Sam Holstein

Some Men Mistreat Women Without Realizing

I think there are a lot of men who regularly mistreat women without realizing it.

It makes sense to me that this would happen. Who wants to think of themselves as someone who mistreats vulnerable people? Who wants to look at their lives and say yeah, I treat women like shit? We humans like to imagine ourselves as rational people who do rational things for rational reasons, but the truth is that most of our behavior is reasoned post hoc — we come up with explanations for why we did what we did after we did it. We have our real reasons, and then we have the reasons we cook up after the fact.

Made out with a chick who was not your girlfriend at a party last night? 
Real reason: she was so fucking hot. 
Post hoc reason: “I was sooo drunk, honey!”

Didn’t finish that marketing pitch for your boss even though you had two weeks to do it? 
Real reason: I didn’t want to do it because it was mind-numbingly boring. 
Post hoc reason: “I wasn’t feeling well this week

These aren’t lies — you were drunk, you were feeling exhausted — but you and your girlfriend and your boss and the little person in your head who tells you to do better things all know the truth.

I think there are a lot of men who sense on some level, the same way you can tell a friend is mad even if you can’t tell how you know, that the woman they’re with is too drunk or unsure or whatever else and doesn’t truly want it… but instead of acknowledging this, they justify.

Had sex with that chick even though she was clearly too drunk?
Real reason: you haven’t had sex in months
Post hoc reason: “I was drunk too!”

Had sex with that girl even though she seemed unsure about it even though she said “yes?”
Real reason: she was there and you were both already naked
Post hoc reason: “She was just shy, she needed my encouragement”

Had sex with that drunk woman who never clearly quite said yes and seemed a little off?
Real reason: you were really fucking horny
Post hoc reason: “She was giving me the vibes at the bar, practically showing her tits to me.”

It sounds awful on paper, but I’ve spoken to many men who have done things like this. None of them thought they were doing something wrong, and most of them were stand up fellas in every other area of their life.

So why would an otherwise stand-up man do something like this?

They were taught (maybe by their father, maybe by their frat bros, maybe by movies and TV shows and porn, I don’t know for sure) as long as she does not point-blank say “No” it is all right to keep going. If she is not saying “No” she is fair game, even if she is a bit drunk (or more than a bit) or unsure or shy or reluctant or whatever else, because until she says “No,” she’s consenting.

If you haven’t heard about affirmative consent — it’s all the rage these days — that’s not the way it works anymore.

Until someone clearly says “yes,” the answer is “no.”

The reason we assume “no” until proven “yes” are numerous, not the least of which is a lot of women don’t push their assaulters off. The fight-or-flight response is misnamed; it’s actually the fight-or-fight-or-freeze response. Ever heard someone described as a ‘deer in the headlights?’ Ever seen a possum play dead? That’s the freeze response. Any time a man hasn’t obtained enthusiastic consent, he’s running the (admittedly small) risk the woman he’s sleeping with has frozen.

Even if we’re not frozen, we may not be sure. It’s alarmingly easy for a woman to find herself in a sexual situation she’s not sure she wants to be in. She’s not really sure she wants this, but he hasn’t done anything wrong, and she doesn’t want to be rude, so she allows the interaction to continue.

Until things suddenly turn sexual. Then she’s faced with a choice:

  1. does she push him off right now and try to shift her I don’t know to a yes, or
  2. does she go along with it and hope it doesn’t suck too bad?

If she does nothing — goes along with it — she is guaranteed to have an uncomfortable sexual experience she’d rather not have. If she pushes him off, she may get the reassurance or whatever it is she needs to proceed enthusiastically, but she may also find that he doesn’t let her and end up getting properly raped. What she will probably get is a situation made awkward beyond repair.

I’ve been in that situation before, and I’ve gotta tell you, fellas, sometimes the uncomfortable sex looks appealing. Who hasn’t had uncomfortable sex before? It’s not the end of the world. And who doesn’t want to avoid stiflingly awkward situations? The chances of the man I’m with being emotionally attentive enough to give me the reassurance I need when I need it is, well… low. Given all this, I can definitely see why some women just go along with it.

Of course, every woman is different. Some women react by going totally over the top, throwing themselves into the sex in an effort to convince themselves they really do want it. Some women continue to sext the man in question for days or months, even continue to go on dates with him, all to convince herself that this is something she wants.

Other women push back even though it will make it stiflingly awkward (or worse) because awkwardness is better than regret, even if he does end up circulating rumors she’s a bitch and a tease.

All this merely to say…

There are a lot of reasons a woman may continue to have sex, even if that’s not what she wants.

To men’s credit, this is hard to suss out. From the outside, at least, it appears men don’t have such complicated feelings around sex — most men either wantor don’t want sex. (No doubt this is in part due to the fact that sex isn’t a physical safety risk for men the way it is for women). But even if men can’tsuss out this bind women find themselves in, men can tell if a woman is unsure. We make those tired old jokes about how ‘men are dumb’ and ‘men only think with their lower brain,’ but it’s pretty easy to tell if someone you’re mashing faces with doesn’t want to be mashing faces.

Many men push forward anyway.

Dear men, please don’t do this. If you start to get the feeling the woman you’re with is unsure or struggling with something, don’t brush her off. Don’t ignore it and hope it goes away. Make it easy on her — step back, brush her hair gently and ask “is everything all right?” Sometimes a little extra reassurance we’re safe (physically, emotionally, or both) is all we need.