The Bad Roommate: The Intro

Hello! My name is Ariel.  I am twenty-six years old.  I’m an incredibly lucky woman, really.  I live by the water in a beautiful city.  My family is hilarious.  I have kind, inspiring friends. I  am in a loving relationship with the most amazing person I know.  My days are good.  As I write this I am just starting a sugar detox cleanse thingy.  I am sure it will be already over by the time you actually read this, as my affinity for bubble tea and homemade gnocchi will doubtless get the better of me.  I have been told that trying to eliminate all sugars from your diet makes you pretty unhappy, especially if you love cooking and baking as much as I do.  I don’t think it will be that bad. Eighteen months ago I was desperately unhappy.  Eighteen months ago I was raped.

Let’s back up. Where did that come from? Why am I even talking about this right now, here?  Actually, rape isn’t shocking, precisely. It’s incredibly widespread. Commonplace, even. Our society is pretty complacent about it. Sure, it’s been in the news a lot lately. “Rape culture,” “legitimate rape,” “rape-rape,” rape jokes, “revenge porn,” and those lovely offhand, facetious remarks, which could be about anything at all. Even the Stanley Cup finals.

It’s undeniable that sexual violence has taken the spotlight in the past several years. Rape is  nothing new, of course. It is as old as time itself. It’s a global pandemic. It festers within every human society on the planet. So we’re talking about it. It’s an enormous problem within our military, which has resulted in some congressional hearings and an award winning documentary. Top universities are being exposed for declining to properly investigate complaints of rape and abuse from their own students. Elsewhere, Egyptian women have braved a perpetual threat of sexual assault for years now in order to demonstrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square; the endemic sexual violence reached an appalling fever pitch the night Mohamed Morsi was overthrown with as many as eighty rapes reported in mere hours. (If you feel like getting all teary-eyed, check out these incredible aerial photographs showing Egyptian men forming a massive human shield in an effort to put themselves between female protestors and their would-be assailants.) Mostly, though—well, we’re using it as a political bargaining chip. My stance is that sexual violence is not political. It shouldn’t be political. I am not saying it’s some kind of “private matter” not suited for the public sphere—just the opposite, in fact. It’s a big, ugly problem we have on our hands that demands thoughtful, urgent discussions and policy changes and a gigantic cultural attitude adjustment.

Victims (more on that term later on) with the odd, beautiful exception (warning, this is a project where women who have been assaulted write out what their assailants said to them while amidst their assault.  Though powerful and profound, this may be a trigger for some people. ) are frequently trotted out briefly for sound bites while the articles’ actual authors—even or perhaps especially the female ones—take a detached, impartial view. I’m all for balanced, professional journalism and a social scientific approach, but even op-ed commentary rarely seems to be written from the point of view of a victim or even someone who closely identifies with the issue. Particularly in the months immediately following my own rape, I craved intelligent an soulful discussion of sexual assault and the myriad themes surrounding along with pieces that featured a victim’s point of view for more than a few anecdotes or a bit of shock value. It is almost as if a writer feels she or he will lose credibility if that make their story too “personal”. Rape is personal. For all of us. We have all seen these figures: more than 200,000 sexual assaults occur each year in the U.S. alone, according to the United States Department of Justice. That comes out to one assault approximately every two minutes. Currently, about 1 out of every 6 American women has survived rape or attempted rape. That’s nearly eighteen million women living today in our country who have already been victimized. A thorny truth about rape is that despite its loathsome prominence, the overwhelming majority of victims remain in the shadows. Many tell no one at all, most often due to some combination of crushing shame and fear of repercussions in their social or family lives, or even a reprisal from their rapist. Plenty do not even have reasonable local access to specialized counseling or medical services even if they would like to seek help. Even when we control for such significant underreporting of sexual assault we come up with extremely conservative estimates. What was I saying about people who write about rape? Oh, right: taking our cue from these numbers, we can logically conclude that many of these pieces we read in the media on rape and sexual assault written by women are from a victim’s point of view—their authors’.

Let’s talk about this series. Violence against women is a central theme, but this project isn’t dedicated to sexual assault alone or even primarily. We are going to cover a lot more ground here, touching on a wide range of topics and how they are all related to one another. Upcoming posts will feature numbers and more discussion. I will be including a brief list of recommended reading and resources that are relevant to what we touch on in each post, along with a link to the post archives. You can email me here. We will also always include links to resources for victims and their loved ones. Moorea and I are very, very excited to build a safe, no-bullshit, utterly apolitical space to discuss all kinds of gender and women’s issues in collaboration with her readers. This series is for everyone—not just for survivors or victims and not just for women, either. Oh—and by “women’s issues” we are certainly not referring to PMS or white wine spritzers or laughing with salad (or yogurt!) or any of that gender-normative noise. (Not that PMS isn’t awful—it is!) (Also, wine is delightful.) We mean the bigger stuff that’s a little more difficult to talk about. We’re here hoping to making it a little less difficult and fully intending to have a lot of fun doing so.

