The atmosphere is tense among women in East Bakersfield. A serial rapist, who has left a trail of three known victims and perhaps additional unknown victims, is on the loose. He's broken into his, victims' homes. In once instance, he restrained her and her child and proceeded to rape her, threatening her with a gun. He raped another victim in the middle of the day. We've been told, as if we need to be told, that he is armed and dangerous. We haven't been told if he has a "type," whether he prefers women of a certain build or race or hair color - The only criteria seems to be "woman."
The heightened sense of panic has affected more than just the unfortunate victims. There are women all of Bakersfield looking over their shoulder, purchasing handguns and pepper spray and large breed dogs and generally living in fear, because women my have come a long way in the last 100 years, but we are still the overwhelming majority of adult sexual assault victims.
I'm situated a little differently. Having managed in the last twelve years to really tuck the memory of my own rape securely into the back of my mind, I still carry with me remnants of the experience. I'm always sort of hyper-aware of what's going on around me. If this armed and dangerous perpetrator and I should encounter one another I would expect a face-off between his violent inclinations and my sheer determination to never be a sexual assault victim again.
As the women of East Bakersfield wait with trepidation for the rapist to be caught, the rest of America continues to discuss Miley Cyrus' performance with Robin Thicke at last week's Video Music Awards. The footage of Miley flopping her tounge around Gene Simmons-style, motor-boating the butt cheeks of some back up dancer dressed like a teddy bear, stripping down to a nude-colored bikini, thrusting and shaking her butt at Robin Thicke, and grinding against a big foam hand is now famous.
Maybe I'm a hypocrite. I grew up as a devoted Madonna fan, and seriously believe that she helped form the person I am today. Madonna's own VMA performance of "Like a Virgin" nearly 30 years ago was controversial in its own time. Maybe I am an even bigger hypocrite because I love the unrated version of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" video, featuring three women in flesh-colored thongs and nothing else. I guess the difference between Madonna, the topless girls in the Robin Thicke video, and Miley Cyrus is the confidence with which the former two performed. Madonna of course famously told us all that she wanted to rule the world, and she practically has. She has never, in my recollection, showed us that she is anything but completely sure of herself. The same holds true on a smaller scale for the women in Robin Thicke's video. Their expressions of indifference while the male singers in the video vie for their attention always make me wonder if those girls even know they don't have any clothes on. They are in charge of themselves, and of what happens to them.
There was nothing bold or confident about Miley Cyrus' performance last week. She appeared needy and desperate. And I get it. I get that she was in a sense used and manipulated and never allowed to develop a proper sense of independence, and now she's clutching at what she thinks is control where she's never had control before. I get it because I remember a time in my life when I felt similarly, and I remember the needy and desperate ways that I acted out. I'm scared for girls that I see acting out in the same way because I remember what a long battle I fought with myself to get to a healthy place again. I remember the hurtful things I did to myself and other people along the way.
I'm not proud of the things I did or the person I used to be. I'm not proud of the way I handled myself after I was raped, like I was nothing more than a victim. I was probably more vulnerable in the first few years following the rape than I ever had been in my life.
I'm proud that I'm not that person anymore. I'm very proud of who I am now, that I am a good mother, daughter, big sister, friend, employee, and attorney. I wonder frequently if I could have endured the experience with Gabriel so well if I hadn't already been through some adversity and I value the experience of recovery from that horrible violation.
I wish I could tell myself from 12 years ago, and Miley Cyrus today, that there's a big difference between not being forced to do something you don't want to do, and behaving in a way that is completely out of control under the guise of taking control. That's not brave behavior. That's not confident behavior. Bravery and confidence shine through when you act with self-respect, in a way that commands the respect of people around you. That's when you've become a grown-up.