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Dangerous young women who know themselves

By Amanda Marcotte
Saturday, February 21, 2009 1:38 EDT
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Exercises in how surfing blogs can, in itself, generate some ideas. Jessica put up the text of her speech on how the so-called “hook-up culture” is not the horror story it’s made out to be, M. LeBlanc wrote about her first major relationship that had a withholding affection/sexual assault cycle, and Jezebel posted this appalling picture from Details magazine:

This post, I hope, can be some synthesis. M’s assured me that she wants to hash out some of the issues raised in her very personal post, and so I’d like to start with hers. She had a real click moment at a reading of Yes Means Yes, and how it made her realize that a whole lot of non-consenting sex she’d been having in her youth with her first boyfriend was a form of rape.

You see, a few years after me and my first love, from Texas, got together, the sex dropped off precipitously. My boyfriend was very attractive to me, and I was constantly horny. I wanted to have boring sex, kinky sex, and everything in between. But he withheld. He withheld sex and most forms of physical affection from me until it made me crazy. I don’t know why he did it. But it became a constant form of negotiation, with me trying to get affection and sex, and him finding all kinds of reasons to decline. The nascent body-acceptance that I had formed before went off a cliff.

And then one night, after months of this, I awoke in the middle of the night to find him rubbing up against me with a hard-on. I was in that bizarre zone between wake and sleep, where everything seemed blurry and confused and it was difficult to identify reality. And before I could get out of that in-between zone, he was on top of me and penetrating me. I, of course, was not wet, having just been asleep, and not otherwise aroused. But this was what I wanted. I wanted sex and physical closeness so badly–how could I say no? Even in my diminished state, a “take-it-while-I-can-get-it” mentality took over, and I did not protest. I winced in a little pain. After he was done he kissed me and went back to sleep. I was left lying there, confused, upset. What about me? I was just starting to get aroused at the very end of the thing, and now, what was I supposed to do?

I went to the living room and cried my eyes out.

Stuff like this causes the inevitable hostilities that shoot up between the Nice Guys® of the internets and women, because I think a whole lot of men have done shit like this, or worry that they could slip into such a sexual fetish. Despite this genuine risk, I’m going to go ahead and talk about this emotional abuse without tip-toeing around the feelings of those who don’t want to be made uncomfortable about the routine objectification of women and the obvious damage it does. I don’t know the particulars of M.’s former relationship, and I don’t think our few exchanges on the issue really educated me about the depths of it. But she does say, “It is extremely hard to tell this story publicly, but I think it is vital to expanding the dialogue about rape. Because I haven’t heard a story like this before, and I’m not so self-absorbed to think that I must be the only one,” and I’m happy to oblige. Because while this particular dysfunction is a new one to me, I recognized the pattern in my own life in a lot of relationships I’ve seen, particularly between young men and women. The dramatically plummeting self-esteem in her, the increasingly erratic and abusive behavior in him, his shame, her fear, and ultimately the way it drags on way too long until someone ends it, and hopefully both learned something and go forward with less evil in their hearts and/or vulnerabilities to this sort of thing. My situation was a lot like hers—boyfriend would go through bouts of withholding affection, and late in the relationship, slapping me when we argued—and I didn’t really know how to leave, because young women in these sort of deep, monogamous relationships haven’t had enough time to form without them. Or, more bluntly put, I didn’t know who I was without him, since we’d spent our formative years together. (This is why patriarchs love young marriage.) He didn’t know what to do with me, because he loved me, but he also (he admitted, after we broke up) was deeply ashamed to have a girlfriend, which is experienced by a lot of men that age as emasculating, particularly if they have a bunch of ne’er-do-well single male friends like he did.

If her situation was like mine, and there’s a strong chance that there was, then yeah, his behavior makes a lot of sense. Being in love is being vulnerable, feminine really. That’s why movies about falling in love are deemed “chick flicks”, after all. But putting yourself in that vulnerable position is strongly discouraged by other men, pop culture, you name it. As Details magazine will have you know, women are for fucking and using as furniture, then tossing out as garbage. I think once men get a little older, the “women are nothing but garbage” messages relax a little, and their male friends start settling down, and it becomes easier. But at the height of Dude culture, it’s hard. Their love for their girlfriends comes in direct conflict with cultural messages about how women are dirt. The solution, for a lot of young men, is to dominate their girlfriends. In fact, this cultural phenomenon is so well-known that the Rolling Stones wrote a song about the dynamic that immediately makes sense to most listeners.

