One thing you may not realize is that women are penalized for saying no — AND for saying yes. In other words, there’s no totally safe answer, while one buys into that system. This means nobody is really “safe” buying into those rituals and cultural norms.
Well, of course, because I’m a woman, and I’ve heard these same lines from men forever.
Abby Franquemont
34

I think it’s easy to generalise. And dangerous.

You’re lumping all women into the same category and defining their experience in a collective way according to your perspective on it.

What for you may feel like a punishment may well for others be experienced as a reward.

For example, one woman’s perspective on a man being persistent might be to feel disrespected and harassed. That’s absolutely valid. For that woman individually.

Another woman might experience the exact same behaviour directed towards her as a demonstration of the power of her sexuality. She might feel emboldened to know that a man cannot help but try to change her mind simply because of how much she appeals to him.

It goes both ways too. There are some men who can’t stand being intensely pursued by a woman. There are some men who wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think where the problem occurs is the power differential, and the violation of a woman’s feeling of safety that may easily come with the differing nature of a man’s body. Yet, even this is hard to define absolutely for all women. Some may feel that continued pursuit after a hard “no” violates a sacred principle. Others may use a hard “no” simply to test the strength of a man’s interest and resolve. Should the latter’s freedom be denied for the sake of the former? Worse, should the latter’s experience be utterly silenced in the discourse? That’s what I feel you attempt to do.

In all of this, it is my opinion that good manners are the key. By this I mean not necessarily a rigid rulebook, but rather a demonstrative respect for others’ feelings and autonomy. While a “no” that says “I’m upset” should be regarded as a signal to retreat, one that says “I’m enjoying your pursuit” is another matter altogether. One who willingly violates the emotions of another when fully aware of them has no defence.

I think you have to be very careful when you describe a phenomenon as happening in the same way to everyone. There doesn’t have to be any difference in behaviour for there to be vast differences in the way that it is experienced.

The man’s right about the way women uphold these systems of what you see as oppression. I live in Northern Ireland, where the battle for reproductive rights is being fiercely fought and lost by my side of the debate. Women are being prosecuted for procuring abortions here. The remarkable thing is that the most fierce advocates of the anti-choice status quo are women. It’s the women themselves who are the bulwarks of what I would argue is their own oppression.

The key thing is, it’s very important to respect that that is not how those women themselves see the situation.

You might argue that they possess false consciousness. However, although I believe some empathy on their part might go a long way towards changing their perspective, it’s simply patronising and insulting to all of them to suggest that, because they don’t agree with me, they therefore obviously lack clear understanding of the situation.

The point I’m trying to make is that I get the impression that your brand of feminism is one that I might have objections with. You define the nature of all women’s experiences according to your understanding of them, and you leave no room for dissent on the part of other women themselves.

Perhaps you believe they have false consciousness, unwittingly colluding in their own oppression. Yet I believe that one does not need to study feminism in order to acquire an acute awareness of the nature of one’s own experience.

What for you may seem like the exercise of power might for many others seem like the burden of responsibility. I may agree with you that this is an undesirable situation to be in for a woman. But if a woman herself entered into such an arrangement freely and consentingly, her perspective is far more valid than yours or mine when it comes to how she wants to live her life.

That’s why I lean towards liberty. Each person’s psychology is different. As long as there is no violation of free will/consent, and provided there is freedom to renegotiate or leave, I have no problem with any type of relationship based on any type of power structure.

I realise that’s somewhat utopian, but in the real world, what that means to me is that I don’t presume to judge the nature of the experiences of others on their behalf. What to me is claustrophobic might to others feel liberating. What to others may be oppressive may to some be enpowering. Each according to their own philosophical framework and their own emotional reaction to their experiences.

I speak for myself, and I don’t hold my opinions back, but I don’t claim to be able to define absolutely the experiences of others. For example, I think the women in Northern Ireland on the anti-choice side are wrong. I don’t claim that they’re wrong in their beliefs or understanding. Just that they’re wrong to force others to accept their perspective by keeping a law which restricts liberty.

Perhaps you feel I have been misled by what I’ve read. Or perhaps you feel robust objection to what I’ve written. Respectfully, I welcome any response you may care to offer.

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