Image: created by Freddie Houman for Catalogue Magazine.
It’s 2am as I type. I can’t sleep because I’ve been thinking and I’ve suddenly realised that in the past week alone, I’ve experienced two incidences in which my male friends have perpetuated rape culture. As someone who is aware of the harsh reality of the one in six women and one in thirty-three men who have been, and who will be, sexually assaulted in their lifetime, this realisation makes my blood boil. Perhaps I will cause a stir by what I’m about to say, but I do so in the hope that one day we live in a world in which sexual assault is an unconscionable thing of the past.
So let me take you back to last night. I was having a discussion with Joe* about a guy I’d recently met. I told Joe how said guy had invited me over for dinner. Dinner was lovely and we fooled around a bit but we didn’t have sex. He invited me over for dinner again and though I couldn’t tell you what had changed, I wasn’t in the mood to engage in any sort of sexual activity, so we didn’t. Joe retorted upon my finishing the story, “so why’d you go over for dinner then?”
At the time I didn’t register what he was really saying. But thinking about it tonight it’s become clear: Joe believed that because the guy had invited me around for dinner, I was obliged to have sex with him. Did he invite me around for sex? No. He invited me around for dinner. What Joe didn’t know either, was that prior to my going over for dinner I had been upfront and honest with said guy and told him that I wasn’t going to have sex with him, and if that was a problem for him then I wouldn’t go over for dinner. Apparently, thank god, some men do want to spend time with women for reasons other than immediately getting in their pants.
Sure said guy might have invited me over for dinner in the hope that he might be able to try and convince me to have sex with him. And sure, he has every right to not invite me over for dinner again if he’s only doing so in the hope that it will end in sex. But the question is not whether or not a guy invited me over for dinner hoping (or expecting) us to have sex, but whether or not I wanted to have sex with that guy, if the time arose when he asked me whether or not I wanted to. Because let’s all remember that consent is a thing that exists… as grey a concept as it is in a world in which even verbal consent isn’t reliable because women can far too often be emotionally manipulated and pressured into sex.
In fact, it’s this manipulation and pressure that permeates far beyond the bedroom. It seeps its way into the everyday via the words of the men we call friends. On another occasion, I was telling Al* that a guy had recently flown interstate to come and stay with me for a few days. He did so because we’d been mutual friends on social media for a year and had spoken a handful of times about life. In no way at all were the conversations ever sexually oriented, and in no way at all was it implied that romance was on the cards during his visit. What’s more, at no point while he was here were any of our interactions even remotely sexual. Yet Al couldn’t believe that we hadn’t had sex. In fact, he was adamant that I was in the wrong for having not slept with the guy, because he surely would have been expecting sex from me, having “flown all that way.” “How naive are you?!” Al retorted. But can someone please explain to me how that situation equated to him expecting, and me being obliged to engage in, sex?
Maybe it’s rather naive of me to think that a two people could spend time together without engaging in any sexual activity. Or maybe it’s completely logical, but sadly rather hard to understand for far too large a portion of the male population.
So let me make myself clear, for those of you who still don’t get it. Fundamentally, I don’t, nor does any other woman, owe any man sex. I don’t owe someone sex if they fly interstate to visit me for a few days. I don’t owe someone sex if they invite me over for dinner. I don’t even owe someone sex if I’ve flirted with them online, in person, or in their bedroom. Contrary to popular patriarchal opinion, I have the right to do what (and who) I do and don’t want to.
Up until tonight I thought I had it pretty good. I really thought I lived in a society where women were gaining solid ground in the fight for equal rights, and above all, ownership of their bodies. I thought all this, even after being sexually assaulted. But the last week has made it very clear to me there is still a long way to go.
Being assaulted by a stranger made me feel as though the men who hurt women were far away from me, few and far between, and certainly weren’t the guys I call friends. But seeing rape culture disseminated in the language and the ideas of my friends showed me how wrong that belief was. Knowing that I live in a world in which people still think the horrible misogynistic things that they do makes my blood boil.
In sharing these stories, I really do hope I’ve kicked up some dust, because in a world in which sexual assault remains so prevalent, I want every speck of perpetuation to become known so it may be eradicated. I want discussions to be had, and I want people to learn once and for all that never, under any circumstances, does one person ever owe another person sex.
*Names have been changed.
Read more about rape culture: