I cry maybe five times per year. This isn't be because I'm some sort of heartless stoic; tears just aren't my go-to method for expressing things. I'd much rather yell or just do that angsty, brooding teen thing that I'm quickly getting too old to pull off. Crying doesn't usually do it for me, but today I cried.
It was in a class called Regulating Speech. Well, actually it was in the bathroom next to the classroom. In Regulating Speech, we discuss a lot of hypothetical situations that relate to the First Amendment. Today we were discussing censorship of printed materials, and the hypothetical situation involved an imagined how-to guide on rape. "Should we ban this?" the professor asked.
I endorsed permitting the guide to be published. I'm very much of the school of thought that the marketplace of ideas will combat fringe ideas on its own, and that the discourse surrounding controversial material is a lot more conducive to progress than a downright ban could ever be. Though the notion of a how-to guide on rape makes me nauseous, but I'd be willing to let it exist in the name of freedom of expression and promoting progress.
A number of other people in the class agreed that the book shouldn't be banned, but supported their opinion with different logic. A few boys chimed in with some statistics about the proportion of rape victims who are raped more than once, and suggested that perhaps the book would be a good resource for women who want to learn "how to prevent being raped."
There is no such thing as "rape prevention." The only way for people to not get raped is for people NOT TO RAPE THEM. We can't end rape by dressing modestly or avoiding dark alleys or letting friends babysit our drinks when we go to the bathroom. The only way to abolish rape is for nobody to rape anyone else. It really isn't a difficult concept.
I chimed in politely and explained this to the class. I fully expected at least one other person to agree with me. I looked around. Nobody agreed. A bunch more people raised their hands and tried to correct me. "They can at least be aware of a rapist's techniques!" they argued. "It is silly to think that women can't prevent rape."
At this point, I basically lost it. "It isn't the job of women to prevent their own rape!" I argued. "The only people who can prevent rape are rapists!"
Things got awkward and the professor changed the subject. I sat for a moment, and then I went and cried in the bathroom. Not the loud kind, but like, the really painful kind where the tears feel angry and stuck inside your head.
I am fortunate to live in a world where almost everyone "gets" things. My family is pretty progressive. My boyfriend could make a room full of gender studies students swoon. The internet communities that I inhabit are filled with cool activist types with well-formed opinions. When I disagree with my friends, it is usually about semantics more than the fundamental nature of the opinion. In this world, it is easy to forget that bigotry actually exists. Enemies of progress are thought of abstractly-- as blurry-faced, cat-calling construction workers or scary, hunched-over shadows in dark allies. It is easy to forget that people with uninformed or just plain stupid opinions exist in the world around me. Sometimes I get weary of pushing "the feminist agenda." It takes a lot of work. Things in my life feel pretty safe and good-- it would be easy to just be complacent.
It is times like these where I remind myself that people like the ones in my class do exist, and they exist in my daily life where I can interact with them, and maybe teach them something.
Anytime I feel complacent, I think of these people, and how I still have the opportunity to reach them. I think I cried in the bathroom because it is really overwhelming to realize how many people out there still don't "get it". Occurrences like these are awful, but they are also productive because they enforce my belief that some issues still need to be fought for, despite what people may tell you.