This is a brief diversion from DIY talk and recipe testing, but not at all, unfortunately, irrelevant to the Army family. As the #yesallwomen and #notallmen battle rages, opening up a much needed, if hotly contested, conversation in our society, I have some thoughts I cannot keep to myself. Although many military spouses feel some pressure from somewhere to keep controversial or political opinions to ourselves so our service members are not affected negatively by those who disagree with us, this ambivalence that often leads to cautious silence has fed the beasts of domestic abuse and sexual assault. They need to hear our voices, they need to be reminded this is personal, it isn’t about a character in an overdramatized video or feminist politics, it is the safety of the women they care about. And women they don’t even know. The freedom of women and all Americans to not live in fear or be treated as second class citizens IS a fundamental right our spouses fight for, is one of the freedoms we sacrifice so much for them to defend and it cannot be fully realized until we talk about it in all the dank and dimly lit corners its failures still hide.
As I witness the response to the mass murder that went on in California recently, I’m really glad there are people, both women and men, willing to call it what it really is: an act of terrorism against women. “You won’t date me? I’ll teach you to fear for your life if you reject narcissistic creeps like me, if you stand your ground about unwanted attention.” He is not alone. He is not the first and will not be the last. He was a sick individual, but all he really did was take a message too many of our boys learn two steps too far. We acknowledge murder is not a solution to your dating difficulties, and stalking is just bad form, occasionally criminal, but what about the deep, insidious entitlement? Our culture only sees it as a problem when it is examined more closely and named for what it is, in every day use it’s treated as normal. I want to be clear that NOT ALL MEN have bought into the attitudes I am about to describe, but many, many have and I will tell you just about every woman I know has encountered, often routinely, the ones who have, and the experience keeps us on our toes, scanning the environment for threats, taking proactive measures to avoid such unpleasant, even scary encounters. That is not the America our armed forces fight for.
If he had only stalked these girls, he would have been “infatuated” and “misguided” despite the real effect of terrorizing them and making their lives a living hell until he crossed a line the police could not ignore. That would have been one step too far. But in our world, too many men feel entitled. Entitled to companionship and sex based on how awesome they are, with NO regard for the right of a woman to just not be attracted to what he has to offer. “She’s just not my type” is fine, but a woman who doesn’t like YOU is a little bit crazy, a cold bitch who doesn’t recognize quality when she sees it.
I know it happens because it happened to me freshman year of college, and I was terrified. True story. As a naive, idealistic 18 year old, I had an open door policy on dating: not everyone makes a stunning first impression, give a guy a chance, a first date doesn’t commit you to anything, right? Well, most of the time. Most boys are raised with enough manners that even if they feel irked, like they wasted their time because it didn’t “go anywhere” they have enough class not to say it to your face. But then, there is the guy, who on a first date, despite your offer to split the bill insisted on paying and gives his card to the waiter who shrugs as you say no really, dutch treat. Who insisted on walking you home when you’d really rather he not and told him so. Who then texts half an hour after you say thank you and goodnight and pull the locked door close behind you, to ask what happened, and didn’t you have fun? Who tries to insist on a second date, because obviously one was not enough for you to see his enchanting personality and good looks. Yes, he is fit and tan, a collegiate scholar athlete with a pretty decent brain in his head, and he opens doors and pulls out your chair, but he is just too cocky for you, he cuts you off during conversation and spends much of the date singing his own praises. He sees your lack of interest as a problem with you, an error in your perception that he can correct with persuasion. His father told him so. His father after all, convinced his mother through persistence and now look how happy they are!
