I doubt I’m the only woman sexually assaulted by a friend and confused about her feelings. Jeannie Vanasco, Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl
In the new memoir Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl, English professor addresses a seldom-broached topic, namely her being sexually assaulted at the age of 19 by a friend. She calls him “Mark” (an apt play on the word boundary).
Ilana Masad, NPR:
The title…doesn’t refer only to what Vanasco didn’t talk about with Mark, either before or after the rape; it refers also to all the ways in which girls are taught to be silent about experiences that make them uncomfortable, all the ways in which women find realms in which to unlearn those patterns of silence in order to bolster, comfort, and reassure one another. Even though Vanasco worries, in these pages, that some readers will be upset at how much of a voice she gives the rapist, I think all the other voices — hers, especially — overpower Mark. But he, of course, was granted the choice to consent.
According to Maya Salam, New York Times, Mark’s assault involved “carry[ing] her to his basement room, [where he] penetrated her with his fingers and masturbated over her. ‘You’re dreaming,’ she remembers him repeating to her as she lay still, quietly sobbing.”
Fourteen years later Vanasco reached out to Mark; conversations ensued. Vanasco reports on these as well as the feelings and thoughts of others in her life, including her partner and her therapist.
E. Ce Miller, Bustle, interviewed the author:
‘The shame I felt when writing this book, in 2018, and the shame I felt when the rape happened, back in 2003, made talking about the rape incredibly hard — yet the shame existed for different reasons,’ Vanasco tells me. ‘In 2003, I felt ashamed because my behavior conflicted with cultural portrayals of the good victim: I was drunk, and I didn’t fight back. In 2018, I felt ashamed because my feelings conflicted with those voiced by #MeToo supporters I admire: I didn’t hate the guy, didn’t want him locked up, didn’t even know if I could call what he did rape — and I actually wanted to talk to him, to ask him how the experience had affected him. Suddenly, I viewed myself as the monstrous one, as the criminal, for considering his point of view.’
From Kirkus Reviews: “At every step of this harrowing process, from deciding how to approach Mark after years without contact to transcribing and interpreting their conversations, the author scrutinizes her own motivations, her compulsive caretaking of Mark’s discomfort during their discussions, and the lasting impact of the trauma that he caused her…Vanasco invites her readers to understand the complicated humanity involved in both causing and experiencing harm, leaving the limits and possibilities of accountability and healing as urgent, open questions.”
I wanted to know if he still felt remorse. That was a big thing for me. And I wanted to know if while he was doing it, he knew what he was doing was wrong. I remember when he first apologized way back after it happened, he mentioned that he drank a lot that night. He offered that as an excuse. I thought, a lot of people get drunk and don’t sexually assault their friend, or anyone. So I wanted to know what was going through his mind that night.”
What does Vanasco find out? Laurie Halse Anderson, Time: “…(W)hile he admits in the book that he raped Vanasco, he struggles to see himself as a rapist. His apologies alternate between sincerity and infuriating self-interest. His comment–’Nice guys are a total lie’–took my breath away…”