Whether or not this is true, it feels like men see me in two distinct categories. I am either their cool older/younger sister, or I am a sexual object. To the former I say: bless you, brother. To the latter….
It’s amazing to me how many men feel like they can look at a woman and decide that she isn’t worth getting to know as a person, or she is, except that feeling is superseded by the fact that she has breasts and a vagina.1
Men, unfortunately, are often this simple. Boobs. That’s all it takes sometimes to distract them. And if the woman attached to the boobs shows even the slightest interest, say, allows his lips to touch hers, he takes that as consent to touch everything else with whatever part of his body he chooses. His penis takes over thinking and poor decisions get made. Because sex is physical and visual for men. Women know this.2 Now, women: sex for women happens partially in the brain. Men forget this. Women need to be mentally stimulated as much as physically. When their brains switch off, it’s curtains for the rest of it. When a man makes the decision to start touching the woman in places she’s not ready for, or doesn’t want him to touch, then her brain is going to switch off and she is not going to enjoy the encounter anymore.
And, after the incredibly awkward encounter, if the man tells the woman that his penis is hers, and only hers, whenever she wants it, she’s not going to like him anymore (if she even still does). At least, that’s how it was for me. That night I didn’t think he could get any less attractive, but then, the very next night, he started making out with a different woman.
This experience opened my eyes to certain yuckier human tendencies: there are times we use each other for sex, that’s all an individual means to us, and the Person falls by the wayside. I’ve always known this happens (I went to college, after all) but it had never been a reality in my life until then – at least, I’d never been aware of it before. In that moment it became obvious that he didn’t actually want to know me as a person. I was a balm, I was a distraction, I was something completely different from what he dealt with in the rest of his day, men and boys; I was a woman. All he wanted that evening was someone full of estrogen, with breasts. He wanted the anti-male so badly that he forgot I also was surrounded by men and too much testosterone (we worked at a boy’s sports camp) and I had similar-yet-different frustrations with our environment. He forgot that I, too, am a person.
My story of assault is comparatively tame, especially when we consider others’ harrowing tales of rape and psychological abuse by people filled with an insatiable need for control at another person’s expense. I was not beaten or overpowered, or locked in a bunker, or completely taken advantage of, but my story, I think, is probably wicked common; seventy three per cent of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim – a friend, a partner, a coworker, a spouse, a relative. I worked with this man. We hardly knew each other, but saw one another everyday. I didn’t expect the assault. We didn’t have a strong a connection. He was just a dude and we got along ok – apparently because he was hitting on me the entire time.
Another trend I’ve noticed in my acquaintances: Men I’ve known for years and get along with just fine all seem to share the same secret – they find me attractive, and may, or may not, want to get into my pants. Someone I had known for four years, genuinely liked, and always got along with when we were together, finally made a wine-fueled move; a few weeks later we went on a date. Want to know what we discovered? We should not date. Ever. As much as I enjoy this person and as pretty as he might find me, our personalities are not compatible for a romantic relationship. With that date, the weird friendship we’d developed died. But more importantly for me: it was wildly depressing that what apparently fueled our friendship was his having the hots for me.
Don’t misunderstand me: he’s a wonderful person. If you even encounter him, go with the crazy. He’s fun and smart and interesting and a blast to be around. But because on his end, so much of our friendship was based on him thinking I’m pretty (which clarifies his ex-girlfriend’s enigmatical dislike of me), our friendship was disingenuous. A friendship based, even vaguely, on lust and physical admiration isn’t much of a friendship. When one party wants one thing and the other doesn’t (or isn’t aware of the situation), the friendship is doomed. Eventually these feelings are going to boil to the surface and take precedence over any platonic feelings. And when unrequited the feelings are the elephant in the room that makes further bonding nearly impossible.
At least, this is what I have experienced.
