Savage Love Oct 12, 2021 at 3:55 pm

Mind the Gap

JOE NEWTON

Comments

102

I do have experience with being in bed with insistent sex pests, including sometimes violent ones. That is the last comment I'll make to defend myself against accusations that take the form of "if you can't comprehend xxx, it means you've had no experience with yyy."

I'm not trolling. I do have a different viewpoint. I'm not saying anything for the purpose of starting an argument. I'm genuinely interested in how people see this differently. I was aware when I started that mine was the minority opinion on this group.

103

Fichu @102, okay then. Thanks for clarifying that being unable to project yourself into a situation you've never been in isn't your issue. I was giving you the benefit of the doubt. Well done you, then, for having the presence of mind to deal with sexual assaults the way we all wish we had done in retrospect. Please do try to have more empathy and sympathy for those folks who didn't, or at least realise that your minority opinion can be a hurtful one to people who are already feeling pretty awful. (FYI, when I was 19 I was attacked by a literal stranger in a dark alley, who threatened me with a knife and tried to rape me. My body refused to cooperate even after I'd stopped screaming, accepted the inevitable and gone limp. Hurrah my body. I was able to seize the element of surprise and escape. Do I think that everyone is capable of escaping from rapists? No, I think I was incredibly lucky and I would never presume to tell anyone else who'd been through that what they "should have" done.)

104

Fichu @ 102 “I do have a different viewpoint.” No, you don’t. Your viewpoint is so basic it already occurred to everybody including the LW. In fact, your viewpoint is pretty much the standard when people are raped.

105

BDF@103
I'm very happy that thank goodness you were able to escape! I imagine that you were harmed by it nonetheless, just by having had that attack happen to escape from.

It's truly horrifying that it seems that every woman I know has been assaulted.

106

@105 p.s.
So I googled.

The first number I saw was that "1 our to every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape"
https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

But then I saw according to a "new survey...[which] included a larger, more nationally representative sample", it's 27%.
51% experienced "Unwelcome sexual touching", 34% experienced "Being physically followed" and 77% experienced "Verbal sexual harassment". And keep in mind that those numbers reflect a pool with respondent ages 18 and above (my point being that women might have assaults in their future not counted in the numbers).
https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment

107

We are all in agreement. If the LW has a time machine, she should get in it and take other action somewhere. This is a shared viewpoint. No one wants this option more than the LW. This option isn’t possible so discussing it is cruel, especially if the LW is asking for advice on something else.

108

I like what EricaP said upthread about how/when to respond with advice (or thoughts along those lines) in situations like this if someone speaks to us about an assault.

But this is an advice column, and part of what we do in the comments is flesh things out and work on ideas for the benefit of not just the LW (who may well not read the comments at all) but for all or us and whoever else reads the comments. So I think slightly different rules are in order here. And it bothers me how completely Fichu is being jumped on for asking what seem to me fair questions. It's not about blaming a victim.

I understand the party line here is that if anyone says anything like "Maybe action x could have been done in a situation like this" then we accuse them of victim-blaming and shut them up. And I agree that if someone said directly to the LW, "You should have done x," that would make the assault victim feel worse. So it's a subtle place to be, conversationally. But to shut down the conversation completely, even when participants are disclaiming and phrasing things carefully and speaking in generalities or about /their own experiences/--that feels like infantilizing the victim. And it feels like part of the larger "agree with us or leave" dynamic that is governing a lot of public discourse these days, and I find that really disconcerting.

And before I get jumped on, I'll add that despite having been pretty lucky, I too have had a sexual-assault-adjacent moment in life. And I do think it's worthwhile to think it over and try to decide which of the many choices I made that day might have been slightly adjusted in order to avoid it. Obviously the best thing would have been for the man involved to be a better person, but as I have no control over that, it does me no good to think about it. What does me good--and HAS done me good, since then, in sexual moments--is to decide what protections I can add into my own actions. Simply "don't get into that situation" doesn't cut it, as I enjoy sex and I plan to have sex with people, some of whom I don't know that well.

Bi @103: Fichu never said she behaved the way she wished she had at that moment. Just that she's had those moments. Why do you accuse her of having no empathy? It is perhaps her empathy that makes her want to have a "what to do next time" conversation. I certainly feel that way.

109

Ms Fan - I thought AMAB non-binary.

110

I just re-read some of the comments and I should have re-read them before. I think Fichu could have stated her original point more delicately, and not directed it at the LW in particular. I see why people were upset.

But I do think we shut down this conversation too much. Maybe I can get more at what I wanted to say by rephrasing the whole thing to be about my circumstance, instead of a LW, since I'm not sensitive about it. So I'll try to ask it that way. Why didn't I get up and leave? In my case, I was in my own apartment and I was fairly intoxicated (not by alcohol, if that matters). So maybe a question is: why didn't I tell him to leave? I was not in fear for my life. I let it happen because it seemed "easier," but by what metric? It was easier to allow someone to have sex with me that I did not want than to tell them to get out? Why? And, more critically, what do I do now that may help me avoid that in the future? (I say "may" since of course we know there are no guarantees.)

There are things I wish I had known. Some are obvious and the sort of thing that I guess everyone feels we all know now and should stop saying (but despite that, I didn't know it), for instance, matching a man drink for drink (or in my case, drug for drug) is likely to leave you far more incapacitated than the man, and it's a good idea to find some technique to balance that, e.g., have water every other drink, don't have cocktails if the guys are having beers, etc. But there are things that are maybe less obvious or in some subtle way more difficult--those are the things I'd wish people had talked to me about. (Perhaps I'll try to produce some examples in a bit.)

111

Fichu @101: I don't think you're a troll. I just didn't agree with you on grey zones of consent.

I'm a cashew man (I tried typing "cishet" a couple times, but autocorrect wasn't having it) so I would stay out of shoulda-coulda-woulda discussions in response to letters about sexual assault, and I hesitate to even write this... but I'll agree with ciods that people ought to be able to have those discussions, trusting they have good intent.

112

I haven't been paying enough attention to figure out anything to say.

But IJWTS that, being a simple literal person, this struck me as a slightly comic excerpt (way out of context, no offense Zinaida, I promise that I get the context):

"I do have a different viewpoint."
"No, you don’t."

Because, you know, /at/least/ the viewpoint that one has a different viewpoint has turned out to be a different viewpoint. This seems symbolic of something or other.

113

I absolutely love “cashew” for “cishet.”

Okay. So. Here are a few things I wish I’d known in my early twenties (when my assault-adjacent moment happened). They aren’t applicable to the situation the LW was in, but they are the the sort of thing I hadn’t yet processed at that age. I realize they probably qualify as obvious to most of the regulars, who I think are mostly all old enough to have learned these lessons, but they weren’t obvious to me in my twenties. (Um, does anyone in their twenties read these comments? Am I just preaching to the choir?)

I would be interested to hear any other contributions people would add, assuming we all try to do so carefully.

1a. It’s not presumptuous to think that a male friend may be interested in a sexual relationship with you. Of course they aren’t all interested in that, but some/many are, and it’s not a sign that you’re egotistic if you assume that and work from there. In the case of my incident (and at several other times in my life), I would have behaved differently if I hadn’t thought I shouldn’t assume that someone who was a friend wanted more unless they said so explicitly.

1b. If a male friend suggests spending time with you alone, have it in your mind that they may be interested in shifting the nature of the friendship to include sexual activity, and if that isn’t something you want, have a few clear sentences ready; in addition, pace yourself with drugs or alcohol such that you can use those sentences if you need to. (I guess that latter is said a lot, but it so often comes as “don’t drink” or “don’t get drunk,” and that’s not useful given how social situations work, so I’m adding #2 below.)

Alcohol is processed faster by muscle than by fat. Men generally have more muscle (as a ratio of body mass) than women do. This means that even at the same weight, a man’s body will process alcohol faster than a woman’s, often by a factor of two. And of course, men often weigh more. Because I think people learn better from specific examples: if a woman weighs 120 and a guy weighs 180 (half again as much as she does), he would need to drink three times as much to be as drunk as she is. In other words, if you’re matching a guy drink for drink, you’re probably three times as drunk as he is. (Give or take.)
Sometimes being harsh or “mean” to someone in the moment is a kinder thing to do for them in the long term than letting bad behavior slide. It teaches them that their behavior needs to change, and that will benefit them overall, not to mention people they interact with in the future. Don’t be afraid of being blunt now and then. It doesn’t make you a mean person. (And being called a “bitch” is just not that bad a result.)

(Note, again, that by these standards I think the LW did all she should/could have done. I am not trying to talk about her particular situation, but only about things I wish I had better understood when I was younger. This isn't a thorough list, obviously, but it's some of the big ones for me.)

One aspect that I think can complicate the issue is that it’s hard for a young person to want to think ill of someone they like or are interested in or are friends with. When the dialogue about assault so heavily focuses on the perpetrator and the language used includes words like “predator,” it can backfire, it can cause a situation where people aren’t prepared because they can’t imagine whoever they’re with as a predator or a bad person. So however we define things later, I think it helps to have some moderate language that someone might imagine applying beforehand, if that makes sense (not sure how clear I’m being here.) Anyway, that’s part of why I phrased a few of those the way I did.

114

Hmm. My numbers got lost except 1a and 1b. I vaguely remember people mentioning this a while ago, but I've forgotten how to fix it. Anyway, the alcohol one was meant to be numbered 2, and the harsh/mean one was 3.

115

I don't recall the exact rules.

I think one should avoid ever starting a paragraph with a number and a period. A number followed by a parenthesis works great though.

Completely aside from sexual assault, it's probably a good idea to communicate rather than assume about friendships that involve genders people are attracted to.

Here it is Tuesday, and I haven't made a single comment relevant to a letter!

116

LuLu @94, they have been married for sixteen years, like they are pretty intimate after all those years, and you started off putting her down for her perceptions, and suggesting how she express her perceptions like they had just met. Sure, Dan set the tone for going that way.. the old chestnut..
And who knows whether he’s always shaved or it’s just a recent thing, and she doesn’t like it.
LuLu meet Fan, the know it all who lives on this thread. I don’t read her comments because blocking, but I caught that bit scrolling past.
/ Surely there is a difference between victim blaming & encouraging women’s agency. AGE did email this person after, saying why she won’t play again & that her boundaries were violated. Her agency found expression, after the event.
Good point ciods @113.. feminists in the 70’s ran ‘assertiveness classes,’ to help women find the language to throw off people who impose themselves on one.
The issue is always will they get violent if a woman speaks up assertively & maybe in the moment with a hook up & miles from home, AGE didn’t know.

