Browsing Tag



"he doesn’t mean anything by it" is a horrible lie

I ran into an aquaintance– a man that given the social context that we met in knows that I’m a hugger and open to hugs. We’ve hugged before when saying hello, which is something that I’m almost always comfortable with. However, this time, he kissed me. It took me completely by surprise– and I couldn’t shake the twisting, nauseating feeling I had all night because of it.

I was also infuriated with myself for the rest of the week because my reaction afterwards was to silently move away and completely ignore what he’d done. I, like pretty much every single woman in the history of ever … let it go. And letting it slide like that made me feel horribly guilty, like I’d “failed” in some way, that I wasn’t a “good feminist” if I couldn’t even call out the behavior that’s happening to me. Here I am, babbling away on the internet about consent and boundaries and safe spaces and then something like this happens and I freeze.

I’m not saying that a man’s boundaries can never be crossed or that it’s only women who freeze up when someone does something to us that we don’t like or don’t want– there are some don’t ever make a scene! dynamics to what is considered “good manners” in our culture, regardless of gender.

However, women are socialized to accept things that men don’t have to live with, such as the above example. I asked Handsome, and having to put up with people grabbing, touching, slapping, pinching, groping, hugging, or kissing him isn’t something he has to deal with when he goes out. However, many social functions I’ve been to involves surviving an obstacle course of men trying to do all that, and me having very little recourse.

A few years ago I was at a birthday party, and one of the men there got very drunk and groped my ass. I reacted to this with the absolutely suitable “hey! I don’t appreciate that, don’t touch me again” and every single last man in that room poo-pooed me with “oh, that’s just the way he is, he doesn’t mean anything by it” and him walking around like a kicked puppy for the rest of the night … and I felt horrible, like I had done something wrong by standing up for myself and asking for a pretty basic physical boundary to be respected.

The same thing happened when that man kissed me without my permission– even though I didn’t visibly react, or do or say anything, I walked around for the next few days second-guessing myself. It’s just the way he is. He didn’t mean anything by it looped around my head. I felt that I didn’t have the “right” to feel the way I did about it, that the sick feeling in my stomach was me making a big deal out of nothing.

In retrospect, obviously, I have every right to feel violated by being kissed without my permission. That I felt gross and dirty afterwards is a feeling I should respect and trust– it’s my body and mind trying to tell me something about what had happened, and no amount of “it was nothing” was going to be able to take that away.

Women spend a lot of time telling ourselves it was nothing, and that is a monstrously difficult lie to overcome. It’s a lie we’re told by no one– and everyone. It’s the lie we believe when we’re at a party and we’re suddenly A Raging Bitch because we dared to say something when we were assaulted. It’s the lie in the back of our head when a man is acting in a way that sets every alarm we have to screaming, but we force ourselves to ignore it because it couldn’t be that big a deal, right?

My big take-away from all that is this: not being able to say “don’t do that” isn’t a failure on my part. Standing up to the near-overwhelming pressure to not be that bitch and enforce our physical boundaries isn’t something that should always and forever be shouldered by women. I wish it didn’t feel like such a monumental thing to ask of men not to be that guy, but it is. Why should it always be our responsibility to tell men that they’ve been a dick? It should be the responsibility of every decent human being to enforce a social code like don’t kiss people without their permission, instead of the misogynistic code we have right now that reads don’t make a man feel bad about acting like a dick.

Photo by Craig Sunter

one time, I had a crush on a girl

woman in white

At the college I attended for undergrad, room assignments were unpredictable. You had no idea who your roommates were going to be until you arrived on campus in the fall semester, and you were only permitted to request one roommate when you frequently had three. In the tight quarters of my dormitory, who your roommates were could make or break  your entire year.

I was fortunate enough in my roommates– I only ever had one fight all four years, and I managed to end up with a junior nursing major every year– by the time I graduated, I knew more about what a junior nursing major went through then they did, I think. One of my roommates was Julie*, and she was dedicated to her work, always optimistic, tidy without being neurotically clean, kind and gentle, encouraging, and in general one of the more awesome roommates I had.

She was also beautiful. Stunningly gorgeous,  in fact.

And it was the first time I’d ever noticed how beautiful a woman was.

In the environment I’d grown up in, the only thing I was really taught about physical beauty is that it was deceiving– the implied idea was that beautiful women could not be trusted, and I believed that, although not consciously. But, looking back, all of my friends through high school and early college . . . didn’t fit inside either my idea of a beautiful woman or my culture’s ideal. I tended to avoid women I felt were attractive, and for reasons I didn’t understand, I felt more comfortable around those who didn’t fit inside what I thought was beautiful. When I talked about this idea, which is weird that I did, come to think of it, I emphasized how important it was for me that their personality shine through. I wanted to be friends with people, and not with people’s looks. And, over time, as I got to know these women, anything about them that didn’t fit inside my culturally constructed idea of beauty… faded. It ceased to matter, not that it ever really did.

However, when you combine this principle, this innate distrust of anything beautiful or attractive, with the idea that any kind of attraction that isn’t for the person you’re married to . . .  things become more difficult. There’s no difference between appreciating beauty and lust. The way I’d been taught, they were one and the same, although they only ever phrased it in heterosexual terms.

The year I lived with Julie was a terrifying year for me, because I thought I might be bi-sexual, and growing up believing that identifying as LGBTQ was an “abomination before God” made me tremble and panic. I struggled so hard that year, because I couldn’t not notice Julie, and I was convinced that even just noticing how attractive she was made my sexuality questionable.

I figured out a long, long time later that I could have been spared some gut-wrenching agony  if I’d had a real, honest understanding of sexual identity and sexual attraction. I would have realized that there was a difference between noticing that Julie was gorgeous, a wonderful human being, and a woman I admired, and being aroused by her, which I was not.

But I didn’t know the difference.

I didn’t even realize there was a difference.

I think this is one of the central problems with the abstinence-only form of education. Many people seem to be afraid that if you give teenagers information about sex it’s automatically granting approval for them to have sex. It’s why conservatives fight programs that make condoms available to teenagers; it’s perceived as “giving up,” as just shrugging our shoulders and saying “oh, well, they’re going to do it anyway, might as well make sure they’re smart about it.” Because of this, being “smart” about sex, or being taught about our sexuality is conflated with permissiveness.

The supposed solutions of the abstinence movement are entirely too easy. It promises that abstention guarantees mind-blowing sex once you’re married, which is ridiculously not true. Any kind of sexual act, intercourse or otherwise, requires people to listen and respond, and it takes time to learn. That’s just common sense, and anyone can learn to have amazing sex with the right person, married or not.

It also teaches that the only way for teenagers to not have sex is to know as little about it as possible– which means they don’t just lack an understanding of the mechanics, but that any kind of discussion surrounding sexuality, attraction, desire, and arousal are all silenced, and teenagers are left without enough information to process their daily experiences in a healthy way. Many of us end up completely guilt-ridden because we noticed a man or a woman was attractive, and we think that’s lust. Or, we may even go to the extreme of purposefully looking for and marrying people we aren’t sexually attracted to because we’ve been so assiduously taught to avoid that in all its forms.

In most environments, abstinence-only education seems to be based on a huge shame of our bodies, or splintering off our sexual selves from the rest our physical experience, and I don’t think that’s healthy. Finding a balance is important, and sexual over-indulgence (from porn addictions to what have you) can be damaging like any other form of indulgence, but being educated about the nature of our bodies isn’t indulgence, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We were designed to experience intense physical pleasure in a variety of ways, and we weren’t given that ability strictly to deny it, but to enjoy it.