The Other Facts of Life

by Pearl Cleage

From Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot (1987, Ballantine)

These are the other facts of life. The ones your mother probably didn’t tell you because she didn’t want to scare you. What she didn’t realize was that being scared isn’t the most terrible thing that can happen. Being unprepared is much worse.


In America, they admit that five women a day are killed by their husbands, boyfriends, ex-husbands, ex-boyfriends or lovers. That doesn’t count the women killed during random rapes, murders, robberies and kidnappings.

In America, the main reason women are ever hospitalized is because they’ve been beaten and tortured by men. More than for childbirth. More than for cancer care. More than from heart attacks.

In America, thousands of women a day are raped and/or tortured and abused by men in as many ways as you can think of, and probably a whole lot more you haven’t thought of, and don’t want to, including beating, shooting, scalding, stabbing, slapping, shaking and starving.

The facts indicate that we are under siege, incredibly vulnerable, totally unprepared and too busy denying the truth to collectively figure out what to do about it. Men beat and torment and rape women because they can. They’re usually bigger and physically stronger and they’ve structured a culture that condones absolutely the possession and control of women by any means necessary.

All this puts us at a tremendous disadvantage, especially since our group is usually fragmented and disorganized. We can’t depend on each other for protection yet, and won’t be able to until we admit to the problem and then learn something about self-defense. Until that happens, individual knowledge of how to recognize and get out of dangerous situations is crucial to our survival.

All men are capable of abusing women, no matter what they tell you or what they call it, so don’t kid yourself about this one or that one being different. It takes years of love, work, and trust to eliminate the probability of violence in relationships between men and women. Don’t think you can rush the process because you wish you could.

Don’t trust any male strangers. They are guilty until proven innocent. Don’t accept rides, favors, gifts, free advice, or compliments from men you don’t know. Strangers are always dangerous and friends can be, too, when they are angry, frustrated, confused or crazed by a sexist desire for possession and control of you. (The section on Basic Training has a working definition of the word “sexist” if you don’t already have one.)

Learn to recognize these ten early warning signals as a way of anticipating violence in order to avoid it if at all possible:

  1. shouting, hollering, excessive cursing, name calling, sarcasm;
  2. finger pointing or fist waving, especially in and around your face;
  3. arm or wrist grabbing or twisting;
  4. throwing or breaking things;
  5. hitting his head or his fist against walls, tables, steering wheel, etc., or reckless fast driving;
  6. threatening to do violent things to himself, you, your family, your friends, your children;
  7. indicating that he has a gun or other weapon;
  8. bringing up past arguments or wrongdoing for which he holds you responsible;
  9. following you, spying on you, questioning you, your whereabouts or your friends, male or female;
  10. locking doors so you are trapped in a car or house and can’t leave whenever you want to leave.

If any of these signals occur, stay focused and alert. Do whatever you can to defuse the situation (short of having a sexual exchange, which is rape) and leave by yourself as soon as possible. Always have cab fare/bus fare/train fare and change for the telephone in your purse. Your life may depend on it.

If this happens in your own house, you should still leave until you can be safe there. Take your children if you can. Go to a friend or a relative. Go to the police station. Go to a fire station (there will always be someone there awake and on duty). Go to a hotel and call for help from the lobby. Tell somebody you need help until you get it.

Violence is never justified. It should never be forgiven. Apologies and pleas for forgiveness should fall on deaf ears. If a man beats you/hits you/shoves you/slaps you/torments you once, he will do it again. Cut him loose.


Review the facts at the start of the last section on violence. Let yourself think about them and feel what they really mean to each of us. Keep them in mind while you think about rape.

Rape is a crime of womanhating and violence. It is not a crime of passion or a sex crime.

The victim of rape is never, never, never responsible, no matter what she was wearing, where she was walking, what she was doing or who she went out with, had a drink with, married, kissed, flirted with or lied to. Bad judgment and carelessness are not punishable by rape.

No rape is ever justified and no rapist has an acceptable reason or excuse. Ever.

To protect yourself against being raped by strangers:

  1. Secure the place you live with your choice of burglar bars, alarms, dogs, alert neighbors, good lighting and/or a gun you are licensed and trained to use.
  2. Always lock your car doors and be alert to men on the street when you stop at intersections.
  3. Learn to change a tire quickly. Practice doing it in the dark. Don’t run out of gas.
  4. Try to wait for the bus with a friend or neighbor or coworker especially at night. Avoid waiting or getting off at places where groups of men gather. (Bars, labor pools, shelters, liquor stores, basketball courts, pool halls, etc.)
  5. Try not to walk alone at night, but if you have to, walk in the middle of the street so you are in the light and away from the buses and alleys. Keep your hands free and carry Mace.
  6. Check for men lurking in underground parking lots, empty buildings and vacant lots.
  7. Don’t ever accept rides with strangers or men you don’t know well enough to trust absolutely.
  8. Be conscious of the kinds of clothes that men say make them think we want to be raped by them. These include tight pants and sweaters, very high heeled shoes, short skirts, halter tops, see-through clothes, etc.
  9. Stay in shape so you can run if you need to run.
  10. Practice hollering as loud as you can so you can make a big noise if you are attacked.