Television, novels, movies, and pop songs want us to believe that this is going to happen to each of us: one day a close friend is going to reveal that he has the hots for us, but it’s not just “the hots”, but “true love”, and it’s going to be freakin’ awesome. Except what these leave out is the Lust Factor. So many times this might happen and it won’t actually be True Love, but True Lust. That isn’t to say the man, or woman, doesn’t genuinely like the person, but they’ve already got the person naked in their mind and, generally, they’ve got a vague hope that one day the two of them will date and it’s going to be perfect. But once one person has the whole relationship worked out in their head, it’s over. Because the other person will never be able to live up to the fantasy. No matter how hard they try, or what they do, they are already fighting a losing battle. And there’s little worse than the frustration of being up against something that doesn’t exist.
But we do these things to each other. We either forget that someone is a person and see them as an object, or we project a personality onto a person that doesn’t quite match up with the one they possess. Then we’re disappointed. Because we are the tragic heroes of our lives; assholes who must right our own wrongs. Disgruntled, we try to move on, feeling uncomfortable and unhappy. Why do we do these things? Why do we put ourselves through this?
Mostly because we yearn for a connection with another. But something has hurt us in the past, barring us from being able to connect in a healthy manner. Unsatisfied we’re left continuously searching for that connection, we’re desperate for it, and our insecurities and inhibitions keep us from truly opening up to another person. Which causes us to be inadvertently careless with other people. Even though our carelessness has nothing to do with that person, but ourselves, it still affects the other person, usually negatively. Now that person carries a piece of our pain and they are going to have to spend some time realizing that it had nothing to do with them, but the other person. Then, they’re going to have to accept that, which, hopefully, will make them stronger as they move on from the situation.
Seventh grade, a boy let his friends be rude to me after I turned him down because I wasn’t ready for a boyfriend. Their being rude to me has affected my romantic interactions ever since. Why did he do that? He was hurt and wanted me to feel it? Maybe? I don’t know. I don’t know what his situation actually was, but it led to him being rude to me. Someone I had previously considered a friend, turned out to be thoughtless. And this is perhaps the reason I have trouble believing that a man who is interested in me can be both a friend and an intimate. It was the seventh grade, I certainly wasn’t emotionally mature enough to deal with whatever was wrong with him. What happened was I learned how to hold my head up and act like I wasn’t bothered. To show him that he had hurt my feelings would have meant admitting defeat, my twelve year old brain told me. I wasn’t going to engage, I wasn’t going to show him that he, a boy, could get me down. And, yet, in that moment something did change.
I still wasn’t ready for a boyfriend, that much remained the same, but now, to be vulnerable was a terrible thing. That a man could get inside and cause pain was unacceptable. Men, I knew, had caused women so much pain and suffering over the centuries. I knew that every time a man hurt a woman it was backed by centuries of close-mindedness and hate, institutionalized sexism passed down from generation to generation. And I, the young feminist I was, wasn’t about to let him get to me. Except I did. He got to me and I let it affect me, and I didn’t confront him. Because I was twelve and didn’t understand that confronting him and clearing the air was the best move. Instead I held on to my discomfort and insult and let it affect my interactions with other boys and men.
In the past I have let men see me as a sexual object and not a person, not necessarily wrong, but since it stems from an attempt to not let any one man get too close it was not the healthiest behavior. But, like most people, I have learned from my past experiences and strive to not make the same mistakes again. I try to be more open and let people in. Being closed-off, everyone will tell you, is a lonely way to live, but, sometimes, it’s also something a person needs to figure out for themselves. Their friends, loved ones, books, and movies might help by showing and teaching them this (so keep being there for your friends), but sometimes still a person needs to process in their own way and time. That’s equally important to becoming a stronger person, to figuring out who you are, and being the person you want to be.
That boy was wrong to let his friends be rude to me, and that man should have asked me before he touched me, and that other man shouldn’t have fantasized so much about what it would be like to be in a relationship with me. They were wrong. But it’s also important for me to face what has happened to me, what I have done, accept that it happened, deal with it, and move on. We all have baggage and it is up to each of us to let it go, not let it affect how we interact with other people. Because not every man is going to be that boy in the seventh grade, it would be unfair of me to assume he is; and not every man is going to be thoughtless and careless and I shouldn’t be so with him. We need to give people, including ourselves, some slack. Remember we don’t know their story. And, most importantly, remember other people are, each of them, a person.