Yep, you heard it right. Women are expected to be ready and waiting for men to express interest and when they do they’re supposed to reciprocate it. It’s not always obvious or overtly expressed, but when you look a little closer the assumption is loud and clear. At times it looks like sexual harassment while other times it manifests as simple arrogance on the part of the presumptuous man.
Here’s what it looks like to me.
This expectation looks like a (heterosexual) man expecting a woman’s body to be accessible to him when he’s attracted to her. In his eyes, if she isn’t interested, if she doesn’t give out her number, if she doesn’t want to get dinner, if she won’t have sex — she’s a bitch (instead of a person exercising their autonomy and agency). It’s when he is a stranger, yet expects her to be complimented (not embarrassed, afraid, or enraged) if he tells her that her ass “looks so good in those jeans”. It’s when he thinks women who like other women still might want to sleep with him (or, at least make out in front of him). When he’s at a party or the bar and she doesn’t want to have sex he feels she just needs a few more drinks and a little coaxing. It’s when he assumes that she only wore that low cut top or tight skirt to signal her desire to have sex. And, my favorite, he figures if she’s a feminist then she needs to be “cured” of any thought or semblance of independence (and clothing) because she might be someone who challenges his assumed right to her body.
This is serious stuff, ya’ll. The notion that all women should be sexually available to men at all times is a part of rape culture. It comes from a society that socializes men to believe that if they don’t “get the girl” it is through the fault of the woman (instead of just a fact of life that not everyone wants or needs to be with them). This culture allows men to believe that the attention they direct at women is always wanted and should be received with open arms.
It is the same society that teaches women that all of this is true; that the very heart of their self-worth and value is determined by their relationship to a man. They are taught that their value is also intrinsically linked to their bodies and by how well they measure up to the almighty standards of conventional beauty. Therefore, they should be thankful for male attention and if they are not, then they are made to feel guilty or wrong or as if they owe something him.
The prevalence of this idea of female sexual availability directly links up to the objectification of women. When a woman’s body is reduced to merely an object of pleasure she is then dehumanized. This dehumanization creates a space where her consent, her interest in any sexual activity is no longer taken into account; her body is assumed to be available to the subject (i.e. the man) and her input is no longer needed, it is no longer welcome. Have no doubt that there’s an abundance of images depicting women as passive sexual objects intended for the (heterosexual) male gaze. We’re talking literal objects here.
Of course, it’s important to highlight that these false assumptions hurt men, too. Sexism rears its ugly head in the other direction when men are expected to prove their masculinity through their interactions with women. They are expected to constantly reaffirm their manhood through having copious amounts of sex with women, by objectifying them, or through showing that they have “game”. We’re meant to believe that all men naturally want these things, but that is simply not true.
I also want to mention that these assumptions connect to larger historical contexts and stories that have been told for a long time about women’s bodies and how accessible they should be to men. I can’t stress enough that there is no single narrative about women’s sexual availability; these narratives are dependent on the intersecting histories and identities of women such as race, class, gender identity, ability, and sexual orientation. So no matter how much we want to assume that all people share the same experiences — that is simply not the case.
By Leah Taraskiewicz, Courtesy of HAVEN.