To protect yourself from being raped by men you know:

  1. Never be alone with a man you don’t know well and trust absolutely. This takes time. Trust your instincts. Take responsibility for setting the pace and structure of the relationship. Remember the violence warning signals.
  2. Don’t park or drive in isolated places with men you don’t know well and trust absolutely. Whenever possible, take your own car on first dates and drive it yourself.
  3. Don’t flirt or accept flirting behavior if you’re not interested in having sex within the next few hours.
  4. Don’t go to apartments, houses or hotels with men you don’t know well and trust absolutely.
  5. Scream and fight back when the first unwelcome sexual approach is made and you realize what is happening. Trust your instincts. If you think it’s happening, it is happening. Don’t wait to protest. Holler. Loud. A “friend” or “date” is less likely to want your noise to draw neighbors, family, friends, police, etc.
  6. Don’t go out alone with groups of men that you don’t know well and trust absolutely. Evaluate each member of the group individually. The men you know well should always outnumber the men you don’t know well. Ask yourself why there are no other women there. Ask them the same question.
  7. Don’t watch highly sexual movies, read sexually exciting books or magazines, or talk and tease about sexual things with a man you don’t intend to have sex with in the next few hours.
  8. Don’t kiss and hug and fondle a man you don’t intend to have sex with in the next few hours.
  9. Don’t drink, get high or fall asleep around men you don’t know well and trust absolutely.
  10. Don’t allow any physical contact that you do not initiate, appreciate and fully endorse.

If you are as careful as you can be and you are still attacked and/or raped, don’t panic. Stay alert. Focus on staying alive and unhurt. Try to remember everything you can about the rapist, the location, the circumstances. As soon as you can, get to safety. Call the police. Call a woman friend to come and be with you. Call your doctor. Call the rape crisis center.

Remember that you are the victim and don’t take any shit from anybody.


Sex is a powerful and basic drive meant to insure the survival of the species. In order to help insure that we Do It, sex can also be pleasurable when it is a voluntary exchange between equals. But sex is not exempt from the madness that is everywhere between men and women. In fact, sex is usually the most volatile and misunderstood battleground of all.

Remember when you think about sex that men often use it to express power, control, womanhating and violence. Phrases like I knocked the bottom out of it, and I fucked her brains out are the norm, not the exception. Even worse, sex and female sexuality have been tainted, consciously or unconsciously, by male misinterpretation.

Don’t be fooled into imitating what you see in the movies, on TV or read in the books that crowd the bestseller lists. Trust yourself. Learn your body. Listen to it. Touch it. Figure out what feels good and what doesn’t. Don’t confuse pain and pleasure. If it’s hurting you, it shouldn’t be pleasing him.

Take complete responsibility for birth control. Of course, in the best of all possible worlds, men would share equal responsibility for birth control, but, realistically speaking, they won’t take it as seriously as we do. They can’t get pregnant.

Take complete responsibility for safe sex. Protect yourself against AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases by always carrying and using your own condoms.

Don’t fake pleasure, excitement or orgasms. There is no excuse for it, no end to it, and no way to justify it. Whenever you find yourself considering “faking it,” ask yourself why and who benefits from such bullshit?

Most of the ways people get together sexually fall into three categories: mating, making love and having sex.

Mating is the conscious coupling of two people with the agreed upon intention of having a child. It is the only kind of sexual exchange that can only occur between heterosexuals. “Agreed upon” is the key phrase here. If both people don’t agree, the energy won’t be in sync and the kid will suffer for it. Also, tricking somebody into bearing or fathering a child when they haven’t agreed to it is low down and unfair.

Making Love is communicating sexually on a high physical, mental, emotional and spiritual plane with someone you know, respect, love, trust and desire passionately. Hold out for this kind of sex if you can. Although it is almost impossible to achieve in the midst of the current crisis, it is worth the wait.

Having sex is the catchall description of all the other sexual exchanges that occur and it has several subcategories:

  1. Lustful sex–this is a purely physical response to another person. Nothing wrong with it. Be careful about safe sex and birth control. Lust cares nothing for public health questions so plan ahead and come prepared. Lust also gets careless about safety, so review the sections on Rape and Violence.
  2. Sympathy sex–nothing wrong with this either, except it is often misinterpreted. If the person is so depressed or distraught or disillusioned that sex is the only way you can think of to cheer him/her up (this is your idea, right?) then this person is probably in serious need of an anchor, an angel, a savior. What was meant to be simple sympathy sex often ends up with messy misunderstandings on both sides. Avoid it if possible and take your friend out for a cup of cappuccino instead.
  3. Angry sex–a commonly made mistake, especially in long-term relationships where there isn’t enough breathing and pacing room. Don’t do it. This kind of sex encourages you to use your sexuality in a way that ultimately denies you pleasure and twists your spirit. This kind of sex may also trigger male violence and female depression. Don’t do it.
  4. Friendship sex–this can be all right, but it must be controlled by you absolutely. There is a tendency for men who like you to become possessive and controlling once you begin to have friendship sex. Don’t act like it’s cute when it happens and don’t indulge or reward it with more sex. If you value the friendship and you see this happening, stop all sexual activity immediately. Explain why and be unshakable in your decision not to resume sexual relations. Good friends are hard to find.