Do You Know What Rape Is? Take the Quiz

*Dedicated to Rush Limbaugh.

In my novel, The Rooms Are Filled, a man forces a woman against a wall and, holding her with one hand by the neck as she struggles, he sticks the fingers of his other hand up inside her, repeatedly and forcefully.

Several women readers have told me, “I’m so glad he didn’t rape her. I really thought he was going to rape her.”

This makes me sad. Because he does rape her. By every definition of the law, he rapes her. And if adult women can’t define rape, their sons and daughters probably can’t, either.

We need to fix this.

Rape is underreported, but somewhere around 1 in 5 women experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. So unless you know no women, you know someone who was raped. It might be your neighbor, your coworker, or even your mother. Who knows—rape stories aren’t ones most people share.

But I think they should. I think mothers should tell their daughters and sons if it happened to her. I think friends should talk about it. I think victims should tell their significant others. Largely for support. But also to help wipe out ignorance.

There are too many high school and college students who don’t know rape when they witness or even partake in it, whether it’s because the two people know each other, or because the offender is usually really nice, or because they don’t know what consent means.

They don’t know because we aren’t telling them. Consider the Steubenville parents, teachers, and coaches who turned a blind eye and remained willfully ignorant when a girl in their community was raped by two football players. Their story got a lot of attention, but it is not unique. Not even close.

It might seem like rape is not always black and white, like there are some gray areas. Largely this is because various states and organizations have their own definitions of rape and use interchanging words to mean the same thing.  But there are not many gray areas, really. Rape is penetration without consent.

However, I find that the devil is in the details. In an effort to help clear up some things and rid ourselves of that devilish, imaginary gray area so we can better educate our youth–and our Rush Limbaughs–here’s a short, hopefully helpful, quiz:

Q: Two college students are at a party, drinking and flirting. He leads her willingly to a bedroom. They start to kiss on the bed. He holds her arms down and takes down his pants. She says she doesn’t think she wants to do this. He says she’ll like it and sticks it in. She silently begins to cry. She does not say, “No.” Is this rape?

A: Yes, it is rape. Not saying, “no,” is not the same as saying, “yes.” If a person has to be held down and talked into sex while she cries, it is rape.

Q: A man and woman are kissing and snuggling in bed. They stop, she rolls over, and falls asleep. She wakes to find him inside her and tells him to take it out. He does. Is this rape?

A: Yes, it is rape. I would not walk up to you and shove a cucumber in your mouth. You should not stick a penis inside me while I am asleep.

Q: A girl gets ready with her friends for a night out and says she hopes she gets laid tonight. At the bar, she gets too drunk to walk or speak coherently. The man she was flirting with takes her stumbling out to his car. Her friends let him because she seems happy and she’d been flirting with him. He has sex with her in the car. Is this rape?

A: Yes, this is rape. Again, if she can’t say yes, physically cannot put the sounds together to make the word and/or doesn’t seem to know she’s engaging in sex, then it is rape.

On this point, some people seem to think that because she wanted sex when she was sober, then it’s not rape. As if she should have expected it and should feel ashamed for bringing it upon herself. But let’s follow this logic. Say I go to a restaurant and order the ham and cheese melt. I really want the ham and cheese melt, because it’s 2am and I’ve had a few beers and the salt would taste sooo good. So I tell the waiter to hurry, but then I pass out at the table. When the waiter reappears after rushing to bring the food I want and finds me responseless, he’s annoyed so he starts shoving the sandwich into my mouth, thinking to himself, “She said she wanted it.”

Absurd, right? So is sticking a penis inside a barely conscious woman.

If a person cannot say, “Yes, I sure would love to have sex with you,” then the answer is, “No.” The slogan should not be, “No means no.” It should be, “Yes means yes.”

And men: If you’re unsure, it’s always okay to ask. A simple, “Is this alright?” or “Do you want to have sex?” should do the trick. If the woman nods but then slurs, “Mmmm. Yep. Yesh,” and something in your gut is saying she might not know what she’s agreeing to, then you have your answer. (To be clear: it’s no.)

