I guess it used to be a mystery to me, but now it just seems to be a well-kept secret -- why women say no but don’t totally mean it. Why is it we don't get up and walk out when we've made it clear that we don't want to have sex or that things are moving at a pace that is too quick for us? What keeps us from speaking up about a whole host of injustices when it comes to a man exhibiting an abuse of power over a woman sexually?
It's because women are vulnerable to men in a way that is not true in reverse. Yes, women do abuse their power over men. We can certainly be cruel, demeaning, and deceitful. Yet, due to this vulnerability that stems from a long history of oppression, we find ourselves in situations that we don't want to be in. Still, we are unable to get up and leave. In some cases, of course, this is due to an imbalance of physical strength and a threat of some kind. Barring that scenario, at times we actually lose access to our ability to end an interaction that is unpleasant or in some way compromising, due to this vulnerability. Our unrequited need to be cared for and treated with respect, along with the deeply instilled hope that at any minute now we will start receiving such care, can keep us from getting up and walking out when we otherwise know we should.
This history of oppression has led to a deep, unspeakable trauma that has formed in the feminine psyche over thousands of years of being raped, mutilated, sold into slavery, discarded when bored with, and treated as property instead of as human. This has etched scars into our nervous systems affecting our body's DNA
. This trauma comes into play in our sexual dynamic with men in ways that are not easily understood by either men or women. Ultimately, women want to be cared for, cherished really. We need to be seen and loved for who we are as opposed to being treated like some sex object to be used and thrown away. In our desperate desire to resolve and heal this trauma, we often act ambivalently in situations with men that we are attracted to. We can find ourselves at the effect of this trauma, unable to care for ourselves in a given moment as in the case of "Grace" with Aziz Ansari
Women's deep desire to be loved and protected, and the strong hope of that happening, can split us from our agency and undermine our ability to get up and walk out despite being coerced into situations that make us feel awful. The corrupting effect this has on our sense of dignity adds to the internal freezing inside, rendering us unable to take action as we hope beyond hope it will change at any moment. We were and are still taught that in order to be whole and complete, to survive even, we must be cared for by a man. We want to be loved for who we are intrinsically, not our looks or how we can provide pleasure to the opposite sex and when that is not happening, it triggers this trauma in many cases. Not being cared for, loved, and respected is incongruent with what we know, deep, deep down, to be the true dynamic between man and woman. This is a shock to our system.
Despite the gender/sexual orientation/non-binary movements happening today, if we put this into historical perspective it makes sense. We have several thousand years of conditioning in our culture that tells us what intimate relationships are supposed to look like. That cultural conditioning overwhelmingly points to being between a man and a woman. Men have held absolute power in this world for as long as recorded history, and this history details women as the property of men in most cases. Our very lives have been tied to the whims of men for as long as we know. Our safety and security have depended upon their generosity and kindness to care for us, feed us, clothe us, and support us to raise children and keep a home for them. The shifts in gender dynamics in the last 50-100 years have not managed to undo the multitude of layers of conditioning that have women subjected to an oppressive patriarchal system. This oppression is so deep, its effects unconsciously embedded within all of us, that we do not realize the extent to which it affects us. It is the soup we swim in.
As a result of this imbalance of vulnerability, men, on the whole, have not matured relationally in ways that would allow them to feel deeply satisfied in an intimate relationship. This immaturity leaves them underdeveloped emotionally and sexually, both of which are key ingredients in healthy partnership intimacy. Wielding power over women in order to satisfy urges they often don't understand how to otherwise deal with is one way this plays out. In order to change this, it is imperative for men to be willing to cultivate a connection with a woman, especially in order to sustain love and attraction over time. It is this connection that allows two people to feel each other beyond the physical limits of the body. It opens the doorway to energetic and emotional synergy, which brings sex alive and moves it into the realm of spiritual experience.
Having good sex doesn’t require a long-term, committed relationship. However, taking a genuine interest in the person across from you, and expressing it through gestures, words, patience, kindness, and respect contributes greatly. This environment subsumes entitled gratification. This presumed entitlement to something that is not theirs is where men who abuse their power sexually are coming from. When people are viewed as objects, one can more easily let that sense of entitlement allow them to treat others in degrading ways. Ultimately, this behavior serves no one. If a man’s goal is to simply get off, that should be communicated clearly and shouldn’t involve a woman, or a man, who’s not totally, completely, 100% on board with that agenda.
Uma Thurman is recently quoted as saying, “Personally, it has taken me 47 years to stop calling people who are mean to you ‘in love’ with you. It took a long time because I think that as little girls we are conditioned to believe that cruelty and love somehow have a connection and that is like the sort of era that we need to evolve out of.”
I know this feeling and behavior all too well. Hopefully this will serve as a tool for me to better navigate the next situation, because I’ve no doubt at all that there will be a next situation.
This was a great piece, really hit home for me. Thank you for putting this kind of material out there. It is very much needed and even necessary.