While writing a fiction piece about the end of the world, I was interviewing women to learn how they thought they would be treated by men in a nascent civilization. Mostly, women were very pessimistic, with some flatly rejecting the idea of starting over in a site where they were outnumbered by men. Some thought being in a camp with men would be favorable to being outside a camp with no protection from men. It was clear that men would be the biggest problem women felt they would face, even if there were monsters who invaded earth that ate people.
I asked a woman who I didn’t know well at all what she thought would happen. She said once men did all the upper body strength/ he man stuff like putting up fences and farming, it could dawn on them they were in control of everything inside those fences, and women would suffer for this.
“Just like that? I asked.
“That’s the way things work now,” she replied.
She went on to explain she agreed to talk to me about the project, but only in a place where she could see other people, and be seen, because she didn’t know me. A friend referred her to me, knew she would want to speak about the subject, and we were in a downtown coffee shop.
“Have you ever taken a woman out on a first date to a really nice restaurant?” she asked me. “Not just a first date, but the first time the two of you went anywhere together alone?”
I stalled out. Surely, in my life I had, but I couldn’t remember.
“Most women will guide men away from expensive first date venues,” she told me. “That way, the man isn’t as likely to demand sex on the first date.”
I told her I didn’t think dating was like that, and she asked me if I had ever dated a man. My education, it seemed, was just beginning.
The biggest problem, she told me, is that in order to get sex from a man to whom she was attracted, she had to make sure he wasn’t going to assault her first. Which meant she had to establish some level of trust on the first date, allow a rapport to develop, and keep him at arm’s length should he turn into an octopus.
Moreover, she wasn’t on the Pill. When she went out with a guy for the first time, she had no intentions of having sex with him no matter how well things went, or how strong an attraction she developed for him. Women have created bail out calls, where if a woman is on a date and wants out, she can text a friend to come get her out. This woman went a step further by letting a gay friend come over and play video games on her widescreen. She would text him and tell him to stay or go, depending on how a date went.
So, I asked, does this mean you never had sex on a first date?
She went out with a guy she really liked, they went to a cozy little bar, then went to his place and smoked pot. She was higher than she needed to be, and knew it, and the next thing she knows, he’s pushed her over on the sofa, kissing her, and she has to make a decision fast. She can try to throw the brakes on, try to get him off of her, hope it doesn’t piss him off, and hope for the best. She was interested, just not this interested yet, but why not just go along with it? What she knows to be true, is that there is zero chance this man is ever going to be charged with raping her, unless he beats her bloody and she has war wounds to show for it, and even then, going through the process of going to the hospital for a rape kit, going through the trauma of filing a report, and waiting for a trial that might take months, assures her only that the man she is trying to put in prison knows where she lives.
She pushes back, tells him to stop, and he does, for the moment.
Now she has to extract herself from the situation without pissing him off. They are both drunk, both stoned, and she says she has to use the bathroom, which is a disaster, because she has to go through his bedroom to get there. He follows her, lays down on the bed, and she closes the bathroom door behind her, and thinks. Now what? She almost calls a friend, decides not to, thinks she might be overthinking the situation, flushes, washes her hands, and when she steps out of the bathroom, he’s on the bed, naked.
“At this point,” she tells me, “it’s fight or fuck, and after I lose the fight I’m fucked anyway.”
A few hours later, after three or four sessions of unprotected sex, his urgency and buzz wears off, and he drives her home. The next morning, she hits the pharmacy for a Morning After Pill, and is pissed at herself for getting in that situation.
“You’ve never raped a woman?” she asks, looking me in the eye.
“No, never,” I say and I’m mad she would ask.
“You’ve never taken a drunk woman back to your apartment, started trying to fuck her, and not thought for a moment that she might be afraid to say no to you?” The question is one open to interpretation, and I almost say that, but I realize it sounds like I’m trying to defend myself against an accusation.
I tell her about the time a woman came home with me from a bar, like in her case, and we smoked some pot, and we were both really stoned. We started kissing, one thing led to another, but she never said stop or slow down, or no.
“Could she have walked home from your place safely? Could she have called a cab? Was there anyone close by she could have gotten to come get her? Did you have control over her means of transportation?” she asked, and I could tell this was exactly what she had gone through.
“Did you try to call her the next day, or later, and did she more or less not want to have anything else to do with you?” she demanded. This all happened long before cell phones, back in the 80’s.
I thought back to that night. It was cold, raining hard, and we were both pretty blitzed. The woman didn’t seem reluctant, or hesitant.
“Does this mean she absolutely wasn’t looking for a one night stand?” I asked and the question seemed lame for some reason.
“No, not at all, she could have very well been looking for sex. She might have had a boyfriend and not wanted to see you again for that reason. “But you had a lot more control over the situation than she. Did you ask her if she was on birth control? Did you offer to use a condom? Did you ever wonder if she was pregnant after that night? The questions were flung out at me, but she already knew the answers.
“Hey, this was decades ago,” I protested.
“Good point. Nothing has changed since what happened to that woman happened to me, Mike,” she said. “I’m not accusing you of raping her. I’m accusing you of not realizing you had power over her. In your story, if you set up a camp to restart civilization, how are you going to prevent the men from having power over the woman, and then using that power against the women. That’s the question you are asking, even if you don’t realize it.”
“Take the most extreme example. Do you think Thomas Jefferson raped Sally Heming?” she asked.
“Yes, a woman who cannot say no cannot say yes,” I replied.
“Even if she liked him, or loved him, and even wanted him, the power he held over her made it impossible for her to make up her own mind as to what to do with her body. The guy that was waiting for me to come out of the bathroom forced me to either confront him, or go along for the ride. I was young, scared, and took the easy way out. It’s not the classic knife-at-her-throat rape scene, but I didn’t feel as if I had any choice. That’s your story right there. Who decides how much power men have over women?” she stood up, to go, and I stood up, too.
“You’re on the right track, Mike, but a lot of men are going to read it complete fiction.”