I read that essay on Aziz Ansari and “Grace.” I related to Grace since I have experienced a similar situation a few times in my day. I never thought I had been assaulted, but I definitely felt like I had experienced something incredibly unpleasant and really wrong. I’ll say this, none of the situations I found my way out of featured a dude who apologized after the fact.
Yeah, been there, done that.
And then I developed some skills. I learned how to avoid those situations whenever possible. I paid attention to my spidey sense. I learned to gracefully and ungracefully extricate myself from situations that made me uncomfortable. I learned to find my own voice about consent.
Sadly, I didn’t get to this place until I was probably in my early 30s.
I have tried to normalize conversations about sex and relationships with Hope. I’m certainly not encouraging her to go out and get her swerve on, but I want her to feel confident about herself, her body and her ability to make good decisions about all of this.
Since last summer we’ve spent more time talking about sexual misconduct and the #MeToo movement. We talk about assault. We talk about catcalling. We talk about harassment. I try to be frank and direct with Hope, but I’m also sensitive about what kinds of things might be triggering. I bring it up in the car since that seems to be the super safe space for us. A lot of what we’ve discussed are pretty clear cut cases of sexual misconduct. After mulling over the messy case of “Grace” and Ansari, I realized that even though I’ve spent a lot of time talking about consent with Hope, I hadn’t coached my daughter about something more subtle and insidious in sexual relationships—persistent coercion.
You like the guy/gal. You’re hanging out. Things get a little hot and heavy. You don’t feel as comfortable as you did 3 minutes ago. You kind of put your hands up and push back, but things get a little more insistent. You break away, but your partner tries to soothe your fears; maybe says they just dig you so much; they are really, really into you and don’t you dig them too? You do, and you might even say that you want things to slow down a bit. You might even say no verbally. Your partner goes back to the pursuit, a little stronger, a little bolder; whispering how into you they are and how this feels so right. You don’t think it feels totally right, but you dig the person and don’t want to wreck the flow. You might even feel like you still have control of this situation, but maybe losing that control kinda quickly.
You consent to do a few things; they do a few things and everything continues to escalate. Both of you are breathless. But it doesn’t feel so right so you try to slow things down again, but the pursuit, gentle as it may be, continues. You also still really dig this person and you begin to wonder what will happen if you really stopped everything right now. Will the budding relationship end? Will it get violent? You don’t think they will *really* hurt you will they? Will you seem like a tease after what you’ve done already? What will happen now? Can you even stop this right now after you did what you did? Was that consent for *everything?* And how do you stop or slow down things again without a making this a big deal? The cycle goes on and on until you are just worn down and you just give in and ‘consent’ to activities that you really don’t want to do. Afterwards you feel like crap, but your partner might not even notice, not because they are a rapist but because their twisted concept of consent means y’all are both cool with what just went down.
Yeah, that scenario. Is it assault? Not really. Did you consent? Worn down is a better characterization. Do you have regrets? Forever yes. Do you continue seeing that person? Maybe, maybe not.
I recently asked Hope had she heard about the Ansari/Grace story. She’s heard a little, so we did a recap and I asked her what she thought about it. We batted that around a bit, and then I got a bit more specific—“What if you were Grace? What would you have done and when?” And because it can’t just be a gendered lesson, “What if you were Ansari? What would you have done and when?” Everyone should learn about giving and getting consent. We talked about how to extricate ourselves from situations that don’t make us feel good. We talked about more than just regular safety concerns; we discussed the need to feel good emotionally about our decisions and choices. We talked about that middle ground that seems to exist between enthusiastic consent and reluctant consent.
This was probably one of our more delicate conversations about sex. I shared about some of my experiences and how old I was when they happened so that Hope would understand that I was older and still not as sure of myself as I thought at the time. I shared about how I felt after a particular situation, and noted that that relationship didn’t go far after that. I never demonized my partners, but I also didn’t portray them as the knights in shining armor that a 16 year old girl probably would either. We were and are just regular folks making some not great decisions at a point in our lives. I talked about what I wished I had done differently.
For her part, Hope shared the goings on of a date she had last year and how she handled herself. I was glad she felt comfortable enough to share with me. #thrilled I was so proud of her, and coached her on how to identify coercion and things to say and do in the future to be clear about her expectations and her ability to give or withhold consent.
Sure, we’ll still talk about just good decision making regarding sex, but I’m realizing that it’s this grayish area that I will continue to talk to my daughter about. When she becomes active, I want her to feel confident in her choices and to have skills to react to unwanted pressure. I want Hope to be in control of her whole life, including the sexual life that she eventually chooses.