I’m not going to sugarcoat it – these last couple weeks have sucked. Watching waves of women (and men!) come forward with stories of sexual abuse and assault, and seeing that none of it moved the needle when it comes to rich, powerful white men solidifying their grasp on power has been demoralizing. I have moments of wondering if what I’m doing here matters at all.
But then there’s a tiny gesture like the one this weekend and I realize that, yes, it matters. WE matter.
I have been dating Tom (for his privacy, I will not use his real name) for almost six months. He is supportive, loving, kind, generous … and he cooks! What more could a girl want?!
But, of course, like all couples, we have conflict. And last week that conflict flared in a way that it never had before. He got upset and stopped communicating with me for several days. This was, to put it lightly, NOT okay with me.
I can handle a lot when it comes to conflict as long as two things are present: we both continue to treat the other person with dignity and we both keep communicating. But radio silence is an absolute no-go for me.
So when he came to my apartment this weekend to finally talk about what had been going on with him, I was steeped in hurt.
I have learned over this last year to check in with myself to determine my boundaries BEFORE going into a situation. I’d rather set my boundaries too tight at the beginning and gradually loosen them than to leave my boundaries wide open and then feel violated because I didn’t defend them.
So before he got to my door, I checked in with myself to see what I was okay with:
Yes, I was ready to listen.
Yes, I was ready to talk.
Yes, I was ready to hug.
NO, I was NOT ready to kiss.
NO, I was NOT ready to cuddle.
Tom and I are both cuddlers – if we are in the same room, it’s probable that at least 50% of our bodies are in contact. So this awareness that I was not ready to cuddle was a puzzler for me – how was I going to accomplish that when it’s so outside our norm?
When he got to my door, we had a long hug. I don’t know if he was feeling his own discomfort around kissing or if he was reading my discomfort, but either way – he didn’t try to kiss me. One point for Tom.
We sat on my couch to start talking and that’s when it happened – he asked me how I was and put his hand on my knee.
I had already defined my boundaries to myself, so I didn’t have to think too hard about it. I gently took his hand and placed it back into his lap.
“I’m not rejecting you,” I said. “But I’m not ready for that yet.”
He was clearly taken aback – I’ve never done anything like that with him before.
He heard me and responded appropriately – not touching me again until about a half hour later when I signaled that I was ready. Two points for Tom.
As I look back on that moment with the distance of a few days, I realize that act of moving his hand was one of the most RADICAL things I’ve ever done.
There is a lot to be depressed about right now as a woman – or any minority/marginalized person.
In the United States, we have a president who proudly admits to being a “pussy grabber.” We have watched an accused sexual assaulter ascend to the highest court in the land, a place where he will cast the deciding vote on a myriad of issues that control who has sovereignty over our bodies. It’s clear now that no number of powerful, painful stories was ever going to change that outcome.
Am I saying that we should stop telling our stories? HELL NO!
But we need to recalibrate WHY we’re telling our stories. We are NOT telling these stories in the hopes that rich, powerful men will suddenly hit a tipping point and hear us or take us seriously. We are NOT telling these stories so that creepy men will finally “get it” and dial their creepiness factor down to a two. Neither of those are reasonable expectations – we KNOW they don’t work.
We are telling our stories so that EVERY WOMAN knows that she is not alone and that she doesn’t need to be ashamed of what she has experienced. We are telling our stories so that our daughters know that all this rhetoric about “boys will boys” is bullshit, and that it is safe for them to come forward.
But telling our stories is only the beginning.
Here is the really radical step: gathering the confidence and courage to move his hand and say, “I’m not ready for that yet.”
We need to do this in SAFE spaces with people who already love us. That’s how we build the muscle of believing in our bodily autonomy. And when we practice, eventually we’ll be strong enough to do it in spaces and with people that are less friendly. We need to learn to do this so that our children SEE US DOING IT. Because they will listen to what we say, but they will LEARN from what we do.
This IS radical. This IS the #resistance.
Because until we learn to claim sovereignty over our own bodies, why would we think that men will respect our sovereignty?
Like any revolution worth its salt, the change has to happen from the inside out.
I’ve heard from several women recently about not knowing how to set boundaries with their loved ones. If the idea of building your “boundaries muscle” with your partner is intriguing but terrifying, send me an email at Leah@GoodGirlsTalkAboutSex.com. I can help and I’d love to work with you.