It’s been over a year since I’ve blogged here. A lot has changed, mainly, I am living in Arizona again, with a new career and (somewhat) recently acquired singlehood.
I hadn’t dated casually in almost five years since I had been with my ex for most of that time, and I had to adjust pretty quickly to the culture of dating that I had been spared from for so long. Recently, the horrific tale of the Stanford rape case, which had a media backlash/knee jerk response eerily reminiscent of the 2012 Steubenville rape case, brought the reality of rape culture back into the minds of Americans. Rape culture is everywhere – on college campuses, in our media, in our criminal court proceedings – and I’m starting to think, with new single girl perspective – the world of casual dating.
Let me take you back, in order to help illustrate my point. I used to be friends with someone who has a lot of sex. Some people she was involved with were respectful of her choices, some where not, and some had a problematic approach. I remember vividly, one day in college, when she told me that things hadn’t worked out with one guy in particular. I was surprised, because he was so incredibly interested in her up until that point. When I asked why, she said that apparently the fact that she slept with him on the second or third time they saw each other (I can’t remember exactly, it was a long time ago) turned him off. By doing this, by making herself so readily available, she took away the thrill of the chase. He actually equated her actions to “a deer laying down in front of a hunting dog.” This bothered me immensely and still does to this day, but it seemed to take on new meaning in the last six months or so for me.
When finding myself dating again, I had to re-adjust to the idiosyncrasies and preferences of these new men with whom I was just getting comfortable. With my sexual history, I tend to be pretty reserved and timid, preferring to wait for the guy to make the first move – the first kiss, or anything more than that. I always figured I could simply tell whoever it was if he was going too far, and thus set my boundaries. I figured this was fine and dandy.
“Can I kiss you?” He asked.
“Yes,” I laughed. “Dork, you don’t have to ask.”
“Consent is sexy,” he responded, before stroking my cheek and leaning in for a kiss.
I was so blown away by those three little words. Consent is sexy. I, for some reason, had never recognized my own silence as non-consent.
Another conversation from a few months earlier happened to turn towards the topic of sex. I told someone since I’m so timid, unless the guy makes the first move, nothing will ever happen. He told me that in our culture, he thinks that the woman should always make the first move. This way there is no mistaking that the woman was, at least in that moment, consenting. This made me uncomfortable, and after some thinking I realized it was because I didn’t think it would paint me in a flattering light to make the first move. I wouldn’t even verbalize what I would want someone to do for fear of coming across “the wrong way.” Why would I have spent my whole life thinking this?
All of this called to mind an article I read years ago, and never quite forgot, where the author says women don’t get the opportunity to enthusiastically consent often enough. I sadly cannot find the article to post here, but I remember the author, a man, recounted a tale of a sexual encounter with a woman. He told her to tell him when and if he should stop, thinking that was a thoughtful thing to say. She looked him in the eye and told him that women don’t often get to say “yes” to a man. They are expected to set the limit by saying “no” to certain things and remaining silent if something is okay.
This idea perpetuates rape culture, which is why California passed SB 967 a few years ago making affirmative sexual consent mandatory to prevent rape. But I think it goes further than that – I think this idea reaches its fingers into the very fabric of dating.
I’m sure you have heard the term “wanting what you can’t have?” I’m also sure you’ve seen the numerous articles floating around the internet explaining that showing too much interest in a man (or anyone, I assume, but especially men) is a turn-off to them, because they want the thrill of the chase? The aforementioned hunting dog would like to hunt? Then, of course, you hear about men who are on the prowl for sex, but at the same time don’t respect the women they’ve slept with enough to actually date or marry, because a “respectable” girl would make them work for it? It would take some convincing?
What I’m trying to say is this – not only does rape culture exist, but it’s actually permeated the culture of dating to the point where a girl reciprocating interest and making herself available causes a guy to lose interest in her. For example, I dated (if you could call it that) someone briefly who treated me like the sun shined out my ass – that is, of course, until I expressed that I had feelings for him, too, and was interested in having a proper relationship. Suddenly, I wasn’t the magical goddess he thought I was (his words, not mine) and he moved on to the next girl – a girl who told him she wasn’t interested in him that way. The forbidden fruit.
Rape culture has become so strong and commonplace that it has actually made a woman’s enthusiasm and consent unsexy and undesirable. To the point where a man would prefer to “hunt” a woman who makes him “work for it.” As if convincing someone that they want to be with you is somehow a better option than being with someone who already does.
This also teaches women that, in order to get a man to like you, you have to play “hard to get” to a point so he doesn’t think you’re too eager or that you’re “easy.” “Easy,” we’ve been told, means you’re a “slut,” and being too eager will make a guy lose interest. Therefore, we have to say “no,” up until a certain point, and remain silent as an implicit yes. This is apparently the “attractive” way of doing things. It’s no wonder men have learned the wrong ideas about consent.
Basically, fellas, don’t get caught up in a chase. It’s exhausting and, let’s face it, perpetuating a sexist and dangerous society.
To put a spin on an old classic, if I’m going to be in a relationship with someone, I’d want them to want me to want them.
“I enjoy the power; power of a dog bone, passive but there.”
-Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale”