Grabbing Pussy

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Much of what romance authors write, of what is a primary theme in all romance fiction, centers on the chemistry of attraction and the dominance of the alpha male. He’s all powerful. The woman swoons in his arms.

So why is there this chasm between the fantasy and the reality where a male’s touch is deemed an assault?

It’s not difficult to see why men are confused. Poor things. They have such a hard time knowing how to behave with women. The Donald Trumps of the world just grab a pussy when they feel like it. (You’re supposed to swoon, remember?)

The compliment in such male behavior is that in his eyes, the woman measures up. If she’s beautiful and she’s looking to advance herself in the world, she’s worth grabbing. In being grabbed, she gains the grand title of ‘beautiful and worthy.’ She’s a success! She gains a step up because the grabber is a man of power. He can do things for her.

The price is allowing herself to be grabbed.

Nothing new in this. No matter how far back you go in history—a year, a hundred, ten thousand—women have allowed themselves to be grabbed by powerful men in order to (a) survive, (b) advance, and/or (c) gain favor/money/security. A woman who expects such benefits but who rejects being grabbed is considered a tease or a bitch and quickly finds herself on the outside looking in.

Or dead. The rejected lover could kill her. Or he could refuse to protect her against the raiding bands of thugs who rape then kill her.

With a deeper view into the genetic past of women, a person could argue that women are biologically predisposed to having her pussy grabbed whether by confident men with real desire or by a wannabe cocksman like Trump. (I’m guessing he suffers from a pathetic wiener. Men with nice wood don’t have to grab.)

As the larger of the two sexes, men enjoy a gender inequality inherited from our ancestors the apes. As such, they have controlled human culture through physical violence. Men’s rule has only begun to diminish in the last century as women gained legal protection from male violence as well as voting rights, property ownership, and most importantly, birth control.

Women’s historical power comes in their ability to attract men and produce his heirs. Thus we have ancient evidence of cosmetics, alluring garments, and sideways glances. If a woman’s value rests entirely in her ability to attract male attention, why wouldn’t she be flattered with a pussy grab? I mean, how affirming can you get?

Well, news flash–women have value besides her sexual role. Many women evidently haven’t figured that out yet, but historically, some women have broken the rules. Mostly, they died. Joan of Arc, for example, saved France and then was burned at the stake because we all know that a woman has no business acting like a man, wearing armor and running around with a sword.

Joan is not the only woman to die for breaking those gender rules. Uppity women are biologically less likely to survive. Thus we end up with women who vote for Trump.

But even among those of us uppity women who would never vote for Donald Trump, there remains a strong majority who do enjoy romantic stories about alpha men. What is this about?

First, I’d suggest that it has everything to do with biology and very little to do with rational processes. Remember, evolution has preordained that favorable attention from men serves women well. Secondly, we’re talking about Fiction. We can fantasize about a perfect man in a perfect circumstance where we abandon caution and allow ourselves to be swept into perfect love.

There’s a particular behavior set that identifies the fictional man we’d let grab our pussies. He possesses the traditional characteristics of an alpha male—physical fitness, rugged good looks, a twinkle in his eye that says he sees your bet and raises, and a genuine acknowledgement of your boundaries that he will respect even if he’s tormented by his restraint.

Meaning, he won’t grab your pussy until you give the signal.

Thus hinges the difference between reality and romantic fantasy. He’s got to insist. The chemistry has to be right. He must demonstrate that he finds you irresistible. He’s got to have something to offer—mastodon meat or mega billions, whatever.

Women who have experienced molestation or sexual assault appreciate trigger warnings in erotic romance because they’ve learned from painful experience that forceful men taking what they want without permission is anything but romantic. It’s disgusting. It’s painful. It’s a nightmare that never goes away.