Its down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what shes told
Down to me, the change has come
Shes under my thumb
Ah, ah, say its alright

Under my thumb
A siamese cat of a girl
Under my thumb
Shes the sweetest, hmmm, pet in the world

Of course, in our more feminist era, guys who get into this mindset feel more torn about it for sure. But I think it’s still the same dynamic. And it’s at its strongest for a lot of people in their youth, for the reasons I outlined. Which brings me to Jessica’s defense of young women in college who have hook-ups. Jessica makes the point, which is an important one to remember, is that the hand-wringing over hook-ups is a Trojan horse to smuggle in other ideas about what young women should be doing in their college years, and guess what? Getting educated is not at the top of the list.

Laura Sessions Stepp, who wrote Unhooked, writes that young women don’t belong in bars, “that’s a guy thing,” and that they should consider baking cookies to impress men. (Not that there’s anything wrong with baking cookies, I’m a big fan myself, but I think you see where this is going…)

Miriam Grosmman advocates that young women not wait long to get married and get pregnant – in fact both authors seem to assume that the main goal of women in college isn’t academics or finding themselves, or even having fun – but instead, finding a husband.

Again, nothing wrong with getting married and having babies, but when you assume that should be the main goal of young women in college – something is amiss.

I’d say that it’s obvious that the real problem is that hooking up allows women to be sexual and single at the same time, to have sex without having to drop out because they got pregnant or married, or move somewhere they don’t want for a boyfriend, or abandon their career to put some guy through medical school. People in a snit over casual sex outline all these dangers for young women—you’re a slut so you’ll be rape bait,* you’ll get STDs, no one will love you, but the one they dwell on the most is the grave danger of hurt feelings. They can’t imagine that women sleep with men just to do it, but think that every single woman falls madly in love with every guy she has sex with, and therefore the result of every hook-up is a girl waiting by the phone heartbroken. I’ll allow that this happens sometimes (and sometimes men wait sadly, which goes unacknowledged). It’s not unknown to have a crush on someone not into you, have sex with them hoping they’ll change their mind, and then getting shot down. And if you have a constant problem with this, I think you maybe should go to therapy and hash it out.

What these women pushing this line fail to realize is that their supposed solutions have all sorts of dangers, too, and some of them are a lot more serious than sitting by a phone heartbroken—rape happens in monogamous relationships (and it’s rarely called that), and you also run the risk of domestic violence. Depending on your anti-feminist twit, the solution is either to date and withhold sex until marriage, or date and withhold sex until you have him swearing up and down he’s your real boyfriend, and that at least a year or six months or whatever has passed. What they fail to acknowledge is that these kind of relationships are no protection against sitting by the phone heartbroken. Believe someone who’s been through it—when a guy doesn’t call when he said he would and you’ve been dating for years, it hurts one million times worse than if someone didn’t call you after you slept with him on the first date. I’ve done it both ways, and the latter is a lot easier to get past, even if you had a mega-crush. Going through the process of being put under someone’s thumb, which is all too common in the relationships that anti-feminists tout as cure-alls, does more damage to your self-esteem. Living with or marrying someone who turns ice cold in order to control you by lowering your self-esteem is a major risk factor for depression. The worst part about it is that once you invest in a person, you can’t even talk about your problems as much with friends, because it feels like a betrayal. If a crush blows you off, your friends can take you out for a drink and let you whine until you’re joking. If you’re dying inside because you’re in a relationship you can’t get out of for whatever mental block reasons, but that is draining you, you have very little recourse because now it’s airing dirty laundry.

The one thing I think really helps build women up so they can get out of bad or abusive relationships is being single for awhile. It’s not the magic bullet, but living by yourself and realizing that you are a full human being without a man to define you means that a major obstacle (who am I without him?) to leaving bad relationships is mitigated. I’m finally in a happy, healthy relationship, and the irony is that this is also a time when I know that if I had to leave, I could easily do so. But then again, maybe that’s the catch-22 of healthy relationships—it’s easier to have them if both people involved are find on their own. I look at a lot of women I know who spent their college years mainly single, and I think having the time to define themselves away from deep attachments to young men who have the near-inevitable masculinity issues that come with growing up in this culture gave them a basis that made going forward with relationships much easier, since they knew who they were and didn’t get so lost in them.

*I’ve never seen a shred of evidence that rapists take your actual number into consideration when selecting a victim. They may choose women that do things juries don’t approve of, like going out drinking, but it’s most likely that most rapists can’t even know your number before they rape you. So this myth is nonsensical as well as offensive.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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