When the non-smoking sign flashes to life on an airplane, it seems to me, a person who took her first flight in 2001, a little like seeing this pass me on the sidewalk:
(note that I do not live in either Portland or Austin)
It’s a relic. A harbinger of a past culture I never inhabited, and therefore only know through its stories and artifacts. What must it have been like to fly when smoking culture was the default?
If you’re just joining me, and don’t know What Happened Last Night, you can get the long version by going here. Regardless, let’s all take a minute and look back over the incident.
Three men discussed a woman’s rape in a crowded, loud, boozey pizza joint. Another man called them to task for it. One man yelled at this man. This man refused to be cowed. When the yelling had ended, one man apologized and tried to explain his position.
A woman told a man he was being offensive.
The man demanded that the woman define rape.
There are so many discussions to be had about this single occurrence, but for now I’m going to focus on this one—note the only time a woman spoke.
Then note what happened when she did.
We are in a culture where women are denied the position of an active subject. Sometimes this denial is intentional. Sometimes it is passive. Sometimes it is barbed. Sometimes it is careless.
This happens even when the topic at-hand is the treatment of women’s bodies. This happens even when the topic at-hand is a woman’s own body.
You don’t have to rape a woman to be a part of rape culture. You don’t’ have to harass women. You don’t have to look the other way when women are being raped or harassed. There is not some kind of initiation ceremony or process.
We are all part of rape culture. We are acted on by it, and we act within it.
And I mean “we” not “you all.”
I am a part of rape culture. Just as complicit as anyone.
Did I speak-up that night? No. Have there been other nights when I have remained silent? Yes. Have I questioned the legitimacy of a sexual assault? I have.
We are all a part of rape culture because we are all a part of culture. We don’t have a choice in the matter.
But we can, to some extent, choose how we contribute to it. We can make choices that perpetuate it, or choices that stop it. These individual choices help fashion the larger cultural ones.
Yes, cultural change is difficult. Yes, it takes time.
But it can happen.
My hope is that if we choose to value a woman’s word, if we speak-up in public and in private, if we support all women and men who do the same, we just might come to a place where the very thought of callously dismissing sexual assault is as repellent and absurd as lighting-up on an airplane.
I could keep extending this series. I might well revisit it someday, perhaps someday soon.
But for now, I’ll stop my observations and diatribes over this single incident here. Maybe enough time has lapsed that it seems less significant. Maybe time spent with my nephew has, as always, managed to ease what seems to be a near-constant anger itching beneath my skin. Maybe I am distracted by the departure of friends and my own eminent move across the country. Maybe a thousand other reasons. Maybe just one.
Whatever the case, What Happened Last Night remains, for now, a trilogy.
Image by Ryan-V found here.