This is the part that men don’t understand. That’s why, in all the uproar following the release of the video where Trump talked about grabbing women by the pussy, there were so many male apologists claiming that because of the success of Fifty Shades of Gray, outraged women were lying hypocrites. One way or the other, they said. Either like being dominated. Period. Or don’t adore romance novels that feature domination.

Completely missing from their grasp is the basic fact that in Fifty Shades, The Woman Gave Permission.  They had a relationship. She wanted him. Also missing in Trump’s assault was the key point about romance: it’s fiction.

Also confusing for men is that women go to great lengths to ornament themselves in order to be sexually attractive. Hair styles that impair vision plus shoes and skirts that limit movement signal a woman’s vulnerability. Add cosmetics and a talent for seduction and a woman has maximized her sexual wealth in order to maximize her value in a culture that still, fundamentally, presents women as sex objects for men to choose among.

You can see how men would get mixed signals. Does she want me to grab her pussy? Yes? No?

Even older women in powerful positions—think Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, for example—dress in colorful clothing, adopt fashionable hairstyles, and wear cosmetics. Men may update a hairstyle on occasion, but they wear the same dark suits decade after decade. Cosmetics for men? Get real.

These traditions of female glam simply won’t go away quietly. But what does it mean? It means women’s appearance is more about social expectations and how she sees herself than an invitation to be molested. A lot of men never got that memo.

No woman wants a strange man to walk up to her, land a sloppy kiss and/or grab between her legs. It’s disgusting on the face of it. Disgusting that he sees her as a mere object available for his amusement. Disgusting that he thinks he’s such hot shit that he commits sexual assault without any fear of repercussion. Disgusting that even today with space travel, worldwide social media, and incredibly advanced technology, a man like Trump exists at all.

We’ve come a long way, baby. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Meanwhile, read more romance!

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Sex and the Young

youngRecently a reviewer of one of my novels commented on the age difference between the female and male main characters. In the story, the female is pushing forty and the male is a couple of years shy of thirty. Their first acquaintance, however, had been ten years earlier when she was a high school teacher and he was her student. Their attraction went unmentioned at that time, but now, ten years later, the connection catches fire.

The reviewer became uncomfortable with this dynamic, partly because the story follows a Dominant/submissive relationship. In the early weeks of training this new submissive, the female ‘domme’ uses the term ‘boy’ as a humiliation. This particular word choice added to the reviewer’s unease about the relationship because of the word’s implication about his age. She still gave the book four out of five stars, but her protest troubled me.

Perhaps we as a society have gone too far when even the use of the word ‘boy’ and an attraction that began while the male character was seventeen trigger thoughts of child molestation. I’m all for laws that protect young children from predation. But there’s a difference between a seven year old and a seventeen year old. There’s a difference between taking advantage of a youngster and reciprocating a mutual attraction. Today’s laws fail to note the difference.

Maybe it’s inevitable that initial efforts to address child molestation will necessarily overreach. For too long, children (as well as women and minorities) were used and abused by male adults. Whether beatings, forced labor, or sexual molestation, children were subject to the whims of whichever adult had ‘possession.’ Until the child grew old enough to fight back or escape, the abuse continued.

No one argues that child labor, beatings, and sexual abuse should occur in a compassionate society. Unfortunately, the current state of affairs easily descends into hysteria. Hardly a day passes without notice of an arrest where molestation charges are brought against the older partner in a consensual relationship with an adolescent. How often are these relationships not crimes but healthy interactions in a very long tradition?

Gaining sexual experience has always been a rite of passage for adolescent males who wish to discover the ‘secrets’ of sexual activity and achieve the confidence and self-development that accompanies this milestone. In the past, an older woman often served as a teacher and mentor in such matters. Stories abound of fathers or older brothers bringing the quaking younger male to a bawdy house where a friendly prostitute would instruct him on the finer arts of pleasing a woman. Thus informed, the initiated young man would go forward with greater confidence in all matters.

