I recently heard about a woman’s second date with a man she had met online. They were both in their late 50’s, with careers and grown children. He was picking her up for breakfast, a quick get-together in the middle of the week. They had both enjoyed their first date and were each eager to connect again before the next weekend. After their breakfast, she had to return to her office, a home office in a separate part of her home. She had a 10 a.m. appointment. He dropped her off in plenty of time, at 9:40, but insisted on coming in. He came in and insisted on kissing her. He insisted on unzipping her pants. He insisted on plunging his hand down towards her crotch.
She protested, pulled away, and grew upset in the face of his assurances that this was only a tease! He seemed deaf to her. Confusion reigned.
I want to write about this moment—not simply to join the chorus of disgust at his insensitivity—but to explore the complexity of engagement when one position comes up against another position—and the positions are not aligned. What happens when there’s the difference? Why isn’t it apparent that a full and fair negotiation is required? Is one position more entitled than another?
Perhaps we should start with the confusion around self-assertion. To claim one’s position, especially in the face of a challenge to the contrary, requires a conviction. It also requires a kind of stubbornness. A refusal to be swayed. At least, a refusal to be swayed too easily. I think the conviction needs to be linked to a clear sense of one’s safety and best interest. Because, if you’re not sure what’s best for you; if you’re not sure what you need, you’re vulnerable to dissuasion.
Can we ask: are we surprised that women seem less clear about what’s best for them? Less clear about what they need? I don’t think we’re surprised. All the more reason to address this area of unclarity. To push oneself for more clarity. To ask: do I really want to sleep with someone on my second date? Do I ever want to sleep with someone who is selectively deaf?
If we’re starting with the confusion around self-assertion, we can move on to the added confusion around self-assertion: the confusion over entitlement. Even if I know what I want, and even if I know what’s best for me, am I entitled to assert it, particularly in the face of someone holding the contrary position? Who will I become if I assert myself? A brat? A snob? A selfish, castrating bitch?
And we can continue to ask, here, are we surprised that women, (well, especially women), feel at risk of becoming these things if they voice their position? I suppose there will always be someone willing to turn a woman with a voice into a bitch. This is tragic, of course. But it’s even more tragic if it’s the only narrative. Perhaps there’s a different narrative. A narrative that keeps the self in mind. That keeps the principle of entitlement in mind: I am entitled to my position. Simple. Clean. And confusing.
‘Because what does it mean to be entitled to one’s position? After all, we’re not running an autocracy here. I think it means that one is entitled to fair and reasonable consideration from others. I think it means one is entitled to be heard. I think it means one has a seat at the table, a position among other positions.
It seems to me that this understanding of entitlement does not transform anyone into the selfish castrating bitch. Give yourself a seat at the table where reasonable people negotiate. Give a little. Get a little. Listen. And, be heard.