In the mid 1980s, a judge in South Australia said some women might not cope with ‘rougher than usual handling’ by some men and mistakenly call it rape. Or words to that effect. In my 30s at that time, I agreed with him in part, so far as believing that for many females, sex was too often regarded as an act always involving tenderness and a soft touch, crying ‘rape’ when men exerted their strong, physical presence in intercourse (indeed, I think the judge should have used the word ‘stronger’ than usual handling, rather than ‘rougher’). For many years, I had lamented some men who couldn’t really embrace me with a potent physicality or fervent passion; many of them were simply TOO gentle in their approach, seeming to lack a real capacity to revel in their own sexuality as well as mine, treating women as if they were fine, porcelain dolls who would shatter with a strong touch (Did these men really want me, or was I no more than just a body to accommodate their own pleasure, I oft wondered). For my perspective, these men somehow seemed to consider sex as too nice, too clean and too cool, unable or unwilling to really let go and indulge in the moment. After all, lust is listed as one of the seven deadly sins and that religious tenet still hangs over far too many people and manifests as guilt. Further, I extrapolated, some men could only do the things they secretly lusted after with females they regarded as less than good women; prostitutes and whores who they had no respect for and could thus really unleash their ‘dirty’ (as they unconsciously perceived their own longings) fantasies with these women. Their wives and girlfriends were of course, GOOD women, who entertained no ‘dirty’ fantasies for themselves or their male lovers. Sex was tame, puritanical; even sterile; without any ‘rough’ or strong handling at all, a reflection of repression I believed. Good sex and good women were (are?) a contradiction in terms; how could a good woman, married to be a good mother, good housekeeper and good moral compass, indulge in good sex? And likewise for men as prospective husbands who need to be good providers and good fathers who don’t hit women, drink too much or play around. Sex, for both many women and men, doesn’t rate as a high priority in the marriage game, overshadowed by other more practical concerns such as financial security and good parenting potential. Moreover in those days, it was married men who more usually sought the services of prostitutes; not the lonely, single men without a female partner (I found this out after speaking to some women working in the Prostitutes Collective in Victoria) and what does that suggest about sex in marriage?
More than 25 years later, I still adhere to the belief that for many men and women in our society, sex is still shrouded with too much shame, a ‘dirty’ pastime that defies goodness and purity for both genders. Unless of course there’s a marriage bed and what goes on behind closed doors in suburbia remains too sacrosanct. Yes, writers like Bettina Arndt et al have conducted surveys about sex in Australia, but I maintain many women, and also many men, would not really know what REAL and GOOD sex was about. Where would they have experienced it? It goes without saying that I may know nothing; yet again positing a theory based on little more than anecdotal stories from females and males I’ve met over the decades as well as my own experience. Indeed, one very interesting conversation I had once was with a male taxi driver in his 30s who acted as a male prostitute for many wealthy, married women in their forties and fifties who’d never worked and been the good mothers as demanded but had missed out on an exciting, interesting sex life. Picking them up at their luxurious homes in Toorak and Brighton etc, they asked him to take them to a male brothel as they were longing for some good sex. He kindly offered them his service instead. I maintain that Anne Summers book, ‘Damned Whores and God’s Police’, penned as her PhD thesis in the early 1970s about the history of women in Australia, is as brilliantly relevant today as it was then. The divide between so-called good and bad women is still alive and well and thriving in our social milieu just more disguised, covert and unconscious than in times past. Delusion runs rampant in our national psyche.
So where does rape fit in in this context? During my years as a journalist and researcher in the media, both in Australia and England, I explored this subject many times as well as reading several books about it, and while the recent 2012 rape/murder of ABC reporter Jill Meagher by a male stranger in an inner, suburban Melbourne street hit the headlines with much anger and outrage, perhaps just as tragic, if not even more disturbing, is that about 80 per cent of sexual assaults against women are perpetrated by men they know. And that sadly includes rape in marriage. Moreover, the gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old female physiotherapy student in New Delhi late last year filled the world with horror, not to mention the rape of females in India every 20 minutes of a day, where girls as young as 13 are scarred for life; their fathers and grandfathers often committing suicide because they cannot live with the shame. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Rape is a very common fact of life for millions of females around the world; be it in The Congo (estimates indicate about 4000 rapes a month), India or Australia. So what’s really going on? Many so-called experts – counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists and advocates often regard rape (by a man of a woman) as an issue of power and control; as if that explains one of the oldest crimes in the book written about thousands of years ago in the Old Testament. In an article last week in The Age in Melbourne, pioneering feminist Germaine Greer used just one word to explain rape – hate! More than 20 years ago, I contended rape was more to do with a lack of respect for women by men who were no more than cruel and thoughtless animals from the waist down. Today, I believe it’s about all these aspects of human nature and as such, complex and confusing to comprehend.
