The whole #metoo movement has left some folks scratching their heads. SInce the dawn of human history, men have been trying to fuck women. I imagine some caveman chasing a woman around a cave trying to put his penis in her. And men will continue to try to place their penises into vaginas well into whatever dystopian future awaits. Men doing the things that they collectively do in this quest, however egregious, has rarely been questioned and even less often, condemned. Meanwhile, women are nodding our collective heads…most of the time after a brief tribunal. We judge each allegation in terms of what did she do to get herself into this predicament. Did she ask for it? Did she go to his apartment? Did she fight? Or did she simply stay and allow it to happen? We are judge and jury of every accusation and place each instance squarely in the camp of she is an innocent victim or she is just some dumb girl that deserves zero sympathy.
When a man puts a woman in a situation where she does not feel comfortable, many view that as assault, while others view it mostly as naivety. Women expect men to make us feel comfortable. If we are ever in a position of feeling uncomfortable or pressured into doing something we are not ready to do, we play along much longer than we would like.
This is when it gets grey. In this Babe Article, Aziz Ansari is accused of sexual assault, after he takes a woman out on a rushed dinner, gets her back in his apartment, performs oral sex on her, gets her to perform oral sex on him twice, and continues to pressure her for sex until she eventually leaves feeling disgusted. In a Facebook group on dating that I moderate, the women generally had little sympathy for her with a collective, “Why didn’t she just leave”?
Jenny Lumet accused Russell Simmons of assault as well in a similarly murky way. He was giving her a ride home, but instead took her to his apartment. She protested, but ultimately complied and had sex with him. He didn’t rip her clothes off. They were friends, she had known him for years, he was not some strange man. She didn’t scratch him and she didn’t scream. How is this assault?
Asia Argento accused Harvey Weinstein of assault after he performed unwanted oral sex on her. She then dated him as many women do in an attempt to normalize what happened. Her native Italy ran her out of the country believing her sexual encounter with him was more career climbing than sexual assault.
We are taught as girls to be polite and in a subtle and nuanced way, submissive. We are taught that if a person asks for something we give it to them, we obey and do as we are told. Girls are taught that our bodies are not ours. As children, we are told to give an uncle a kiss, even if we don’t want to. We are taught not to tell because everyone hates a tattletale. As we get older, we are taught that men are supposed to lead us, that he gets to decide. That he is supposed to pay for things. He decides where we go, what we do, what we eat. But we are supposed to decide when sex happens. It is sometimes hard to make that shift.
Men can sometimes be creepy, really creepy. Even guys that you thought were awesome stand up guys, can turn into Mr. Hyde in a split second. I have been in these situations. I have been alone in the apartment with a guy I really liked, or even kind of liked, when he suddenly became a horny 16 year old octopus who’s never seen a breast. I have not wanted to disappoint a man I liked that had clear expectations. I have stayed longer than I wanted. I have felt disgusted by what was happening but oddly unable to stop it from happening, reasoning that letting something happen is easier than fighting or continuing to dodge advances. I have been a little afraid of what may happen if I say no. I have done an equation in my head and decided unwelcome sex was better than an outright violent rape. It is the oddest paradox. Like being drunk or having an outer body experience. As if every fiber of your mind is committed to ending what is happening but being unable to summon the courage, or rage, or don’t give a fuckness to leave.
In college, I was at an off campus apartment with a guy I liked, a handsome Morehouse baseball player. There was a group of us in the home but at some point, we broke off and the two of us were alone in the den. We were kissing and I was ok with a little first or second base action. We were grinding and his penis was fully erect. I began to vocally protest, but in soft whimpers, not screaming, “Fuck you, get off of me, you asshole”. In less than 2 seconds his penis was inside of me. There was about 5 mins of sex, and it was over. I felt dirty and this sense of losing control of the situation. Then i became angry with myself. Why was I here? Why wasn’t I in my dorm room? Why had I allowed myself to be in this situation. It wasn’t like I enjoyed it. But I didn’t leave. I didn’t fight, I didn’t cry. I honestly don’t even remember how I got home. I really have blacked the rest of the memory from my mind and have to struggle to remember details. I didn’t blame him, didn’t even think he had done anything wrong until I saw a girl later that day in my dorm and she asked how it had gone with him. When I recanted it to her, she said, “I think you were raped”.
But what is rape? What is assault? We are taught that it is a stranger grabbing you as you walk down an alley and forcing himself into you. Or that if you become drunk at a party and passed out, that it is rape. But what about a date that simply doesn’t’ take no for an answer, and you don’t fight back? You don’t want it, but you don’t scream. You just relent…
In the wake of this dialog about #metoo, I would challenge men to do more than listen to women’s words, but her body. Look into her eyes. Is she giving you a seductive and lustful glare or are her her eyes teeming with disappointment and fear? I know it’s hard but most men that aren’t jerks don’t want sex out of politeness or fear. If that is the truth, close her for sex. Ask her if she really wants this to happen. In the Babe piece, she repeatedly says she gave, nonverbal cues that went ignored.
I would challenge parents to teach girls that they can say no. That a little girls body is hers and hers alone. Children don’t need to hug a creepy old uncle or even a well meaning aunt if they don’t want to. I don’t care if it is the uncle that sends a savings bond every Christmas, your child does not have to touch him.
Mostly, I challenge us as women, to speak up. That when we are in uncomfortable situations, we have to summon the strength to just leave. No explanation is needed. We don’t owe these men anything yet we owe ourselves everything. We have to learn that ultimately our well being and safety rests with ourselves and ourselves alone. That no one will save us, we have to save ourselves.