My Girlfriend Seems To Think Her Bodily Autonomy Is More Important Than My Feelings

Dear Mary, 26 May 2013:

I’m really confused right now and as I can’t talk to anybody else I’m trying the anonymity of the news paper. I have a relatively new girlfriend – it’s only a few months since we got together – and as a result of her having a virus, and vomiting all the time, the Pill wasn’t effective, and now she is pregnant. She wants to have an abortion because she says we don’t know each other well enough to be parents, and I can’t think of anything worse than aborting an unborn child. All the controversy going on right now doesn’t help, and I am at my wit’s end. None of our parents has a clue as to what is really going on. I’m in my late 20s and she is a few years younger. What are your thoughts?

Dear Anonymous,

Unlike you, I can think of something worse than aborting an unborn child: a woman who is unwilling to put her health and future at risk and commit to 18 years of parenthood with a near-stranger so that a grown-ass man doesn’t ever have to feel confused or sad about a decision he will never have to make for himself.

What an awful position you’re in, being physically unable to be pregnant and yet knowing exactly what pregnancy is like, and specifically what your girlfriend should do about hers! So many pregnant people experience complicated emotions about unplanned pregnancy and bodily autonomy, while you’re cursed with the absolute knowledge of what’s best for all pregnancies, if only everyone would just listen to your penisfeels for a minute.

But you’re helpless to force every pregnant person ever to carry every pregnancy to term, which is the right thing to do because you personally can’t imagine anything worse than something you literally cannot imagine because it literally will never happen to your body. O, cruel fate!

What can you do? Make a lot of frowns at your girlfriend so she sees how sad you will be if she doesn’t spend the next nine months, and potentially 18 subsequent years, attending to your emotional wellbeing, the most delicate and precious thing on the earth (besides zygotes).

Imma let you finish but

Last night, I went out with friends to a bar, where we did normal friend things, like drinking beer, eating onion rings, and chatting about bodily functions. Naturally, the conversation turned toward sex, and then onto the subtle art of “making moves” on a girl.

There were five of us - me, another female friend, and three straightwhiteboys. Don’t get me wrong - I love these particular straightwhiteboys. They are standup guys. I hang out with them whenever I can. But every now and then their straightwhiteboyness seems to blind them.

The straightwhiteboys philosophy on making a move was that in all cases, delicacy is best. Read body language. Gauge the flirtatiousness of various gazes, smiles, and chuckles. Then lean in VERY slowly for a kiss, if the body language seems appropriate. Or a hand-hold. A snuggle. The usual fuzzy stuff.

And I was like, “Okay, sure, but I don’t think I’d like that. I’d want someone to ask before trying to engage in physical stuff with me.”

This was promptly ridiculed. Some paraphrased highlights:
“That takes all of the fun out of it!”
“It’s a magical dance! You could ruin the moment by being like a robot, like, ‘Let us now make out, if you wish it so.’“
“I don’t want to seem too forward.“
“It is WAY more terrifying to ask a girl to kiss than it is to just kind of go for it but like subtly of course.”
“Maybe people who are like cavemen - like people who have zero social skills - might need to ask ‘May I kiss you?’ or whatever. But anyone with an iota of emotional IQ can read people reasonably well.”

As you may notice, there was plenty of ableist, sexist language. I responded in kind:
“Sure, whatever. But CONSENT, guys. Like, for me, as a female - this isn’t gender-specific, obviously, but it’s just my experience - I know that most sexual assaults come from people you know. Like, I could be on a date with someone, and even if I really like them, I would still want them to ask before they kissed me or vice versa. Because if I don’t know what someone is about to do, that scares me a little. Someone is coming into my physical space for intimate stuff is all well and good, as long as it’s abundantly clear that I’m okay with it. I want us both to be on the same page before we try anything. I don’t want the ambiguity. The ambiguity is where bad shit goes down.”
One straightwhiteboy said, “But if I said to a girl, ‘Can I kiss you?’ and she was like ‘no,’ I’d feel pretty shitty. Like so embarrassed. That would destroy me.”
“Yeah okay,” I said. “But me feeling scared is more important than you not feeling embarrassed.”
“I can see that,” he said. “I can see what you’re saying. But you can TELL if someone wants something. Like, you can read people.”
“But what people seem like might not be what they’re actually feeling. Like, when I was in my freshman year of college, I had all this fucked up OCD shit, but I acted all happy and mostly just cried to my mom and my therapist. My friends didn’t even know I had a problem until a year later. No idea. Because I was keeping up an act. Or sometimes, people think I’m flirting with them, but that’s just how I act around people sometimes. Or people think I’m angry when I actually just have a voice that sounds kind of angry. Like, you could misinterpret everything I do. I could seem like I want a kiss, but maybe I don’t. That’s why you ask.”

In the end, we didn’t reach an agreement, but we heard each other out. I acknowledge that my knowledge of romance and sex is rudimentary at best, and many subtle things (including courtship rituals) are lost on me. But I have a point. I’m concerned about my safety. They’re concerned about their feelings. They don’t seem to understand what it’s like to have threatening, unwanted advances. They don’t seem to understand that how someone acts and what someone feels can be two completely different things. This is, I think, a wee seedling of sexual assault, harrassment, rape - a lack of proper communication, and unwanted kiss, an unwanted grope, an unwanted sex act. These straightwhiteboys have been socialized to think that a lack of clear communication is a key feature of romance, when honestly, the complete opposite is true.

But what frightened me most about this was how I was treated during the course of the conversation. I would start to speak, then get cut off or mocked. All in the spirit of friendly teasing, of course - I’m guilty of the same kind of behavior. But after a while, it got kind of ridiculous. I couldn’t finish my sentence over someone objecting “But I can read signals!” “That would hurt my feelings.”

After one too many interruptions, I told them, “Let me finish.” And they did, more or less. But I still felt like I had been shunted aside for the past half-hour. It took them a half hour - and a clear “Let me finish” - to let me wrap up.

Clearly, I’m guilty of talking to much, as evidenced by this very long post. But I do like the common courtesy of being heard when I’m talking about my safety.

One straightwhiteboy cut me off regularly. One straightwhiteboy listened, but agreed with the first one. The other straightwhiteboy was mostly silent, as was my female friend at the table.

If these straightwhiteboy stand-up guys didn’t respect my opinion enough to hear me out, what does that mean for the not-so-stand-up ones? These are conscientious, helpful people, but because of the world they’ve been raised in, they’re still so blind to things like consent and safety.

I love my friends. But sometimes I wish they’d shut up and let me finish.