Everyday sexism in relationships: Groping
When you think of “groping“, you think sexual predator. You think Trump. And who can blame you, if the first image that comes up on Google associated with this act is one of the current president of the United States.
(At least it was three weeks ago, when I finished the first draft of this article. In the meantime we all witnessed the Harvey Weinstein scandal unfold and male celebrities apologizing for sexual assault.)
Groping, the “touching or fondling another person in an unwelcome sexual way using the hands” is considered something that happens “outside home”, a form of sexual harassment enforced on women by strangers (or faint acquaintances).
Psychology Today expert Michael Karson explains in his 2016 article “Why men grope women” that the main reason for groping is “projective identification”. It basically means that being raised in a society that does not allow little boys to feel their own “dependence, passivity and vulnerability”, might ultimately lead to the complete denial of those feelings in oneself. “Groping, ogling, and catcalling are often ways of inducing in women feelings of vulnerability, weakness, and fear. Compared to a woman paralyzed or befuddled by being groped, the man seems to himself to be a master of the universe.”
In other words: Men, who have not accepted sensitivity and vulnerability as part of themselves, might turn to groping and other forms of sexual harassment, which make them feel in charge.
Unfortunately, this kind of behaviour is also backed up by social expectations, like:
“Ah, come on! Boys will be boys.”
And ridiculous “biological explanations”, such as:
“Men just have a higher sex drive.”
I’d like to challenge the idea that women — by nature — ugh — have a lower sex drive than men.
How much do we actually know about female sexuality?
Exactly. Not much.
We only found out recently that the clitoris is actually much bigger than we thought and that vaginal orgasms are a myth (which is surprisingly hard to bust). Yet, despite not having the slightest clue about the complexity of female sexuality, everyone claims to know that women have a lower sex drive. The “natural absence” of female desire has become an accepted truth, despite a lack of the right kind of research.
Explaining human behaviour by assimilating it into a biological framework is called a “biologization”.
Many people, who biologize gender will argue that HORMONES play a key role as far as our libido is concerned. And I will admit that they have a point. Hormones play a key role when it comes to virtually everything. As well as affecting “a lot of things” within our organism, our hormones ARE AFFECTED by a lot of factors. Constant fear and worry for example, which can be provoked by sexual assault (i.e. such as groping), lead to higher cortisol levels in our blood. It goes without saying that prolonged stress and high cortisol levels affect our libido greatly. Who likes to think of sex whilst affected by fear?
How can I be sure that my sex drive is actually lower than my boyfriend’s if I am not familiar with my “natural state” — a state of not living in prolonged fear?
If you believe that sexual assault is partially due to higher sex drive in men, you strip male perpetrators off their responsibility as well as you pave the way for a general suspicion towards all men. As a result, there are hardly any (unsupervised) male nursery nurses. Or male midwives. Midhusbands anyone?! You see what I’m getting at.
Groping within a relationship is a funny one (not funny “haha” obviously). It is funny, because while simply googling the term “groping”, the internet’s message is pretty clear:
“Groping is wrong. Only teenage boys and sexual predators do it. Only antisocials with a distorted image of women would go down that road. Not you, Michael. You are a family man. If you were a sexual predator, your wife would not have married you, right? What are you even googling this term for?”
Whereas, when you type in “groping relationship” the lines begin to blur.
One article that I came across is called “Guidelines for Groping and grabbing in marriage”. Not once does the author use any of these terms:
Assault, harassment, sexism.
Instead he acknowledges, that women, who are affected by groping in a relationship feel “violated and used” and try to avoid their husband’s “insensitive behaviour”. By the end, he wonders “Why did God make us this way?” and concludes that “husbands usually find their wives’ bodies to be so attractive that they can hardly resist touching her, especially in sexually sensitive areas.“
The article’s author is clearly applying biologizations here (“Men cannot help it — it is part of their nature”). He does not take into account, which role power, control and repression play, when it comes to the seemingly harmless act of touching their (female) partners against their will.
Despite the article’s shortcomings, I do appreciate the author calling “groping” by its’ name, because, in the end, there are not many relevant Google hits for “groping relationship” at all.
I am afraid that groping within a relationship is often not being referred to as “groping” in the first place. Who wants to play in the same sexual assault league as Harvey Weinstein, or Trump? It is not considered to be something that happens in a relationship with someone you love and respect. Not nowadays. Not within couples, who live in an equal relationship (as far as equality goes within a sexist society).
If you are a woman in a heterosexual relationship, however, you might be familiar with the following scenario:
You are doing some work around the house. Maybe you are putting together your papers for your annual tax return or something similarly unspectacular. All of a sudden, your partner crosses your way and grabs your breast. Or your ass. Or other private parts. Randomly. Without consent. And this doesn’t happen for the first time. You roll your eyes. What’s happening now is going to read a bit like a police report:
The problem here is the crossing of boundaries. If you feel that your partner has crossed a line here, then it’s because he has.
He is not a sexual predator. He is not one of those pathological cases, who is so out of touch with his sensitivity that he has to sexually assault women, like mentioned earlier.
He is still your sweet loving partner.
Who was born into a deeply sexist world.
Like the rest of us.
This is what made you feel deeply hurt without being able to express why. This is what made you feel like you have no good arguments when you were touched against your will.
You may have “surrendered” for the “sake of peace” and “let him get on with it”. Many women do. Because the alternative of telling your partner how you feel about it and not having these feelings acknowledged can be even more painful.
At least “surrendering” is something that you are familiar with and it only makes you feel numb instead of angry: An emotion considered so deeply unattractive in women, so “unfemale”.
On the other side, it’s the false idea of “losing entitlement”, which made your partner feel challenged when you made your point.
When you read the fictitious dialogue between the couple above, you might feel inclined to say that I am exaggerating here and that no educated, reflected, sensitive and soft spoken boyfriend/husband would react this way. Not nowadays. Not within couples, who claim to have an equal relationship.
You need to think again: How many people actively self-reflect? By challenging “accepted truths” about themselves and about others?
That’s right. Not many.
But we can narrow it down even more.
How many people actively self-reflect by challenging “accepted truths” about themselves and about others as well as taking into account that psychotherapy and marriage counselling can only be as “up to date” as our social status quo?
That’s right. Very few.
Now, how about this:
Up until today you had to google long and hard to find that groping within a relationship is actually a violation of boundaries and not only a misunderstanding between men and women, because women don’t become aroused as easily as men.
If you feel that other women and men can benefit from challenging this sexist status quo on a small scale, please share this article with them.
It might help women to feel less “flawed” and reduce the number of self-destructive thoughts, such as: “Why am I being such a party pooper here? He is my partner and sex is a good thing. I shouldn’t be such a prude.“
As well as it might help men to overthink their behaviour:
„Why did she show such a strong reaction when I approached her? Maybe I did cross a line here and should listen to her.“
When it comes to change, awareness is the first step.