I’ve slept with too many guys because I was afraid.
I’m wondering what will happen if they try to rape me. It’s five against one. We’re on an isolated mountain path. No one could hear me if I called out. If they rape me, the logical thing to do would be to kill me. Rape carries the death penalty in India. It isn’t enforced very well, but it would be for a foreigner. Colonial history cuts deep. Structural, institutionalised, racism means that the police still considers my person to have more value than an Indian.
Here, up in the mountains, I would not be found. No one could trace it back to them. So I’m asking myself, as I feel the eyes of these men boring into my body, what I would do if they try to rape me.
I could get out my penknife. Fight them. Smash their heads in with a rock. Five against one. They’d win. It’d make them want to hurt me even more.
I could tell them I’m on my period. But they might not care, and if they find out I lied, they’d get angry.
I could tell them I’m married. I take the ring I have on my middle finger and move it to my ring finger. It makes me feel a little less lonely, somehow. But it wouldn’t help.
I know that there is only one thing I can do, if they decide to start touching me. Say yes. Act like I wanted it. I could treat it just like a consensual gang-bang, and then maybe there is a chance that they won’t kill me.
No is not such a simple word to say. Even in less extreme, risky situations as this, women has learnt that No comes with immediate retribution. We make a guess as to what a no will cost us, and calculate how much we should give, how much of something we do not want to do is better than what happens if we say we don’t want it.
This is the sort of negotiation that women have to do all the time in their own heads to work out how much they have to give. All the time.
It might not be in such extreme situations, but from working out how often you have to fake a laugh to not cause friction after your boss hits on you, to letting a guy kiss you on a date because even if you don’t feel like you owe him something, you know he does, to navigating the murky waters of street harassment, being pleasant enough that the catcaller doesn’t get angry and yet not pleasant enough that he sees it as a come-on and follows you.
Honestly, considering how much we have to do this sort of bargaining in our own minds, it’s shocking that we’re not better at negotiating our salaries. We should be paid 1.5$ for every 1$ a man makes.
Except, these negotiations aren’t really about compromise, because the woman is always the loser. She can minimise the cost, but she is the one paying. The power is in the man’s hands, or at least, that is how we perceive it. Whether or not it is true. It feels true. The idea of rape lingers in our minds. It is there, implicitly, when women find themselves alone with men. In front of men I feel powerless. I don’t even question whether or not that is true.
“I hope they don’t find it!” Virginie Despentes thinks of the knife in her coat pocket as she gets raped by three men in a forest. Not for a split second does she think about using it against them. She just hopes that they do not find it and use it against her. She has a mental block, she is convinced of her own powerlessness. When the men eventually find it, they are amazed that she didn’t use it. “She must have wanted to get fucked, after all,” they laugh.
It is not a denial of agency to say that women can’t always say no.
Women can technically say it, but in our society, it comes at a cost. Whether it is being badgered, being asked to justify your no, being made to feel guilty and cruel, or being met with physical violence.
So as rational beings, women work out which costs more: saying no, or saying nothing.
Why didn’t she just say no? I hear some men ask, good men or men that want to be better, men who are genuinely concerned because they want to have consensual sex and the fact that a no could remain unsaid is scary.
She didn’t say no for a lot of reasons.
Because she has learned to expect her No to come at a cost.
A Non Extensive List of NOs I did not say
He takes me for a date in a salsa bar. He assaults me in a dark corner. I want to leave, but I don’t know how to get home without him. I don’t want to make him angry. I let him kiss me. We dance. His hands still sliding up and down my body.
She’s my friend, my roommate in boarding school. She’s got acne, she’s taller than the other girls, she has a lot of complexes and doesn’t feel pretty. When she starts kissing me, climbing on top of me, I don’t want it at all but I don’t want to hurt her feelings, and I don’t yet know that mine matter at all.
The yoga teacher runs his hands up and down my body. It’s always both obviously too much, and not enough to call him out on it. I say nothing.
I make out with a guy at a college party. A few days later we meet for a date, he picks me up in his car and parks it a few blocks away. We make out. I don’t want to do any more. He is insistent. Acts like I have led him on — we did kiss, after all. And I’m wearing a short skirt. He makes out like he needs it. Like I’m cruel to be depriving him of it.
I’m in love, in a relationship. I feel like I can say anything to my partner, and yet I don’t say no that night, or that other time, even though I don’t want to. I don’t ask him to stop even when it starts to hurt me.
Saying No is not as simple as it sounds.