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Don’t Pounce

July 24, 2013

Perhaps you’ve been there. You’re sitting at a bar, alone, or with a friend who’s swanned off to go and pick someone up, or with a couple who are totally third-wheeling you. You’ve had enough to drink that you’re on the drunk side of tipsy and you start a conversation with a stranger, who just happens to be a cool and amazing person who you get on with well.

They buy you more drinks and together you get slowly but surely sloshed. Despite how drunk you are, however, at no point does this person start to look physically attractive to you. The notion doesn’t even occur to you. They’re just a person who is great to talk to because, coincidentally, they share your thoughts, views and interests. And because you’re drunk – everyone’s awesomeness factor seems heightened, somehow.

At this point, your night may go one of two ways. If the person you are talking to is a man and you are a man, you will probably part ways amicably at the end of the evening, or else one or other of you might end up kipping on the other’s bedroom floor. No big deal, just another cool quirky night quite typical of your average student. You may never see this bloke again; perhaps he turns out to be a neo-Nazi (that shit has actually happened to me) and you decide that even though he is also an avid lover of the Star Wars franchise, it’s not worth it to be hanging out with someone whose political views you find repugnant. Or, maybe he’s every bit as awesome as your drunk self thought and he becomes one of your life-long friends.

The other way is if you happen to be female. If you happen to be female and the person you are talking to happens to be male, there is a good chance that the above will not happen. What may very well happen instead is that you get your arse pinched, your boobs grabbed or a wet sloppy kiss all over your face. Then you will have to make your excuses and leave; if you have my temperament and approximate personality, you will probably blame yourself for not noticing the signs, for having been potentially misleading, and you will feel awkward about it for days.

You might even get a bit depressed about it, wondering why it’s so hard to make friends who don’t want to jump you.

After all, you were having a perfectly amicable conversation, not about sex. It was about Star Wars. And you weren’t flirting. I mean, for Christ’s sake, you were practically dribbling all over your own shoes, half-way between the funky monkey and the foetal position You were slurring something about how People Shouldn’t Be Racist Because Racism Is Bad (which makes it all the more confusing that the neo-Nazi has a thing for you). Basically, you were doing what acquaintances and friends do; hanging out, chilling, not worrying about being sexy because sex is not on the cards. You weren’t interested.

The reason you got unwanted sexual attention is because you made the mistake of being female.

Here is where I switch perspectives and talk directly to other guys. OK, I know you were probably drunk and drunk people make mistakes. Be honest; did you ply her with drinks? Did you keep buying them because she was a “funny / interesting drunk”? When she accepted them, did you take that as a sign of her interest? If you did either of these, you made a mistake. Disregarding for a moment the ethics of buying alcohol for people who are clearly too far gone to know when they’ve had enough, it is a mistake to take buying someone a drink as an all-access card to sexy time.

There’s a whole number of reasons why a woman might accept a drink from a man. I remember accepting drinks from all sorts of people when I was a student; people old enough to be my Dad, gay friends-of-friends who happened to be rich, people who thought I was the reincarnation of Shakespeare, or else their friend Sally who they’d lost round the block about three hours ago. I was a guy, sure, but my motivations would have been no different if I was not; I was a student. I had no money. I wanted a good time, I was young, naïve, liked to drink and didn’t much care about the consequences – at the time. I also had (and have, though to a lesser extent) a tendency to accept without question that a kind offer is unconditional, perhaps because I know that it would be so if the situation was reversed and the offer came from me.

I encourage both men and women alike to stop thinking of the question “Can I buy you a drink?” as a euphemism for “May I have sex with you?” for the reasons I listed. It gets in the way of the real issue, is an unhealthy way of making connections with other people and also leads those who are unsure about sexual relations into a pressured, almost contractual, agreement that they may well be uncomfortable with. Remember that refusing this offer of a free drink tends to look proud or churlish, or in women, downright bitchy or standoffish. Do women in particular really have as much choice as we think?

Not only that, but the idea is sexist. Women earn their own money, they save and budget their own money. It is not the place of men to buy women’s things for them and men and women who expect this and live by these roles are frequently disappointed because they make an assumption that is no longer universally held. Some women actually take offence at offers to have their drinks bought for them, and some correctly assume that they are being hit on, which gets their back up because, understandably enough, they can’t see why they aren’t allowed to have a night out with friends without being harassed. And let’s face it, frequently it does look a lot like harassment – being grabbed from behind while dancing without permission, being followed around the club, not taking no for an answer etc. This gets in the way of opposite sex relations, both sexual and platonic. We are annoyed and confused by each other, talking cross purposes.

