special excerpt

By: Lisa Johnson


"Date Rape at the Redneck Riviera"
An excerpt from Jane Sexes It Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire,
edited by Merri Lisa Johnson,
reprinted with permission from Four Walls Eight Windows

Can we realize that women are in danger on our streets and in our spaces? Can we simultaneously rip apart representations of women that project them only as victims in need of a protection that drifts inexorably towards control and repression?
~Catherine Stimpson

I have told some people that I was date-raped in Panama City Beach, Florida. Big deal. Who hasn't been. What I haven't told anyone is the whole story.
How he was soooo cute.
How I was soooo lonely.
I never said how we kissed all sexy and sour, tasting each other like tropical drinks.
I never said there was romance, fantasy, this:

It was April of 1994 when my roommate and I loaded the trunk of her Celica with beer bought in bulk at Sam's. We were on our way to the spring break capital of the world. My acrylic nails painted toxic orange, hair streaked platinum half-way to my ass, push-up bra bikini packed--I was ready for action. When we reached the beach, heads turned. Music thudded: "Lemme ride that donkey, donkey; lemme ride that donkey, donkey."

Girls grinding pelvises in an R-rated version of the hoola hoop lined the stage for a bikini contest. I wanted to be them. I wanted to be up there with them-brave, self-confident, provocative-I wanted to bathe in waves of applause. The next day I drank rum runners until the emcee called for today's contestants, and, slightly more blonde than awkward, I placed third. I never felt so sexy in my life.

That night my friend and I went out to celebrate. We danced, we drank, and most of all we scanned the beautiful boys. One in particular caught my eye. I recognized him, a very popular guy whose attention I'd never quite managed to merit at campus parties. In the democratic spirit of booze and special occasions, he finally looked my way. We walked down the beach, night air raising the hairs on my arms, waves sloshing in and out like they do in romance novels. We came up on an overturned sailboat-the perfect make-out spot, a great story for my girlfriends.

His hand was under my shirt, in my pants. I liked it. He leaned me backwards against the boat, its spine crunching against mine, and started to unbutton his pants. I called time out--I mean, I wasn't going to fuck him for Christ's sake. He wanted to have sex and I said no. (So far so good.) He went down on me. I let him. And I liked it--what's not to like? (Here's where everything loses focus. I can hear the voices: "Ohhh, well if you let him go down on you--what'd you expect?" And the voices make sense to me, except . . . not quite.) With one hand he held my wrists together over my head, my hips pinned under his. With the other hand he got his pants down and his dick in me. I thought: this is how it happens. This is how boys hold girls down. I had never been able to picture the strength and coordination required for rape; my experiences of sex so far had shown me only fumbling and awkwardness. Yet here he was, penetrating me swiftly, head and face pressed privately into my shoulder, retreating into darkness and shadows and orgasm. No, I didn't scream, didn't kick. I said no and struggled with my legs, but I was too embarrassed to draw attention from passers-by further up the beach, and a little afraid, too, of turning his drunk violent. He finished and we did up our pants. My hair was soaked with sea spray; rivulets of salt burned my eyes. We walked back to the club in silence, sobered.

"That was alright with you-wasn't it?" (Preparing his defense for the lawsuit already, I imagined.)
"Doesn't matter now, does it?" I said, sullen and distant.

* * *

When I got back to the college town where I lived I heard he'd been accused of rape by two other girls that year, but he "got off." Well, I reasoned, it wasn't like I'd been pulled into an alley by a stranger or beaten in the face with a fist. There was no gun, no knife. No pregnancy, no STD. I was fine. Ultimately, I figured a quick fuck would be easier to bear than the wrath of a sexually frustrated frat boy on a week-long bender, but his act of penetration was utterly against my will. Call it what you will, but there is no way around that fact. No words for how thin the line is between desire and domination. How much is alright for me to want? There is a cultural logic, unspoken but implacable, that if I want some (oral sex), I better want all (a dick in me). That's how I lost my virginity, after all, in another scene that could be loosely categorized as date rape--trusting the older guy I had such a crush on to stop at "everything, but" penetration as he pledged, feeling somehow unentitled to point out that he had reneged on the deal when I felt him slide inside.

One of the co-authors of Manifesta, a recently released overview of third-wave feminist activism, tells a similar story:

When I was a junior, and already a pretty well-known radical feminist on campus, I had a close, kinda foxy male friend who had "feelings for me" and with whom I flirted. One night he came into my room all drunk and got on top of me. He said, "You wanted this," and the thing was, I didn't want that--him on top of me, trying to scare me, possibly fucking me. But I did want him wanting me in less freaky circumstances.

These narratives have no name in feminism, or in mainstream culture, that doesn't distort the conflict by conflating it with rape or dismissing it as bad decision-making. Like the Manifesta authors, I'd like feminism to "help articulate what happened to [us] when it's not clear whether [we] had a choice." To find words for the middle grounds of subtle coercion where women's libidinal drive is used against us, words for that adolescent place of fingers and tongues and exploration where so much female sexuality might thrive but, once one "goes all the way," is more often frustrated or misused.

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