So this ‘me too’ thing.
Lots of people get harassed. Surprise! Me too.
Which goes to reason that lots of people are harassing others. … me too.
I recall bringing a guy home one time in college. He initially didn’t want to go, but I was able to talk him into it. Looking back, I was probably a little misleading about my intentions. My primary argument was that my extra bed was way comfier than the couch at his friend’s house. I was being coy enough that, for all he knew, maybe that was the honest to God truth, and I was just being nice. Of course, I had every intention of convincing him to join me in my bed instead.
As we were walking home I suddenly realized he was a lot more drunk than I had thought. I was disappointed; I had finally gotten him interested, and he was finally making advances, but he was too drunk to have any fun with. I made him sleep in the spare bed. We never even kissed.
The next morning he woke up confused and paranoid with no memory of me or the previous night. He hurried away and later texted me in a very worried manner asking if we had done anything together the night before. I assured him we hadn’t. When I found him on facebook, I realized he had a serious girlfriend.
It hit me then how close I had come to really hurting him, and I wonder if I had been more drunk, or if I had wanted him a little more, if the outcome wouldn’t maybe have been the worse one. After all, I had made my decision for selfish reasons, simply because sex with drunk people sucks, I don’t like the high risk of being someone’s regret when they wake up sober, and I didn’t actually like him that much. Issues of consent didn’t really cross my mind until the next day.
There are other iffy moments like that where I’m not as sure that I ended up doing the right thing. It’s hard to know. When I think of the guys who have taken advantage of my female friends or made them feel uncomfortable, I bet over half of them don’t know they have, because no one ever said anything. Girls aren’t the only ones who struggle to find the words to say no. Men also go along with something they don’t particularly want to when they’re under pressure and given no real time to think. Alcohol certainly doesn’t simplify things.
In case you’re getting worried about where I’m going with this: harassment and assault happens disproportionately to women. No one in their right mind disputes that. Discrepancies in physical strength makes the risk terrifyingly higher for women. It’s a physical fact.
What I’m trying to say is that, even so, it’s not a black and white issue. I am not only a victim; I’ve been on both sides. In that college story above, I teetered on the edge of something that could legit have qualified as rape (and I remember this often when angry voices call for the blood of men who claimed they didn’t realize how drunk she was).
Because harassment is so normalized, I had to learn the hard way what manipulation, coercion, and harassment look like on the receiving end, often realizing only in hindsight that, hey, that was really not ok. I had to learn the hard way how to express myself clearly enough to get my feelings across; learn to let go of subtle communication that, more often than not, digs a deeper hole.
But I also had to learn the hard way what manipulation, coercion, and harassment look like on the perpetrating end, again often recognizing it only in hindsight. And I had to learn the hard way how to read the subtle hints of someone who feels uncomfortable.
We don’t have enough conversations about consent. We barely cover basic sex ed in schools. Most harassers are not terrible people. They’re just people who weren’t really thinking. People who have never really thought it through. I think this goes for most situations in which people hurt each other. We get stuck in our own perspective and forget to take notice of the other.
Sex is a great thing, and few people are actually looking to hurt somebody else over it, so lets talk about it. Moreover, lets talk to kids about it. It’s better to address it before it’s relevant, so they can have some information and tips before running amok on each other.
Maybe then we wouldn’t have to learn the hard way as often.