When I was in Middle School I was not the most athletic of children. You can imagine how happy I was to arrive at gym class (or as I liked to call is “future topics for discussion with my therapist” class), to find that we were going to watch a movie!
All the girls were herded into a small classroom and we watched “How to Say No to a Rapist”. There was no discussion before or after the film. There was no “Does anyone have any questions?” or “This film is going to talk about rape.” The gym teacher actually left the classroom. It was just a bunch of 13 year old girls and a film about rape.
I remember afterward, staggering out of the classroom that had been filled with innocent little virgins, (this was the 70’s, most of us still were), and none of us spoke. We were still dealing with the staggering information shared with us in the film. I remember a boy walked by, and we all cringed into a huddled mass and gazed upon him with newly opened eyes. He could be…. a rapist. (It was actually David Foster, a sweet Jewish boy. I’d just been to his Bar Mitzvah.)
I saw the film twice. It was shown again the next year, just in case we girls had recovered from the trauma of the first viewing.
Keeping in mind that memory is very inaccurate, what I remember learning from the film is that sometime, somewhere, someone was going to try to rape me. Also, I was going to have to do some horrible terrible things if I wanted to live.
I’m sure the movie had more to impart than that. However, what stayed with me over the years was that there were TWO and only TWO ways a woman could defend herself from a rapist. First was, gouge out his eyes. GOUGE THEM OUT!!! Not poke them, not scratch them, you have to actually GOUGE OUT HIS EYES.
Second, you had to twist his balls off. Not punch in the balls. We learned most men have an instinctive ability to protect their private parts. That knee to the groin? Never would work. You had to grab his balls and twist them OFF. Not try to twist them off, TWIST THEM OFF!
How were we to do this? Well, you may have to play act some. Go along with the rapist, let him think you are resigned, or even that you find him a little sexy. THEN GOUGE AND TWIST GOUGE AND TWIST!
Why would we do this? Wasn’t it better to just not fight the rapist, after all he’s probably much bigger? No, the movie (or what stuck with me and my girlfriends) taught us “He’s probably going to kill you anyway, so why not go down fighting? It’s your only way to save your life.”
If you were raped, you were also going to be murdered. We all believed that.
I, and my friends, were haunted with a fear of rape for years. Not because we feared the rape as much as we feared having to gouge a man’s eyes out. We used to talk among ourselves about our fear of actually being able to gouge out eyes. We knew we had to gouge out both eyes also, you couldn’t leave one for the rapist to still be able to see and find you. We would encourage each other, saying “YES YOU CAN GOUGE HIS EYES OUT!” The entire twisting off of the balls we ignored. We weren’t even going there.
I remember a sleepover at a friend’s house, and her mother served us dinner. We each had a half melon for dessert. My friend said “Let’s practice gouging rapists eyes out!” Before my friend’s parents horrified eyes, we dug into the melon with our thumbs, pretending to scoop out the eyes of our rapist. My friend’s parents, when told what we were doing, were slightly surprised their daughter even knew what sex was, but supportive of our rapist eye gouging practice.
We also decided to practice the loud yelling of “FIRE!” because the movie also advised yelling “FIRE” instead of “RAPE” as people would be more apt to help you if they thought you were on fire than being raped.
I can not quite remember if it was in this movie, or it was from another source, an explanation that yelling “FIRE” was also more helpful as the firefighters have a faster response time than the police. Where ever this advice came from I remember telling me “A bunch of firemen running up with axes should scare off any rapist!”
I believed that for many years if someone had broken into my house, I would call the fire department, not the police department. This was before 911, and you had the numbers to both police and fire department posted near your phone. Potential rapist in your home? Call the fire department!
I did learn some good tips from the movie. First, when you say “no” say “NO”. Be firm and clear from the beginning. This advice served me well. It also probably scared off a lot of dates, because it took me a bit to figure out many men I dated would perhaps have responded as well to “You know, I’m not ready for that yet” as “NO!” Also yelling “NO!” loudly in a movie theater should not be your first choice of defense, a firmly whispered “NO” works just as well most of the time. Save the yell for if the date is persistent. Learn from my mistakes.
As I grew older I learned not all rapes end in murder. I also wondered, considering how many young girls were shown this film in schools all around the country, why so many rapists still had their eyes. I even began to wonder if any woman being raped had ever taken out the eyes of her attacker or twisted off his balls. I began to suspect eye gouging in real life might be a lot harder to do then squishing holes in a melon.
No one ever talked to the us about rape in Junior High. It was “show the film” and they had done their duty. I remember asking my gym teacher “Are the boys in their gym class shown a film called ‘How Not to Be a Rapist’?” I was told not to be silly.
I have had a close family member raped. I have had friends that have been raped. At no point did they have even the option or chance of fighting back. The only good thing, was that they had not seen the movie “How to Say No to a Rapist” ,and thus did not feel guilty about being raped. Their anger, and their ability to follow through with prosecution and deal with the police (who were actually quite supportive in these cases), showed me that they understood this was a horrible, violent crime that was not their fault. I know if I had been raped, the guilt at not being able to say “NO” by gouge out eyes, would have haunted me.
You aren’t shown films “How to Say No to a Pick Pocket”, or “How to Say No to a Car Jacker”. When those crimes happen, no one says “Well, if you had only gouged his eyes out..”
I suppose somewhere this film, updated, is probably still being shown. I hope also updated is the advice and also the support given to young girls that watch the film. If nothing else, a question and answer session, or even a hug, would have been helpful.
Meanwhile, I still have one major problem with this film. “How to Say No to a Rapist” ignores the fact that, rapists don’t ask if they can rape you. They just do.