As a 17-year-old virgin in the late 1960s, I was dating a 24-year-old man who was trying to convince me to have sex with him. We were in bed with all our clothes off and as much as I was enjoying all the heavy petting and sexual foreplay, I kept saying ‘no’ to intercourse. Why? I wasn’t in love with him and still harboured some traditional albeit old-fashioned notion that I wanted my first real sexual encounter to be with a man I was in love with. However misplaced and traditional my thinking was back then, (this was Australia in the 60s) that was how I felt, and despite my continual protestations, his behaviour just got more and more forceful and unwanted. I jumped out of bed and ran naked around his empty house for a few minutes, with him in hot pursuit. Eventually, he caught me where I reiterated I didn’t want to go any further and reluctantly, he accepted it. I got dressed and he drove me home. I didn’t see him again. But what’s really interesting about that Sunday afternoon was that I later wrote in my diary that ‘he had tried to rape me!’ There had been no alcohol and no drugs involved either. A few years later, reflecting on my description of that event, I realised I had got it all wrong. Certainly, he had tried to forcefully convince me to say yes, but rape? I don’t believe so. Indeed, there were a few other young men after that too, where I ended up naked in bed indulging once again in petting but because I wasn’t in love with them either, I still said no. They too tried to persuade me; but gave up before I had to run away. Also, there were occasionally times when, carried away by the passionate embrace, I ended up in bed with men I really didn’t fancy and saying no of course, was much easier. When I was researching a documentary series I wanted to do on men in my mid 30s and was talking to a male director in his late 30s or early 40s (I’m not sure) about the young male experience of sex, I asked him if he had tried to force or strongly persuade women he had dated to have sex with him. Pausing for a few moments, he admitted that he had. And other males he knew? He thought lots of men did so back then. What now? I don’t know, but I think things are not too different. Certainly, it has been well documented that increasing numbers of teenage girls as young as 13 are now engaging in sexual intercourse, but whether that’s because they really want it or are forcefully convinced they really want it, is still a matter of conjecture. On the other side of the coin, girls are still saying no for a variety of reasons, and boys are still trying to persuade them otherwise. What else is really significant in the context of the Summers’ book about the good and bad women of our past history, is that girls who do indeed say yes are still condemned as sluts by other teenage girls as much as by the boys themselves. And even sadder is that many of these young girls get pregnant, suggesting to me that their sexual indulgence is not planned sensibly or perhaps even with any real desire at its core. Other unconscious forces are lurking in the lust. So what else is new?
Whether this increase in early sexual experience is by genuine consent or persuasive argument or even when both women and men are older, calling this behaviour rape or even attempted rape is to abuse the word rape and strip away the layers of sadism and cruelty that rape involves. Rape is something else entirely, the forcible penetration of the penis into a vagina, against the females’ will, as written about in Susan Brownmiller’s book. And by my reasoning, rape is not definitively just a physical act; there can be psychological rape (emotional or mental, call it what you will) with all the same associated trauma and heartache as the physical betrayal. And of course, male rape of other males is all too common.