I try hard not to get snarky about this topic. I know it’s condescending. I started this piece lovingly, with the best of intentions. But as I write, and I think about all the men and women who are ignorant on purpose, I get mad. I get mad because women are raped every day and are largely ignored. It doesn’t have to be that way.

When no one talks about rape, it remains hush-hush or considered shameful and victims don’t feel emboldened. It is then much, much easier for perpetrators to walk free because no one is holding them accountable.

Furthermore, rape cases can be hard to prosecute and hard to win. Since states attorneys don’t like losing, because they are usually elected into office and more wins make them look more successful, rape cases are rarely prosecuted—heck, even the evidence submitted by a brave victim after a rather invasive rape kit procedure is sometimes left untested or unused as evidence. It is relatively easy for the justice system to get away with this because we don’t talk about it enough.

Boy spray paintingRight now, we can’t rely on our justice system, but the best thing to do anyway is to prevent rape in the first place.
We tell our daughters to use a buddy system, to use mace, when not to walk alone. Talk to your boys, too. Talk and talk and talk about rape—what it is, what it isn’t always. Tell your children if it happened to you. Because if anything stops a cycle of ignorance, it’s knowledge.
The F.B.I. provides the following definition of rape:
“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
How to talk to your children:
·      The Wire

I’ll Have to Call It “Cancer”

There’s nothing else to call this post, because it’s all about cancer. But I hope you’ll keep reading.

I remember as a child listening to grown-ups talking about cancer. “The damn cancer. It’s everywhere.” They talked about it as if it were a living being—“evil” and “unrelenting.” I regarded their talk with a removed indifference as if they were speaking of bad weather. Even though I knew my maternal grandmother died of cancer before I was born. And both my grandfathers died of it before I was ten. And my uncle had been battling it as long as I could remember.

The cancer finally got that uncle, Jack. He died of leukemia in his 40s. His wife, my aunt Patty, was diagnosed with breast cancer later that same year. She underwent a mastectomy. That was sixteen years ago.

When I was in my late 20s, I heard of a younger acquaintance of mine who had lung cancer. We were not good friends—I was a senior in college when she was a freshman—but I knew her. I read the blog she wrote during her last months, and wept at work. She was not a smoker.

I thought of her recently when I read an essay in HerStories that remembers a friend who also died young of cancer.

My mom’s best friend, who might as well be my aunt, battled lung cancer a few years ago and underwent surgery. She’s been clean for awhile, although the doctors recently found a “suspicious” spot on her lung. She’s waiting to hear what it is.

Remember Michelle? She was my first friend. We grew up next door to each other. Her mom has cancer for the second time.

So does the man who lived across the street from us growing up. We often played Capture the Flag in his backyard with his children.

So does my aunt. Again. She recently found out she has the BRCA-2 gene and so, in addition to her two mastectomies, chemo, and radiation, she will also have a hysterectomy. My mother will be tested for the gene; if she’s positive, so will my sister and I.

A friend of mine often posts links on Facebook to the blog of her friend, the mother of Superman Sam, a seven-year-old boy battling leukemia. I never clicked on the links—I just couldn’t—until a couple of weeks ago. It turned out that day’s post was about the return of the cancer after a remission, and the prognosis was not good. One of the best, and worst, parts of being a parent is the ability, for better or worse, to empathize completely. My son does not have cancer. But as I read the mother’s words, my breathless sobs were for that boy I don’t know and his mother, and for my own son.

I don’t regard cancer with indifference anymore. Not even close.

Why tell you all this? Because this blog is my bully pulpit. Today I’m going to use it for a selfish purpose. Today is my sister’s birthday.

She smokes. And for the first time, I’m deeply understanding why my mother has begged and begged her to quit. I’m realizing that it’s completely possible that I will not have a sister to grow old with. To go on road trips with. To obsess over Mumford with. To spoil my children. And to know, one day, her own.

So today, in this pulpit, I’m asking her to stop smoking.

