Sunday, January 21, 2018

Thank you, Grace

Oh, Aziz :(

I always found you a whiny, persistent little guy, so likable and kinda-creepy at the same time that you were well worth watching, and often insightful or funny. I'm not shocked to find out you're one of those kind of guys, the guys who whine and paw and beg and keep trying until they wear you down, like kids when they want tv. And I don't really feel sorry for you that you've become the poster boy for this next ratchet-up in the conversation that women have been avoiding having with men for a very long time. I think you'll weather it just fine, with your friends and career intact, but maybe your ego a bit smarter after some bashing and seasoning. In the end, this will provide you with an incredible amount of fodder. This is nothing but really, really good for you. Actually, man, congratulations on your big test. The Universe must think you're ready. The potential rewards are great. Good luck.

Because it's time for the next conversation.

And because you're so damn little and charming and strange, we're having it.

I heard from one younger male friend who is anguished because he bought into what the men in his life, from friends to mentors to entertainment, told him: that women are taught a false delicacy that makes us reluctant, and we count on you to be the one to push things forward. The story goes, the guy must stay nice but be persistent, one step at a time, one yes at a time, until you have consent. The unspoken understanding is that we women expect it, we want it, and we will appreciate it once our inhibitions are down. He saw it as part of his role as the man. It's only now dawning on him that we are not a different kind of creature with unfathomable ways, we're just other people. It's like the veil has come down and everything is uglier than he thought.

I wonder how many other young men are given this terrible advice on the assumption that every man's goal is sex. The truth is, if the goal is just to get sex, this approach of escalating persistence probably works, sometimes because the woman really does become more interested, and sometimes because she just stops the effort of resisting. So men get reinforced because they used the 'gentle persistence" method, and it worked, they got sex. But what was the woman's goal, and did she get it? Men haven't been encouraged to ask that question.

Many people's first reaction to Grace's story is to feel embarrassed and uncomfortable, but think, it's not that bad, not compared to violence or abusive power. The thing is, on a date, you don't want "not that bad." Shouldn't sex be great? We are inviting you into our body. It's not just a thing we do for you, it's the ultimate act of trust and intimacy.

Sex is a gift, not a party favour.

Sex for women IS a big deal. There is much more risk, and often much less pleasure. Grace's account of Aziz reminds me of my 10 year old begging for candy, and it's sad, it's pathetic, but it's also creepy and wrong because he's not 10, and this is not candy.

My friend says that he is "pretty sure" that the women he had sex with didn't regret it, because the didn't complain and several went out with him again. But he's not 100% sure anymore, and he feels a little betrayed, by the messages he believed, and the potential that women fooled him into thinking they'd changed their minds (his words, which he then apologized for) when they were actually not enthusiastic. He's upset and confused to find that this whole time he's thought he was being a good guy and maybe he was sometimes being coercive, to some extent or another.

That's a hard thing to face. If you're trying to face it, and people are sneering "yeah, well you're a creep and you should have known" I think the instinct is to pull back, and gather whatever your privilege or power allows you to use to reinstate your ego. That would be a waste of this moment, and a waste of the pain that all of us are going through, re-evaluating what we thought were "normal" encounters and not so sure, anymore. We need each other in actual openness, if we're going to talk about this and make it better.

So when men read the big Aziz story and they don't want to see the problem, I feel I need to be kind, not condemning, realizing we are all fools in this patriarchal system that has tricked us into seeing each other as "other" and somehow less human in experience. I need to reach over and say, "well, now we know better, let's see where this takes us from this point" and walk in hope. Some guys will not choose to shift, but I think many will.

This is a chance for the regular people, not the extreme creeps or the extreme apologists, but the folks who bumble around trying to find connection, to talk about how men and women have the same goals for happiness, pleasure and love. To find more respectful ways to ask for what we need without feeling manipulative, and to be allowed to choose what we give without feeling coerced. To teach our kids what those conversations look like and ask our media to reflect respect. We have a chance to take a quantum leap.

Thank you, Grace.

What will happen next?