There is some sort of stigma against being honest about what you want from someone, and I don’t see why. In the scenario I outlined above, the pair of you have spent upwards of an hour talking, verbally communicating well. The idea that you are somehow unable to simply say what you want because of some kind of social barrier is almost ludicrous. In what universe can it possibly be better to make an assumption about someone’s sexual interests, based on ones own (drunken) misreading of non-verbal cues, in a way that leads to a sexual advance bordering on abusive in its forcefulness? Of course it is better to acknowledge your attraction in words, in a polite, non-offensive, non-presumptuous, respectful way, so you all know where you stand. It isn’t so hard when you put yourself in their shoes.

It’s better to know sooner rather than later if no interest has struck up between you. If after this, you find that you feel your exchange to have been a “waste of time” (i.e., not leading to sex) then you can move on and find someone who is in a sexual mood instead. I find it strange, though, to think that someone who puts that much time into one person can possibly be only out for sex. There is enjoyment to be had from a simple conversation and there is an opportunity for an opening later down the line for those who are patient and respectful. I’ll tell you this for nothing; if you pounce on someone who does not want you sexually at that point in time, you will not see them again. You’re only in with a chance if you pay heed to the boundaries that they might have.

If you are gentle and honest in your intentions, and clearly show that you enjoy that person’s company, you will probably find that they want to see you again. When they know you better, an attraction might form; or, your own attraction might diminish, and you will have gained good a friend – not an achievement to be to be sniffed at, if you ask me, and a very helpful one if you need practice in seeing women as people, not potential mating partners. In any case, your heightened (and sober) knowledge of this individual will give you a greater understanding of her personal traits, including her individual expression of non-verbal cues, giving you a greater purchase on the reality of how she is feeling about you. In short, if you think she’s worth it, pace yourself.

Never, ever pounce.

Every damn day some misinformed man or woman will tell you how women think it’s sexy when someone just “grabs” you and “has their way with you”. These people are thinking about past experiences that they happened to enjoy (in hindsight), grew to enjoy (out of resignation) or else fantasised about thanks to repeated cultural influences in the media. Anyone remember Fifty Shades of Grey? Well, that was filled with No-s that were really Yes-es, but in reality, to be on the safe side a No should always be considered a No. Equally as importantly, the lack of a Yes should also be considered a default No – for the simple reason that is is discourteous and disrespectful to presume someone wants you until further notice. It can be intimidating, too, and many cumbersome, dissatisfying sexual experiences come about as a result of feeling pressured, railroaded and awkward because somebody felt like they had lost the right to say No because they didn’t say it sooner.

That’s not what I want for our society and I don’t believe it’s what anyone else wants. Consent is sexy and enjoyment is sexy. When people give you that weird look in the morning that tells you they regretted it, it’s not cool. Sometimes it’s not your fault, because maybe there was an ex or something they can’t stop thinking about, but other times it’s a simple God-why-did-you-let-me-have-that-49th-cocktail look. Even if you didn’t buy the other 48, your lack of willingness to acknowledge that the other 48 or so were in her system (since silently acknowledging it would give you no excuse not to hold off The Sex) makes you, the other party, partially responsible.

It is too easy to shrug it off as the responsibility of the person who is feeling regret, in a society that ignores all the raging inequality and assumes that everyone is genuinely making their own, uninhibited choices. We also assume that everyone will have bad sex at some point in their lives and that’s it’s no biggie. As true as that is, that doesn’t mean we should go out looking for it, which is what you’re doing when shit goes down like this.

If you want one night stands, they’re incredibly easy to find. In my experience, people who genuinely do want nothing but sex – men and women and everything in between – make no mystery about it. It’s not in their best interest to be coy, when it means they might not get The Sex. I am aware that a school of thought exists that these “sluts” are worth less, somehow, because of their willingness, which is frankly ridiculous; it leads straight down the path of thinking that people who are less willing are better, which starts to sounds startlingly like pro-rape thinking. The idea that the women who approach you are somehow inferior is nothing more than misogynistic double-standard; men can pursue women, but women can’t pursue men.