He arranges chances to bump into you on campus. He texts and calls, you say, “I really don’t want another date, it’s nothing personal, it just didn’t click for me. Please don’t ask again.” You say, “If you call me again, I’m going to block your number, I’m not interested.” But your carrier only lets you block a number for 30 days at a time. Every 34 days or so the texts come back and you have to go into your account and block him again. The carrier says when you call to try to block it permanently that your only choice is to change your number completely. You threaten to call the police, knowing, in fact, that there’s nothing they can do until you ask him in writing to not contact you, and then he continues to, and then if the police take it seriously which they rarely do, he might eventually months later get a slap on the wrist. You tell him in writing, and that you will show the email to the police if he doesn’t quit. He gets angry, then slowly gives up, you’re not worth risking his scholarship. The calculated run-ins taper off over a year, and you start feeling safer, you stop looking to see if he’s hanging out within eyesight of your dorm. You’re in a serious relationship with the man who will be your husband, and one day he sees a call come up on your phone as “DO NOT ANSWER” (the way you have saved this number in your phone) and asks why you don’t want to answer. So he decides to put an end to this once and for all. He puts on his scary voice and picks up on the last ring, and tells this guy he will not be calling again. And the calls stop. Forever. Because he didn’t respect you, didn’t respect your right to say no, but he respects your boyfriend’s right to date you exclusively without interference. He respects another man saying “no” once, not your dozens and dozens of “no”. This is not a composite made up story, it is a true story, and I am not exactly a shrinking violet.
The fact is, it’s intimidating even for not easily intimidated women. Your space is violated yet he never really broke any laws, and he is considered a normal guy, maybe a bit pushy, but not a serious problem. The truth is, I was lucky. You are far less likely to be raped by a stranger who pulls you into a dark alley leaving a bar. It will be the guy you leave the bar with, who bought you a drink or two. A charming guy who offered to walk you home since you’re a little tipsy and he just wants to make sure you get home okay. He paid his dues, now he’s in. You’re not even of drinking age, the story is the same but a frat party and he pushes his way into your room behind you. Even more likely. It’s the high school boyfriend you’ve been seeing for 6 months who decides it’s about damn time. It’s a story every woman knows. If it didn’t happen or attempt to happen to you, you have at least one friend it has. Think I’m wrong? Do you have 5 female friends and you’ve never heard one of these stories? One of your friends is keeping something to herself (and has every reason not to want to recall).
I don’t now how we expect sexual assaults in the Army to be dealt with by a “Just don’t do it” campaign. When you mix stress, loneliness, alcohol, desire, a culture of entitlement, a veneer of machismo over inevitable insecurities, and power, especially given the relative youth of many of our troops, it is bound for disaster, and no threat of consequences will stop it. The root causes are still there. Self medicating stress with booze. Being torn away from social support systems again and again. A young demographic that does not exactly foster emotional maturity. And that pesky entitlement, the way power interacts with even a vague, mild sense of entitlement can have tragic consequences. The efforts to more clearly define consent are helpful, but limited. And truth be told, I’m not sure the Army can parent young adults who were raised without clear and nuanced messages about sex and respect. We have to teach our children, especially our sons, that they do not have rights to other people. You do not have a right to someone else’s friendship just because you are nice to them. You do not have a right to date someone just because you like them and they should see how great you are. You do not have a right to get physical with a woman because you’ve bought her a drink or dinner and she seemed to have fun. You do not have a right to a second date or a thirtieth date if she just isn’t that into you, just because you put effort into getting to know her. You do NOT have a right to have sex just because it’s the third date, or you’re exclusive with her, or you’re married, but she’s not in the mood.
I highly encourage all parents to have their children pre-teen and up watch the clip below, language and all, it’s worth it. Girls–you don’t owe him anything. Guys–relationship with women is a privilege, not a right, and SHE decides if and when you have earned her trust and affection. To everyone who is dating or looking for a mate: give people permission to not be into you and not take it personally. You’ve been on the other end: perfectly nice guy/girl that you kind of wish you were into but you just don’t click that way. It’s ok–there will be someone else who does see in you what they desire. If it keeps not working out, maybe it won’t happen until you’ve looked in the mirror honestly, gotten feedback from friends, and decided to make some changes in yourself, instead of calling each of your ex’s crazy.
Love comes when you give freely of yourself to another with genuinely no expectations of them in return, love can’t be earned by quid pro quo. I’ll tell you a secret guys: that’s often how sex comes too. Genuinely. No. Expectations. When you just wanted to see her happy because her smile lights up your world, because you believe she deserves good things, and she feels special and loved and trusts you to have her best interests at heart, that is where true, deep passion comes from.