When I was a teenager I was really into wrestling. I knew all the WWF feuds, the alliances, the personalities: The Good guys, like Dusty Rhodes and Antigua’s own “Special Delivery Jones;” the Bad, like Rick Flair; the Bad-turned-Good, like Hulk Hogan; the Artistic, like Mil Mascaras; and the Freakish, like Andre the Giant and the green-mouthed Kabuki. And, of course, there was Stampede Wrestling, featuring the Hart clan, on Monday nights. As much as I enjoyed the sport, I came to realise two things about wrestling: It is not what it appears and people do get hurt… .
Over the long weekend, I was in the company of a couple of older gentlemen when the conversation turned to rape. “We didn’t know anything about rape when we were coming up,” one declared. “We just called it wrassling.” He went on to explain, to my puzzled sister, that this activity consisted of trying, physically, to overcome the girl; to wear down her defenses; and that “sometimes we got through and sometimes not.” But he insisted that nobody – not even the successfully wrassled female – called it rape.
Now, just two nights before, I’d sat in the audience of The Vagina Monologues and listened to all the things women have had done to their bodies – including shaving – that nobody calls rape. It would’ve been easy, therefore, to get on the politically correct platform of outrage and re-education. But a few of the things the feller said struck a chord with me, and so I decided to think about them before I responded.
The truth is that rape wasn’t treated like a four-letter word even when I was growing up, because men were un-informed and women just did not inform. I would venture to say that here, in this country, like much of the Caribbean, rape is something done to a woman by a stranger. It is something a woman “brings on herself” – as a female caller to Observer Radio stated only last week – either by her provocative behaviour or dress. (Or by doing something “careless,” like being in the sanctity of her own home with a window open.)
And then it is a shameful act to be kept secret by the woman – like in the days when a certain notorious rapist was alleged to have turned up at the workplaces of his victims, who would slip him money so he wouldn’t identify them as having been defiled by him.
And even though “date rape” has been identified as the most common, the fact that it is committed by someone the woman knows well, or someone she was “stupid enough to trust” – like her step-grandfather – is enough to shut her mouth after her legs have been ripped open. For “she should have known better;” she should have known, like Sophia says in The Color Purple, that “a girl child ain’t safe in a family of mens.”
With this kind of cultural baggage, I can see, all too easily, why women either didn’t recognise rape or refused to call it by name. But there’s more. With this kind of emotional baggage, girls and women never learned how to ask for sex, either; or to show pleasure in it. Just think of what the society says when a woman acts flirtatiously: “She asking for it!” Of course, the tone is always disapproving or accusatory, the nostrils are flared, and the mouth is pursed, indicating – clearly – that a woman asking for sex is just a downright nasty thing.
Is it any wonder, then, that young men wrassled young women, and sometimes got through without protest? They didn’t know any different. Men could want it and seek it; that was acceptable and encouraged. Women could want it, but couldn’t be seen – not even by the men doing it– to seek it. So what’s the compromise, Sisters? Pretend! You don’t expect me to believe, do you, that of the thousand girls with whom you grew up, none of them ever wanted it?
Look! I can hear and see some of you right now, screwing up your faces and saying, “And she calls herself a feminist?” Absolutely, I do, and I know I’m right in what I’m saying, too. When I was around 12 or so, I read a seminal work called The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir, and I remember her discussing women who had never been given permission to seek sex and, even when married, to enjoy it; sex was always something “taken” from them. And for those of you who don’t know – or pretending not to know – “rape fantasy” is the most commonly held fantasy among women. And this is not because sisters want the violence and the humiliation of forced sex, mind you; but because they want to be relieved of the “responsibility” of being sexual.
Don’t believe me? Well, today, in 2012, how many of us aren’t still reluctant, for one reason or another – guilt, religious beliefs, or Burning Flames-inspired doubt (“If you get what you want tonight, will you remember me tomorrow?”) – to tell a man what we want sexually for fear of being branded bad, wanton, slack, whorish? And so we allow our husbands and boyfriends to take the initiative, to be the leader, to wrassle from us the fulfillment we, ourselves, seek. And if we are fortunate to get it, what do we do? We don’t call 911; we smile, slyly and satisfied-ly in the dark. We’ve won the match and the men didn’t even know we were contenders… .
I’m grateful that times are changing and that some women are changing with them. It was just a couple months ago that a sister had to make a choice between two fellers: Keep the new boyfriend who she discovered, right off the bat, didn’t know his way around the sheets, or reconcile with an old flame who knew where her every nerve-ending was located. I was shocked and stunned when she went with the latter; and my own shock shocked me, who had thought myself so liberated, into reassessing my views.
That’s partly why, in this new world, so different to the one in which I grew up, I have learned to hold my punches in the gender wars: Because wrassling, like wrestling, is not always what it appears to be. …