On Consent And Being Bullied As A Grown-Ass Woman
Last night I sat on a sidewalk bench eating two scoops of overpriced vegan ice cream at a boutique shop that happened to be open until 1am. I was fuming; I stumbled upon said shop after storming off from an infuriating conversation several blocks away. I slowly consumed my non-dairy treat while ruminating over both the quarrel and the many preceding events which had colored both my outburst and subsequent departure.
The receiving end of my vitriol was a male friend pushing 50, someone I had occasional, no-strings-attached sex with; someone I had come to think of as a good friend despite some fire-red flags and contentions. I was already quietly seething about an incident the week prior which was not only fully upsetting on its own, but amplified by the memory of other similar incidents. Our argument resulted from a conversation about an entirely different topic, but one that prompted a familiar demonstration of his I-am-man-me-know-best posture; it was more than enough to trigger an eruption of my pent-up anger.
To explain why I was upset requires some backstory.
As I mentioned, we had a previous friends-with-benefits arrangement, but even during that time, his method of gaining access to my apartment was most often the result of a decision to accompany me home, not by my invitation. At the time of the argument and for the months preceding, we were not engaged in a sexual relationship. He was seriously involved with another woman and I had chosen to honor the girl code. Also the whole experience was frankly exhausting and not worth the guilt of fucking someone’s boyfriend. Despite the moratorium on sex, he had come over several times, never invited, his visit always something I gave into; he is a large man and one of the most persistent people I’ve ever met. In each instance I refused, then accepted the situation as it progressed, then attempted to make the best of it. We would talk and drink tea, I would read him something I wrote and then we would go to sleep, actual sleep. I concede it was a moral gray area, allowing an attached man to sleep in my bed, platonically or not, was a bad idea. Nevertheless, I allowed this to happen several times, all while sober and self-aware.
To expand on my foolishness: in each instance, I spent a fair amount of time pushing his hands away, saying no and arguing with him about his unwanted advances. Even worse, shortly over a month ago, I succumbed to his neverending advances and slept with him. I was feeling shitty about myself having not only had recent, awful sex but then receiving confirmation that I had really hurt someone with my actions. Sadly, I have not yet outgrown the desire to wound myself further when I feel awful; choosing to break my stance of ‘no sex with an attached guy’ fit conveniently into my self-pity party. It was a bad choice — but succeeded in making me feel even shittier about myself.
Returning to more recent times… 10 days before, the guy did what he had done so many times before, and what I have acquiesced to under pressure so many times in the past: he left a location with me and refused to go to his own home, deciding instead to ride with me and insert himself into my evening, all despite my telling him no. I had learned that playing a guided meditation put him to sleep reliably and so when we retired to bed for yet another no-sex sleepover, I pressed play and laid back with closed eyes in preparation for dreamtime. As expected he fell asleep. Then I rolled over onto my side and he stirred. Shortly after, the manhandling started up, which is a general way of describing his pawing at my breasts and vagina and grabbing my ass. I had my back to him when he started; I forcefully pushed his hands away, shoved his body back and said no NO FUCKING STOP IT. His response: “What the fuck is your problem? You got me hard. What the hell is wrong with you?” I was pissed. I reminded him that he was asleep until I made the mistake of moving in my own bed. He huffed and rolled over and then began groping me again a few minutes later, announcing again that I had made him hard. Apparently lying very still and ignoring him was a sexual advance, my bad. Finally he gave up, sensing perhaps that I was about to kick him the fuck out of my apartment, 3am or not. In the morning, he informed me that he had to jerk off in the shower, presumably as an attempt to provoke sympathy. Before leaving, he very calmly told me that I should not have gotten him hard, that I should have made it clear when we arrived at my apartment that I wasn’t interested in sleeping with him. He was telling me in no uncertain terms that his behavior was entirely my fault. The quiet seething began.
It feels unnecessary to detail the events and power figures which trigger similar rage so I won’t — I will acknowledge the unfortunate glut of straight men with whom I’ve spoken over the last few weeks who have described accusations of abuse or rape, the women crazy and wrong. There have also been the men, both young and old, who have described instances of misconduct on their part — identification of wrongdoing, pressures applied, action minus consent — events they’ve only recently come to recognize as problematic. The latter give me hope and inspire compassion; the former inspire fantasies of destruction.
Last month I returned to Twitter, and while it remains inundated with moronic musings, the news coverage and potential connection with people I might never meet in any other circumstance, has proven to be positive. I came across this gentleman not too long ago and it lifted my spirits for the day:
In the video, he admits to his missteps and identifies the need of men to bear the majority burden of changing rape culture. There are many attitudes and definitions of ‘rape culture’ floating across the internet; for those of you who don’t know, here is Wikipedia’s version:
Rape culture is a sociological concept for a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality
This would be inclusive of statements like:
“Boys will be boys”
“No means yes”
“Be a man”
“You know you want”
“She was asking for it”
Of course it’s more than just statements — it’s the way the genders are taught to interact, the messages of commercial imagery, the manner in which sexual crimes are prosecuted, the way victims are shamed and blamed, the people we put into power — I could go on ad infinitum but it’s getting my blood boiling so I’ll move on.
A New Era Of Consent
Consent is an interesting thing these days and I don’t mean that sarcastically. Despite the dismal fact that only 8 out of 50 states require the mention of consent in sexual education, the millennial generation has grown to develop some unique and effective means of addressing the issue, most notably in the world of nightlife. Attend any hip club these days and you will likely be informed of a strict no-harassment policy; a sticker placed over your phone’s camera lens to protect unwanted violations of privacy. You may even be given a card stating the denial of consent, presumably to be offered in the event that someone makes you uncomfortable in circumstances where verbal dispute might be difficult, i.e., on a loud dance floor. I first encountered this while attending an after-hours party deep in Brooklyn and I was admittedly skeptical of the impact of such gestures, but sure enough I saw roving plainclothes consent enforcers approach and remove several aggressive men throughout the evening.
Search the hashtag #consentissexy in any social media network and you’ll see a whole host of interpretations posted mainly by those in their teens to early 30s. Here’s a recent post on Instagram illustrating explicit consent and how filthy it can be:
There are many many others, posted by ordinary folks of all genders: feminists, sex workers, whathaveyou. A trend born of the #MeToo movement? Perhaps. I have mixed feelings about the impact of said movement, but I do acknowledge that at the very least it has encouraged broad use of sexual abuse and harassment as a topic of conversation, however superficial. Maybe it’s just a natural evolution, the inevitable tide-turning response following multi-generational oppression. Maybe it’s just a flash in the pan, a minor uptick in a long and unyielding run. Whatever the case, it certainly doesn’t mean the struggle is over.
I see the man I described earlier on a regular basis. It is likely that at some point we will discuss the issue further than we did last night. My past experiences and conversations with him don’t inspire even a drop of confidence that he may ever see anything wrong with his behavior. On the street, shortly before walking away, I was explaining the reason for my anger: being blamed for his actions, his refusal to accept no for an answer, his complete denial of culpability in any form, how “rape-y” the whole situation was, all to no end. His only response was a declaration that “we must respectfully agree to disagree” followed by the reiteration that it was my failure to state intentions not to sleep with him which caused our problem.
I would argue the problem is in fact not just ours, but OURS, as in belonging to everyone on this planet. I have no sense of certainty that I won’t be assaulted if I pass out in the company of a man, or that I won’t be subjected to vulgar actions and comments from male strangers if my outfit shows [too much??] skin. Instead, I am sure that sex without consent will continue to happen all over the world and that rape culture will remain our daily reality for the foreseeable future; sad truths for all of us.
My line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior lies differently than most. I was knowingly allowed a man I knew to be physically, sexually aggressive into my home and my bed. Hell, I slept with the bastard even after our very first encounter, which involved him pushing his way into my doorway and shoving his hand down my pants, grabbing my vagina. I kicked him out of my apartment, but I let him back in about a month later. I bought into that manly, thuggish stereotype and willingly allowed myself to be overpowered and dominated. I may very well do so again. But no past behavior, inconvenience, nor implication of attraction, will ever preclude my right to say no at any fucking time I like.
I am a grown woman; I enjoy sex, I have sex. To be bullied for my choices and actions in this day, and at my age is beyond infuriating and completely unacceptable. No one should ever have to negotiate their circumstances or defend the refusal of sex.
I will leave you with this YouTube video which even a child can understand; consent is NOT complicated.