I’m a bisexual woman. Over the course of time, this identity of mine has made me wonder about gender hypocrisy, gender wars, slut shaming, and other things.
The very first time I went out with a girl was well into my twenties. I’d only dated men until then, and was pretty clear to my date that I had no intentions of it being anything other than a fling, given that I was still closeted. She was a college senior who was in an open relationship with a man in an open marriage, and heartily agreed.
While I’m not ‘butch’, I’m a very take-charge kind of person, having had many younger siblings. I was also older, and working in a well-paying highly-respected profession. These things, it turns out, put me in the ‘man’ role in any lesbian relationship I enter. I don’t relish this.
So our date went well, and we couldn’t stop talking to each other. I made her laugh, I made her open up and talk animatedly, as did I. We had much in common. A couple of hours into this, I realized all she was doing was talking. And it wasn’t the flirty talk there’d be on a date with a man. The conversations stayed platonic. My moves were shot down.
And then a surprising thing happened. I felt a surge of anger. I felt cheated. I felt like she’d lured me with false promises of no-strings-attached sex. And how? Because in the days I’d gotten to know her prior to our date, she talked openly about her relationships and experiences enough that she seemed to me an ‘easy’ candidate for experimentation. Because she’d known I didn’t intend to take it any further than a noncommittal fling, and still agreed to go out with me. I felt annoyed at having to make all the moves and be shot down again and again. Her mixed signals drove me nuts. I decided to cut my losses and head home in time for Mad Men.
Not even a few minutes into the fates of Don and Peggy, she messaged me about what a nice time she’d had and how comfortable she felt with me. So why didn’t you kiss me, I demanded. She’s shy, she said. She admitted she was all talk, and actually very inexperienced. And besides, she’d assumed it was my job to initiate.
Our plans for a second date didn’t materialize, given I had to move jobs, and she had to move cities soon after. The whole thing could be put down to a communication issue, given I was inexperienced in taking women out, and she was just a college senior, several years my junior.
But it bothered me how easily I could assume someone was ‘easy’. Wasn’t this what I campaigned against as a feminist? That just because a woman talked about sex doesn’t mean she consents to it, or consents to it with you, I used to say. Now in practice, where was that I wondered, when confronted with being turned on. I’d somehow begun to feel entitled to getting some with her. “What a waste of a hot dinner”, I angrily texted a friend on my way back.
It doesn’t stop there. As someone freshly come out to myself, I was afraid to solicit women on dating sites, and my immediate circle didn’t include any women I wanted to be with. The only solution seemed to be hooking up with a stranger at Pride. I found myself at Pride, clad skimpily, wearing bright rainbows all over, so that no one could miss my signals even if they tried. Turned out, I wasn’t alone. One girl had actually painted ‘I’m bisexual and single’ on her chest and her thighs. I found myself looking for, and hitting on, scantily clad women.
Even earlier, my first time in a lesbian bar, I was hit on very crudely by older women, being young and fresh-faced there. I shook them off and found them intimidating, but soon found myself hitting bawdily on a shy-looking woman alone with her drink. My impatience, my inability to take the uncertainty of ‘Are we going home together tonight or what?’ annoyed me.
All this made me wonder, why do we get so angry when a man says he hit on a scantily clad woman because she looked to be up for it? Why do we shoot down attempts to tell women to dress more conservatively? Why do women agree to go out with you when they have no intention of sleeping with you? Why do women agree to let you buy them a drink when they have no intention of letting you anywhere close? Am I not justified in making raunchy jokes to you because I bought you a drink? Heck, I’m just communicating my intent, I don’t intend to make you uncomfortable, so why is it all such a big deal?
I agree there are legitimate reasons to avoid there being an environment where women are commodified and seen as sex objects. But is it so bad and downright evil for a young man to view a woman as a sex object when he’s so turned on? If it is, should he be shamed and punished as harshly as we do now? I pitied every young man at that point. I’d heard that F-to-M transgender men report higher sex drive after sex change, and it followed that men have a higher sex drive than women. Me, with my newfound sex drive and years of feminist thinking couldn’t stop myself thinking these thoughts, what right do we have to expect better from a man with ten times the sex drive I have, and who’s been raised constantly being told his prize for heroism and niceness would include a girl?
Ranting to my male friend after that platonic date, he scolded me. ‘Women aren’t sex objects. She is a person. She deserves a date where you are curious about her, and genuinely interested in her, no strings attached. Are you so inhuman as to just view her as a conduit for your fantasies?’
I agree that no one deserves to be treated like a sex object when they aren’t asking for it. I agree many people manage just fine without crude pickup lines, both straight and gay. But why don’t we have an easier means for communication of intent? Why is it still demonized to just man up and ask for sex if one wants it?
When we don’t have healthier ways, especially in India, to demonstrate our very natural urges, and no guide on dealing with these things, with the constant message of finding a mate and having sex being bombarded at us from every corner, how can we expect our young people to do any better?