Mom, Dad, other family members, you may not want to read this one. I have some strong opinions about #MeToo, consent, and assault. This post includes some info about me you may not want to know. And/Or: Trigger warning. Portrayals of unpleasant sexual situations ahead.
So, it seems that an account of a woman who went on a date with Aziz Ansari is muddying the waters. This is akin to what happened when Sen. Al Franken and Garrison Keillor were accused of assault. It’s a mix of “NO, not this guy, whom I like!” and “Wait, is that assault?”
Call it assault, call it a bad date, call it coercion. It is far too common, and this is why the discussions about MeToo don’t stop now, they keep going. We don’t dismiss this woman’s account because she didn’t get to choose the wine she preferred. We say, “Okay, what do men do when they find themselves in a situation with a woman, and the signals change?”
Reading the account was unpleasant for me, and I would guess for many women. Many of us have been on bad dates, have been in situations where we did things we didn’t want to do. I’m going to call it coerced consent.
“If I do this, he’ll let me go home.” Oh, and if you’re thinking, “Just leave!” Where am I? What neighborhood am I in? Did I drive? Are buses running? Would I know where to catch one? Do I have the money in my bank account to grab an uber? Am I drunk?
“If I do this, he won’t get mad at me.” Man, I really like this guy. We’ve been on a couple of dates. I still would like to hang out with him. If I do this, maybe we can still hang out together. If I do this, maybe he won’t bad mouth me to his friends/our peer group. If I do this, he won’t hurt me.
“I said no. Why isn’t he stopping? I’m not touching him anymore, I’m turning my head away. I’m pushing him. WHY WON’T HE STOP?” Because he’s drunk. Because he thinks you’re just kidding. Because you’ve been leading him on, and now you have to put out. Because you’ve had sex before, so why not now?
Yes, bad dates happen. With any luck, they don’t end at the man’s apartment, with him not getting your cues, and you wondering how to get out of the situation.
When I was first starting out in the world of dating-with-sex, I stumbled into these kinds of situations. I was uncomfortable, I was unsure of what I wanted to do, I wondered how to stop things without coming off as frigid, or a bitch; I didn’t want to be unpleasant. (And, let’s not forget, I was actually raped.)
Now, eventually, I worried far less about what these men thought of me. I became confident in asserting my boundaries (not just sexually, but professionally, and so on), and sticking to them. Please note, this doesn’t mean that I radically curtailed my social life, or my drinking, or stopped going home with men I was interested in having sex with. But it does mean: I drew some hard lines, and was able to assert them, and chose guys that respected them.
This young woman who found herself in the situation with Ansari will learn her boundaries, and take a lesson from her weird, coercive encounter with him. Most women who have this bad of an experience — and that is most women — will.
This is what the discussion needs to be about going forward:
1. Women have bodily autonomy and voices that should be heard. Women are people, not playthings, not sperm depositories, not opportunities to have sex.
2. Stop portraying romance as “guy chases girl, girl says no, guy harasses girl — even if it’s ‘cute’, even if he’s kind of a nerd — girl finally gives in, and dates boy because he’s really a sweet guy who has her best interests at heart.”
Guy asks girl out, girl says no, end of story. For an example — for several examples of treating women as objects that just need to be talked into saying yes, see Love, Actually. Don’t do any of those things.
3. Instead of coerced consent, let’s work on continual affirmation. Is it that difficult to say, “Is this okay? How about this? What do you want to do now?” Girls and boys can both learn this, the language of desire, the language of YES.
4. Women are not sexual gatekeepers. Men are not sexual animals. Relationships are two-way streets. This practice of coerced consent is harmful for boys and girls, men and women. It limits us to narrow, specific, and unpleasant roles. It gives us bad experiences. It leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
How else do we teach consent?