Eighteen years old, still a virgin, and thoroughly excited to be sleeping in a hotel bed with a boy I wanted to kiss. We were on a field trip of sorts, for a few days. We were playing like we were just friends, but I wanted to make out with him. Growing up, I’d felt fat and unlovable, and I’d only recently started realizing boys really, actually liked me.
I got my wish – we kissed. It was a nice kiss, nothing great. But fun. We kissed for a while, and he grabbed my boob – surprising, but not unpleasant. We laughed when our lips got dry, and agreed it was time to turn off the light – and in my mind, go to sleep. He wrapped his arms around me, tucking me in as the little spoon, and I thought, “That was nice. Probably won’t do it again, not a lot of chemistry, but this is fun for tonight.” I smiled to myself and knew I probably wouldn’t sleep very much that night, because every once in a while, he’d press a kiss against my neck or cheek, a nice little reminder that he liked me. His arm was tucked under my breasts – I felt wanted. Every once in a while his arms would move, his hand would explore – all in good fun. I didn’t ask for it to keep going, but I allowed it. It was fun.
At one point he turned my head to kiss my lips again, while at the same time letting his hand explore much further south than before. I allowed the kiss, that part was fun – but I pulled his hand out of my panties. I tucked it back up under my breasts – a clear message. This, I was comfortable with. Below – not happening.
He got the message, and kept his hand high, and kissed me a bit more before laying back. Time passed, and I felt his hand venturing once more. Again, I pulled his hand out of my panties, and put it right back around my ribs. A little more forceful this time – no. That is not happening.
This happened maybe two, three more times with increasing tempo, until when I went to pull his hand out of my panties, and he actively resisted me. He kept his hand where he wanted it, and it took my strength to get his hand out of there. Keep in mind – he wasn’t hurting me, he just wanted to touch me there. He just wanted to make me come, he whispered in my ear. He tried another time before I gave up and said, “what the hell. It’s fun – even if I don’t particularly want it from him, I still like this.” I allowed his exploration – he found some sensitive spots that I liked, and he never made a move to actually put his fingers inside me. But even though I like doing that, and I usually have fun with that sort of thing, I felt uncomfortable. So even though his inexperienced fingers felt…I don’t know, kinda good, I couldn’t get to a releasing point. I wanted it to stop, I wanted to go to sleep. So I started breathing harder, and making little noises – I faked my first orgasm.
It worked – he stopped what he was doing, satisfied that he’d made me happy. He laid back, and after a few minutes took my hand, and started moving it towards his crotch. This time – nah. I patted it, and brought my hand back under my chin. Locked in place, it wasn’t going anywhere. He got the message, and just wrapped his arms around me – we finally went to sleep.
After that night, I didn’t feel traumatized, I didn’t feel scared of men, I wasn’t confused, I wasn’t hurt, I wasn’t any of the things most assault victims talk about. I didn’t feel he took advantage of me. I wasn’t even quiet or thoughtful the next day – I remember going out with different friends, that next night, we had a blast at the one gay bar in town! Dancing up a storm.
I remember thinking – yeah, nope – never gonna happen again. One, I didn’t like him enough with him to have much pleasure, and two – even though I like an assertive guy, if he can’t understand my signals for what was comfortable, then this definitely ain’t gonna work. I didn’t even like him all that much in the first place, I just wanted to have fun. I simply stopped pursuing him – I didn’t avoid him, I didn’t scream bloody murder any time he came around – I was just nice, and not doing that again. I maybe saw him twice and said ten words to him the rest of the trip. I didn’t feel any ill will towards him – he just wasn’t for me.
Looking back – that poor boy probably didn’t have a clue what was going on. He flirts and flirts with a girl, and then one night, he gives that girl an orgasm, and the next day – it’s like all that momentum just dissipated, like a popped balloon. I almost feel sorry for him.
Me, on the other hand – I could not have cared less. I moved on from him, and forgot him. I remember giggling with my friends that I’d made out with him, and learned that although he was a “nice guy,” he tried to get with most of the girls from the trip, and I just laughed at myself for also having been duped. I celebrated the fact that I had joined the ranks of women who had faked an orgasm. I forgot about him, and I forgot about that night. I had dated before, I’ve dated since – he really was barely a blip on the radar. I can’t even remember his name.
The whole movement as of late – my heart has gone out to all these women, standing up with courage to admit they’d been assaulted. There are so many clear-cut situations, and there are so many ambiguous and gray situations, and every single one is hard to talk about. And with each new story coming to light, my mind goes – “these poor women. I feel so lucky I’ve never been sexually assaulted. I want to help how I can, but it’s hard to empathize unless you have a story…”
So I started thinking. I started thinking on the guys I’ve dated, the uncomfortable sex stories I have, the career situations I’ve been in – I came to the conclusion, I’ve had a lot of awkward encounters. I’m lucky enough to not be a victim of violence, I can’t imagine facing that and I’m not sure I’d survive – but I have been in those weird situations that you can’t really define as sexual assault but somehow you know it’s headed there and fortunately, I’ve been able to stand up for myself. My parents raised me to be strong, and any sexual situation in which I’m uncomfortable – I simply don’t allow it. I’ve also always had a lot of guy friends, and I love hanging out with them – they also sure as shit respect me. They’re wonderful guys, which makes it hard to allow nonsense from idiots. I cut that shit off at the pass, before anything happens. I can see the signs, and fuck no that’s not happening.
But then I remembered this night, back when I was eighteen. When I clearly said no, and that didn’t stop him. And I thought to myself, “why didn’t this affect me more? If I practically forgot about this night, how are all these women whining about it now?”
My story sounds so similar to many that are out there, but it didn’t affect me. It didn’t keep me up at night, it didn’t put a damper on future romantic relationships. He didn’t make me feel less valued – if anything, I learned a little bit better what I was worth after that night, because I wasn’t going to allow that again.
And yes, in this particular instance I was stronger than a lot of people, but really – that night was no big deal. And so often, I hear stories that are just like mine. So why the hell are these women making mountains out of molehills? I started rolling my eyes at each new article, at each new post that said “Me too.” Bunch of narcissistic, desperate attention-grabbers, trying to glob onto the latest celebrity craze. “We’re all in this together,” bullshit. You don’t have a real story, you just want attention by playing the victim. There are real women out there, who have experienced real violence and real subjugation, and you’re sitting here on Twitter talking about a man who asked you to smile and guess what – you didn’t? Because you exercised your right not just as a woman, but as a person, to tell someone to fuck off if they asked you to do something you didn’t want them to do?
Why does this piss me off so much?
Why don’t I think of my story as sexual assault, when so many other women clearly do?
I’ve been thinking about it more, and I realize – I don’t think of it as assault because to me – that’s just a guy being a guy. Women have to deal with guys being idiots all the friggin’ time, and so many men haven’t learned yet that the whole idea of “no but I really mean yes!” is an antiquated idea of romance. They haven’t learned that women want sex just as much as men, and so there’s no need to be coy anymore, there’s no need to play the virgin anymore. We deal with guys blundering, always wanting more than you’re ready for, and thinking they know better than you what you mean when you say “no.” I’m doing my best to educate the men around me, and I know so many women around me, doing the same. I expect to teach my son that, and hopefully, someday soon, every man will know that “no means no.” But for now, that’s not real assault, it’s like teaching a kid how to walk. If a kid is standing on his own two feet, and learning how to put one foot in front of the other, and accidentally smacks you while he’s trying to assess his balance, he didn’t mean to hurt me. And it didn’t hurt that bad. So I’ll use it as a lesson, to not hit people, but I’m not going to make a big deal out of it, I’m not going to call it “assault.” Assault is so much bigger than that, it’s so much heavier. And it requires much heavier consequences. So don’t throw that around so easily. Don’t ruin someone’s life by saying they assaulted you, when you weren’t really hurt and that accusation doesn’t cost you nearly as much as it costs the accused. Stop using the word so easily, and for your own gain, because what you and I experienced, that wasn’t assault. Assault, to me, is when someone is forced against their will, to do or experience something they don’t want…shit.
