I remember back when I was eighteen, I was at a campus party. It was a crowded room, and I saw a young woman…
(I’ve noticed, by the way, that several feminists these days – Jaclyn Friedman, Hugo Schwyzer, etc. – have taken to calling young women “girls”. I wonder why that is, because I remember a friend of mine, attending a heavily feminist liberal arts college in the early 90s, saying that referring to young women as a girls was, as he put it, “a good way to get slapped.”)
… I saw a young woman near me. She had an auburn complexion. It was loud enough that to speak to her I had to lean in. (The pick up artists say “don’t lean in.”) I’d wanted to get to know her, but wasn’t sure what to say. I leaned in.
“Do you want to go make out?”
She didn’t say anything, but shook her head no and wrinkled her nose (cute). It turned out she had a boyfriend, but, the next day we did end up walking to a park together, and then back to her dorm, where we hung out with some friends of hers, one of whom, à propos nothing, handed me a condom. (Pick up artists train men to pick up subtle behavior cues they refer to as “indicators of interest”, and in retrospect this may have been one.)
And that was that. Nothing happened. I don’t remember why nothing happened. I don’t remember everything.
A few years later, when I was twenty or twenty-one, I was sitting in an ice cream parlor with another young woman, a co-worker. We weren’t dating, it was more of an after work ice cream stop. Somehow (I don’t remember the context), I told her about the time when I’d leaned in and asked the woman if she “wanted to make out.” I was sharing an amusing, mildly self-denigrating anecdote, or so I thought.
But the young woman I was with, a year or two younger, became very serious and earnest. “Ohhh,” she said, “You’re lucky she didn’t do anything! That’s harassment!”
Surprised by her reaction, I said some kind of feeble, stammering defense of myself. I don’t remember what. I felt as though I wanted to cry.
“Well, maybe you didn’t deserve it,” she said (talking of some sort of punishment for harassment), “but other guys might deserve it.”
So, my artless “pick-up line”, why did I do that? Although I didn’t realize it at the time – as an eighteen year old I thought I was “liberated” – I think I’d picked up a great number of negative ideas about male sexuality. The idea that a young man interested in sex is “on the prowl.” The idea that a man’s “goodness” is inversely proportional to the degree to which he is sexual. And I also think there was – for lack of a better term – a kind of “learned helplessness.” I felt as though I were locked out and that a sexual connection with a woman wasn’t possible. I thought failure was inevitable, and so decided to fail with a bit of comic panache. But – on a positive note, such as it is – there was absolutely no feeling of hostility motivating what I said, and I really was trying to connect with her, albeit in a blindingly ineffective way.
In hindsight, the feeling I had, that a sexual connection wasn’t possible, seems like a classic case of “creating a problem where there doesn’t need to be one.” To the sexually competent twenty-something, that must sound analogous to agoraphobia: “Just walk out of the house, dude.”
What I’d like to see – to get everyone outside the house, so to speak – is for youthful sexuality to come to be seen as an everyday thing.
Here’s a video that was on feministing a few weeks back. It’s cheesy and psa-ish, but what I like about it is that it demystifies sex – it’s the first time that I’ve actually seen people say directly that they have sex: