Sitting down to write this has been really difficult. And I don’t say that because what happened was terribly traumatic or changed any integral part of me. Today I decided to write in pencil rather than pen, something I rarely do. This entire event just felt very undefined, vague — it was neither black nor white but lay in an ambiguous grey area leaving me feeling unsure and uneasy. He was someone I’d hooked up with before; a friend. But it was nothing serious. As we entered the cramped bathroom, already lined with beer and sweat from its previous prey, he says “nothing real is going to happen here,” insinuating that we weren’t going to have sex. But he proceeded to finger me aggressively despite my clear discomfort and hesitation, putting one finger after another inside me as if it were a challenge. “Let’s see how many we can get up there” he comments excitedly. “No, let’s not” I respond, already dismayed by the immediacy our clothes were off. I start to dress again, moving away from the toilet where he is sitting below me. “What about me?” He inquires. “What about you?” I wish I had responded. Instead I kind of sigh, move my head aside and oblige to giving him a half ass hand job. We leave the crawl space of a bathroom and go our seperate ways. I never hooked up with him again, in part because in reflection I realized how gross and not-okay that hookup was but also because he went back to his previous girl friend. What I can’t stop thinking about are those opening remarks: “we’re not doing anything real”. By deeming sex as the only “real” sexual exchange between people we only associate sexual assault with sex itself despite their being countless other forms assault can take. Leaving all this ambiguous space dissuades people from knowing how they should act in sexual situations. I was angry and upset for a variety of reasons — him assuming my not being a virgin would mean I would automatically want to do whatever, him treating sexually as if it were an exchange, that I owed him something, and that I’ve heard countless other girls experience the same imbalances over and over again.
My dad and I were discussing frat culture the other day. As I voiced my concerns about how women are treated in that environment he rebuts my concerns by saying he is sure frat guys treat the women they love with respect. But that is not what concerns me. What is worrying and disheartening is not how certain men in our society treat the women they love, it’s the women they don’t love–the random hookups and meaningless affairs; the girl I was that night. Assault does not just pertain to sex and blatant forcefulness — imbalances and subtle oppression lurk in the crawl spaces of so many interactions. Shine light on them with actions and words. If I don’t say anything, he will never know he did something wrong and the vicious cycle of oppression will just continue, so let’s speak up.
The boys I hookup with hate asking questions. We’ve all sat in health class and listened to Mr. G describe consent as an ongoing conversation, But questions like “Do you like this?” and “Would you do X?” and “Is this okay?” and “Did you finish?” are questions no one ever even thought to ask me until just this past year. If our hookup culture is anything, it is notoriously silent on all fronts. In sexual encounters where this culture of silence feels most prominent, I have this image of myself that pops into my head wherein I am just a trash can with my name scrawled on it in sharpie. I can’t talk, I can’t move, I can only hold things. I call it a sexual receptacle.
The first time I conjure up this image I am in tenth grade, making out with my boyfriend when he starts to push on the top of my head. At first I think maybe this is just him trying to be sexy–a misguided attempt to be hot by being rough. But he keeps pushing, and it’s not painful or uncomfortable and I don’t feel unsafe, it’s just constant–almost in the background. And I realize that he thinks he is posing a question. To him, this is equivalent to asking politely for a blowjob. I silently push back, a firm “no,” holding my lid tightly shut.
The second time this happens, I am in the middle of a subway car on my way to a party, talking to an upperclassman who wants to know whether he has a shot with my friend. I tell him I think she might be interested in someone else, and he looks dejected for a minute before leaning in and kissing me. I pull away, refusing his offer. He looks at me, vaguely surprised. I stare back. He leans in again and I, pushed back against the wall of the car, reluctantly oblige, my lid pried open.
A few weeks later I am with the same boy at a different party. I am talking with friends when he approaches and puts his arm around me. I walk away, pretending to go join another conversation across the room. He follows me a moment later and drapes his arm back across my shoulder. I silently shrug it off, give a small smile and pretend I need to use the bathroom. I spend the rest of my night dodging eager arm attached to clueless guy, once again stuck in the position of having to defend my space.
In too many of my sexual encounters, verbal conversation seems replaced by a kind of sexual charades–clarity and consideration sacrificed out of fear that talking will ruin “the mood.” That rocks though, because I hate “the mood,” because a lot of the time “the mood” is absolutely toxic. A lot of the time, “the mood” seems to promote unwilling silence and and utter lack of interest in the other person’s comfort. I hate the mood because the mood makes me a receptacle: ready and eager to give you head, something to do with your tongue or your arm. Slowly, though, I am learning not to take shit from the boys I hook up with–to talk to them and demand that they talk to me. With words, not actions.