Monday, July 18, 2011

Inappropriate "Friends"

Check out this post over at Captain Awkward. Feministe's Jill offers advice to a young women about her totally inappropriate male "friend." As the question asker writes:

He is constantly making comments about our asses or tits, or how we should fuck him–as in asking literally every two minutes “wanna have sex? how about now? and now?” This would be extremely annoying and offensive, but harmless on its own; however, he is also innapropriately physical. Past incidents have included: jumping on top of me when I am lying on the couch, flipping my dress in public so everyone can see my underwear ALL AFTERNOON LONG, letting his hands slide down my friend’s back, grabbing her crotch … You get the picture. I have had to knee him in the balls on multiple occasions to get him off of me, yet somehow that doesn’t stop him the next time around. My girlfriends and I have all talked about this and we all acknowledged to each other that we are constantly on alert and uncomfortable whenever he is around. Even a friendly hug from him feels threatening at this point.

Jill's advice is great, and if anyone is in need of similar help, I suggest checking it out. She basically lays out a plan to give him the benefit of the doubt and, in many more words, ask him to stop being a jackass or find new friends.

What struck me about this question and inspired me to write about it is that, while I haven't experienced anything quite so extreme as the young woman who wrote in, I do know the feelings she's describing.

As a side note, these experiences were limited to time in high school. As I went to college, expanded and refined my social circle, I found myself more and more surrounded by like-minded people. Or at least people who respected the physical and emotional boundaries of others. In fact, Mr. NerdyFeminist, Ronald, is pretty damn good at finding guy friends who are kind, respectful men. (Despite the raunchy jokes you'll hear in their company...the inappropriateness stops there.) This experience with cool guys who are not grope-y dudebros has made me forget what it's like to have the friend (or several friends) who think that their female friends' bodies are public domain.

In my pre- "oh hey! I'm a feminist!" days I remember thinking that this type of negative attention from guys was normal, but having very mix feelings. On one hand, I was weirded out and often out right annoyed. On the other hand, I got a bit starry eyed here and there thinking that "oh gee...maybe so-and-so actually likes me." (Spoiler alert: all of THOSE guys actually didn't.)

The teen years are a complex time in general and understanding your own boundaries vs. your budding sexuality is all around confusing. Our society doesn't help us through this process much, as most American sexual education focuses too much on "Don't have sex, because you will get pregnant and die" and way too little on developing actually healthy sexual identities. Far too often the girls around me (and including me) tolerated inappropriate behavior from our male peers. This is in no way to blame us. As I mentioned, we were confused and lacking proper guidance surrounding boundary setting. We weren't taught to understand how to navigate unwelcome vs. welcome sexual attention. And we were socialized, as girls are, to be very, very nice. However, in many cases, these guys involved weren't outright sleaze bags. They, too, were trying to figure it all out and were in SEVERE need of boundary setting assistance as well.

Had we received a truly comprehensive sexual education, including discussions of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, these incidents would have been much less frequent. This is one thing I am proud of in my work with girls. I can say that several of our topics help girls understand their own boundaries and that these boundaries are as personal and individualized
as our fingerprints. We help them see that they have a right to listen to their gut and call someone out. However, that's only really half of the equation, isn't it? Someone's got to say the same stuff to the boys.

Regardless of this all, I ended up with a boy from that very high school. But he could not have respected everyone's boundaries more. (Ronald's mom gets a million kudos in my book for raising a feminist man.) As I mentioned, my social circle has changed drastically since those experiences. But I can't help but wonder if those guys who made us feel gross in high school have gotten even worse and are now like the man described above...At best this type of behavior is wildly inappropriate. At worst, it's the precursor to sexual assault. In either case, that shit's just got to stop.

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