What it means to be in a female body

TW, CW: verbal and sexual assault.

I am grateful for the #MeToo movement for letting me know that I am not alone, that my experiences as a female, in a female body, are normal.  Well – they aren’t normal.  They involve verbal and physical sexual assault and abuse.  Repeatedly.  But it lets me know that this is something that has happened and is happening to all women, and that the only thing that has allowed this to continue is secrecy. 

Men have assumed their behavior is normal.  Women have assumed men’s behavior is normal.  It isn’t normal. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t safe.

I am lucky that I have not been attacked.  I am lucky that I have not been forcibly raped. 

But I have been raped.

Rape is not always about force. It is any time there is sexual penetration without consent.  It can be with a boyfriend you have dated for many years.  It can be with a new guy, a potential boyfriend. It can be with a husband.  There doesn’t have to be force. It doesn’t have to be a stranger. It is any time you have sex when you don’t want to have sex. Period.

I will not go into much detail about the time a boyfriend raped me. It didn’t feel like rape at the time. It was the first time we’d had sex. I wasn’t ready. He thought I was. He didn’t ask. We’d fooled around before. But I wasn’t ready to make that next step.  Next thing I knew he’d put his penis inside me. So I didn’t get to decide.  It was happening. I didn’t want it, but it was too late.

It wasn’t like I was a virgin. But I’d not had sex with him before. We hadn’t talked about when we wanted to cross that line.

That is rape. Even though the sex wasn’t forced, it wasn’t welcome. He made me think that I’d asked for it, that I wanted it. But it wasn’t just him – it was years and years of other boyfriends teaching me (and other women) that my body was not my own. That I was a thing for them to use.

There are microaggresions – forceful words, ideas, thoughts – where guys program women into thinking they are things, they are objects of desire, they are objects – period.  We are repeatedly taught through words and actions and stories that we exist only to please men – that we do not have value on our own. This is a form of mind-rape, where we are taught to submit.

Even women’s fiction teaches women this, over and over, that their only purpose in life is to have a man – any man. That is her happy ending – to have a husband, a house, a family – and nothing else. This is programming.

So what does it mean to be in a female body?

It means that you have to think about what you wear when you go on a date. I learned early on that boys thought it was OK to start taking off my clothing without my permission. They would search for buttons and clasps while we were kissing. They didn’t ask.  I hadn’t said it was OK.  I hadn’t said that I wanted “to go past first base”. I started wearing difficult clothing to make them stop. Saying no wasn’t enough. I had a pair of pants that buttoned on the side, at the pockets.  This was unusual – and the guy was trying to undress me without my permission.  He stopped and asked how to undo my pants and I told him I had not said that was what I wanted.  He was frustrated and confused.  He had never thought to ask a woman what she wanted.  It was always about what he wanted.

On another date with a different guy I had on my favorite shirt. It was a beautiful green, long sleeves, really comfortable.  But it had snap buttons.  He started undressing me and I said no. He was confused. There was a lot of discussion, and I said I didn’t want to have sex. We’d just met – this was our first date. He said that I shouldn’t have worn a shirt with snap buttons then. That was a sign (to him) that I wanted to have sex.

They are not alone.  This is normal behavior of men towards women.  People in male bodies don’t experience this. They don’t go on dates and worry about if things will progress further than they want.  Most guys want things to progress to a “home run”. 

On the first date.

Without any talking about it.

Without any discussion at all.

I went out with a guy to a movie. When we got back to his dorm room, he wanted to have sex.  This was our first (and last) date.  He was surprised that I said no. His argument as to why we should have sex – he’d paid for the movie.  It was owed him, he thought.  As if I was a $10 whore.  As if I owed him sex. When I said no, he asked he could at least jerk off between my breasts. I said no.

Note that he was only interested in his sexual pleasure – not mine.  Note that only his needs were important.

Another guy, another first and last date, didn’t undress me but pulled out his penis and began jerking off while we were kissing. I said I was uncomfortable with him doing that and he put it back. We kissed a little more and he began jerking off again. I walked away, and he said that he’d finish up thinking about me.

This is disturbing behavior.  This isn’t OK.

I feel lucky that I have always been able to get away from these experiences without being raped. Some men don’t take no for an answer.  I know that women have been forced to have sex – under duress, under guilt, under wheedling and whining with the classic “blue balls” sob story. Guilt-trip sex is rape.

Women are taught over and over to please, to take care of others.

Women are taught that to be “good” we must put our needs and wishes second.

Men know this, and they use it against us.

Sometimes the problems aren’t so dramatic, but they still are scarring. They are still wrong. They are still abusive.

