I’d like to start this piece off by saying, I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about how interactions impact all genders. I understand that emotional intelligence and empathy are skills that take time to develop, and there have been (and probably will be) times where I exhibit less than favorable behaviors. With that being said, I can only speak about my experience, because that’s the only experience I know enough to write about. However, I welcome diverse perspectives and stories so I can expand my understanding and awareness.
Today, I was upset by a guy who felt like because he took me out for drinks and dinner, that because he was so nice to me, that those behaviors should have resulted in him being able to have sex with me. He kept asking for sex, and I kept trying to find new ways to explain to him why I didn’t want it. “I just met you; I want to take my time; I don’t want random hookups; I don’t treat girls like this.” He treated kindness like it was a coupon card, where if he said and did enough nice things that he’d be able to redeem my body in return. I’m not going to get into how wrong that ideology is; that’s for another writer to cover.
But what I am going to write about is how scenarios like that have impacted my self-esteem. Ever since I was 12, grown men have used their eyes to undress my body and scan upon my pubescent flesh. When I was 13, I was told I was a tease, because after first base I refused to go for a home run. When I was 16 I was called jailbait, because as a Black girl, I developed a bit faster than the rest of my friends. When I was 17, I was told I’m pretty for a Black girl, even though the rest of my friends were just considered “pretty.” When I was 18, I was raped, I was sleeping, I didn’t want that. When I started dating and finding interest men, it became clear to me that bodies mattered, a lot. I can recall researching articles that would tell me “Guys like girls that are naturally pretty, here’s how you can create that look with makeup.” My ex-boyfriend, the guy I lost my virginity to after I was raped, he told me “I just think you’d be more beautiful with straight hair, it’s just my preference.”
Most of my childhood was filled with narratives that focused on how females could be perceived as beautiful by the opposite sex, and very little about how we could just feel beautiful.
As I grew into my adult body, I had to learn to deal with being in positions where I was expected to explain my choice to be (or not to be) sexual. “I don’t want to have sex; I want to wait; I wish you’d respect me no; I don’t feel ready; It’s not that I don’t like you; I just don’t want to.” This became a narrative my tongue was all too familiar with, I knew how to make a man feel better about being rejected than I knew how to make myself feel better about not being respected. After I was assaulted, I was too angry to explain myself. Too hurt to be kind, and far too tired to be patient. It was one thing to have men think they were entitled to my body, but it was unbearable when they acted on it. There have been too many times when lines were crossed (or attempted to be crossed) when I was either disinterested, sleeping, or drunk. Remembering the times when I was disregarded at my weakest point, even to this day I find it absolutely disheartening. But enough about my history, that’s another story, the point of this piece isn’t about what happen to me. This piece, well this piece is all about how negative male interactions have impacted me.
After all those things happened, I felt as though my body held more value than my voice.
Sexualizing me held more importance than respecting my sexuality.
My guy friends always wondered why I had such a low self-esteem, they wondered why an ex-model and educated Bachelorette would think so lowly of themselves. I never knew how to answer it until now: “You can tell me you think I’m beautiful all you want, but if I am constantly treated like I have no value or importance then of course I would feel ugly.” The actions of men treating me how they wanted to treat me, and not how I wanted to be treated truly hurt me. By no means do I expect people to show as much skin as I do, or kiss as many people as I do. But I do expect people to feel as though my attire is not an invitation to assault me, and that my kisses do not translate into consent.
I wish that when I told boys “no” that “why not” and “please” were not words that followed. I wish that the man on the street who called me a whore during the summer, and my professor who told me to smile during his lecture would practice more empathy with the next girl.
This piece isn’t about me hating men or how they give me anxiety, there will be another author who has those feelings, and will probably articulate them better than I could. This piece is simply asking men to practice a bit more empathy, and to actively work to build their emotional intelligence, I am working on it too.
I’m asking that when a girl says “no”, that you just respect it, rather than using pressure and guilt to try to change her mind.
I am asking you to hold your tongue when you see a woman wearing something that inspires a reaction out of you, just think about what she’s feeling. After numerous interactions with men, I started to think that I was the problem, that I kept picking all the wrong guys. I thought that I was stupid because I just couldn’t get it right, that I was broken because I repeatedly got hurt. But after all these interactions, after listening to the perspectives of my brothers, and male friends, I’ve come to realize that I don’t think men are challenged to increase their emotional intelligence.
I do believe that there is a point in time when men reflect on how they make women feel, but I’m challenging y’all to start doing that today.