Thursday, October 11, 2018

Dynamics of assault

This post is about assault and harassment that many women are talking about these days, but also covers gender stuff I want to talk about too. Please read with caution if you are sensitive to this topic.

A lot of the discussion surrounding sexual assault is centered on "believe women" and "men, don't be that guy, and support women." This is not the time to start asking why men's problems aren't given equal time on this stage. But I would like to remind you that part of the reason things are so hard for women in this environment is that it IS set up like this issue is exclusively women vs. men here. Women aren't believed when they say they're sexually assaulted, and women aren't believed when they tell potential interested partners that they do not want to do a thing, and women are targeted so frequently partly because there IS this gender dynamic that has taught many men that women can't be trusted to say what they want, so it's okay to ignore what they say before, during, and after. In a society run by these kind of guys, it's a feature, not a bug.

Some of the people who relate to being the victim here are NOT WOMEN. They may be nonbinary people, or trans men who were assaulted when others assumed they were women, or men of any orientation. If they were attacked and treated the way they were because they were assumed to be women, they also likely recognize these misogynistic dynamics as forces in their personal lives, but even though the world has treated them like women in some ways, some of them feel really uncomfortable with being casually referred to as women every time assault survivors are discussed. Some of this "we" are not women, and some of them are even men.

Right now we ARE talking about the overall dynamics that privilege men and disprivilege women with regard to how powerful men consistently get away with sexual assault and frequently act like they have no flippin' idea how they're supposed to romance someone without assaulting them. This male/female dynamic is the focus of the major conversation right now, but that doesn't mean people who are not women don't have something in common with us. I mostly appreciate that the discussion is the way it is because I assure you it is no accident that women's expected subservience is being exploited, but just be aware that "sexual assault survivors" and "women" are not always the same group.

Half my life ago a gross dude ignored that I said no to a kiss while stuck in a car with him, and he responded by lunging over and licking my face like a dog until I opened the door and jumped out. It's mild as far as sexual assaults go, but nearly textbook in what happened next. I got out of the car immediately, angrily, and he yelled after me that he was "just trying to help" me because he thought being asexual was a disorder with a cure, and that he "had to" lick my cheek because I wouldn't let him kiss me the right way. This guy then proceeded to send me messages for the next couple of months asking me to watch porn with him, complaining that I didn't fuck him (and stating that he'd thought we'd been about to fuck that night), explaining to me condescendingly that I was in denial about my attraction to him, and claiming that since he was Latino his upbringing forced him to be touchy feely with girls and I would just have to accept it. He told me he was sure he was the only intellectual man I'd ever had express interest in me and could hope to satisfy me, and he told me I exuded a "vibe" that made it clear I was into him no matter what lies I told. This is a person I did not touch until he put his tongue on my face the day I met him, and whom I had told about my orientation over our first meal so he wouldn't be confused. He told me he had studied psychology *in high school* and therefore knew better than me what my body language was really saying. I had to block him to get away from his messages.

Years later when I mentioned this incident in a longer interview for a published article about asexuality, a man in the comments went after me with a vengeance. Told me I'd made up the assault for attention. Told me I'm trying to stop everyone from kissing each other now and claiming a simple kiss is sexual assault. Told me it didn't make sense that I didn't "just lean away" if I didn't want him to lick me.  Tried to drum up sympathy for the poor guy whose kiss was rejected and asked how we would feel if our affection was labeled "assault" when offered innocently. Claimed that "everyone" has assaulted someone if this is the standard now. Refused to acknowledge that I explicitly said "no" and the man did it anyway; claimed he was probably shy or awkward and couldn't be expected to really understand. Ended the conversation by saying I was a drama queen who needed to get over herself.

My situation was incredibly mild, but even when the story made it clear I had verbally declined to kiss and wasn't complicated by either party's intoxication, I was probably inventing it for clicks, and also, him ignoring someone's clearly stated wishes isn't assault or isn't sexual or isn't his fault at all. This is EVERY TIME we talk about it. And all the people who don't want to believe us because it would mean accepting we're living in a rape culture are seeing that HuffPost comment and saying "yeah, oh, yeah, she's probably doing it for attention, why didn't she report it, what's his name? is she sure she didn't want it? no matter what she said, it can't have been clear enough. if we accept that violating her wishes is a crime, WE'RE ALL GUILTY, and we'd rather insist they're all liars than accept that we all might be criminals."

They pretend that it's too complicated to figure out what we might call assault, but that's mostly because what we want has NEVER mattered to them. If you've been taught all your life that our bodies are there for your use, you'll see consent as a default and refusal as US DENYING YOU SOMETHING THAT IS YOURS. Our bodies are ours and our express permission is needed before you can use them how you want. Don't pretend that's too hard for you when you're also the ones claiming women aren't as logical as men.

But I guess it's a lot easier to pretend you don't get it when your dude buddies can control what is a crime and have the power to rearrange laws to support your right to assault us.

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