An open letter to the man I didn’t have sex with last night
To the man I didn’t have sex with last night,
I’d like to start by stating that I do not think you are a bad person. In fact, up until a few hours ago, I was starting to really like you. I think that is partly why I decided to write this letter in the first place. It would be so easy to brush you off as an “asshole” or “predatory douchebag,” but I think the truth is more complicated than that. I think men like you are tragically common, and you are a prime example for illustration.
I have noticed that it is difficult for you to empathize with the femme perspective, so let me briefly fill you in on what has transpired over the past few days from my point of view.
Saturday night: I tell you no. I tell you no partially because I like you and have been taught that women who open their legs too quickly are not worthy of respect. But mostly, I tell you no because I’m just not ready to be with you yet. I tell you no and you pull back, “confused.” You decide it’s appropriate to argue with me. You’re offended, you exclaim, “I’ve seen your breasts!” that I had shown you my thong, and that I was “basically naked!” (my dress had, in fact, shifted to the side as I was lying in my bed, making all of these statements marginally true). All of this, in your mind, constitutes a prequel to imminent sex.
This line of thinking is problematic, but I let it go. I excuse you because you don’t have a liberal arts education. You’re a generation older than those leading the consent-conscious movement rippling across college campuses. Maybe you’ve never been rejected before and don’t know how to deal with it.
Excusing you was my first mistake.
Sunday: We spend the entire afternoon and evening together, wandering around dusty fairgrounds and eating greasy food on paper plates. You hold my hand, let me buy my own tacos, and go with me to see the animals.
You also tell me I’m a bad driver, insult my intelligence, and insist that I don’t know how to handle money. You complain that I don’t like you as much as you like me. You teasingly ask “Why don't you love me?” when I don’t return your affection fast enough.
But love, to me, is not a joke. And despite your degradation, I am still enamored of you. I twist your words in my head until they smooth to flattery.
Sunday night: I sleep at your apartment; it is convenient for my morning plans, and I enjoy spending time with you. I tell you that I still am not ready to have sex. You say “okay” with a few complaints, but nothing overly dramatic.
I wake up at 3:15 in the morning, a foreign hand touching my vagina, wet kisses moving down my neck and back, and hot heavy sex breath in my ear. I had been fully unconscious. I tell you to stop, to go to sleep. You tell me to kiss you, and I say “No.” You keep touching me. You keep on fucking rubbing me all night, pushing your skin into my skin, and breathing so fucking loud into my ear.
Monday morning: At first I think your actions last night were a bad dream. Separating reality from other states of consciousness has never been my forte. But after cautiously talking to my roommate on the phone, I am lucid and angry. I text you, asking about the night before. You joke, “You’re the one who took your top off.” You make me feel guilty. I ask if anything else happened while I was asleep, trying to be nonchalant about the possibility that you did more than touch me without my permission. You respond angrily: “I don’t have time to date someone who isn’t attracted to me.”
You do not understand that you have hurt me. In fact, you are focused on how offended you are by the choices I made about my body. You think I am overreacting. You don’t let up your defensiveness until I tell you about my past experiences of sexual assault.
I meet with you in person. I take time out of my day to express why I don’t want to see you again. You look down at appropriate times, nod, and raise your eyebrows in the correct manner to express remorse. But you text me later, bitterly reversing any half-apology you had expressed earlier.
My biggest issue with this entire situation is your absolute denial of responsibility. Your actions are insidious. You disguise your lack of respect for me with the words you know you’re supposed to say about respecting women. You, and so many men like you, were taught that rape is wrong but everything else is up for debate — that as long as you don’t rape, then you are an upstanding, sexually responsible person.
Just because you didn’t rape me, doesn’t mean you didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t actually have sex with me against my will, but had I — like so many young women —been less secure in my ability to say no and to physically protect myself against you, I probably would have let you fuck me anyway out of the sheer discomfort and even fear of saying no. You helped reinforce the horrifically common idea ingrained in so many women that saying yes is easier than saying no.
Just because you didn’t rape me doesn’t mean you respect me. Respect is about so much more than simply not having sex with someone when they say no. It’s about the conversations you have after consent is denied and about making me feel comfortable with and empowered by that decision. The fact that I even have to use “not raping” as a baseline for respectful behavior in this instance is pathetic.
Not only did you fail to take responsibility for your actions and fail to respect me, but you stopped defending yourself only when I told you I had experienced sexual assault in the past. How many more women must re-open their wounds for men like you to pause long enough to get a glimpse at your contribution to the problem? I shouldn’t have had to tell you about my rape to get you to listen. I shouldn’t have had to provide you with a reason justifying my denial of your sexual advances. I shouldn’t even have to write you this letter.
So, in the future, I implore you to re-evaluate your words and actions directed at the women you date. I believe you when you say that you liked me. I believe that you thought you weren’t doing anything horrendously wrong. But, lucky for you, I am here to kindly inform you that you were wrong.
No matter what a girl is (or isn’t) wearing, how long you’ve been seeing her, what reason she provides, what state of consciousness she is in, or what you were doing three seconds prior, you do not have a right to question or argue with a woman’s decision to say no to anything related to her body. Her choices are hers. They are not up for discussion.
If you actually read this, you’re probably feeling insecure and angry about being told that your actions added to an epidemic of gendered violence. That feeling must suck. But you know what also sucks? Feeling violated. I think that you, and every other individual who thinks it’s acceptable to say anything but “okay!” when someone says “no” to you, need to get the fuck over whatever perceived hurt that “no” causes you. You need to stop making the choices I make about my body into issues about you.
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