Not Me Too

by | November 21, 2017 | General | 8 comments

Angry woman

I probably shouldn’t publish this post. I’m likely to get all sorts of flak. However, I’ve been bothered by this for weeks, and it seems that ERWA is the only public forum to which I belong where people are mature enough to actually read this post, instead of automatically condemning it.

Like many members of Western culture, I was simultaneously unsurprised and astonished by the Harvey Weinstein revelations, and the consequent cultural fallout. Tales of women forced into sex on the casting couch are so common as to be cliché. Weinstein, it seems, was a particularly egregious example, but power differentials between male bosses and (mostly) female underlings that lead to sexual abuse are hardly new. The more remarkable and disturbing aspect of the case was the flood of other accusations and confessions it triggered.

All at once, people were talking about issues previously swept under the rug. I approve. Too often in Western society, stories about rape and abuse leap into the headlines for a few days, then fade away. The stories are dismissed as isolated, extreme cases. Now, finally, we can all see the patterns embedded in our culture and in our legal system that encourage sexual harassment and assault.

Still, I was not prepared for avalanche of anger that met me when I logged on to Facebook. “#MeToo” screamed my friends, my relatives, my female acquaintances. I was attacked too, they wrote. I was harassed. I was raped. I could not believe how many of them identified themselves as victims. I’d say sixty to seventy percent of my female contacts in the US and Canada posted the #MeToo hash tag.

I felt strange. Weird. Almost left out. Because in my more than six decades of life, I’ve never been forced into sex. I’ve never been assaulted or been the target of an attempted rape. Aside from the ubiquitous wolf whistles and cat calls, nobody has ever sexually harassed me.

Why not?

Am I just lucky?

I haven’t led a particularly sheltered life. I spent a good while in academia, an environment not known for its equitable treatment of women, then moved to the tech world, which is notorious for its sexist attitudes. I lived in major cities, in not particularly upscale neighborhoods. When I was in my twenties and thirties, I loved to dress provocatively, going without a bra, wearing short skirts and plunging necklines. I wasn’t trying to attract attention. I just liked feeling sexy.

It’s true I have enjoyed a wealth of sexual experiences, probably more than the average woman (whoever she is). However, it was all consensual. I’ve occasionally had sex even when I wasn’t aroused by my partner, but I’ve always known I could say no. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed all my lovers (and hope that is mutual).

Some might question my memory. Maybe I’ve suppressed some experiences. Maybe I’m in denial. I’ve been combing my recollections for weeks, looking for any hint that I’ve been through anything like what my peers report. Nothing. If it’s buried, it’s buried deep.

Or is it all a question of labels? Would some other woman have called some of my encounters “assault”? I really don’t think so, but of course I can’t know. I gave away my virginity at sixteen to a man six years older. That would be considered statutory rape, I guess, but I knew exactly what I was doing and what I wanted.

Perhaps I’m simply oblivious. I don’t see the discrimination, or feel the power differentials. Perhaps I’ve been passed over for promotions because I’m female, without realizing what was going on. Perhaps “the guys” joked about my tits behind my back, or talked about how they’d love to gang bang me, and I just never noticed.

Maybe I’m just the exception that proves the rule.

Maybe. In any case, I find myself concerned about what I see as an overreaction to the Weinstein saga. Any sort of sexual attention to a subordinate, no matter how far in the past, will put a person under scrutiny. Celebrities offer tearful apologies for what I would view as minor transgressions. Sure, a man who pats a woman’s behind is being sexist and rude, but there’s a huge gap between groping and rape. I’d argue that they aren’t even necessarily part of the same continuum.

But women are angry—rightly so—and they want to punish anyone who demonstrates, in any form, the arrogance and sense of entitlement that can be the precursors of sexual abuse. The problem I see is that anger is not an effective strategy for creating positive social change. Anger polarizes. Anger overgeneralizes and oversimplifies, lumping an inappropriate innuendo at work in with a rape at knife point. Our anger triggers answering anger in men, some of whom—perhaps many of whom—are innocent of the crimes committed by the Weinsteins of the world. These men feel threatened, wrongfully accused. Meanwhile, those who are not innocent feel even more justified in attacking the “crazy, frigid bitches” who deny them what they want.

This is not a recipe for sexual equality, or sexual harmony. What we need is, first, rational analysis and discussion to identify the true issues and to tease apart the different cultural factors that lead to sexual violence. Then we need to specifically target these factors with action – legal changes, educational programs aimed at both girls and boys, public relations efforts that use the power of celebrity to encourage and inspire rather than to shame.

Finally, we need to recognize that in today’s hyper-connected world, both traditional and social media amplify emotion at the expense of civil discourse. Tweeting #MeToo gives you a satisfying sense of solidarity. It may feel like striking a blow against sexism and rape. However, it does nothing if not followed up with concrete, constructive activities to solve what is a real, but not a simple, problem.


Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Jean Roberta

    Lisabet, your “Not Me Too” post concerns me. I can’t comment on your personal experience, since I wasn’t there. It’s possible that you have never been sexually abused (in which case, I’m glad to hear it). It’s possible that you have been lucky. If you had stopped there, I would have remembered times when a male co-worker gave me a compliment — where is he going with this? — but it turned out to be just a compliment, not an attempt at coercion. I once had a long conversation with a friendly male stranger in Vancouver, Canada. When we were crossing a busy bridge, he recognized that I was nervous. I was trying not to show it, but I kept thinking “What if? (What if he impulsively pushes me into traffic or throws me over the guard-rail into Burrard Inlet?) He said gently that he would go his own way, since he was making me nervous. I was grateful, and assured him that he hadn’t done anything wrong. None of these incidents were abuse or harassment, and I don’t think any reasonable person could see them that way. (If I had chosen to go with the stranger to his place, a spontaneous, consensual fuck still wouldn’t have been abuse.)

    On the other hand, I’ve been told, over and over again, that what I have experienced as rape, harassment, and deception were really something else. In the fairly recent past, most accounts of rape/sexual assault/violence/forcible confinement of girls/women by men were simply reinterpreted as “romance.” Stay tuned for Part 2.

  2. Mairead Devereux

    I think this is a very timely piece, even though I approach the topic from the opposite perspective. As a survivor of both childhood molestation and sexual assault, I think the topic is too important for a lot of the “#metoo-ism” that we’re now seeing. A man patting a woman’s butt and calling her “Honey” is NOT the same as rape. It just isn’t.

    Take the claims against Al Franken vs Roy Moore. They are NOT equal, despite the way this issue is being framed by the media. There is the power differential, for one thing, which is not being acknowledged. And the experience of a 14-year-old GIRL being fondled by a far older man in a position of considerable authority is far different from that of a fellow performer, on a raunchy comedy tour, who consents to a kiss beforehand, however objectionable she may have found it afterward.

    I worked in the restaurant business for many years, initially as a server and bartender. I was groped countless times and, quite honestly, considered it a part of the job. I’d smack the offending hand away, tell the guy to stop being a total jerk and get on with business. The only time I got really angry was when a regular customer grabbed my breasts. I knew him well and had had many interesting conversations with him. I’d thought that I was more than a piece of meat to him. So I had the bouncers throw him out and ban him because, frankly, I was hurt. When it was clear that, far from appreciating my critical faculties, he thought of me as an object ~ and an object he could grab at any time ~ I found it upsetting. Contrast this with the manager who asked me to give him a blow job in his office one night. I told him I’d be happy to, once I’d asked his wife for permission. He left me alone after that. Was his behaviour annoying? Yes. Should I have had to put up with it? No, Was I traumatized by the experience? Not the same way I was by having my innocence stolen from me, that’s for sure. If he’d threatened my job because I wouldn’t service him, that would have been one thing. But he didn’t, he was just being an idiot. Booze will do that to a lot of men (and women, too).