I have been raped, too, both physically and psychologically; by a couple of men and by women and men respectively. Without labouring over the specifics, suffice to say I preferred to surrender physically rather than die fighting to protect my vagina. Circumstances were very different; one time was by my former current partner who flew into an uncontrollable rage because of my infidelity, while the other time was by a stranger I’d met and talked to in a bar in London for several hours over too many red wines. Stupidly, I accompanied him to his apartment where he locked the door behind me after I’d entered and realising what might happen (I had no interest in having sex with him), I said I wanted to go home. He then grabbed my arm, twisted it up behind my back and said: “you’re not going anywhere”. Fearing for my life, I quickly decided I wasn’t going to get killed over a fuck, so I took off my clothes, lay on his bed and said: OK, fuck me! Which of course he did, climbing on top of me and removing his jeans. He didn’t need to be rough, strong or forceful; I offered absolutely no resistance; and as I opened my legs, he entered me slowly and all I could do was smile to myself as I was moist and amused at how my own body could protect itself from pain. He moved up and down for a few minutes, came pretty quickly, slid off me and passed out next to me. I had lain there motionless and may as well have been a blow-up, plastic doll with a convenient opening in the right place for what took place between us. I just felt relieved it was over. I didn’t know where he’d put his keys (he was asleep half-dressed) so I lay on the bed for what seemed like hours till it got light. I dressed quickly, then gently prodded him awake and said very nicely, even politely, I’m sorry, but I have to go home. I have work to do. He took his keys out from under his pillow and handed them to me. Then, almost unbelievably, he asked: Can I see you again? What’s your phone number? (This was pre-mobiles). Maintaining my composure, I quietly lied I didn’t have a phone but I knew where he lived and might pop in again to see him. I let myself out saying thanks. I never saw him again. Walking down the street looking for the nearest tube station (I had no idea where I was), all I could think was I got out of there alive and in one piece without any injury or harm. Maybe my judgement about him was my real pain; I had so very naively thought (I was 29 years old) after all our talk he was a reasonable guy; how wrong I was and it only cost me a fuck! So be it, but I never went back to any man’s place again after drinking in a bar. I had learned my lesson about that. I’m not sure that calling it rape would have stood up in court; after all, I invited him to fuck me you could argue, even though I only did so out of fear to stop myself from being killed. Or that was my rationale at the time. I did tell a lawyer involved in rape cases about the incident some years later and he said it was rape; maybe, that’s the way I saw it too as it was against my will; there seemed no other choice but to let him fuck me or die.
But what of my former current partner? It was some eight years previous; and we had been going out for just three months and suffice to say, the sex was great and he was the best fuck I had ever had (I had lost my virginity some two years earlier and my experience was limited to just a few pretty unsatisfying fucks). And I was madly in love with him and he supposedly was with me. I had told him on several occasions during our courtship that I didn’t believe in sexual fidelity and he acknowledged he didn’t really either. But reality called him a liar. One night when he was working late, I was drinking in a bar with some work colleagues and ended up going back to a guy’s apartment to have sex with him. The guy was a good mate who I’d always fancied and after a few drinks, it was easy to succumb to his suggestion. I’d never slept with him before. The next night, I was meeting my partner for dinner and he turned up to the restaurant very drunk. We ordered dinner and wine, even danced a few numbers in between courses, talked very amicably, if not a bit drunkenly, and then, he took hold of my hand on the table very strongly and asked: ‘Where were you last night? I called round after work and you weren’t home.’ I lied and told him I’d gone to visit a girlfriend and had stayed overnight at her place. Really? Was his quick reply. I don’t believe you. Well, that’s the truth, I insisted. He was still holding my hand and he tightened his grip even stronger until I said – let go, you’re hurting me. He then asked, more loudly and angrily; where WERE you last night? As I got scared, I realised I had to tell him the truth so I blurted out my infidelity. He let go of my hand without saying anything. I found my wallet, tossed some money on the table for my dinner and got up out of my chair and said: ‘that’s the truth and I’m sorry and I’m getting a taxi and going home’. As I neared the exit door, I knew he was right behind me and as I walked into the cold dark street (it was the middle of winter in Melbourne), I started to quicken my step and look for a taxi. There were none in the street. He then grabbed me from behind around the waist, pushing me to walk to his car which was parked close by. He bundled me into the front seat then walked around to his seat. Yes, I certainly could have got out, run down the street, even screamed, though I don’t recall seeing anyone else nearby. I could have even run back into the restaurant and told them to call the police. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I did none of it. I knew he was very drunk, and while I’d only had a few wines, I was always a good drinker. I was a bit tipsy, but nowhere near as drunk as he was. Why I stayed in the car I can’t answer. Not convincingly anyway, even to myself. I could say I didn’t think anything terrible was going to happen, moreover, my real fear at that time was allowing him to drive home drunk at the wheel. (This was before .05 and compulsory seat belts). I didn’t want to say anything to make him even angrier, so we drove to his apartment in the inner city in silence and after 15 minutes, arrived outside where he parked the car. He got out and opening my door, told me to get out, too. Suddenly, fear took over and I told him I wasn’t moving. I was staying in the car; quietly hoping he would go to his apartment and pass out and I could go and find myself a taxi and go home. It didn’t happen like that.