Is adult-adolescent sex harmful? New York Magazine published an article examining this topic. The author cites a study which remains a spear in the side of the ‘molestation’ argument:

In 1998, Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch, and Robert Bauserman (professors at Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan, respectively) published a study that has resounded through the psychological Establishment ever since. The article, published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin, was what’s known as a meta-analysis, an overview of the existing science, in this case on the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. The authors concluded that “negative effects were neither pervasive nor typically intense” and that men who’d been abused “reacted much less negatively than women.[i]

If we subscribe to the idea that a sixteen year old male is not capable of acting in his own interest in deciding whether to engage in sexual activity with an older woman, what does that say about our view of our youth? A hundred years ago—and virtually at all previous times—age sixteen was often seen as the start of manhood. Through the nineteenth century, census takers required a statement of ‘occupation’ for any household member age sixteen or above. Even at age ten, young people were expected to contribute to the family’s welfare by working in the fields or tending livestock, or cooking, sewing, and tending younger siblings as surrogate parents. Especially after the American Civil War with its widespread disruption of families and communities, teenaged males rode off to the West to find their fortunes.

By virtually all accounts, youth today is more worldly wise than any previous generation. With modern media, sex is no longer a secret whispered among adults in Victorian parlors. Both sexes have abundant opportunity to view naked human bodies, read about sexual encounters, and discuss sexual liaisons with sexually-active peers. We can’t assume that sexual activity with an older, caring partner is somehow inherently more damaging than sex with a peer.

Wisdom sufficient to properly conduct one’s affairs does not begin at the age of majority, although this is the age at which most nations allow its citizens to vote, engage in military service, and conduct any and all financial matters. Similarly, understanding and experience sufficient to ensure healthy personal relationships don’t begin at the age of consent. There are long years of effort, arguably a lifetime, required to gain excellence in either arena. Indeed, mastery in relationships and wisdom in conducting one’s financial affairs may never be accomplished. Are we to believe that delaying the onset of one’s involvement in these matters confers any greater skill?

Are adolescents capable of making decisions in his/her own best interest? Does age alone define the ‘power’ position in relationships? Does an adolescent know enough to decide whether a sexual relationship will cause harm? There simply is no hard and fast answer. The individual’s choice becomes part of the fabric of his/her life, for better or worse. A set of laws dictating that only one decision is the right one can only be right part of the time. The rest of the time, such laws cause as much or more harm than no law at all.

American society in the twentieth century moved toward a parental role for government. In the process, we have demanded a longer adolescence of our young people. More schooling, extended virginity, and parental financial support even into the late twenties are key features of this mindset. Meanwhile, biology hasn’t changed. Sexual desire arrives with the hormonal dictates of puberty, and while not all sexual desire should necessarily be satisfied by an older partner, the impulse to criminalize May-December relationships is as misguided as is the belief that young people can or should deny their sexual appetites.

An older caring sex partner can be a far better option for an adolescent than a peer who may or may not pay attention to important concerns such as birth control, protection against STDs, or the thoughtful management of tangled emotions. Perhaps even more importantly, the young male learns how sex is done in a caring exchange instead of relying on pornography and the inflated stories of his peers. Just as we need instruction and training in job skills, we need experienced teachers in personal relationships. There’s an argument to be made that initiation by older lovers could foster healthier long term relationships for young people.

We need to ask ourselves what we’re really afraid of in this rush to label any and all sex with minors as criminal activity. Is there a wish to enforce religious rectitude? Have we so enshrined a ‘youth culture’ that we want to paralyze our young people in an artificially-extended innocent state?

While seeking to protect young people truly incapable of self-defense, we’re harming young people ready to explore. Sexual attraction doesn’t see age. Rather, lovers are drawn to each other through lust, empathy, affection, and an instinctive desire for the spiritual epiphany that sex is uniquely able to bestow. We should welcome these pursuits between consenting partners of any age.

[i] “Dirty Old Women” by Ariel Levy, May 29, 2006