Our uncle, our aunt, our grandparents, our neighbors, our friends, and that precious little boy, did not have a choice. For now, you do.



Hope you’re having an appropriately scary week. We are. A phantom rang our doorbell (but he left a bag of candy on the porch). My son won’t stop singing the What Does the Fox Say song (thank you, my son’s elementary school, for playing it over the speakers during morning announcements). In her school picture, my daughter looks like she’s just been told Santa’s not real.

I’ve had fun reading my guest writer’s scariest experiences. There are more coming, on other topics. I’m not sure what my scariest experience is–there are a few contenders: the moment, in labor, I found out my son’s heartbeat had dropped so low an emergency c-section was ordered now; the moments I was stuck in a traffic jam on an off-ramp that snaked onto the highway and looked into my rearview mirror to see a large van barreling toward me (he veered away, tires screeching, at the last minute); the moment I saw the giant (fake) centipede my sister had placed on my lap.

And I can’t forget the forty-five minutes of pure terror during a ride in an old four-seater hundreds of feet above Lake Michigan, the wind tossing our little plane about like a leaf, with my husband at the wheel. He does not fly, people. This was a lesson. His first lesson. And it was my idea. Mine!

I used to scare myself on purpose–a childhood of Ghost in the Graveyard, Light As a Feather Stiff As a Board, and Friday the 13th. I loved haunted houses and ghost stories. Then, a few years ago, I was sitting in a movie theater with my husband and brother-in-law watching Saw, and thought, “Why am I doing this? This is torture.” That was it.

On a less scary note, I’ve created an Author Page on Facebook. Since you all here at my blog have been among the first to read my writing by choice, and I’m so grateful for it, I’d love to welcome you over there. You can click HERE, or over that-a-way in the righthand sidebar.

Happy trick-or-treating and may you be cursed with many spiderwebs. Enjoy these photos of a family friend’s home decorated for Halloween; she goes all out:

Flip the bathroom light on and you not only get this guy, but a light-activated scream. Fun.

Flip the bathroom light on and you not only get this guy, but a light-activated scream. Fun.


She actually made this "growth" using weeds from her garden.

She actually made this “growth” using weeds from her garden.

She buys old paintings and colors the eyes red.

She buys old paintings and colors the eyes red.

Freaky mannequin just hanging out in the garden.

Freaky mannequin just hanging out in the garden.

I mean, seriously.

I mean, seriously. Would you sleep here?


This I can handle.


I foresee nightmares.

9 Books That Taught Me Something Other Than Spelling

From the archives….


Following is a non-exhaustive list (ie., written while watching my children in exhaustion):

1. Nancy Drew Mysteries—Reading these books are the first memories I have of needing to read–as in, I need to know whether Nancy figures out what the heck is happening on Larkspur Lane. Long after my mom called “lights out,” I sat hunched under the covers reading by the red light of my digital clock radio. It was not easy, and is probably why I now wear glasses.

In short, these books made me a reader.

2. Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery has a way of describing nature that makes you want to be a tree. I think appreciating nature was inborn for me, but she put it in words. Before reading her, I wrote stories that were all action: “The Easter Bunny hopped down the street” and so forth. She taught me about…

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5 Things I Cant-getta-nuffa

Like everyone else on Earth, I like to talk about things I like. Here are a few things I can’t get enough of lately:

1. Music: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, especially Man on Fire. That song helped me at a critical point during the half-marathon last week.

2. — Save the world (or at least the part taken up by landfills filled with barely-used children’s clothing) and pay a mere few dollars for quality stuff.

3. Food: Berry-Yo frozen yogurt with cookie dough. It actually outbalanced my half-marathon training so that I gained weight. tumblr_mfhhgz87hi1risuxpo1_400

4. TV: Homeland. Despite Carrie’s constantly anguished face, I love that show. Peter Quinn, the CIA assassin, has become my favorite.

5. Viral shitThis video of Louis C.K. on why he won’t let his children have phones. It’s my new parent manual.

I also love that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her “quiet” work. More on that on Monday.

What can’t you get enough of lately?