Instead, he dragged me out of the car and forced me to walk upstairs to his apartment where I scraped my legs on the concrete steps, blood dripping down my leg. As he put his keys in the lock to open the front door, I tried to get away from him, but he was a very big, strong man and I was helpless. Inside, he pushed me into his bedroom (he shared his apartment with two other male mates), ripped off my dress and underwear, picked me up and carried me to the bathroom. Still holding me, he turned on the shower then placed me under the icy, cold water while he stood there watching me, glaring at me as he screamed that I was a fucking whore who only needed a prick between my legs. I can’t remember whether I even said anything; all I recall are his words and the freezing water. I don’t even remember how long I stood there; he then picked me up dripping wet, carried me back into the bedroom, threw me onto the bed and fucked me. I don’t even remember whether it hurt. I don’t know whether I was numb or frozen or both. He soon fell back onto the bed beside me and passed out.
I think I was in shock as I don’t remember whether I was thinking anything at all except to get out of there and go home. I got dressed in my torn clothes, rang a taxi and went to wait outside for it to arrive. It was very late, about 3 am, and I talked to the taxi driver as if nothing had happened, all very normal, just another night. Back at my place, I took off my wet clothes (I hadn’t even dried myself), put on my dressing gown, made myself a coffee, and burst into tears. I don’t even know how long I cried for, except it seemed like hours, chain smoking in between and drinking many cups of coffee. I didn’t even bother going to bed. I knew I wouldn’t sleep. I was at least fortunate that I didn’t have to be at work until 1.30pm, and as I sat smoking and drinking coffee, I played one of my favourite maudlin Bob Dylan songs – Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands- over and over again. I think it was about 7am when the phone rang.
I knew it would be him and debated for a few seconds about whether to answer it. I didn’t know what I could say; even wanted to say. I picked it up. I’m sorry was the first thing he said to me. You remember? I managed to reply, surprised that he had as he was so very drunk. Yes, I remember. I’m sorry. You must really hate me, I said plainly, without even knowing where that thought had come from. It just came out of me, totally unplanned. There was only silence on the line; then he said we have to talk about this. Yes, I know, but not now. I’m exhausted and haven’t slept all night. I have to get a couple of hours of sleep before I go to work. I’ll call you when I can talk about it. And I hung up, glad that I was living by myself.
I was 21 then and he was just a year older. I took myself to bed, eventually fell asleep for about two hours, then showered, dressed and went to work. To all my colleagues, nothing had happened and I didn’t tell anyone. Not for years afterwards, not even my closest girlfriend. Now, 42 years later, I still haven’t told anyone what really happened that night. It was nobody’s business but our own. I wondered if his flatmates had heard his screaming abuse at me, but if they had, they never said anything to me. I didn’t let it worry me. I now had more than enough to really worry about. It was about a week later we talked about it, or tried to, but neither he nor I could understand why it had happened. I agreed I would never sleep with another man again (not that I kept my word but then, neither did he, either), but things were never the same between us. He acknowledged he’d done quite the worst thing to me, but strangely, neither of us called it rape. He also blamed me for cheating on him; you’re supposed to love me he said while I retorted that his behaviour was hardly about loving me. And then of course, I repeated what I’d told him a few times before; that I didn’t believe in sexual fidelity. Well, I can’t handle it; so I told him that maybe we should end it all only for him to declare that he really loved me. I replied I’m not sure how I really feel at all. The truth was I was lying as much to myself as to him; I felt so very sad and knew it would just never work out as we regarded life and so many issues very differently, knowing I would never forget what he had said to me. It wasn’t even the physical act of rape that troubled me; it was his words that twisted in my head over and over again. I can’t even explain rationally, even to myself, why I continued to go out with him, have great sex with him again, even live with him in my apartment before we travelled to London together to work and live. For months after that night, I kept telling myself it was just sex; it almost felt like an addiction that both of us couldn’t break, however much we tried to stay away from each other as we broke up and made up so many times ad nauseum. Suffice to say our relationship lasted just six months in London as he violently attacked me once more (and I hadn’t been unfaithful) and I thought I was really going to die. Now it WAS over; forever.
