Shifting Boundaries #1
Cristina Getson, Canada
Painting Size: Size: 36 H x 60 W x 1.6 in
The shame this 19-year-old girl felt was not because she said no and had a violent experience of a sexual violation, even though she felt a violation and she felt shame. The confused feelings she had were due to the unawareness a 19-year-old often has and the inability of language to express it. There are a variety of components that would feed into that particular inability, but the main ones are lack of self-confidence, being socialized to be friendly, to expect the best of people, and to lack a strong support system. Of course, it will also have some root in a lack of education on boundaries, consent, and the language of these, as well as the education and support and language of understanding her own edges.
The Arc: Part Two of 4a
"Move your ass, baby. This ain't no free ride."
That sentence would be the most mortifying sentence that she would tell no one for ever. In that moment, she is both humiliated and enraged, and will be that way any time she thinks of it in the future. She decides she will not think about this—it is really a command to her psyche not to think about it, now or ever—or put into words for another 27 years that jovial cajoling is just another way for someone to get what they want with no account for the other person; it is pressure administered selfishly for one’s own personal gain, regardless of whether the other person would eventually like it or not. It takes the free will out of a situation and makes the other person feel like if they don’t, they are disappointing, and if they do, they obviously wanted to and the pressure was good for them because, left to their own devices, they would really just be so much a wet sock. It does not respect that the other person knows their own mind or should have a say in their own action. And when it is a man and he has targeted you, you should listen to that small voice that warns you that he takes what he wants, and if it is you, you’d better be ready because if you say no, he may call you names, he may shout, he may hit the wall right by your head, he may put his hands around your neck, or he may just make you do it and do it roughly and tell you you like it.
She would learn that while in 2017, this might constitute a scenario worthy of a discussion on rape and consent and power, it certainly would not have in 1990 and she was a stupid girl who would let a man have his way with her in lieu of being raped or humiliated, shamed, or degraded, even as she was surely experiencing a combination of some or all of those things. She would also know in 2017 that while the national discussion might be stories of women being coerced, power imbalances, sex propositions in exchange for the exercising of favors by powerful men, or even downright rape or violent sexual abuse behind a dumpster at Stanford, the law and the culture would still not hold white men accountable for their sexual predation and would, instead, elect them president or give them a lenient three months of jail time because the privileged swimmer rapist would really miss steak. She would not write #MeToo on social media because, honestly, #WhoHasn’t?
The national discussion would be of no interest to her as a 46-year-old woman, except the dialogue about cultivating emotional acuity in children at an early age and teaching boys and girls respectively of mutual responsibility, mutual respect, mutual boundaries, mutual consent, and having that demonstrated daily by the people around them. As a 46-year-old woman, she would firmly believe that the modeling of relationships between a child’s loving caregivers would be the way to instill this in boys and girls. If the children themselves are the product of a sexual relationship that was obviously sexual because they are in existence, and then their parents hate each other, especially in the hetero paradigm, then what, really, will each parent have taught the child, and how will the narrative be defined, and what will the children then get to see, in terms of parents, coexistence, conflict dialogue, and loving and sexuality when the parents sort of just fucked and then left when the real part of the relationship—the conversation, dialogue, the action propelled by the hopes and dreams, and the necessary periodic negotiations that are tangential to the acquisition of the goals of the stated hopes and dreams—just began?
In particular, as a 46-year-old woman, the discussion of the scenario would most appropriately be framed within the context of boundaries and consent, and how boundaries shift, and how it is the responsibility of both parties to notice the verbal and non-verbal cues of one another, and for each to be accountable to the boundaries of the other, as well as to be aware of the ramifications of the after-effect when one party allows their boundaries to be crossed. This would be of particular use to her when framing the conversation.
When the hebephile rapist power-tripping president of the United States comes out in support of an Alabama senator who spent most of his 30s coercing 14-year-old to 16-year-old girls, aggressively, menacingly, and forcibly, to gratify him sexually and says he believes the predatory Alabamian, there is really not a lot of hope for women believing in the hope that they are about to watch a sea change of feeling dignified and respected.
Nor is it a truly optimistic time for men who have been largely silent about their own sexualization through coercive tactics and power imbalances because even admitting that they have been a victim to that is a much more guarded dirty secret because, honestly, it is much worse for men who have been the prey of predator men. In this culture and in most cultures, the paradigm does not like sissies, even if they aren’t gay, and being dominated by another guy—because make no mistake, it is about domination and oppression—is sissification to the max.
She will, in that moment, watching the optometrist rev himself up, reflect on the safety training of children in 1975, when kids started popping up on milk cartons because weird creeps were snatching them and Ted Bundy’s identity was still a mystery. No matter what, the first number one item for personal safety was never to get into the car of a stranger, not ever. Not if they have a missing puppy or candy or can help you carry your heavy backpack home for you and get you there faster. Not if they say they work with your dad, and not if they say they went to school with your mom and were just going to stop by and say hello to her. You don’t even approach the car and ask how they know your mom or what color their puppy is because they can snatch you and then you might get vacuumed into their car and never be seen from again. And whatever they want to snatch you for is not going to be good and you will never see your parents again. Her mother made sure to add on to the safety lesson that if her snatcher kept her alive, it would be so, so much worse than if he killed her fast.