117

My heart aches for AGE, who is trying so hard: she worries that she didn't follow the campsite rule; she worries that she is somehow at fault because she attempted to hook up with a younger person.

This has nothing to do with age and AGE did nothing wrong. She is wondering whether this was sexual assault, and yes, AGE, as others have said, this was a sexual assault. I like the expression "sex pest," because it so accurately describes the situation that I think many women have been in: you're pestered and pestered and pestered or you say no, and remove a hand, and 15 minutes later, it's back. A lot of times women feel exactly as AGE describes: worn down; It seems to be less hassle to just lie there and let it happen. And then you don't know what to call it, and you don't know if you're to blame.

I don't know why it's so hard to either get up and leave or kick the other person out, but since this happens thousands of times per day, I am not going to try to analyze, or explain, but rather to just acknowledge the ubiquity of the experience and to address a few points. Not the one about alcohol consumption; that's been done. In AGE's case, there may not have been a lot of alcohol, or any, at play, but the points that ciods makes about drinking are good ones.

In my experience, the younger the man, the pushier he is and the less likely he is to really respect boundaries. So yes, part of this unfortunate situation could be because the man was young--I recall fubar talking about the way he could tell young men would be in thrall to "my dick! My dick!,"and the way this guy behaved was the way almost every single young man I knew in my youth behaved. I also think that the younger the woman, the less comfortable she feels standing up for herself in a more assertive way. AGE didn't say how long after she transitioned this was, but I like the way others are suggesting that she's sort of having a second adolescence, and that is part of what contributed to this ugly scene, in my opinion.

I can also understand why AGE felt trapped (if she did feel trapped): she was not in her home or near friends; she'd traveled out of state and this might have been in a hotel/motel room.

If I could offer one piece of hard-earned insight to AGE going forward and anyone/everyone else: once you have to tell someone "no" after you've been making out or doing something that you consider a gentle warm up, the odds are very high that they're going to keep trying. I suppose you could give the benefit of the doubt and give someone one more chance. But I've never been with someone young who could put the brakes on after getting wound up and assuming that sex was definitely going to happen, especially if there had been planning going on for days or even weeks. I'm not blaming AGE--everyone has the right to withdraw sex at any time. But once someone ignores that "no"once, and if NOTHING ELSE CHANGES--not the location, not a complete cessation of activity, nothing, then I think one should assume that the pest will continue trying to pester. Remember the Azziz Ansari debacle from a few years back: it sounded very similar: they were fooling around/making out; she stopped things when they went further than she wanted. He seemed to respect that for a few minutes and then started back up again. Rinse and repeat.

The problem is that there really is only one way to bring this pestering for sex to an end, and it is that either the one being pestered gets up and leaves, or makes the pest leave. And as several of us have observed, that is far, far easier said than done for many women.

I think one thing that we don't acknowledge is that lots of women don't want people to think badly of them; they don't want to be a "bitch;" they don't want to be a "prude." And if they had expectations of some kind of fun sexual experience beforehand, it's hard to throw the bucket of cold water on that. Add to that, being in an unfamiliar environment, and it's even less likely that the response is so often to just let them do what they want--to get it over with--and maybe to try to absent yourself mentally or emotionally. But that never ends well.

To me, the most infuriating thing about this letter is that 4 years later, this woman is still wondering what SHE did wrong, haunted by the thought or feeling that this is her fault, and I'd bet a zillion dollars that the now 24-year-old man has never once wondered if he did anything wrong. Hopefully, he matures, but I don't think that people like this do.

I don't know what to do about that.

118

@100 WA-HOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! Congratulations, BiDanFan, on scoring this week's highly vied for Big Hunsky honors! Savor your newfound numeric good fortune and bask in the glory. :D

@101 BiDanFan: Many thanks! I just finished reading Trigger Warning last night and have started reading Coraline, which I am really enjoying, too. Smoke and Mirrors is next.
My surge in creative juices has been amazing lately. I am in the middle of piece #5 of 7, page 1 of 5, full orchestra, with more to come! :D

119

@103 BiDanFan: Oh, god, Bi, I am so sorry you had so awful an experience as that! I can commiserate. I, too, just narrowly avoided getting raped in the woods just two doors down from my childhood house, and by a man who was the father of a girl I knew whose family came up every summer to stay at their beach cabin. He didn't threaten me with a knife, but lewdness is equally and inexcusably horrid. And I too, was nineteen at the time.
Sending big hugs, positrons, and VW beeps.
XO,
Griz

120

@119: 1983 was a really weird year for me.

121

ciods & nocutename: thanks for demonstrating that people /can/ discuss difficult topics, and thanks for some the best writing I've read here in a long time.

As a cashew born into an age when sex is something that women are perceived to withhold and that men, fuelled by alcohol and testosterone, scheme and press to obtain, I can - regretfully - confirm everything you've written.