Oh, and what’s with the title? I elected to name the series after the term my mother has for that nagging, guilt-tripping voice in the back of my head that helps me second-guess myself and weighs me down with old insecurities. The Bad Roommate is not your friend exactly, but you kind of begrudgingly respect her opinion a tiny bit because you feel like she knows you. You live together, after all. Plus, it always seems like there might be just barely enough truth to her comments to make you doubt yourself. When you try to tell your friends or family how bad can make you feel, it seems like they don’t get it. They should; everyone the Bad Roommate always lurking around the corner. Men, women, all of us. You don’t want to complain, but you know you’re not imagining things and you want to talk it out with supportive folks who don’t point out that you haven’t washed all the dishes yet when you’re in the middle of cooking. (Okay, maybe the analogy got away from me for a moment there!)

The Bad Roommate is sexism. The Bad Roommate is rape jokes. The Bad Roommate is workplace inequality, prescribed gender roles, street harassment, all of it.

Better pack your things, roomie! It’s eviction time.

Call 1-800-656-HOPE to be connected to live, confidential counseling 24 hours a day through over 1,100 rape crisis centers nationwide. You can also seek help online from the Rape, Incest, and Abuse National Network (RAINN) National Sexual Assault Online Hotline and find a counselor through their {network of providers}. Canadians, please consider the bilingual Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC/ACCCACS). Live somewhere else?  RAINN has an impressive roundup of links to victims’ resources by country here and you can also access a comprehensive international directory of victims’ services in 100 different languages here.

Recommended reading: 

Please note that some of these materials may trigger distress for victims and others. Take care.  Project Unbreakable, Ten Things to End Rape Culture, College Groups Connect to Fight Sexual Assault, The Invisible War (recommended watching; Netflix has it!)


Ashley Hallmark said...

Thank you for being brave, for being honest, for being compassionate.
I suspect that what you are undertaking will bring much-needed hope, peace, and support to those who might not otherwise have it.
I know that this is resource I will be sharing.
Thank you.

Ffion said...

Thank you for this amazing post, and amazing project. I don't personally know anyone who has been raped thank goodness, but I agree, the numbers are just unacceptable and more needs to be done about this. :(

You are amazing, and very brave! I'm sure this will help a lot of people! Thank you for speaking up.

Anonymous said...

I'm not good with words, but I wanted to just say: Mad props for this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Words can't describe how much I appreciate this. I'm a regular reader of your blog, but have chosen to remain Anonymous today. I was raped by a former boyfriend almost a year ago, and I was too scared to press charges. There needs to be more education about sexual assault, because it is real and closer to home than most people acknowledge.

Allie said...

Ariel, you're a fantastic writer! So engaging. I'm really looking forward to more :)

Marlene Escalera said...

Thank you for sharing!

Ariel said...

Thank YOU to everyone for reading, and for your kind words and thoughtful, generous feedback. And thank you so much, Moorea, for hosting this conversation.

I am so excited for our next Bad Roommate post! Stay tuned and stay awesome, everyone.

Meandering Design said...

Thank you for being brave and compassionate enough to create this space. I was sexually abused as a child and raped by my boyfriend's roommate in college. Breaking the silence is hard, but we need to start speaking up for ourselves, especially with what is going on in the media today.

Clio Sady said...

This is so heartening and so exciting. Your writing is full of heart AND super analytical, and I am so looking forward to reading and participating in the project. The notion of the "bad roommate" is really useful to me and thank you! Your writing is awesome. LOVE YOU SO MUCH!!!

Andrea Carpenter said...

i am very, very excited about this new series. thank you for your candor and your willingness to shed some much needed light on a subject that needs it.

anonymous said...

I was raped 33 1/2 years ago. I was young and on my own and had never "gone all the way." I haven't yet worked up the courage to check out the link where women write down what he said during. I can remember some from before and some from after, but nothing from during. All I remember is hands around my throat and a burning sensation below. I'm a mom and a grandma, yet sex is something I usually avoid whenever possible. I rarely feel sexy. Mostly I hate my body. During sex I mostly lie there till it's over,unsure what I should be doing, yet unable to do some of what he wants because I just can't. Actually, I'd be content if I never had to have sex again. Sorry, probably TMI. Took me a long time to say the R word out loud. Most of the time the memory is buried deep until something triggers it. One lasting effect -- I cannot abide high-necked tops or dresses, especially turtlenecks, or long sleeves that close tightly around my wrists.