Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why "I couldn't help myself" is not an acceptable excuse

For obvious reasons, there's lots of discussion lately about sexual assault. I had a conversation with a friend the other day where we compared whether or not we had been sexually assaulted. We decided we hadn't, not in the blatant ways they're talking about now. Though it's true that no strange man has ever grabbed me on the street, I have felt threatened by men, or assessed by men, or worried about men while out and about, particularly when I lived in Chicago in my twenties. But unwanted attention doesn't always come from strangers, it more often happens with someone you know.  I can't count the number of times some guy I know has accidentally touched me where he shouldn't--just a brush by, often with an apology. Same goes for unwanted contact with men I've dated. Women say yes to things or more accurately "not no" to sexual encounters way more than men might think. We're caught in this weird bind where if you don't want to fool around, the guy might loose interest or think you're uptight and if you do say yes, they also might think you're easy or indiscriminate. Sometimes (many times?), we say yes (or again, not no) because we (1). don't want to hurt your feelings, (2). are afraid you won't like us, (3). are used to it and no longer think it matters; (4). have bought the biological argument that you just can't help yourselves.

The claim now is that the women are inventing the attacks, because they didn't come forward sooner. Why would they come forward in the moment? Who would take them seriously? They know that the following options are a likely outcome: no one will believe them and they will be harassed, threatened, and called liars; if they are believed, they will be considered too sensitive because who cares if some guy grabs your breast? Third option is that they will be accused of being complicit in the act, egging the guy on by dressing provocatively or drinking too much or smiling in his general direction. The likely outcome of an unwanted kiss or an opportunistic grope is almost never jail time, or a fine, or any other penalty. In fact, that kind of behavior from men is often rewarded or encouraged by other men. High five, dude. Or, as DT would say, I couldn't help myself. 

How do you want us to prove it? Because even when you have proof, even when the man brags about doing it, it's still not believed.The truth is, I think most people do believe he did it, they just don't think it matters. I'm waiting for the moment when DT accidentally says what many are thinking, "Grow a pair of balls, ladies. Get over it. It's not like you were raped." That's true. Rape is much more traumatizing in many, many ways. But sexual assault is insidious. It confirms what many women fight against, which is this medieval idea that we don't have the right to our own bodies or space; that we are still, in many ways, property whose value is determined by how "do-able" we are.

If you are a heterosexual male of consenting age, my guess is that you have had moments of behavior with women that are iffy. I don't mean that every guy is a rapist; just that he has likely been in a situation where he pushed or insisted or begged or asserted when he knew the woman wasn't really interested. And if you have a culture that calls that behavior okay (or even condones it), it's a slippery slope.

I wonder, do men worry when they walk down the street at night that someone might come up to them from behind, shove them into an unlit place, and rape them? Does that thought ever cross their minds? It does for me. I think about it every time I'm out walking the dog past sunset.

Even posting this seems risky to me, like I'll make someone mad or sound like an hysterics who makes blanket statements. But if those women can say something and know that they're going to get crucified by the pro-Trumpets, so can I.

No comments: