Gentlemen, I am trying desperately to understand one thing that seems to follow wherever a good amount of you go. Tell me one thing.
What about female fear is sexually appealing to you?
In safe, consensual situations, for some, it can of course be a turn on. From a blindfold in the bedroom all the way to rape fantasies played out between two consenting parties, it’s clear that fear can be a part of the equation for many. To each their own, as long as no one is getting hurt in the process, right?
The problem in that question, no, just the REAL question that I see in all of this has become painfully, intensely important to get an answer to, especially in recent days.
Men, what is it about female fear in non-consensual sexual and non-sexual encounters that is sexually appealing to you?
Catcalling. Groping in public situations. Workplace sexual harassment. Sexual assault.
It’s the power, right? It has to be. It cannot be simply that my terror is your desire, because that is beyond comprehension for me. That is any woman/femme/female presenting person’s deepest fear. That we really DO need to be afraid of 95% of you. That you want to scare us, that you take joy in it. That you’d like to hurt us.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that’s a no for my own mental health.
So. IS it the power?
I’m asking you this because few things in life make me angrier than the memories of instances of this happening to me and quite literally every other woman I know. I’ve met hundreds, I am not kidding, hundreds and probably knocking on thousands, of men in my time that have done these things, and I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve never been raped. I’ve been screamed at, threatened, whispered to, touched, rubbed, flashed, lingeringly touched inappropriately by a professor in college, twice openly masturbated at while the man held direct eye contact with me, and for a month-long nightmare, had a peeping tom who masturbated while staring at me from my fire escape while I slept, leaving tongue licks, face prints, and semen splashes on my bedroom windows. None of these situations were in any way consensual, and they all included me being angry, afraid, or usually some combination of the two while the man in question smiled, laughed, leered, lied about doing it while sneering at me, physically threatened me, and clearly enjoyed himself during the interaction. If I’ve had this happen hundreds of times, if every woman I know has had these things happen to her hundreds of times, why do you wonder why we are angry? Who can say ‘not all men’ with a straight face, knowing that the sheer number of these instances means a scary percentage do or have done these things to women? How could anyone be surprised that many women are sick of feeling scared, coerced, angry, and generally unsafe in the presence of men, both strange and familiar? As we’ve all heard, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. Women would be insane to expect respect and courtesy from men in general, let alone to hope for the chance to exist without being sexualized, intimidated, and worse, because in the end men are generally larger than us, therefore we can almost always be overpowered if a situation were to go bad, and that would be all that would need to happen for yet another woman to become a statistic. Or a 30 year old untested rape kit in the basement of a police station. Or a victim of human trafficking or assault that made it out alive, therefore we should feel lucky and just drop it and be happy with the 3 year sentence the perp received. At best, we are left out of professional opportunities because of our sex. At worst, we are stalked and/or raped and/or killed.
Not to mention the many tropes in our society today that play with this theme. How about the ‘persistent suitor’ platitude? Remember when it was a cute part of your parents’ love story, shit, even in MY love story, that he just wouldn’t give up, wouldn’t leave her alone, no matter what she did? Yeah, it’s also been at times uncomfortable, creepy, and downright scary in my experiences, and it’s far from cute when you really think about it. ‘Stealthing’ is a thing now, where instead of complaining and cajoling to skip the condom in a sexual encounter, when ask your male partner to wear one, they just say they will but then don’t put one on at all or sneak it off during the act, because instead of all the arm-twisting, they’d rather just do whatever they feel like doing and damn the consequences. There’s a scene in one of my favorite shows of all time (I DGAF if it’s basic, it’s a great damned show), Sex and the City, created with the female viewer in mind, where Carrie sees Big again after a breakup, and she consistently tells him no and to leave her alone but he persists, follows her onto an elevator and forces himself onto her, and that somehow was meant to be romantic, even sexy? You know, the old plot point where the heroine of the tale says to her hero ‘no, no… okay, fine’. What of the ‘just the tip’ trope? Yet another example of the normalization of sexual coercion and the slow whittling away of a woman’s will to fight for bodily autonomy and her right to just say fucking NO. The examples never end. You know, the ‘geez, you’re so hormonal/it must be that time of the month’, ‘you’re overreacting/hysterical/crazy’ ‘oh calm down, it’s just ____’ – they are all different angles of the same subject that, I promise you, every woman you know including your mother, grandmother, daughter and femme best friend has heard in her lifetime.
In the Weinstein tape, it’s ‘Don’t embarrass me’, ‘Don’t ruin your friendship with me over 5 minutes’, ‘You’re making a scene and I’m a regular here’, ‘Calm down, I won’t do anything’, even though seconds before he was apologizing for grabbing her breasts, explaining that he’s just ‘used to that’. Weinstein’s excuse (through his lawyers) is that he’s an old man who needs to learn new tricks. FYI bro – THIS WAS NEVER OKAY. Even in the ‘Mad Men’ times, shit, before that and throughout ALL of HISTORY, it’s never been okay to manipulate and denigrate women for the boner it gives you, for whatever reason. Sexual assault isn’t about sex, so go fuck your ‘sex addiction’ excuse, Harvey, R.Kelly, Matt Lauer, John Besh, Andy Dick, Ed Westwick, Al Franken, James Levine, Leonard Lopate, TJ Miller, Laurence Krauss, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Roman Polanski, Terry Richardson, Jereny Piven, Brett Ratner, Jeffrey Tambor, Tom Sizemore, Russell Simmons, Garrison Keillor, Donovan McNabb, Mario Batali, Ben Roethlisberger, Tavis Smiley, Morgan Spurlovk, Chuck Close, Ben Verern, Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier, Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby, Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, the thousands more accused like you and the millions on millions like you who will never be caught, and fuck the fact that your power allowed you to skip going to treatment for your ‘sex addiction’ because you didn’t want to give up your cell phone, so you instead got to choose a plush resort to get away from it all. None of those women wanted to give up their sexual self-determination. Let’s talk about what this is really all about. Fear. Power. Dominance.
