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Monday, October 18, 2021

Rape? Yes, I do want to talk about it: Dealing with ignorant people

From an early age, we’re taught about the lasting physiological effects of alcohol and drug abuse. We’ve memorized the different kinds of contraception – they practically told us which colored condom is most enjoyable.  We’ve talked about puberty with uncomfortable middle-aged guest speakers and we’ve watched a live birth amongst a classroom full of trembling 6th graders.  But when we learned about sexual assault, it was never presented with the same honesty.

I know what you’re thinking: “What is she talking about? Of course we learned about sexual assault. My high school health teacher talked for days about the meaning of rape.” It’s true.  You definitely “learned” things about rape.  But you never learned things about rape.  They taught you that no means no – that your words are like scissors: strong, powerful… important. They shared stories of victims who had experienced the trauma.  But they never taught you that, as strong as your “no” is, there are rocks out there that can always beat scissors. They never gave you a mirror when they spoke of people at risk of being assaulted.

Surface level education fosters people who don’t fully understand what rape actually is or what it does to people.  Instead, it’s given college students the idea that since they’ve been “educated”, all of a sudden they are perfectly equipped to deal with any situation that comes their way.  It encourages a false sense of confidence, and validates people saying really stupid things to victims like, “Well he probably just thought you wanted it. Don’t give him such a hard time.”

When you’ve felt the sting of those ignorant statements, you develop this sort of hatred for people who just don’t get it.  It should be people’s responsibility to learn the appropriate things to say, just as it’s – I don’t know – a rapist’s responsibility not to rape. But that doesn’t mean people fully understand that responsibility. And it can make you crazy when you really come to experience just how ignorant people are.  Trust me, it’s made me crazy.  After overhearing and experiencing too many hurtful comments,  I learned a thing or two about dealing with ignorance:

1)   It’s a waste of time to hate people who are ignorant about this

I’ve tried out hating them.  It’s fun for about a week or two.  You get to mercilessly despise their entire being and not even feel that bad about it.  But then you realize something.   They’re not intentionally trying to hurt you.  They just never learned better.  If I needed a friend to tie my shoes for me, because I can’t bend over, but my friend will not do it because she never learned how, does that mean I should hate her for it?  I mean it’s pretty disappointing, but at the end of the day I would only be causing myself more stress by hating her. I have myself to worry about.   And it’s far more important that I get those shoes tied myself than that every single person out there be willing to help me in the process.

2)   Ignorant people don’t always want you to educate them.

When you learn that somebody is ignorant, it’s tempting to want to sit them down, pull out the chalk board, and lecture them on how to be more respectful as a human being. Unfortunately, however, some ignorant people are pretty stuck in their faulty mindset and it’s going to be nearly impossible to change their mind.  Even though you might know more than them, it’s not your duty to impart your wisdom if they’re not willing to learn it.  Everyone’s on their own path, both mentally and emotionally.  And I like to think that one day, all the people who have said hurtful things to victims, to me, will comprehend the error of their ways.  But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

3)   Don’t compromise your own feelings to accommodate ignorant people

It’s common, when our opinions differ with others, to try to find some common ground or make some sort of a compromise.  For example, if I want to watch a romantic movie and you want to watch an offensive porno, we can watch 50 Shades of Grey. That’s a compromise.  But if I know I was raped, and you’re just not buying it, I don’t plan on finding any sort of middle ground there (nor should I have to). When your opinions differ on something that is very personal, the relationship might not be worth it.  And sometimes it is ok to just remove someone from your life.  It doesn’t mean you hate them, but merely that they are temporarily (or permanently) irrelevant to you.  And under the circumstances, that is okay.

And last but not least:

4)   Don’t let other people’s ignorance bring you down.

It hurts when people say ignorant things. It hurts a lot, especially at times when we need empathy and compassion the most.  But until we can rid the world of ignorance, or rape altogether, we can only do what we can do.  And that is to trust in your heart that you know what’s right for you and know that there are people out there who DO get it. And those people won’t stop until scissors can beat rock.

Like her bluntness? Contact Maddy Pettit at mepettit@ucdavis.edu

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