“Quickly and lightly he lifted her down to the gallery and slid the door closed. Her surprise pleased him enormously.
Trembling, she called for help.
‘It will do you no good. I am always allowed my way. Just be quiet, if you will please.”
-The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
(early 11th century, Japan)
**This post is a continuation of my post “The bigger asshole: god or science?” You could read the following post as a stand-alone, but much more context is provided in the prior post – so click the link if you haven’t read it yet!
The Tale of Genji is widely considered the first novel (ever!) and was written by a high-class woman in Japan. I am humbled to read such an old text and recognize so much similarity in humans across time. There is love, lust, hints of homosexual desire, castes, royalty, jealousy, power. And there is rape. This book reminds us that the rape of women goes back as far as our collective consciousness. And it continues today. We bear the burdens of our ancestors. And it is so. hard. to. break. free.
Generations of women have been silenced and robbed of autonomy. The power to have a say in politics and in business and in who we marry – it’s all still very new when we consider the millennia during which we had no such power. The power to say ‘no’ to sex is also relatively new. How many women have been stoned for having sex? And how many of those women were actually raped? How many women have been forced into marriages in order to “restore their honor” after having been raped? How many little girls have been raped by older relatives before they could even understand what was happening to them? How many little girls have been married off to older men without being able to make a choice? How many women have been raped during wars? And how many ended up dead as they tried to fight back?
And how many of these women have actually found justice in the courthouse (instead of getting stoned for their immorality or chastised for being too slutty/drunk/fill-in-the-blank)?
And somehow we all still walk around mystified about why women allow themselves to get raped so much. As if our whole society hasn’t grown out of the idea that women are property and can be handled (and mishandled) however the men see fit.
We say nothing. Even during the attack. We barely manage a whisper to say ‘stop.’ We try to find an easy way out of the situation. Maybe if I laugh and make like it’s a joke, then he’ll loosen his grip, and I can slip away. Maybe if I say I have to pee, he’ll let me go. Maybe if I just wait until it’s over, I can pretend like it’s not real.
And afterwards, too, we stay (mostly) silent.
If it had actually been rape, we would have screamed. (right?) We would have fought harder. We would have went to the police, for sure. Everyone tells us this (even if only implicitly). But they don’t need to, because we’ve already said all of these things to ourselves.
Many people have written extensively about societal constraints and environmental influences that certainly, abso-fucking-lutely play a huge role in our silence, but we seem to always forget about the role of evolution and genetics. Even when we wish we would have taken a different course, we still like to believe the choice was ours’ to make. We have freewill, right?
And so we blame ourselves for not doing x, y, and z to prevent our own assaults.
Did we all forget about what happened for generations upon generations and centuries upon centuries to women who said something? To women who fought back? To women who screamed?
Oftentimes, the women who were able to pass on their genetic code (and sometimes were/are forced to pass on their genetic code) are the ones who stayed silent and perhaps even married their rapists (because, religion).
We are our ancestors. We carry the burdens of all the women before us who shut their eyes and dreamed they were somewhere else.
We didn’t choose to freeze up. Our bodies reacted in the best way they knew how based upon centuries of learning how to survive.
It’s Evolution 101.
To change course, we have to actively teach boys that girls aren’t the lowest common denominator; we have to talk to each other about what has happened and what we want to see happen in the future. To accept the way that we have responded in the past, while deciding how we might prefer to respond in the future. We are born out of our genetics and our environmental upbringing, but as adults, we have just a tiny bit of wiggle room to edge ourselves and our society closer to acting in the ways we think are most beneficial – to ourselves, and to our children.
For a more personal account on why I stayed mostly silent about being sexually assaulted, read my post “Protecting our attackers (why I never said anything).”
Footnote: I am by no means a Japanese scholar and haven’t even finished reading the Tale of Genji yet. For more in-depth analysis of this novel and Japanese culture at the time, click here.