What Women Don’t Like and Why: Is it Closeness or Coercion?
Sexual coercion is confusing for women. We are wired by nature to read and respond, to interpret facial expressions and gestures, to pick up on moods, expectations and intensions of others. Evolution has selected and reinforced these traits in females so that we can better preform our job as mothers. This is our biological mandate. Without this fine tuning, this ability to perceive needs and desires almost instantaneously, our babies and children would not have survived and thrived. This strange and almost mysterious faculty that women have, has been understood throughout history and is often referred to as “women’s intuition”. It is a trait that women count on and that often men do as well. For women who are in a caring and loving relationship with another human being, this can open the door to satisfying and lasting intimacy and men too can and do learn from it. A caring partner often recognizes this feminine trait and values it.
In motherhood, this sixth sense as it were, is relied on by children for their very survival and indeed when a mother is not attuned, when she cannot read what her helpless and vulnerable baby is trying to tell her, the baby can carry the scars of that for life.
Because of this inborn capacity to decode the signals of others and respond accordingly women, we that is, get confused when we are being subtly coerced. Our deepest selves are telling us to respond in an attuned manner, there is a strong pull within us to accommodate. So we experience a conflict, “do I do what comes naturally and literally go with the flow or is something off base in this covert command I am sensing”? You see the conundrum taking shape before you. Afterall we as women are wired to read silent signals, we are wired to read gestures that have no words, so when we’re being silently seduced our brains and bodies go into a deep process of response in which we’re unconsciously trying to match or interpret what’s coming towards us. This is how and why women sometimes feel complicitous in these cases of sexual coercion, we feel that we have participated. And we ask ourselves, did I do something, too?
And then there is the touch itself. When human beings touch, whether it’s a pat on the back or an embrace oxytocin, that body chemical that makes us feel warm, connected and cozy gets released which makes us want to get more warm and cozy. The whole idea of “good touch” and “bad touch” in a way flies in the face of this. We crave touch in fact, without it our immune systems cannot function properly.Touch nature says not only feels right, but is necessary for our survival, babies cannot talk or understand words but they respond to our touch and the cooing and pleasant sounds of our voice. So we’re wired for this too, to enjoy touch and what psychologists refer to as “cooing” and “wooing” tones. More confusion. More having to go against the dictates of our bodies and minds.
Here we are as women, caught in an evolutionary bind that is sending us in two directions. Our feminine selves are telling us to read, respond and connect, to feel warm inside, but our fight/flight scan for danger selves, also wired into us by nature, are (hopefully) telling us to be afraid.
What happens from here is based on the individual and their history, training and personality.
For the little girl who has been empowered to listen to and respect her own feelings, there may be the learned ability and developed sense and solidity of self to move away from what she senses to be smarmy and slimy.
For the little girl who has been taught to override her own feelings and inclinations and do what she is told to do by those in authority, no matter what it feels like to her, the path is less clear and distinct. She may find herself denying and rewriting what is going on before her eyes, just as she was taught to do. She may feel she needs to go along with what is happening no matter how it feels to her.
When we’re caught in this space, we cannot tease out the subtle nuances of interpersonal interactions, process our own feelings and separate them from the expectations and insinuations of others. We cannot grab a hold of our sense of self while in the presence of someone we feel out-powers us, long enough to understand what we actually feel about it. We get caught in an emotional, physiological and psychological maelstrom that we cannot get clear of long enough to form any sort of clear strategy. And to complicate this moment even further, the more scared we feel the more immobilized we may become. And this is important. One of the direct results of feeling terrified according to Bessel van der Kolk, world renouned expert in PTSD, is that our thinking mind shuts down when we’re very stressed and scared or when we’re terrified. Our limbic system which processes our flight/flight instincts (and by the way our instincts to bond and respond) goes into high gear. But when we can do neither, when the door is shut and we’ll lose the fight, we freeze. Being backed into a corner by an insistent, aroused, powerful man who is much stronger than we are, is a very scary thing for a woman. Add to that, that they may hold our livelihood or career in their hands and it gets even more complex and threatening.
Predators know this and they use it.
They sense it like animals in the wild and they behave like animals.
The climate that has so recently come upon us in which men are actually being held accountable for what has historically been ignored, has all of our heads reeling. Women are coming out of the woodwork with stories, as a friend of mine said recently, “I think in a room of women if someone asked if we have stories about some form of sexual coercion, every hand would go up.” And while we’re understanding our perpetrators, it behooves us to try to understand ourselves so that we can learn to tell the difference between what is good for us, nourishing and sustaining and what is not. And also so that we can tell apart what is despicable behavior that should be called on the carpet and immature, stupid behavior that needs to be cleaned up. So that we react and lead compassionately, as well as with new empowerment.