I had carried around much sadness, depression and anger, albeit unconscious, for all the months following the rape (though I still didn’t call it that), and there were many nights I would sit and think about it alone in my apartment; chain smoking and drinking coffee and playing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands over and over again. What part had I played that night? What responsibility should I accept and was it really my fault because I had been unfaithful? What had really happened to him and was it a case of ‘in vino veritas’? Was what he had said to me what he really thought deep down albeit unconsciously? And what of my judgement of him? How could I have made such a mistake? I kept asking myself so many questions in some attempt to make sense of the madness; made even crazier because despite that night, I couldn’t stay away from him. Whatever had happened, I still felt I loved him. And while I asked him to leave in London and told him it was really over, it took me more than 20 years to really stop thinking about him. Yes, I had a few flings with other men, but every time I went to bed with one of them, I always used to wish it was him with me. My truth was that even raping me as he did, and what he’d said to me, didn’t make our sexual relationship after that night any less exciting or pleasurable. I loved the sex with him and just never met another man who could offer me the same intensity and delight. It was so hard to stay away from him, to stop myself from calling him, to wanting to see him. I was in a constant battle with myself; thinking that eventually, I’d get over it, over him. It took more years than I thought. He passed away more than seven years ago; I knew he was dying and wanted to see him, but I didn’t. I’m not sure he would have wanted to see me. He had married and had such a new life while I just never met anyone else to match me; certainly, not sexually.
There’s something about macho, aggressive men (for want of better or smarter or cleverer words) that can be sexually exciting; at least for me. I too can be a macho female and aggressive, and the quieter, more intellectual men I have met who I could talk to more compatibly than I could ever really talk with him, just never turned me on. They still don’t.
The problem is, I realised after we’d been apart for several years, was that these macho men who are usually good in bed (though I’ve picked a few duds, too) are also extremely sexist; far too conservative and patronizing with belittling and demeaning attitudes to women. Despite some of them denying those beliefs about women’s inferiority; their actions speak louder than their hollow affirmation about female equality. These men are also very clever at disguising these deep seated attitudes, often, even to themselves. But in moments of conflict, their unconscious thoughts can surface, albeit irrationally and unexpectedly. Then, so conveniently, they can then lay the blame on the woman as justification of their argument, because if we dare confront them, we’re irrational, even hysterical! And it’s those attitudes I will never be able to accept. Certainly, they are endowed with some exciting spark of sexuality, of masculine strength and confidence that other less macho men don’t seem to have. But they’re arrogant and condescending when it comes to really accepting women as their equal. In psychological rape, which I won’t go into right here, it is these same traits and impulses that demand to be called rape, and often perpetrated by women against women as much as by men.
Reading about women and men as I have over the years, it’s not an unusual problem; just that many women and men opt for other priorities when they decide to marry. Sex is shelved someplace beyond family, children and career. I could never do that; indeed, I never wanted to do that; sex for me was, and still is, an important aspect of what I need. When I was once more a single woman, I tried to convince myself sex was not that important in a relationship; dating a few men over several years who I found inadequate in bed. Eventually, I realised I could no longer go on with this self-deception. So I returned to macho men and drew the line at sex only; not wanting any more involvement and without wanting, even expecting, anything more from them. At least, I had some good sex again.
Rape by someone you know, moreover, who you love and think loves you, evokes far deeper pain and suffering than by a stranger you might pick up in a bar. Certainly for me. It poses so many questions about one’s own judgement, intuition and trust, mystifying, even confusing what real love actually means. I have never forgotten that night; though as the years passed, the memory eased and the intensity of the pain abated. Thinking that 80 per cent of rapes are perpetrated by someone the woman knows, is truly horrifying; and I cannot even find the right words for the rape/murder of Jill Meagher, the young student in India and all the millions of others around the world; be they men, women or children. Rape is a crime against humanity; whether it is power, lack of respect, hate or other dark, sadistic human impulses that engender it. Even now, I don’t pretend to understand why men rape women, men rape men or young boys and girls, and why it’s claimed, even women rape women and men, too. I just know that by writing about it, talking about it openly and as honestly and truthfully as we can, maybe some potential rapists out there will think before they act. I certainly hope so.