In particular, trying again after a "no" is a 100% guarantee that the "no" was not heard or respected. Oh, you don't want to have sex? Let's go skinny dipping instead!

I have no advice to offer anyone here on this topic, but I'll share the advice I gave to my daughters: it is fair to assume this is what men are like until they've demonstrated otherwise.

122

@121 if I could edit...

It is fair to assume this is what a man is like, until he has demonstrated otherwise.

123

@78. Lava. A traumatic experience is typically one where you can't confront your hurt; the avoidance is part of what makes it a trauma. In this case, I would think AGE has found it hard to concede 'the guy raped me', not just because it was a gray-area case, but because the situation was one where, since she the older person, it looked more as if she was exploiting the younger guy.

The first person to have a go at trying to work out why AGE might cross state lines for sex was endless_ork @48 (saying it may have seemed to her hard for trans people to find love). I thought most other people just pussyfooted round the issue. It's getting to the point where virtually the only honest and substantive points are those blocked by the bien-pensants.

124

@122: I appreciate the edit, fubar; because of course it's not hashtag all men (yes, I do know how to make a hashtag for real).

And you validated my idea and point that many cashew men grow out of this. I don't want to assign blame--except to those actual predators who count on women's difficulty with getting up and leaving or heaving men out, and/or those who deliberately manipulate the situation so as to assault.

I think that at least three, maybe four factors contribute to the situation that AGE found herself in.

1). Women--and this seems to be more of a condition when they're younger, though there's no guarantee that every or any woman will ever conquer it--have a difficult time getting up and leaving or kicking a man out when he is a sex pest. I know I am generalizing, and hopefully, Gen Z will find it easier to be more assertive. I think the "fight, flight, or freeze" response kicks in easily, and it seems to manifest most often in "freeze" mode when the situation is one of pestering, perhaps being done by an acquaintance, as opposed to a threat of violence or severe bodily harm, perhaps being made (sometimes implicitly) by a stranger or someone that isn't considered a peer or a friend.

2). Young men, in particular, seem to be at the mercy of their dicks a lot of the time. I don't think many women truly understand--having not experienced the equivalent themselves--of the hold their libido can have over them. I assume it has to do with the very high testosterone levels surging through them between the onset of puberty and somewhere around their mid-30s. I have this comment section and some of the more interesting discussions that have taken place on it over the years, to thank for widening and deepening my understanding of what it must be like to be a man. I think the pull of the penis wanting what it wants is so strong that it seems to override other thoughts or thinking altogether sometimes.

3). Men have been socialized to be sexual aggressors and to believe that many "no"s are really "yes"es waiting to happen with a little more encouragement. They are encouraged to keep trying.
3 A) And there's often a grain of truth to this, in that lots of women don't want to be perceived to be "easy" or slutty, and either sort of depend on their resistance being chipped away or feel a relief at being absolved of their agency when it comes to sex because it lets them off the hook. It's sometimes remarkable how weirdly this works. I had a student who had had multiple abortions and used the morning after pill (emergency contraception) more times than I can count. (She was essentially the embodiment of every right-wing anti-abortionist who thinks that women use abortion as birth control). When I found this out, I talked with her and wondered why she wasn't using an IUD or the pill or the patch, (or using a cervical cap/diaphragm) it turned out that she didn't want to admit to herself that she was sexually active, especially with multiple men, none of whom were serious boyfriends, because that was at odds with the cultural values in which she'd been raised. Now, clearly, this woman was an outlier, and not representative of all or even most young women, but having had friends who behaved similarly irresponsibly by not preparing for the contraception-possibility of heterosexual sex, I think that a watered-down version of this thinking/behavior might apply to a lot of young women.

4). I think to a man who's wound up and hot and heavy, hearing a "no" and then having the woman continue to stay and make out or continue whatever type of sexual activity they were engaging in, sends a very mixed signal. I am absolutely not blaming the women--nor the men, really--but I think people need to be aware of this.

If you're feeling that things are going too fast or getting out of control, you shouldn't just say, "no," and redirect someone's hand. You should stop the sexual activity on the spot. Easier said than done, I realize. If you end up being assaulted, that wasn't your fault, as men have agency, but when I hear people talk about how to make sure that this type of scenario doesn't happen again, this is what I want to say (and I speak from the experience of having been pestered into sex, myself).

And we need to keep pushing the idea of affirmative consent, that what anyone should need to hear or have demonstrated through unambiguous body language is not just not a "no," or even an "okay," but a resounding "FUCK YEAH, THIS IS WHAT I WANT" (and doesn't that make for the kind of enthusiastic sex that most of us want, too?). We need to do this in school, at home, and, crucially, in pop culture and through the arts. When the song "Blurred Lines" can be a hit (and one of the models in the video says later that the singer sexually assaulted her during the taping), it's an attitude that contributes to the problem. And where is the corresponding mega hit about clear, unambiguous lines? It's not "WAP," which I like (it's a catchy song), but which approaches sex as a commodity that women should monetize as a form of self-empowerment--a limited viewpoint that's not exactly mainstream and which I think doesn't help heal the rifts in male/female dynamics, especially for men who don't have great success with women and seem likely to drift into incel-land with its misogyny and self-hatred.

Just as the medieval Catholic Church used the arts of stained glass, sculpture, painting, and theater (the English Mystery plays) to carry on an education campaign about Christianity to a largely-illiterate population, if movies, comics, pop and rap music, video games, tv shows, and all the ways that we entertain ourselves, included a lot of the dual message of affirmative consent and the empowerment to get up and walk away, I think that it might help a lot.

I would recommend the three episodes ("Questions," "Answers," and "Inheritance") of the limited series, "No," by Kaitlin Prest on "The Heart" podcast (https://www.theheartradio.org/no-episodes) for a really good take on the subject.

I'd also recommend that everyone read both "Girls and Sex," and "Boys and Sex," by Peggy Orenstein--and if you have kids, give them a set of both books.

125

Edit to #124: "The Heart" is a podcast, not a magazine or journal. So I was recommending listening to the three-part series, "No," rather than reading it.

126

fubar@122
It seems it is not safe to not assume that.

I can't imagine any man disagreeing. The stereotype about men being concerned for their daughters is there for a reason. Just imagining having a daughter dating men makes me nervous.

127

Ms Cute - [I think one thing that we don't acknowledge is that lots of women don't want people to think badly of them; they don't want to be a "bitch;" they don't want to be a "prude."]

Who's "we"? Around here it may not be stated that way all that often, but it seems clearly implied in many adjacent points about women's socialization. At least "we" have not yet quite arrived at the Louisa Musgrove point of regarding B-like conduct as a virtue.

This does seem to be an area where the line between explanations and excuses gets particularly murky.

xxx

While I can see Ms Fan's taking the line that "What You Should Have Done Was Exactly What You Did" to be similar to how I always think that anyone who divorced a spouse did the right thing (even if I would not have recommended the divorce before it occurred), I rather agree with Ms Ods' chafing under the attempt to socialize those who comment into fearing being (or being called) Victim Blamers.

Had, say, my sister told me she was about to try X with a new partner and asked what to do fi she wanted to stop and the partner resorted to PPP in a manner worthy of Mr Collins, I might be able to provide a suggestion of considerable utility that I would hope she would be able to perform should the unfortunate need arise. It would not be her fault is she couldn't, or had gone into the encounter without the idea in her head. If there is no way to frame what one would hope one's favourite sister would think of doing (or in Ms Grizelda's case, her best friend) without eliciting the scarlet VB, then the discussion just degenerates into the Compassion Olympics.

Similarly, even if she agrees with her friend group consensus about age gaps, LW1 needn't beat herself up for not having had modern woke consensus about age gaps in her head four years ago. The subject was around then, but conclusions were far less settled. One adjusts to new thinking and moves on. Twenty years ago, a strongly leftist university had something called Ask Her Out Week, an attempt to increase dating and reduce the pernicious effects of hookup culture. One can imagine how cringe-worthy the idea would be considered today.

128

@108. ciods. I think there's a distinction, first, between what someone might say to themselves as an accurate description of the situation e.g. 'she should have left' and what's judged kind and/or therapeutically appropriate, or effective, to say to the victim i.e. don't say out aloud 'you should have left', because that could well come over as victim-blaming or revictimising.

There may be a difference in Fichu's beliefs and those of her critics in how easy it would have been for AGE to extricate herself from the situation. Here I'd think, 'not at all easy'. The considerations are the usual ones--that someone can freeze when their date violates a boundary or pesteringly seems set to violate it, not taking 'no' for an answer--and also at least three sets of specific circumstances, in this case: how far she has driven from home, and how this might cloud her judgment; the fact that she has consented to some forms of sex (we don't have the details of what these are, with her living newly as a trans woman; but if we did, we would almost certainly sympathise with her unsureness as to what was rape); and the issues to do with age and her being older (so more plausibly in the position of a predator). (Of course, the reasons it is hard to fight back against an imminent rapist are not particular to her age-differential or trans ones).

129

nocutename @124: Unfortunately, the not hashtag all men movement seems designed to torpedo the whole discussion. To them, we can only say of course not hashtag /all/ men, but can we talk about our culture in which the behaviour of many men is considered so normal, predictable, acceptable, that it's women who have to manage it, and not those very men?

It's fundamentally a man problem. And good men who have never committed an assault, or knowingly pushed through anyone’s “no”, must know that. I think they do.

Regarding your point 3, that is indeed what men learn, and the fact that it’s often successful reinforces the lesson. She said no, but I persisted and we had sex, and she enjoyed it, and then we went for a walk and held hands. No harm, no foul.

To be clear, I’m not talking about situations like AGE’s where sexual assault was clear and unambiguous, but rather about our culture of fuzziness around consent or, more precisely, our culture’s tacit acceptance of men’s fuzziness around obtaining consent.

Women can be unclear about consent too, and I had prepared an anecdote from experience to illustrate that. But it risks muddying the discussion, so I’ll hold off.

Is there a solution? How about Fetlfe? When it works best, it's a self-regulating community of people built around women and men openly wanting sex. Affirmative, ongoing consent is central. Inclusivity is built in. If we could export that to society at large, perhaps we’d be better off. (Probably would need to get it working better on Fetlife first, though.)

Disclaimers: Not all men. Some women. Hashtag.

130

nocute, I could hardly agree more with your points @124. I don’t have much to add apart from my strong agreement, but I’ll contribute a few thoughts.