That’s exactly what happened that night.
Yes, it’s on a minute level, but that’s exactly what happened. I gave clear signals. I stopped him. And he kept going. It was assault.
I dismissed his behavior as normal. I allowed it, I didn’t reprimand him, there were no consequences, there was no education. This wasn’t a child flailing as he learned to walk – this is a child sitting in preschool who shoves or hits a fellow child, because they’re in the way of his favorite toy. A parent or teacher would strongly reprimand that, whether or not the fellow child was actually hurt – you don’t want to encourage that behavior. You don’t want that aggression to run unchecked.
But it has been. For centuries. That aggression, has been running unchecked. And now that we’re checking it, and drawing attention to it – all I can hear are voices trying to keep the status quo. To normalize the behavior, or to ignore it. Ignoring it, not reprimanding it – that’s part of the problem.
That night when I was eighteen, he may have thought that it was his role to convince me there was pleasure to be had, and when I disagreed, by pulling his hand out of my panties – he continued what he was doing, because he knew best. Not me. And I didn’t take the opportunity to educate him, I simply dismissed his behavior as normal bullshit and stopped talking to him.
To me, it was a normal thing for women to deal with, and I learned how to deal with it.
How fucked up is that?
Why is it my job to learn how to navigate around men, as opposed to an equal navigation around each other? Why is it normal for women to learn that lesson? As a society are we that far gone, that a man literally waking the fuck up and treating a woman with the same care and respect they receive, is something to be celebrated?
But I now grieve for the women who have been with him since. Maybe he had the opportunity to learn these lessons on his own, but like a child – every time they hit another child and there aren’t any consequences, they learn a little bit deeper that it’s okay to do. That it’s the best way to get their favorite toy.
Keep in mind – what happened to me, another person might have been traumatized. He didn’t take away my worth, but that’s because his actions didn’t hurt me in a way I could be hurt, at the time. I didn’t care enough about him to care about his opinion, and my family had instilled a strong sense of worth in me that I was just beginning to recognize. Another person in the same situation may have shut down, and withdrawn in order to lick their wounds and begin the healing process, but for me – it wasn’t something that interrupted my life. I don’t judge anyone who would have been hurt by those same actions – my life has taken a different course than theirs, and it takes a different method to wound me. This situation – it didn’t.
That night has been buried in my memories, and let’s be honest – it still will be. It was a fun memory, but not one I celebrated. I don’t want to make it a dark memory, but one thing about it that will become dark – my reaction to it. I feel terrible that I didn’t speak up then. That I didn’t do my tiny part to educate this man. That I didn’t take five minutes to help protect my sisters. That I didn’t stop to think about how fucked up it is that we even need to unite as sisters, because we collectively understand that half of the population of the world needs protection from the other half.
And I know, it’s not all men. Hey – I have a father, and brothers, and guy friends…bad joke? Okay, that was a bad joke.
I know it’s not all men. And it’s not just men who contribute to the world we’ve created. I feel I was contributing to the problem, by normalizing the behavior. And I’m sure a lot of women feel the same way I did. Not my problem, I wasn’t hurt, and it’s just guys being guys. I learned how to deal with it, like all women should. Not a big deal.
However – it IS a big deal. Any time that behavior is demonstrated, by a man, a woman, by anyone in between – that behavior needs to be checked. Not every situation requires someone be thrown in jail – some just need it to be pointed out. And more often than not, I see men needing that check, failing to see the need for a check, or failing to give that check.
It’s not our responsibility as women to make men get their shit together. You could even say it’s not anyone’s responsibility, to try to make a better world. But I’ll volunteer a little time, with my future children, with my friends, with my partners, to help educate. I’d like to think we’re in this world together – I want to help actually make it feel that way.
I’m also hoping – if I can start volunteering my time, and my voice, it’ll make it easier for others to do the same. To be the change we want to see the world.