I want to talk about the Aziz Ansari thing because, to me, it’s not about sex. Well, it is, but it’s really about gender expectation and all the pressure that comes with that.
I don’t think I know a single person who doesn’t have one sexual encounter in their life diary that they regretted, felt shitty about, and/or wished had never happened. That waking up and feeling nauseous or violated. It’s so common that it rarely gets talked about, until now, and it has everything to do with feeling pressured to do something you are not comfortable with and don’t want to do, but you do it anyway. We often write it off, and the excuses are as varied as the situations: I was drunk. I was too tired to argue. It was pity. Blah, Blah, Blah…
Why do we feel the pressure? And this applies to men and women in a variety of scenarios, not just sexual ones, though that’s the one I will be speaking to because it is the reason I wrote Knowing Joe, a story about a Girl who doesn’t want sex, has no interest in sex, and was comfortable in her own skin until an extenuating circumstance had her questioning whether or not there was something wrong with her. Queue the Pressure.
How many guys have been out to the bar with their mates and felt pressure to pick up a chick and take them home because they didn’t want their mates to call them a loser or gay?
How many women felt the need to make restitution for a dinner or a movie or simply because they didn’t want the ‘nice’ guy to dislike them, or worse, tell all their friends that “that chick was a prude … a frigid bitch.”
How many girls go wild in their early twenties as a direct revolt against their parents’ beliefs about what girls should be and how girls should behave? The same applies to boys.
The mates might not have even been teasing the guy at the bar. The Nice Guy might have truly been one and would never have badmouthed her to his friends anyway, but the expectations of how a guy and a girl should behave was in their psyche, so even if the pressure was internal, it was still very very real, insidious, and manipulative because that guy could have told his friends to fuck off, and the girl could have just ended the date when her protests went unheeded. But they didn’t. Telling yourself to fuck off is a lot harder.
Why do people want to engage in sex with people they barely know? Is it some kind of biological imperative that we simply have no control over? Or is it pressure we feel? External and Internal?
Where does this kind of pressure come from? Our Peers. Society. Our Parents. Our Religion. Our Laws. Even Our Own Damn Psyche.
It comes from all those places because it comes from expectations. Expectations that have been cultivated down through centuries. Expectations that are entirely based on outdated gender roles. And by outdated, I mean, are no longer even remotely necessary for the survival of the species. Men are expected to be virile, aggressive, strong, and intelligent. A warrior. A hunter. Women are expected to be pure, beautiful, accommodating. A wife. A mother. A housekeeper. A concubine. Men are expected to want sex and take sex. Women are expected secretly want it and to give it when it’s desired by the man. And if men and women didn’t behave according to expectations, they were sick, and thusly sent for shock therapy. Then came the sexual revolution and the feminist movement and all hell broke loose. Now we have dating apps where we ‘order off the menu’ and we expect that what’s delivered is what we wanted.
Throw in the fact that sex is everywhere and you have a clusterfuck of epic magnitude. It was bound to go nuclear eventually. Movies, books, magazines, porn, strip clubs, nudie fireman’s charity calendars. Seriously people. Pressure.
When I started writing Knowing Joe, none of this Sexual Harassment stuff was in the news, and if it was, you barely heard about it. At that time, I was writing erotica under a pseudonym, and I bought one of the most quintessential books on the subject of male sexual fantasy for research purposes. I was interested in sexual expectations. How early were they formed, and how much they were influenced by external forces. Men in Love, by Nancy Friday is a difficult book to read when you begin to understand how young we are when our sexual impulses and expectations are subject to manipulation. Every proclivity, every fetish has a line that can be traced back to its beginning, which is often what an adult would consider benign: an off-hand comment, a mother’s shoe, a dad chiding his son to man-up.
The pressure was everywhere, and to make matters worse, I had bought a used book. The entire text was furiously underlined and annotated by a women who had very specific expectations of her boyfriend, Joe.
I felt for her. I felt for Joe. Both of whom were clearly under pressure and lacked the communication skills to resolve their issues.
We need to get better at this. We need open dialog. We need to stop blaming and shaming. We need to discard definitions. We need to discard gender expectations. We need to get better at articulating, up front, what we want and don’t want. We need to stop assuming shit. We need to stop putting pressure on people to be something they don’t want to be, to do something they don’t want to do. To dress, speak, or act in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. It’s a psychological problem. It’s a definition problem. A communication problem, and it’s most assuredly a pressure problem.
Knowing Joe is about a Girl who felt that pressure all her life.
Knowing Joe is about a Girl who was brave enough to challenge what it means to be a girl.
So Kudos to all the Girls and Guys making that challenge right now. There’s a lot that needs to change.