Many years ago I read an article written by a transman about the way testosterone affected him once he started taking it during his transition, and it was eye-opening. I just did some Googling and unfortunately I couldn’t find the article—I read it in print, o yea so long ago—but it seems other transmen have written about similar experiences. I remember clearly two things from the article (much more was said, but I’ve forgotten): one, that after taking testosterone, his fantasies became much more explicit (less romance, more genitalia) and frequent (he mentioned being turned on by every other person on the subway); two, that he found himself angry far more often, and that incidents which would have made him sad before now made him violently pissed off. Both these new states were in comparison to his previous self, but still, they stuck with me as very likely representative (in a broad-generality sense) of the difference between men and women. Exceptions exist, etc., etc., and to the extent that those generalizations are true, I am sure men learn to deal with those emotional states just as women (so much as they are inclined) learn not to cry at the drop of a hat (again, excuse the stereotypes, I’m reaching for a middle-of-the-bell-curve moment here). The newness he describes is part of why I believe people who talk about transitioning as creating a second adolescence; you have to learn coping mechanisms for a whole new set of defaults. And it’s a pretty different set. So yeah, I agree that women/girls often have no idea at all what the inside of a man/boy’s head is like when it comes to sex. (And vice versa.)

Nocute’s point #3 is spot-on, including the 3a, and I have no idea what we can do about it. Fubar’s comment about the benefit of places like Fetlife, which allow for women to enthusiastically express an interest in sex, is a good one. At the same time I’ve read several things recently about how too many (young) women feel pressured to be up for causal sex, that they engage in a hook-up culture that they really don’t like because they want to be the “cool girl,” but in fact they aren’t interested in casual sex and only hope to secure a relationship. The stuff I’ve read along those lines seems to act like the free expression of sexual interest which was theoretically to the benefit of women has backfired. As a woman who’s all for casual sex, I’m extremely sorry to hear this, but it doesn’t strike me as total hooey, either.

For many years I taught at a liberal arts college where the student body was 60% female. I witnessed a lot of competition among the female undergraduates for boyfriends, and the format was mostly that of being more sexy than the next girl. It was pretty clear to me that many of the girls were not comfortable in that role, but they knew no other way to be desirable. In addition, the school had a religious affiliation, and although it didn’t seem to be taken particularly seriously by either the faculty or the students, some mild religious background was common. I would easily believe that (a) many of the girls really didn’t want to be sexually active—at least, not outside a serious relationship—but felt that they perhaps needed to, to get a boyfriend, and (b) many of the girls /did/ want to have sex, but given their background, didn’t feel like they /ought/ to want to. And how the hell was a boy at that school to know the difference on a good day, much less when everyone’s drunk after a party?

As you might imagine, sexual assaults were pretty common. And although I am sure there were some intentional predators as well as a fair number of just plain assholes, I suspect there were a lot of confused “I thought she was okay with it” guys, as well. It was heartbreaking.

131

@ciods, I think you may be thinking about Griffin Hansbury (https://griffinhansbury.com/bio/). He's a transman who wrote and spoke about his experiences on an episode of "This American Life" first broadcast in 2002 and rerun in 2017, called "Testosterone" (https://www.thisamericanlife.org/220/transcript). I remember it vividly. To give the topic equal time, as elementary schools in Texas are being commanded to do regarding the Holocaust, I refer you to Rae Rosenberg's response, "You Were a Misogynist Before Testosterone" (https://byrslf.co/you-were-a-misogynist-before-testosterone-9f656c3c29c6), with which I disagree, but which raises some valid points.

At the risk of bringing down the wrath of some, I'm going to add my theory to why a transwoman aged 26 might be surprised at the pestering ability and behavior of a 19-y/o cashew man. AGE doesn't say how long before this experience she transitioned, so this might be irrelevant, but here goes.

Disclaimer: I am not a TERF. If someone feels herself to be a woman or female, no matter what gender she was assigned at birth, I believe her and I respect her identity. Gender is a very complex thing, and can have little to do with externally visible genitalia. Women are women whether or not they have periods, get pregnant, give birth, breastfeed, or go through puberty--and not all cis women (cashew women?) do all of those things, either.

Some time ago and again quite recently, Lavagirl posited that having female reproductive organs/anatomy shapes women's responses to things in ways men cannot understand. I don't disagree, but I don't think that's the way it works. I think there's something about moving through the world and being perceived as female or male from childhood, through puberty and adolescence, and into early adulthood, and crucially, being RESPONDED TO as male or female that really shapes a person. There are experiences that virtually all members of a particular gender share and I think they are, if not defining, grounding in a way.

So when a person, say AGE, arrives at comparative adulthood (let's assume she transitioned in her early 20s), having never been reacted to as female even though she may have always known herself to be female, she's missed a lot of experiences that are formative for women. And she's likely to have missed the unfortunately formative experiences of sex pests pushing and pushing one past stated boundaries.

Which could be why, when faced with what to many women sounds like an (ugh) "typical" encounter, she is left wondering if this was her fault because she violated an age norm (by not that much, btw), rather than the probably more common self-blame of "did I lead him on?" that many adolescent girls and young women have as a response, or just the resigned acceptance that this is how men are.

