There is no questions the date between Aziz and Grace was a disaster
We have watched as people have taken sides, but that’s not what we want to do here. It was a bad date, Aziz pushed too hard, Grace didn’t leave. Instead of taking sides, what we’d rather do is ask “Why?” For the sake of simplicity, we will start with Grace.
There’s an important piece of the story missing
While many writers, including Emma Gray from HuffPo, call on the socialization of women to be nice and accommodating, we think this is only part of the story.
A much deeper problem is lack of women’s sexual empowerment. Because women are taught to say “no” to sex, they go into sexual situations from a defensive mode. They are not thinking, “I love sex and have every right to it. So, do I want sex with this guy, under what circumstances would or wouldn’t I? And, what kind of sexual experiences would make me feel great physically and emotionally?”
Instead, they go into a dating situation thinking, “What is this guy going to want from me and how do I navigate it so that I am sexual enough for him, while still getting him to respect and take me seriously?”
Boys are praised and girls are protected
Girls are sexually disempowered from a young age. When you see people talk to parents about their children, they look at boys and say, “Oh, he’s flirting with me, he’s so cute, he’ll get all the girls.” When they look at a pretty girl, the say, “Boy, you better watch out, all the boys are going to be after her, you might need to keep her locked up ’til she’s 18.”
The protectionist attitude is everywhere in our society, and it contributes to women feeling like victims instead of people driving their own lives. We have worked with so many parents struggling with how to deal with their teenage daughter’s budding sexuality. When we float the idea that they might talk about how wonderful and pleasurable sex is before telling them to be careful, it’s like the thought has never even occurred.
So, why didn’t Grace just leave (or why don’t women just leave)?
She probably had a romantic fantasy that she might end up being Aziz’s girlfriend, though he clearly was only out for casual sex. She was probably being nice, because she was socialized that way. And, importantly, it is VERY unlikely that she had any idea of what her sexual desires and boundaries were in the situation, so she was in a reactive instead of empowered mode.
Unless you’ve experienced it, it is very hard to imagine what reactive mode is like. It is almost as if the world becomes very small and you are only in the current interaction. You are trying to deal with the moment-to-moment experience of decision-making in the face of the force of someone else’s desires. And, sometimes like the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water, you only realize how bad it’s gotten once the pot is boiling.
While it may not have been the case in Grace’s situation, it bears mentioning that people with a history of unresolved trauma can have a freeze response, which might lead to them not being able to stop a violating experience. In a similar situation, a woman with a history of unresolved trauma, would have one or more of three potential responses, fight, flight or freeze. Fight is great in these instances — a woman with this response might have pushed Aziz away and said, “Get off of me.” Flight also would have been great — a woman with a flight response would likely have run out of the house. The tougher one in these situations, and one that women will often then be blamed or shamed for and feel terrible about themselves after, is the freeze response. A woman who has the freeze response will generally dissociate, never say no or stop saying no, and let the other person do whatever they want to do until it’s over.
Lack of sexual empowerment
Even if Grace did not have a trauma history (and we don’t know whether or not she did), we strongly believe that the fact that she did not leave the date sooner was not Grace’s fault. We think it is highly doubtful that Grace received the message that she has a right to pleasure and can decide what she does and doesn’t want. Until women are fully empowered to not be so nice and to have their own internal compass, bad dates will continue to look like Aziz and Grace’s. Even when we are highly empowered, women still might occasionally not take perfect care of themselves, but we will at least have the best possible chance. Also, even if we are totally clear and empowered in dating situations, we can still get violated and raped if a man is willing to use force. We must keep all of this in mind if we are going to change our culture around dating and sex.
What does women’s sexual empowerment look like?
At minimum, if we want girls to grow up to be empowered women in these kinds of situations — to ask for what they want, to stay when they like it and leave when they don’t — we need to treat them like adult sexual beings. We need to get rid of the protectionist attitude towards girls and teach them that sex is pleasurable and that they deserve pleasure. We need to tell girls that sex is for them and not something that boys get to have and they get to try to stave off in order to get a relationship.
What needs to change in the minds of men and women?
- It is time to celebrate women who have multiple sexual partners as wise women, not sluts (or reclaim the word slut as something positive)! We need to imagine a future of wonderful, pleasurable sex for girls and give them the knowledge to do so once they become women.
- Both men and women need to think of women’s sexual desire as an essential part of every women. We need to stop thinking of sex as a commodity that women trade for love and relationships.
- It is only through knowing what we want and that we have a right to it, that we can also know what we don’t want and be crystal clear about it.