The safety messages for girls becoming women in the 1970s was to walk on the outside of the sidewalk, walk wide when going by a dumpster or an alley, walk with your head up and your shoulders back, don’t break stride, look confident, and if someone approaches you, look them straight in the face to memorize features in case they do something to you and you survive, so you can help the police make a sketch. If they do get you, look for vulnerabilities—the groin, the knee, the neck, the soft pocket in their collarbone, the nose (butt the palm of your hand into their nose and shove upwards as fast and hard as you can). Punch them in the solar plexus, either with your fist or the back of your elbow. If they grab you from behind, step back hard and fast and stomp their foot while bringing an elbow back to hit them in the stomach or ribs, then run like hell if you don’t fall down with them because you definitely don’t want to be on the ground with them because it is way easier to get raped on the ground. All of these presume you are under active attack. You don’t get to actually do any of these things until you are under active attack, and if you do, you’re only going to be given a pass for preemptive assault for fearing for your life until about the year 2000.
And what do these men want who are going to grab out at you from the darkness of corners and dumpsters and alleys and cars? Your sex. Your vulnerability. Your struggle. Your defeat because that defeat means they are powerful and strong and dominant and smart and you are not. They dominate you. But more than dominion, they can and will enslave you. They can kill you. They can take your sex. They can go home and lie to their wife and kids. And whether you were raised to believe that nice girls can or nice girls don’t, you and your character and moral development and thought processes are going to be the things on trial if you got unlucky enough to be chosen by a creep.
The message for in-between was that you must always be a smart and clever girl and don’t put yourself in situations where you might not have a choice. The liminal message was: if you are a female and you get mauled or raped, it is your fault for not being smart and clever and for enticing the wrong man and for being alive because men cannot help themselves and they are wired for sex and if you’re not smart, you’ll get sexed up, whether you meant to or not. And if you resist the advances, you might get beaten up, too. But fight anyway, because you might get killed if they are really passionate and become enraged by your rebuffs or your passivity, and this does not mean they are a sociopath. So the message was really, any man might or might not be a sociopath, but if you are the object upon which he has fixed his desire, you are going to be sexed up unless you fight or defend yourself, at which point you could also be killed, so give up the sex in exchange for your life. This subliminally internalized as
men= rapists, maybe killers, if you do not comply
though they are unable to help it due to evolutionary biology, that killer instinct that calls men to dominate, rape, pillage, take.
The message was never that the perpetrator might be someone you know, and least of all, it was not going to be discussed that when it is someone you know, you keep your mouth shut, even if it was really bad. It was a private family matter.
That was the message when the girl was a girl, and it internalized into enough boys and girls of the 70s and 80s that entire generations of these became women who fear, loathe and distrust men because when they shared their stories of being uncomfortable and having sex to avoid being raped—when they told the story of the power imbalance that shifted the good time they might have been having before being stripped of free will—they were accused of being a tease.
The boys who were raised with those messages of the 70s and 80s grew to be men shamed by their own bodily fluids and desire, if they were sensitive or raised ultra-conservative or with perfectionist parents. The mass distribution of magazines designed to sell an industry of self-improvement, fashion, and make-up—all designed to make women better because they were not right how they were—featured covers targeted to engage women to buy them with topics like how stupid/disgusting/self-centered/cretinous/unhelpful their man was.
At a choice point of becoming the thing that the bar set by the culture and its commodity of magazines and sitcom humor or finding their own strength in their humanity and their relative masculinity, many found it easiest to just lower the bar and be the stupid, disgusting, self-centered, hypersexual, unhelpful cretin because even if they weren’t, they were viewed that way because they internalized that the culture expected, and thus allowed, them to be that way. And even if they didn’t, they may have found that they had to fold into and over themselves to protect themselves from the litany of daily assault through the cultural messages received.
They became enraged by women or men terrified of women—angry women who were doing it for themselves, and angry women who conflated feminism and self-reliance with fear so that a man may be blasted by the accusatory scowls or shouts of women who do not want the door held open because they have just had one episode too many when accepting the compliment/door/chivalry/gift meant that they were going to have to pay the piper.
They grew to be men terrified of women accusing them of sexual harassment for being kind and chivalrous the way their mothers and fathers taught them, and most terrified of how some women, traumatized themselves or by the legacy of their mothers, converge a simple kindness with the threat of rape. They tended to side with Freud and his theory of the hysteria of women, and that gave them a pass, even though Freud pandered to the good old boys’ network of his day and shushed the complaints of women in his research and introduction of psychotherapy by boasting of his logical reason for it at the Club, thereby gaining acceptance for his self-developed field through the collusion with the powers that allowed it as long as it didn’t ruffle any feathers of the day, and certainly as it helped women be silenced in their rage for being subjugated to the whims of the men closest to them.
It wasn’t feminism that created the ideological and relational problems between the sexes; it was the collusion of psychotherapy to silence women and free men to behave exactly as they wished and the peddling of image.
In 27 years, she will hear that song, “Aimee,” and it will make her remember that night and every stupid step she made along the way—from lacking the assertiveness to tell the rancher, “Hell no” when he asked to join her in the shower to not being assertive and saying to the optometrist, “No, I only bought one pair of glasses,” and staying with that position. She will not tell Mae this story, or anything about any of it. She will not tell anyone.
She will rebuild the carburetor again and have two more pieces left. Her fingers will be peeling from the grease cleaner. She will put the screws in her pocket and say that it is built and she is leaving tomorrow morning, but the rancher will demand that she tell the truth because two missing screws from a carburetor would mean she could die driving to Seattle and he would not have that. She will hand over the screws and go to her room, convinced she is trapped on this rock pile and will never leave.
In the morning, at 5:00 a.m., the rancher comes into her bedroom, sits on the edge of her bed, and gives her the keys to her car. He tells her he rebuilt her carburetor in the night and he filled her car with gas. He tells her he hopes she finds what she is looking for, and he gets up and leaves.
She is not wistful about leaving. It is not bittersweet. She hugs the lady rancher wife, who is also getting ready to leave for her day job at Ma Bell, and tells her how much she will miss the children and the ranch, but she will not. She leaves and she does not look back.