Nothing about this is easy or comforting to write, because it doesn’t sit easily or comfortably in my head. Humanity is a mass of contradictions, and modern feminism is a reflection of that. In such a contradictory world, how do we confront men when they say that we have led them on? Led them to believe in an inclination that doesn’t exist? And what do you do when that man is also in a position of power? When he’s your boss?
I pride myself on my feminism, on the way that it grows and is questioned and the fact that it pushes me to be the woman I want to be. But in that moment, as my boss in my crappy, minimum wage job practically yelled at me for not returning his advances, for finding them inappropriate, I felt deserted. The strong pioneers of feminism, women like Gloria Steinem, Joan Didion, Emma Watson, and Beyoncé, hadn’t quite prepared me for the fact that I couldn’t come up with a coherent train of thought to explain exactly why I didn’t think it was a requirement to date him.
For the first time in my life I felt small, like I was less than whole, because I couldn't articulate the transgression I was experiencing. I knew from the top of my head to the soles of my feet that it was wrong and I was uncomfortable but I couldn't find a way to say it, so I stood there shaking my head and saying no. Trying not to cry, trying not to show how terrified I was.
I walked home that night feeling sick and dirty. No number of showers could wash the disgust off me. I was disgusted in him, but I was also aghast at myself for not being able to articulate that he was not entitled to me simply because he deigned to ask. For not being able to say that until I give you permission to touch me, you can’t. That it’s my body, my mind, my choice and that I reserve the right at all times to change my mind, to say yes or no without consequence.
Many of my conversations with my female friends revolve both directly and circumspectly around the idea of male privilege. The confidence of men to speak their minds and to live without fearing the repercussions of incorrectly managing expectations. Their ability to exist in a space free from gendered hatred and disrespect. And having the luxury to not see the world through our female lens.
But while I can sit with my girlfriends and make objective calls about right and wrong behaviour and how to handle oneself in theory, in practice it’s a lot harder. It’s difficult to not feel the weight of centuries of judgement resting on your shoulders. Women are still learning to say no with conviction, power and without fearing the consequences. Because ultimately, consent is a two-way street and it doesn’t come with a manual.
In the modern world of dating, where dating is anything you want it to be, we can read signs into anything and anyone. Having to tell someone that they were incorrect sucks.