Hopefully, as more and more children speak up early and forcefully about being misgendered and as more and more parents, teachers, school administrators, coaches, grandparents, etc. affirm these children's gender identities and expressions (not to mention non-binary children), this will be less of a difficulty, especially if that results in the person moving through public life in their true gender and being responded to that way. I know that many young people of all points on the gender spectrum seem to have much less of a "blame the victim" attitude, though again, it also depends on what culture or subculture one was raised in and came of sexual age in.

132

WA-HOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! No numeric honors here, other than the celebration tonight of 20 years since Griz's divorce from a toxic, abusive marriage finalized. I have been moving onward and upward since, forever a work in progress.

Red red wine and dark chocolate tonight with another viewing of Thelma and Louise at midnight!

133

Nocutename @124 wrote: "If you're feeling that things are going too fast or getting out of control, you shouldn't just say, 'no,' and redirect someone's hand. You should stop the sexual activity on the spot. Easier said than done, I realize."

My advice in that situation is first mindfulness: notice yourself wanting a different situation. Then suggest something normal but different from what's going on (like "I'd like a drink of water" or "I need to use the restroom.")

If he lets you up, great. Take your time getting the water or whatever. Think about what you want next. Do you want to leave? Is that practical? Do you want to fake a headache or fake the need to help a friend in crisis? Maybe putting your clothes back on is a good start?

If he doesn't let you up to get a drink, then he's an abusive asshole. You don't have to tell him that right away, or ever, but now you have clarity. You know you're in bed with an abusive asshole and you don't have to second-guess yourself or think about whether you still want to date him. Do what you need to do, and get away from him when you can.

134

ciods @113: "1b. If a male friend suggests spending time with you alone, have it in your mind that they may be interested in shifting the nature of the friendship to include sexual activity, and if that isn’t something you want, have a few clear sentences ready."

That's good advice that might have helped 17-year-old me.

More ciods @113: "people aren’t prepared because they can’t imagine whoever they’re with as a predator or a bad person"

Yes, and that's the point of proposing a small and normal change (like getting up to use the bathroom). If that request is refused and he won't let you up, it's easier to start reframing the situation as more serious in your mind. ("Oh, I thought we were fooling around but apparently I'm being held against my will.")

It's like asking a cop "am I free to leave?" If they say "no," now you know things are serious and you'd better shut up till you get a lawyer.

135

I am concerned about fantastic_mrs_fox. She has been absent this entire SL comment thread. I hope she is okay.

136

It's been 18 days since Fantastic Mrs. Fox commented. I've been thinking she got sick of it.

137

@133: Excellent advice, EricaP! I wish I had thought of it when I was younger.
I'll make sure to pass it along.

138

@133 EricpP: +1 I second (SECNOD?) nocutename's response @137. Excellent advice.

@136 curious2: Sadly, that was the feeling I got, too. If it is true, I am sorry to see a nice commenter like the_fanastic_mrs_fox leave the comment threads. : ( ?

139

@132. Griz. Congratulations on the anniversary!

@131. Nocute. I think your surmise or partial reconstruction of what might have happened with AGE more helpful than your list of broadly-true or undeniable things young men are like. You're surely right that one of the things that makes one the gender one is, here that 'makes you a woman', is being reacted to as female through your girlhood and esp. adolescence; without being exclusionary, this will tend to build up a female 'mindset', and the layers of caution, circumspection (maybe), identification, patterns of desire and habitual behaviors that go with those (maybe--but I'm thinking of things like waiting to be asked out). In this case, we just don't know whether AGE dated in her birth-assigned gender. We don't know how fully or situationally (i.e. in situation- and setting-specific ways) she had transitioned by the time of the incident of abuse. The fact that she drove a way away from where she lived to be with a hookup, though, might suggest that she was 'out' as a woman in some but not all contexts of her life--maybe that she was en femme, maybe that she had only started (or was tentative about) presenting as a woman. Nor do we know the specifics of what the 'rape' or violation or abusive sex act was. Almost certainly we don't need to; but the details might go some way towards explaining why it has taken her so long to start acknowledging that she was abused (and in no way the abuser).

There are of course people (like me) who are gender-ambiguous from age 10 or so on.

140

Zinaida @104 and @107, mic drop.

Curious @105, oh yes, I was terrified to go out after dark (this happened just outside my home) for the next six weeks, and even today, my heart rate increases when I think about it. And on top of that was the self-shaming of, I was lucky, others weren't, I shouldn't feel like a victim. Indeed, I know very few women who haven't been assaulted or harassed, usually on multiple occasions. :(

Ciods @108, no, if anyone blames victims then people who dislike the concept of blaming victims speak up. This is not a "party line"; it's insulting to suggest that multiple people are stating "victim blaming is bad" for any other reason than that they think victim blaming is bad. Please re-read Zinaida's @104 and @107. Fichu IS blaming the victim, not just for failing to avoid being assaulted, but worse, for failing in some supposed duty of care to the person who assaulted her to teach them not to commit sexual assault. (Comment @31) Multiple people aren't speaking up because we want victim-non-blaming brownie points, but because that was a pretty outrageous thing to say.