I’ve had a boss say “while you’re down there” – smirking and glancing at his crotch while I was getting something out of a cabinet.  He was standing up right next to me.  This was at a Record Bar in Eastgate Mall, in Chattanooga. The store was open to the public. He thought it was perfectly normal to ask me to give him a blow job. At work. We weren’t dating. He was married.

This was right before the term “sexual harassment” was normalized. Another employee turned him and the assistant manager (also male) in for sexual harassment against her. They were so confused about it. They didn’t think they had done anything wrong, ever.  The assistant manager even called me at home to ask me to call corporate to put in the good word for them – to say they weren’t guilty.

By the way – the assistant manager had asked me to be part of a threesome with him and his wife.

These two men thought this was all normal.

Sometimes sexual assault isn’t so obvious.  I had a male boss who thought it was OK to come up behind me while I was at my counter at JoAnn’s fabric store in Cool Springs and “goose” me.  I was in a tight space, with the counter in front of me, not room to move away. He would poke me on my sides to tickle me. I had not asked for this. I didn’t want this. I told him to stop. I understood in the back of my mind that this could mean I’d get low marks on my performance review.

That too is sexual harassment and assault.

Any unwanted physical contact isn’t OK.

So now guys are wondering what is OK. They say they are afraid of us now. They are afraid of lawsuits and criminal records. They are afraid of us damaging their reputations.

To this I say, good. We’ve been afraid of men for thousands of years. We’ve been threatened, coerced, and psychologically assaulted by men for too long. And what has continued this assault is secrecy. No longer.

Yes, not all men. Some men are good. But the chances of being harmed are high, and we’ve gotten scarred.  Being out in public is like playing a game of Russian roulette – where women are always the losers.

Then there are situations where it isn’t so obvious.

Men think it is normal to dump their emotional baggage on me while I’m at work, assuming that because I’m a woman I want to hear them complain about all the things going wrong in their lives. They don’t talk to other men like this.

I have worked behind a desk for most of my life – in retail and in other service industries. I’m not a counselor or a therapist but they treat me as if I am one.  This relationship is not two-way. They don’t want to hear about my life. This is not a friendship.  They want to use me as their emotional garbage dump, just because I am female. This is exhausting.  It is yet another way men condition women to be their servants, to be their objects.

Women are taught to beware of their surroundings at all times to protect against attack. Just walking across a mall parking lot can be as dangerous as walking in the wilderness. Being attacked by a bear and a man require the same precautions. I could go on and on about how our “normal” isn’t normal, and how men do not grasp how much some men (and sometimes they themselves) complicate the lives of women.  But I won’t right now.

I now live my life in my own power.

I now live my life in truth.

I now am a powerful, truthful, and whole woman.

So be it.

Uncomfortable tale

(Trigger warning – sexual abuse)

After his 34-year-old wife Laura Levis suffered a devastating asthma attack and later died, the Boston writer Peter DeMarco wrote the following letter to the ICU staff of CHA Cambridge Hospital who cared for her and helped him cope.

His letter, published online in the New York Times on October 6th, went viral.  It goes on for quite a long time in detail about the incredibly kind and compassionate care that the nurses gave him and his wife.

Here is the part that I have a huge problem with. This occurred in the hour just before she was to go into organ donor surgery – where her organs were to be what is euphemistically termed as “harvested”.

These are his words.

“I nestled my body against hers. She looked so beautiful, and I told her so, stroking her hair and face. Pulling her gown down slightly, I kissed her breasts, and laid my head on her chest, feeling it rise and fall with each breath, her heartbeat in my ear. It was our last tender moment as a husband and a wife, and it was more natural and pure and comforting than anything I’ve ever felt. And then I fell asleep.”

This is from the same person who observed earlier in his letter, in talking about the nurses –  “When you listened to her heart and lungs through your stethoscopes, and her gown began to slip, you pulled it up to respectfully cover her.”

His wife was comatose and dying.  Yet he found it acceptable to engage in a sexual act on her  – obviously without her consent.  It wasn’t “with” her – she was present in body only.  She did not participate.

He thought it was respectful for the staff to cover her up – yet he felt it was OK for him to uncover her.

And then he felt it was OK to write about it in a public way.

I am sickened by this man.

I’m sorry that his wife died, but I’m more sorry for her spirit that he felt it was OK to violate her dignity by his action – and then again by publicizing it.

Let’s make this clear –

Just because he is married doesn’t mean he has full access to her body, at all times.  It is still her body, and her decision as to what happens to her.  It is never OK to perform a sexual act on anyone if they are unconscious – even if they are married to you.