Because I wrote a book about women’s sexuality, a journalist recently asked me,”What do women need, for really great sex?”
I said, “Basic bodily autonomy.”
But I want to amend that answer.
First, what do I mean by basic bodily autonomy?
It’s not just control over the decision of whether and when to have any kind of sex — though it is that; the conservative, low estimate is that one in four women will experience sex and relationship violence, compared to one in six men.
And it’s not just control over the decision of whether and when to be pregnant — though it is that; in the last five years, more than a thousand legal restrictions across the US have made abortion more and more difficult to access; almost the first thing Drumpf did after his swearing in was reinstate a draconian new global gag rule; and the latest executive order permitting private companies to decide they don’t want to cover employees’ birth control because, in their opinion, women’s control over their bodies matters less than men’s control over women’s bodies, shows just how important women’s basic bodily autonomy is to those who govern.
It’s not just that. It’s smiling politely while stepping back, when a colleague touches you in a way he would never touch your coworker John. It’s carrying our keys between our knuckles when we walk through a dark parking lot. It’s pretending to talk on the phone as we walk home alone at night. It’s the frozen feeling when the guy you just broke up with calls you at 2am and says he loves you and then threatens to kill you. While we’re at it, more than half of all women homicide victims in the US are murdered by their intimate partner — nearly always men. The person whom she (should) most trust in the world, and he kills her.
Men: if you’re concerned about sexual harassment and violence because “I have a daughter”…
Or men: if you’re concerned about sexual harassment and violence because you would never do that and you don’t understand why women…
Men, if you’re concerned, ask a woman. A friend. A sister. A wife.
Ask, “What goes through your mind, how do you feel, when an unknown man sits next to you at a bar/on the bus/at the DMV and starts a conversation?”
Answer: Deep down, we’re just a little worried he might rape or kill us. If we’re too nice, he could do it because we “let him.” If we’re too rude, he could do it because we “provoked him.” How do I get out of this interaction without getting hurt? We know hashtag “not all men” are predators, but we also know all women are targets.
Ask, “When was the first time someone was sexually inappropriate with you?” and compare it with your own answer.
My answer: I was maybe 8. Walking around the track of a nearby school one summer. A man walking his dog stopped to say hello, squatted down to pet the dog, and his penis swung out of his shorts. At the time, I thought he didn’t know and he would be embarassed if he discovered it. Sometime in my teens I realized it was on purpose. He wore those shorts and no underwear, he walked that cute little dog to a schoolyard, so that he could show his dick to girl children.
Ask, “Tell me about that time you did something sexual with a man, just so he would leave/wouldn’t hurt you/wouldn’t dump you, like he threatened/wouldn’t tell your friends what a bitch you are, like he threatened/have his feelings hurt and make his penis sad.”
Answer: Which time? The one where I said, “I’m not sure…” and he said, “You’ve got to be kidding! Come on!” Or the time I said “This doesn’t feel right,” and he laughed like I made a joke. And remember: these are the NICE guys. The friends. The boyfriends. The ones we let in the door in the first place. But they’re men. And we know hashtag not all men would rape or kill us, but all men are saturated in a culture that says they’re kinda sorta entitled to women’s sexual bodies, and their ability to get access to women’s sexual bodies is a primary measure of their masculity. Their worth. The nice guy is generally aware that women are people, but he’s also generally aware that if a woman-person says no to sex, that’s a poor reflection on his masculinity, so he really needs her to say yes. Because: his masculinity. So if you’re one of the nice ones, one of the good guys, we want to be nice to you, so you can feel good about your masculinity. Your worth.
(Also, we don’t want you to rape or kill us. We know you would never do that.)
So let me amend the answer I gave that journalist:
For great sex, women need basic bodily autonomy — not being punished (raped or mudered) or judged or shamed, either when we say yes or when we say no. And that will only happen fully when men stop measuring their own worth in terms of their access to women’s sexual bodies. So we need that, too.
Me too. Me too. #metoo