I asked the man I’m closest to, my husband, about it, as I’ve been beside myself lately looking for any answer beside ‘men like when women are afraid’, and this is what he had to say: “I think mens’ anger toward women is misplaced. I’m not mad at a woman for recoiling when our hands brush on the subway. I’m actually mad that so many women have been harassed and worse by men that it’s impossible to open a door for a woman and not have our motives be questioned. I’m sure that women are just as mad (Tara edit: SO MUCH ANGRIER. More mad than you could ever know.) that they can’t freely express their sexuality, that they have to dance this bullshit dance that they’ve been forced into, by men, of saint or sinner, Madonna or whore. Chivalry is dead because men killed it. They took advantage of the situation, of their physicality. If I stop and fix a woman’s flat tire, she’s afraid. That’s not her fault, that’s our fault, and we need to look inward to see why. There’s never been a time where a woman could just be herself in that situation, that she didn’t have to clutch her self defense weapon in fear during the whole encounter. That’s our fault. We don’t want to be challenged or have the status quo be changed, though, so we say it’s the woman’s fault, that they’re not thankful enough. MRAs say feminazis want to dissolve gender roles and yet have their chivalry too. They say that women complain about not being in STEM fields but they don’t complain about not being construction workers. What men don’t realize, though, is that our generally greater ability to lift heavy objects, i.e. on construction sites and in grocery stores, is directly related to our physical advantages that we tend to have over women, which is what allows us to overpower women in any given situation, and which is what leads them to their fear of being taken advantage of in non consensual sexual situations. Women are looked at as hypocrites for cowering at our physicality yet also using that physicality for their benefit, but that’s a false equivalency. Wanting to help someone because you have an advantage in any way is a good thing, but expecting a return or taking advantage of that power is the real issue, and that lies with the power holder, i.e. men, in almost every case.”
Men, I ask you to really look within yourselves. I ask like my POC friends ask me to really evaluate my words and actions, because no white person is exempt from privilege, and it is impossible to be 100% not racist. This is woven into the fabric of who you are in some way, and it’s up to you to see and address the fact that as a man, socially and physically, you have the bulk of the power. What about women’s fear, outside of consensual sex, is attractive to you and your ilk? Why do men just like you, if not you, rubberneck and catcall? What makes you think you were a victim of the ‘friendzone’ when a woman simply said ‘no thank you’? Why do your friends call most of their exes ‘crazy’? What is behind not giving someone who comes forward with rape allegations the benefit of the doubt? When have you stopped a friend or colleague from saying or doing something inappropriate to a woman, or stood up for a woman in an uncomfortable situation? Or, more pointedly, how many times have you stood by, silent? Why is there any issue with spending time, one on one or in groups, with women in a professional and therefore non-sexual situation? What about you makes you need to feel powerful, or more clearly, what about you makes you feel small enough that you have to exert your power over others to feel ‘big’ again? Why do you instigate this dance of control and fear? I can tell you, we women are sick to fucking death of it. I can’t help but think that behind the leering smiles, sneaking hands, and coercion, you are too.
The only way I can imagine that we women can start to see the light at the end of this endless tunnel of anger, fear, and pain is if men address their own thoughts and actions, and fix whatever wound or fill whatever hole is there that is creating this predator/prey dynamic, because it is horrifying for women. Old and young, big and small, tall and short, no matter her race or abilities or sexuality or gender identity, every single female-presenting person has experienced this. Every 96 seconds, a woman is raped in America, and 1 in 3 worldwide have experienced some kind of sexual violence. Half of the people on any given street around us are the same type of people (men) that have scared, harassed, and attacked us in the past, and we have to walk down that street every. damned. day. To go to work. To buy groceries. To live. Of course, we know that plenty of those men wouldn’t do a thing to us (after all, aside from some of them just being actual good guys, the vast majority of violence committed upon women comes from someone they already know), but HOW DO WE KNOW WHO THE GOOD GUYS ARE? How can we distinguish between the ‘good guys’ and those who get intense sexual pleasure from our fear and pain? I can’t impress enough upon men that what you don’t experience is that as a woman is that unless we are alone in a safe, locked place, and even then, there is never a time when we aren’t on our guard. On our guard against those who will scare, harass or attack us, and smirk the entire time, clearly enjoying themselves, and then disappear into the crowd of ‘good guys’, indistinguishable. We learn this fear early, from ‘stranger danger’ for all kids as soon as we’re old enough to learn it, to 4th or 5th or 6th grade when our sex comes into play. It’s fucking terrifying to live as a woman, from that early age and all the way through our lives, and if you don’t read this and think, ‘this has to stop‘ and start thinking about what you can do within yourself, the community of men around you, and in your day to day life with men who are strangers on the street, I don’t know what to say to you. You’re the one we’re terrified by. Because we’re terrified. All the time.
So guys, what is the answer? It’s up to you to end this, because it is you.
For the sake of women everywhere, the conversation has to start. Now.