“Every generation thinks it’s the end of the world.” –Wilco
“Your pussy doesn’t care about your politics.” –Mollena Williams
***Note: As soon as I finished sitting in a diner and writing this post in my notebook, I went to an eye doctor appointment where I got totally asked out by a really excellent 28-year-old. He may be scrolling through at this moment and realizing he bit off more than her could chew, but still, if that’s not incentive to kick down this roadblock, I don’t know what is. As if the Steampunks and all of my other younger pals weren’t incentive enough!***
Amusing as it was, my foray back into the world of OK Cupid ended up being kind of triggering. It gave me kind of a trapped feeling—I’m sure that was partly because I’m not ready for dating, and also there’s something I don’t like about online sexting, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anyway, it was fun at first to indulge in some non-goal-oriented flirting. I wound in an amusing game of Truth or Dare with a twenty-something guy and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that until he revealed, about eight messages in, that he has a rape fantasy. That in itself was not enough reason to stop the conversation—lord knows my fantasy life isn’t chock full of consent, so I feel like I have kind of a double standard being bothered by it.
But really, WHY is it okay to say the word rape to a girl you’re trying to get somewhere with? I didn’t ask him that, just moved the conversation on to other things, but I felt icky about him so I said a nice goodbye. He was kind of a snot about it, so I guess I made the right choice to cut him off. It was a fine afternoon’s entertainment, but it also inspired me to try and tackle this topic that I’ve stopped and started writing about so many times.
People who are in their twenties spent their entire formative years in a culture where rape jokes are part of the mainstream. Sarah Silverman (who I love, but who definitely adorabled rape jokes into okayness) and Seth McFarlane (who I think I would punch in the face if I could) both came along at the same time Buffy was getting sexually assaulted by Spike, and I really freaked out about it being taken so lightly. After a while, though, it became so normal that I, like most people, just kind of stopped fighting it.
Last spring, I was standing outside work at dismissal time and I heard some sixth grade girls joking about how their guy friends were trying to rape them. I put on the teacher voice and said, “Girls, I know you’re just kidding, but that is a very serious thing so please don’t joke about it.”
“It’s not serious to us!” They said, and went back to laughing and roughhousing.
There are studies that have shown that the definition of consent is eroding, and umpteen million books and articles have been written connecting those changes to the advent internet porn. I definitely don’t feel comfortable making blanket statements about porn’s relationship to real-world consent. I use it myself, about once a week, and not nice feminist porn either. I just troll through YouPorn like anybody else. I actually think it’s helped me to figure out some things that I would like to have happened to me, and in the years before I found the courage to date men, it gave me a safe way to experiment. Like any other porn user, sometimes it gives me ideas I want to use (I am a girl who genuinely likes to be come all over) and lets me experience things that would be terrifying in real life. (I probably wouldn’t like to be come all over by 100 guys.)
I don’t feel ashamed of using porn and I don’t think men should either, but at the same time, I did enjoy the time before guys wanted to choke me. Whitney Cummings has a great joke about that:
And I miss the time before guys would mention rape and expect to get somewhere with me. There are very good things about taboos being more out in the open, but dating just seems too harsh sometimes. I don’t know how much of the harshness I’m perceiving has to do with my own fears and past traumas (and Sweetie’s Rape Crisis Center view of men) and how much of it is actual sociological change.
I know my fear of young people fed into my fear of the Scary Party, (it’s the younger-skewing of the two main dungeons in town) even before the thing with The Man. I felt judged and sexualized there. It was just a fear and it was no doubt made worse by the fact that I was trying not to realize I would much rather play with men than with Sweetie, but it was a sensation like the bad, exploitive aspects of porn. I felt defined by the male gaze in a very unfun way. It was a terrible, desperate feeling that the only way to be worthy was to attract that gaze, and the only way to attract it was to fit into a very narrow set of criteria. If I wasn’t young, small, pliable, childlike, and deeply masochistic, then I was nothing at all.
A lot of that impression is about broken aspects of my psyche just finding expression out in the world. I have referred to it as the Cabinet in Which I Store My Fears. Some of the badness was something I was projecting, but not all of it.
Part of my fear of young people, if not most of it, comes from a sort of arrested development feeling that I’ve carried around since I was seventeen. I still have a general suspicion that I might be conspired against, rufied, raped, beaten and berated by mean kids just because ithappened that time when I was a kid. Now that I am shrugging off (blinking off?) that victim lens, I am hoping I will find fewer ways to end up expressing it out in the world.
I know it’s a skewed lens because many of the dearest people I know, including one of my protectors, belong to that generation I get scared of. I know they have nothing but goodness in their souls and no intention of hurting anybody who doesn’t want to be hurt. Just like I think the TNGers' age cutoff of 35 is mean and arbitrary, so is making assumptions about people under 30. The best solution to dismantling the arbitrary limits I’ve placed on myself and others is giving everyone a chance, getting to know them one-on-one, and continuing to say good nos, parsing out which scary things are within and which are without.
There’s a lot to be said too about my own anxieties about aging, but I’ll save that for another day.