physical relationship was the same with both of us. He’s not huggy, ever, so my brother and learned to receive hugs on the same, infrequent terms. No cuddling, really. We weren’t spanked. I remember my father coming into the living room where I would be reading or something and he’d yell “hit the floor!” and I’d have to dramatically flail onto the floor or else he would step on me. This was riotously humorous. And if my brother were in the same room, he’d respond and would be expected to respond in the exact same way. Of course, I am grateful that my dad interacted with both of us in the same way physically, especially having now read this entry, but I think the drawback to that is that it took/is taking me many years to develop my own sense of physicality around other human beings. For instance, my brother and I never hugged each other until I left for Egypt in August 2006 and have hugged maybe three times since. Is our relationship somehow broken, or is that somehow significant because it’s a male-female sibling relationship? I don’t think so, and I credit that in part to my dad treating us the same way. Though, now I am a cactus, but I think there are worse things to be.

    Posted by amanda p | June 22, 2011, 19:54
    • I don’t think so either – and I think people should have whatever level of touchy-feeliness they like/negotiate together. The point was mostly that, due to these various influences on my thinking, my interactions with my father were charged in a way that he didn’t understand, so he didn’t understand why I reacted the way I did, and couldn’t respect my boundaries. There’s no “good” or “bad” way to be physically interactive with other humans, but I would argue that respecting consent is “good” and ignoring it is “bad.”

      Lolz to the “hit the floor”…why would he step on you?

      Posted by startledoctopus | June 23, 2011, 02:59
  2. I was an only child until November 2010*, so I can’t say whether my father would have treated my brother and I the same. However, I can totally relate to the “no space” part — my grandfather, especially, was very keen on wilfully violating my boundaries. If I wanted to go for a walk, he would go with me. If I went wherever, he’d go with me. He walked me to and from school until I finally flipped a shit at 13, and even then, eh. When we moved to a house where I had a lock on my door, something I’d been demanding for years, he demanded a key — and frequently entered my room while I slept, and locked the door after him when he left, so I wouldn’t know he’d been in there. He insisted on folding and putting away all my laundry well after I entered puberty and started my period/wearing bras. When my father and and I got into quite a physical fight and I locked myself in my room, he opened the door so my father could keep throwing punches at me. It took moving out/being kicked out at 17 for him to stop, and even then I got calls very frequently requesting/demanding that I move back in.

    Apart from one incidence which happened when I was very young which I won’t discuss here, I can’t say he was ever sexually inappropriate. But boy, there were a hell of a lot of boundaries getting trumped by his whims and desires. I feel slightly vindicated in my decision to cease all contact with my grandfather.

    * technically I have a half-sister too, but I haven’t seen her for 14 years so I’m nixing her.

    Posted by Linh Nguyen | June 23, 2011, 10:44
    • You should feel vindicated, holy macaroni! I’m so sorry you had to deal with that growing up, and I am very glad to hear you made it out of that situation. No one “owes” anyone else contact or entry into our lives and spaces, particularly not people who have no regard for consent or boundaries!

      ((hugs)) to you if they are welcome, and if not…digital cupcakes?

      Posted by startledoctopus | June 24, 2011, 09:30
      • I’ll take hugs AND digital cupcakes.

        The funny thing is I told my family about the childhood incidence and also my discomfort with his obvious lack of boundaries, and really the only response I got was “meh, deal with it” or “he loves you, he doesn’t think of you that way”.

        Posted by Linh Nguyen | June 24, 2011, 13:15
  3. I hear you speak of how your father is “good, but..” which I gather allows you to love him (still) despite what he’s done to you.

    I don’t hear anywhere in your words that he’s ever owned his own behavior and issues. I don’t hear anywhere that he’s apologized and attempted to do his best to atone for what he’s done.

    It seems sad to me that he can be so seemingly intelligent and such an achieving person and even perhaps have an honest spiritual path, and yet his issues seem to still entrap him. Sickness – obviously – can be better hidden through privilege and “respectability”.

    I have a hard time imagining how his issues may well not affect others such as potential partners (or partners), others he might work with, etc.

    Perhaps I don’t understand what you are saying, but I see needs for both of you. I gather that you’re doing your best to heal and grow. It’s not clear to me that you feel that he Can really deal with his issues?

    It was difficult for me to read what you wrote. I’m glad you wrote it!

    Posted by Geo | July 14, 2011, 13:41
    • I do love him, and he will always be my dad, but it will be impossible to truly heal and truly trust him and have an open relationship with him until he does own what he has done, understands how it affected me, and does his best to not do it anymore. After my parents got divorced, I talked a lot with my mom about my rocky relationship with him and found that many of my issues with him were reasons why she divorced him. When they were married she felt she shouldn’t talk with me about things like that. I’m not sure he can recognize and deal with his behaviors. He’s very invested in his own view of the world and believes that his intentions trump the effects of his actions. But there is always hope. I have, thanks to feminism, a much better vocabulary with which to articulate our history and how it made me feel and why, and I’m hoping that, as an intellectual himself, it will make it easier for him to understand.

      Out of curiousity, what made it difficult for you to read, in particular?

      Posted by startledoctopus | July 17, 2011, 17:56

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: