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Happy Rape, Happy Meat

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Happy Rape, Happy Meat

By Dallas Rising, Animal Rights Coalition
Article excerpted from the book, Defiant Daughters
March 2013

As a movement we need to model how to deal head-on with issues that are painful to examine, think about, and talk about, because perpetrators of violence gain power when their actions are kept hidden or silent. And if someone is triggered by that sort of discussion, then it’s our job to support them as they work through that pain and start making the connections between the violence done to women and violence done to nonhuman animals.

When I was fifteen years old, I was raped by a twenty-two-year-old. It wasn’t a back-alley or home-invasion style rape. He didn’t drag me kicking and screaming to the floor. He didn’t hold a knife to my throat or a gun to my head. In fact, like many rape victims, I had consented to kissing him and letting him touch me. But at a certain point, I realized that he wasn’t interested in whether or not I was consenting.

I had just met this guy a few hours prior. My mom had dropped me off at a hotel for a science fiction and comic conference and I had no friends waiting for me there, though I had led her to believe I did. When I was a teenager I never thought I felt invincible, but looking back at the events of that night, I understand why so many adults claim teens feel precisely that. At one point I must have thought it would be fun to go and knew that I wouldn’t have been allowed to go alone, so I hatched a plan. However, when push came to shove, I felt uneasy about going alone. Unfortunately, I had a bad habit of changing my mind at the last minute. When I tried to get out of going, my mom decided that this time she wasn’t going to rearrange her schedule and plans to accommodate my whims. Unwilling to admit that I had lied and was losing my nerve, my mom was under the assumption that once she dropped off her sullen teenage daughter at the door, I would walk inside, meet up with my friends, and have a great time. It was one of her tough love moves, and if I had told her the truth, I’m sure that things would have gone exactly as she’d predicted. But I had lied to her and made the choice to cover that lie, so they didn’t go that way at all.

She let me know what time she’d be back to get me in the morning and dropped me off in front of the glass doors of the huge building. Of course, if she had had any idea what would happen to me just hours from the time she dropped me off, she never would have left me there. I remember feeling a low level of anxiety and fear, wishing that I was still in the car with her as she drove off instead of being left here amid strangers. I didn’t have a room to stay in, so I had no safe space to retreat to. I ended up wandering the carpeted halls and riding escalators up and down the mezzanine, ducking in and out of workshops that held no interest for me, looking for someplace where I could be unobtrusive and out of the way for a while.

When I was fifteen years old, I wore fishnets and combat boots, short skirts and dark lipstick. I was a child trying to look tough, which just highlighted my vulnerability. I used to clomp down the streets in my boots, walking with intention and blaring Nine Inch Nails through my headphones, but this night I had nowhere to go. Today I regularly assist with women’s self-defense workshops, and one of the first things we teach is that predators look for easy targets, so don’t look like an easy target: walk briskly, stay alert, and exude a general confidence and a don’t-fuck-with-me vibe. Looking back on that night, I understand exactly how I was singled out by this predator.

I was young and obviously alone. As the night wore on I became more and more tired and struggled to stay alert. I was lonely and exhausted and just wanted to go home. The effort of looking like I wasn’t alone and lost was wearing me down. I was terribly vulnerable and the very definition of an easy target. Not realizing any of this, only knowing that I wanted badly to go home, I called my mom and asked her if she would come and get me early. She held her ground, still thinking that I was safe and just in a sour mood. She would be there in the morning, she assured me, but not before the stated collection time. I remember feeling weak and embarrassed for being afraid to be on my own for one night at fifteen years old. It wasn’t like I was on the streets or anything; I was in a hotel with a bunch of weirdos in Star Trek costumes. Nerds like that don’t fit the predator/rapist stereotype.

As I walked past some ground-level rooms with sliding glass doors, a group of young men called out some mean and demeaning comments to me. I don’t remember what they said, but I do remember feeling close to tears already from exhaustion and loneliness and whatever they shouted out made me angry on top of those other emotions. I ignored them and just kept walking, looking for a corner where I could curl up and wait out the remaining hours of the night.

I kept walking, but one of the guys from the group came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. “I’m sorry my friends are such jerks,” he said. “They can be really immature sometimes. Are you okay?” Immediately I thought that this was a nice guy: he showed he wasn’t the same as his friends, he expressed concern for me, and he implied that he and I were the mature ones, not his idiot friends. I was so desperate for someone to  connect with that I welcomed his invitation to hang out and talk.

As we talked he continued to look for ways to identify with me and me with him. He was a friendly face in a sea of strange strangers (I quickly forgot that he, too, was a stranger). He wasn’t in a weird costume, and he looked like an average college kid and was not only paying attention to me, but being nice. I thought I had made a friend. A much-needed friend.

When he “realized he’d forgotten something at his apartment,” he asked me if I’d like to tag along with him while he ran home to get it. Eager to get away from the place where I had felt uncomfortable for hours, I agreed. I remember walking to his car in the lot and the sun was coming up. It was a relief that I only had a few more hours until my mom would come to get me.

He drove us to his apartment, which was located a just few miles down the road on the same street where I lived. I was within walking distance of my house. I felt safer in an area I recognized, knowing exactly how to get home. He brought me up to his studio apartment, and the place was a mess. I remember looking around and seeing there was nowhere to sit but on his bed. He had me sit down there while he dug around looking for whatever it was he had forgotten. But of course it didn’t take long for him to make it to the bed and start kissing me.

I remember feeling really strange and out of it. I was so tired that my ability to think clearly was impaired. I felt a misguided sense of strength in rebellion, making out with an older guy I’d just met, in his apartment, when I was fifteen and only hours before had called my mommy to come and get me because I was too scared to be alone all night with strangers. I thought I had turned a corner and was suddenly becoming independent and mature. So I let him take off my clothes.

When he reached for a condom I got nervous. I had never had sex before and I didn’t know this guy. Oh shit, I don’t know this guy! What am I doing half naked in his bed? What is happening? I felt drugged with sleep deprivation and suddenly very afraid. What am I going to do? I hardly had enough energy to keep my eyes open, let alone run down the street. Where are my clothes? I had lied and told him I was sixteen. Is this my fault? Do I deserve this for lying and trying to be someone I’m not?

While all of these thoughts were going through my head, he’d put his yellow condom-covered dick in me and was pawing and moaning and I wanted to throw up. The tattoo on his arm that I’d thought was so cool a few minutes ago seemed sinister and evil. The
sun, which I had seen as a sign of hope less than an hour before, felt like an illumination of my shame. I looked out the window and saw that familiar intersection and wanted to weep.

But I didn’t. When he was done, he got up and put on his clothes and said we had to hurry because his friends were waiting. The same friends he’d distanced himself from before were now the important ones and I needed to hurry to accommodate the people who had verbally abused me earlier. He didn’t ask me if I was okay. He didn’t hold me or tell me I was special. He just insinuated that I was going to make him late. He had more important things on his mind than my experience. Maybe he hurried so that he wouldn’t have to be present with what he’d done to me.

When my mom picked me up and I got in the house, she looked at me and said, “You had sex, didn’t you?” and while I understand that I heard her through a veil of shame and trauma, she didn’t sound concerned or happy about it. She sounded disappointed. Annoyed. Disgusted. I felt the sour rot of shame all through my gut. Like the biggest fuck-up in the world. And at the same time, I was furious with her because I had called and asked her to come and get me, hadn’t I? But I didn’t say any of that. I couldn’t get much out between my body-racking sobs, but I managed to explain enough. I don’t remember much about that morning, but my mom says I refused to allow her to call the police. I am sure this is because I was afraid she would find out I had lied to her, and that I was partially at fault for lying about my age, too. Shame engulfed me.

My demeanor prior to the rape was silly, outspoken, and full of humor. But for a long time afterward I just wanted to hide, like a traumatized cat who seems never to come out from under the bed. I proceeded to skip classes and go from A’s and B+’s to C’s and D-’s by final exams. I couldn’t pay attention in school, I became depressed and started my on-and-off relationship with self-injury. I withdrew and continued to blame myself for being stupid while at the same time becoming more promiscuous with boys (though being careful never to have vaginal intercourse) in an attempt to feel some level of control and desirability. I started telling boys to stop when I was really ready to fight them, to test them and see if they listened.

It took me seven years, until I was twenty-two years old and could look at fifteen-year-olds with some distance, to realize that I had been singled out long before my rapist stopped listening to me in his bed. He had set me up before I’d even seen his face. It’s now been seventeen years since my rape and I still cry about it. I get pissed because I have done all the work I can think to do about it. I no longer feel like it was my fault. I’ve done all the therapy and I fully understand what happened and how it happened. I wish that meant that I could stop hurting or feeling pain around it, but it still hurts. And it very likely will for the rest of my life.

As animal liberationists continue to educate the public about the realities of animal farming, agribusiness has done an excellent job capitalizing on the sympathy most people have for animals and the desire that flesh eaters have to remain in denial about the impact their actions have on others. “Happy meat” is marketed to such a degree that many people feel not only comfortable but good about buying products marketed as “humane,” “grass-fed,” “freerange,” “humane certified,” and so on. As an abolitionist animal liberationist, I am busier than ever combating the humane farming myth and working to minimize damage done not only by animal abusing industries, but several so-called animal advocacy groups who are now partnering with these industries to create new ways to raise and kill animals that will be less offensive to people who purport to care about animals.

One of the most effective ways that I have to explain why I don’t support, condone, or encourage anyone to buy “happy meat” is by comparing it to rape. And this analogy has made some people pretty angry.

When I am in a situation where I need to explain the moral difference between “happy meat” and conventionally factory-farmed meat, I have taken to using a rape analogy, and this has made some other animal activists angry. I have been known to say, “Promoting happy meat or cage-free eggs is like working to get rapists to rape without holding guns or knives to their victims’ throats. Anyone can recognize that that’s an absurd tactic and any group taking that approach would be vilified (and rightfully so). But so-called animal advocacy groups do it all the time and people love them for it. Why not actually work for what we believe is right and be clear about what we want: an end to the unnecessary violence and violations perpetrated on animals daily.”

I use this analogy because there is a widely held cultural agreement that rape is an unnecessary violence and no one should ever be the victim of this kind of violence. I feel it helps expose violence toward nonhuman animals for what it is: unnecessary violence. It helps me illustrate a vital point: violence is violence, no matter who the victim is.

But I have gotten mail from some women who feel I have crossed a line by using rape to argue against animal abuse. They contend that while both animals and women are victimized in our society, they are victimized in different ways. They say that differences in legality as well as how the histories of these two types of violence and the way they’re viewed culturally all make my using rape as a way to talk about animal abuse unacceptable. I have been told that “tossing the word rape around” cheapens the experiences of both nonhuman animal victims as well as the human victims of rape. I’ve been reprimanded for risking triggering a rape survivor by using the word rape, thereby allowing my listener to dismiss what I have to say or take offense and become unwilling to hear me out, not to mention unnecessarily re-traumatizing any could-be rape survivors.

And while I trust that the women who wrote to me are only trying to give me a constructive critique, I kind of want to scream. Because this is exactly how I see this issue, keeping in mind that I am, myself, a survivor of “happy rape.” I wasn’t accosted in a dark alley by a man with a knife, raped, beaten, and left for dead. My story is much different than that. I worried for years that it was my fault because my rape didn’t look like that. But it was still rape and it was still wrong and it still left me traumatized and wounded. Hearing people advocate for cage-free eggs or asking people to go vegetarian instead of vegan when they know the violence inherent in the dairy and egg industries is, to me, exactly like hearing that my rape doesn’t count. I wasn’t violated to the degree that they feel is sufficient to be worth speaking out against.

And what about me as a survivor? Does the fact that those kinds of actions and comments remind me of my own pain not count? As someone who has lived with the aftermath of rape for seventeen years, being accused of throwing the word around lightly doesn’t sit well with me. And what about the implied criticism of using an emotional topic (rape) to address an emotional topic (violence inflicted upon vulnerable animals)? Isn’t that a misogynistic value system, where women are often accused of being overly emotional and hysterical when it comes to animal issues?

I was raped when I was fifteen, and that’s also when I went vegan. For years I had guilt and shame when I would start to enjoy my sexuality too much. If I let myself feel too good sexually, my brain would interrupt it with images of foxes being electrocuted and
skinned, or pigs hanging upside down by one shackled foot, kicking for their lives while their blood splashed onto a concrete floor below them. Depending on how well I knew my partner, I would either break down and cry or stuff it down and not. From a very early age, sex and victimization, of both myself and nonhuman animals, have been intertwined for me.

As animal advocates we are often accused of valuing animal lives over human lives. I wonder if some people are so afraid of coming across with that bias that they flip too far to the other side. Have we gotten so wrapped up in the political correctness of women’s studies jargon that we’re no longer willing to listen to a woman whose views differ from our own, and in attempting to defend a large theoretical group of imaginary “women” we miss the very real experience of the woman we are interacting with in that moment? I see this as no different from the disassociation that infects our movement when we refer to “the animals” as though there is such an entity as all of the animals. There isn’t. There are just billions of individual animals living independent lives with unique feelings, experiences, and desires. Let’s not get so wrapped up in academia, ideology, theory, and women’s studies jargon that we lose sight of the fact that these are living, breathing, feeling individuals we’re talking about.

Another issue I have with the people who accuse me of taking unnecessary risks that may upset some people is that they assume that anyone has the right not to be upset. That’s bogus. Of course, if we can avoid causing unnecessary harm, that is what we ought to do. People have a right not to be raped. They do not have a right to never be upset due to someone talking about rape in a way in which they disapprove. The fact is that we are talking about painful issues and there is no getting around the fact that these things hurt. Being raped hurts. Being reminded of your rape hurts. Having your reproductive choices taken away from you hurts. Having your babies taken away from you hurts. It doesn’t matter if the victim is human or not. It doesn’t matter if the violence occurs in the ninteenth century or the twentieth century. It doesn’t matter if the victim is the legal property of the perpetrator or not. It’s all painful.

As a movement we need to model how to deal head-on with issues that are painful to examine, think about, and talk about, because perpetrators of violence gain power when their actions are kept hidden or silent. And if someone is triggered by that sort of discussion, then it’s our job to support them as they work through that pain and start making the connections between the violence done to women and violence done to nonhuman animals.