Opinion: Why women don’t “just leave”

 

Bed (Robin Fox/CU Independent File)

I originally wrote this article in a heat of anger. It was supposed to be a reaction to the Aziz Ansari sexual misconduct incident, but I chose not to publish that version because I didn’t think what I had to say mattered all that much. I didn’t think that it would help at all, or that it would be worth any discomfort I might feel about having these words online for anyone to read or scrutinize.

But if I could help even one person understand the meaning of consent and why it is important, or to realize that they don’t have to downplay an unwanted sexual encounter to just a “bad night,” then I think it’s worth it.

Several months ago, I read two sets of words that I never thought I’d see together: “Aziz Ansari” and “sexual misconduct.” I thought, “Not Aziz, Aziz is our guy. Aziz would never.” I read the article written in Vanity Fair and initially thought, “I don’t know, what he did doesn’t seem that bad.” And then I kept reading.

It wasn’t until I read the text message the woman had sent him that I believed something was wrong with the situation: “Last night might’ve been fun for you, but it wasn’t for me. When we got back to your place, you ignored clear non-verbal cues; you kept going with advances. You had to have noticed I was uncomfortable.”

Then something felt deeply wrong to me. The situation. The article. My initial reaction.

So I went searching.

Immediately, I found an article on Babe that told the full story from the victim’s perspective. Grace (the name Babe gave the victim to protect her identity) recounted the night in detail — how Ansari was so eager to make sexual advances; how she was verbally and non-verbally hesitant, how she was ignored, how she then said the word “no” and how she was ignored again. In her experience, I recalled the night my best friend was ignored.

I remember her coming back from watching a movie with a man from class.

I remember that he tried to kiss her, and she pushed him away.

I remember that he tried unhooking her bra, and she joked with him to stop. I remember that he kept trying.

She said, “let’s just watch the movie.” Like Ansari, he ignored her. This continued for an hour until she finally gathered the strength to leave. I also remember how our other friends and I asked her, “why didn’t you just leave in the first place?”

Why didn’t you just leave.

Something else I remember? I remember it happening to me and thinking to myself: “You’re already at his house. You already let him kiss you. You can’t just leave.” And after everything he wanted to happen happened — after I finally did leave — I felt the same deep wrongness I would later feel when reading that article. But I thought that surely he had done nothing wrong because I had stayed.

I went over it in my mind and told myself that he couldn’t have known I was uncomfortable. That I sent mixed signals. I told myself that nothing was really wrong with that night — I was just being sensitive. But I remember also how uncomfortable I was. I remember jokingly telling him to stop at first, then giving reasons as to why we couldn’t have sex. I remember him escalating things despite many signs that it was unwanted. And then I remember saying “no.” Several times. And him bargaining with me, until I finally gave in.

I remember getting that same “I had fun last night” text as Grace and my friend both did.

And at the time, I rationalized to myself that nothing too bad had happened, so it didn’t matter. I was not as brave as Grace — I did not tell the man what he had done wrong.

I was embarrassed and ashamed.

And I remember feeling like the only thing I was good for was sex. I thought that’s all that the men who talked to me were interested in. And in feeling that way, I felt like what happened between him and me was normal — that this was just how dating worked. I felt that if I really was just an object for sex in the eyes of men that I couldn’t change it. So I saw him again. And my friend stayed friends with the man who ignored her.

People have asked me why I went back, and it’s because I really did feel worthless but really did want to believe that nothing was wrong. People who have been sexually assaulted, coerced or pressured may stay in relationships with the perpetrator. This does not excuse the act.

I must make very clear that these personal instances I’ve talked about may not be rape. However, these instances are not just “bad sex.”

I am ashamed that I didn’t believe Grace.

I am ashamed I blamed my friend.

I am ashamed I blamed myself.

The problem is not only that many men, if not most, see nothing wrong with Ansari’s actions — it’s also that women and others don’t either.

We have all been conditioned to believe that straight men are supposed to aggressively pursue women. If women are resistant, it’s because they’re playing “hard to get.” We’re a society that trains men to be disgustingly persistent and even views it as attractive.

We’re a society that trains women to coddle men’s egos. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves or them by declining their advances. We’re taught that men “only want one thing.”

We also may start to truly believe that we’re only good for it. We are taught to automatically call victims “accusers” despite false accusations only accounting for 2 to 10 percent of all reports.

Women are beaten, brutalized, raped and murdered, because they’ve said “no.”

Women are not believed. Offenders are coddled, while victims are silenced and their words softened when their story is retold.

And on top of it all, men who commit sexual assault are confirmed to the highest positions of power in our justice system with life tenure.

And we wonder why she didn’t just leave.

Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Lauren Arnold at lauren.arnold@colorado.edu.

Lauren Arnold

Lauren Arnold is our managing editor and our Black Girl in a Blizzard columnist, exploring black feminist issues. A Colorado native, Arnold is double majoring in creative writing and communication.

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