Let them pursue you! It makes your life easier, doesn’t it? You don’t have to scope people out or second guess them. You don’t have to fish for people in the pools of uncertainty dotted awkwardly around the outskirts of the club in the form of little tables. What gets me is this wish to have it both ways; that the woman you sleep with will somehow be both sexual and a saintly white virgin, who has never defiled herself by enjoying other people. Come on now, that’s just silly.

You have to take what your offered because the current system sucks balls. It’s all well and good to tell yourself that you are THE BEST and anyone in their right mind would be lucky to have you. I’m all for self-confidence. But remember that not all people are capable of being attracted to you; our culture of heteronormativity leads us to assume that everyone is straight until further notice, but common sense tells you that’s not true. It’s not as if perfectly straight women leap into gay mode as soon as they see you scoping them out across the greasy, beer-stained dance floor. It just seems that way because some straight women do indeed pretend to be gay in order to ward off the unwanted attentions of men, on themselves or their friends.

Ask yourself; why does anyone feel the need to do this? It would be so much easier, so much better, simply to say “Sorry, no thank you.” But we all take this so personally, thinking it’s because we’re too fat or not muscular enough or we’ve accidentally worn our sister’s Wilko’s chickpea scented deodorant instead of our Man Scent For Manly Men. This is born simply our of insecurity, deep seated insecurity which goes much lower than the ego that allows us to deal with the clusterfuck that is The Club by telling us that we are THE BEST. If only we could truly believe it, then our first assumption might be that she is gay, spoken for, not horny right now, or all manner of totally valid reasons why one might not want to have sex.

It’s not a right to be accepted. It’s an honour. And honour that should be freely given, not squeezed out of someone. Our problem is that we stop seeing human beings when we see women, and instead can only see The Sex. And then we get angry when it is denied us and say all sorts of terrible things about the people who deny it – as if they are not even people – all in the name of unrequited horniness. Because we all hate rejection so much, we stop asking for permission and we create a culture of pouncing, perpetuated by the odd person who claims to enjoy it – in theory – and never makes a big issue out of the difference between fantasy and reality.

Here we are, now, in a time of “sausage factories”, where the few women here and there appear to be either gay, cold or just nasty. They aren’t any of those things, usually; they are pissed off and on their guard. They know that an unwanted advance is around the corner and are poorly equipped to handle it. In a man-woman situation, anything that does not go according to plan will somehow be the woman’s fault, even if she made no attempt to encourage the idea that she was open for business (if you’ll excuse the expression).

“BUT DRAIN”, you may be protesting. “Why do they dress that way if they’re not looking for attention?” Please. Would it make any difference? Are you familiar with the expression “You might as well be hanged for a chicken as for an egg”? Well, you could consider that part of it. Even if they took care to dress down, women would still get the full wrath of body policing and judgement, only in the other direction, instead being called frumpy or masculine. They might just as well do whatever they want. In a club situation, where a large quantity of people are horny as shit, it’s not as if women have to be very sexually dressed or behave in a sexualised way to attract attention from men. They just have to be female.

We’re just so determined to sexualise women, like we can’t conceive of them having any other use. More than that, we are deeply convinced that they exist to be sexual for men specifically; I have come across men who have simply refused to accept that the woman they were attempting to pick up was gay, despite having literally just made a comment on how gay she looked (that is to say, not feminine). This means that we forget that they’re just people, individuals who can be simply not in the mood for no reason other than just because – or at least, a set of complex reasons that we can only know once we’ve figured out the entirety of human psychology and then learnt that particular woman’s life story.

As a species, we are destined to over-simplify, and to ignore whatever individual differences don’t fit with our idea of a group. I wonder… When I wrote “not in the mood” just then, was the first thing you thought “because she was on her period”? That would be proof of what I’m saying; over-simplification to the point of dehumanisation. Not to say that periods aren’t human, but they aren’t all encompassing There’s too much other stuff going on, and if we really want to iron out inequities between women and men, we have to be mindful of that. Every second of every day. Even if it’s hard.

TL;DR: If you go to a bar and get chatting to a dude you don’t realise is attracted to men, then out of nowhere, he grabs your arse, would that be OK? If you think it wouldn’t be, it’s time to stop pouncing women.

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