Certainly, it's worth asking YOURSELF what you could have done differently. No one is arguing it's not. What we're debating is whether it is in any way OK to berate SOMEBODY ELSE because THEY could have done something differently. My answer remains: Hell no, because what Zinaida said: AGE has already done that, just like you did, just like I did, just like every victim does. Fichu's comments are like walking up to someone who's extremely ugly and saying to their face, "You're extremely ugly." Sure it may be true, but it's hurtful to say, so just don't.

Ciods @110: "I see why people were upset." Yay!

Nocute @117: "In my experience, the younger the man, the pushier he is and the less likely he is to really respect boundaries." Very much this! AGE didn't say that her assailant was a man, which is the only reason I didn't make this point myself. But the odds are pretty good that this person was male, due to, as you said so well, the ubiquitous dynamic of pestering for sex as a substitute for seduction. And this message isn't really put out there. The stereotype of the "older creepy man" is well known; the stereotype of the "young horny man with an undeveloped moral compass" is promoted perhaps to teen girls ("boys only want one thing") but not to adult women, some of whom had no sexual experience as teens. AGE learned the hard way and indeed, she shouldn't blame herself.

I have to halt here but I'll echo the kudos to Nocutename, Ciods and Fubar for advancing the discussion from its earlier low point. Hopefully will have time to read and respond to your posts in detail.

141

Thanks, EricaP and nocute. Those were the sorts of things I hoped people might contribute.

nocute @131: I never heard that podcast, but it may well have been some previous writing of Griffin Hansbury's that I'm remembering. I'm not sure. But I did go and read the response you linked to. You won't be surprised, but I wasn't particularly impressed. The author at several points refers to Griffin's harassment of women--although the only example given is that he at one point turned around to check out someone's breasts. (If that qualifies as harassment these days, we're so fucked.) The author also did some serious pearl-clutching over the fact that Griffin said he was more interested in science after taking testosterone, even though it's offered as a personal anecdote and he doesn't generalize. I spent a lot of time thinking about the number of women in STEM fields--I was one, after all--and as a result, I get annoyed when people have a violent, automatic "it can't possibly have anything to do with sex!" response to the fact that there are fewer women in those areas. The situation is complicated, there are lots of reasons, we don't understand all of them, and it's completely possible that some are associated with sex. I understand that people don't want to focus on those reasons, and I agree that our focus should be elsewhere, but acting like there's no possibility that sex/gender contributes at all is just disingenuous. And it's the sort of attitude that makes detractors feel they can ignore your arguments altogether.

/Fair warning: ciods about to get on her stupid farm soapbox, feel free to skip/

About a hundred yards from me there's a ram who would, given half the chance, ram his massive horns repeatedly against a large fence until he shattered it and broke through to get to the ewes on the other side. The ewes, on the other hand, might go over, sniff the ram a bit, maybe wiggle their butt at him, and then return to eating grass. If that's not a real hormonal difference in how important sex is to rams vs. ewes, then what the hell is it? It sure isn't socialization.

We're not sheep. But we are mammals.

142

@ciods: Yes, I was underwhelmed by the response, too, but since it's out there, I thought I might as well link to it.

I understand why people want to downplay or outright dismiss the idea that biology has anything to do with gender or that male and female people have some inherent differences. It can seem like a real barrier to progress, and to feminism and the feminist ideal. But it doesn't do any good to pretend something doesn't exist. I agree wholeheartedly that ignoring a truth gives anti-feminists a weapon.

143

@139 Harriet-by-the-Bulrushes: Thank you. I have since left a very dark previous world behind and am still growing and healing. A lot has changed for the better.

144

Applause to all the posts that I've now read in detail and adding EricaP to the list of luminaries. Sadly I agree with just about all the good advice and observations that have been posted and wish I too hadn't had to learn them the hard way. But perhaps that's what young people are determined to do? Nocute, I agree entirely that as a trans woman AGE was socialised male, so that's not only why she's missed the "boys only want one thing" messages teenage girls get, but also why she's more concerned about whether -she- behaved in an inappropriate way, since boys get the "don't violate someone's consent" messages, not that they seem to be terribly effective as of yet. But it would be good to ask GenZers if they've sunk in and things are better than the way you, Ciods and EricaP describe, which chimes with my GenX experience as well.

145

Fantastic Mrs Fox started a new job recently, which may be why she hasn't had time for these discussions lately. I do miss her contributions and hope she comes back once she settles in.

146

I'm late to this party but I don't see sexual assault in letter one. The younger person was an asshole, but the older person drove to visit them and could have left at any time. Instead they "just got worn down." I've been in that situation and I wouldn't dream of calling it assault when I had the option to leave and chose not to. It's a life lesson and maybe a hard one, but it isn't assault.

I am also grateful to some persistent sexual partners who introduced me to things I love that I never would have consented to without a little persistence.

I think we run the danger defining assault so broadly that it has no meaning anymore.

147

@100: If "this subsidiary part of the discussion is closed," then why did SNIP put so much emphasis on it in his letter? It's clearly important to him.

She may not want to do so, and that's her right, but it's clearly on his mind. It's in his letter on purpose.

148

Sis should mind her own business. Wife should not encourage the affair as it's more likely to end in this sick woman's last moments being full of drama. Goodies pave the road to hell.

149

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