    The avalanche of people adding their names to the #metoo movement is important, in a way, in that it lets men know about what we women put up with in our daily lives. Catcalls, bra-snapping, suggestions by managers and bosses that we do special “favours” etc are regular occurrences for many of us. There are important conversations to be had about the way women are objectified from puberty to menopause. But a catcall doesn’t rise to the level of rape. I can say that I think Franken was an idiot to take a tasteless photograph and still think he should keep his job while simultaneously believing that Moore should never, ever hold public office. It’s these grey areas which are going to be a challenge to sort out, going forward. Thanks for a great post!

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hello, Mairead,

      I worked as a waitress all through college, so I know (to some extent) what you’re talking about. I really liked your response to the guy who wanted a blow job.

      And thanks for your support in response to this post. I am not trying to trivialize rape, blame it on the victim, or in any way question the validity of victims speaking up. I’m just worried that a simplistic and overly generalized response will do more harm than good.

      I also keep wondering whether there was anything in my personal history that somehow “immunized” me against some of these dangers. My parents were very egalitarian. My mom was a real kick ass woman who never took any sh*t from anyone. I was brought up to believe that I was as good as any male and that nobody had the right to tell me differently. My family was also relatively open about sex. Could these be factors? I don’t know. Obviously all the positive attitudes and upbringing in the world wouldn’t stop a random attack on the street, but as I understand it, a very large percentage of rapes are committed by men the victims know, including their partners.

  3. Jean Roberta

    Lisabet, the apparent avalanche of complaints about sexual harassment and abuse could be likened to the explosion of a container full of combustible material that has been building up for many years. Notice the huge gap between the detailed similar accounts of men in positions of power who repeatedly pressure women into sexual compliance “or else” (or else everyone you speak to will think you’re crazy or looking for a payoff, or else you’ll be fired, or else you’ll lose custody of your children, or else I’ll tell everyone I know that you’re a nympho slut with a history of mental illness) and the apparently bewildered apologies of men who claim they never meant to hurt anyone. (The implication is that too many women are just too sensitive.)

    After I was raped at age 19 (and I don’t apologize for calling the incident “rape”), I was told by several psychiatrists and my parents that my “boyfriend” (the guy who had been fucking me– more-or-less consensually–for months) had “made love” to me.

    For months, I had been terrified of getting pregnant. Each time, he assured me he would pull out in time, then he said “oops.” He clearly found the situation funny. I tried explaining, as reasonably as I could, that I had tried to buy condoms & get a prescription for the pill, but no one would sell me the means of protection because I was “underage” by current standards. I told the guy he had to use a condom. He said sure, told me he had a collection on hand, then said he had “run out,” and pressured me into more unsafe sex. On the fateful occasion, he had agreed to go to the campus cafeteria with me, where I hoped to have a sensible conversation with him about birth control. Instead, he forced himself into my dorm room, pulled off my clothes while I was trying to fight him off (later, I discovered numerous bruises where I had been banged into the furniture). He threatened to bite off my nipples if I didn’t spread my legs. After he bit hard enough to draw blood, I realized that he intended to keep going until he got what he wanted, even if that required knocking me unconscious. So I spread my legs. Afterward, he told me that if I thought I had been raped, I was wrong.

    I’m not looking for sympathy here, especially since I probably won’t get it from you. I’m describing a scenario that is now widely recognized as part of a pattern of rape on university campuses.

    Soon after the event, I tried explaining it to several doctors, including psychiatrists, and my parents, who thought I just should have said no. (I screamed “Stop it!” but apparently that didn’t count.) I was told that I “sounded confused.” (I’ve been giving the same account since 1971, and it is briefly mentioned in a psychiatrist’s report on me, typed on a manual typewriter that year.)

    I’ve been told that my “boyfriend” just couldn’t hear what I was telling him because men see things differently from women, or because I wasn’t very good at expressing myself.

    I tried to explain myself to individual men for many years, usually with no success. If enough of us yell loudly enough, maybe they can hear us.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hello, Jean,

      Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your personal experiences so honestly. Believe me, I know many women who have been raped, harassed or both. And I am not trying to say that this was “something else”. I’m just 1) mystified that I haven’t had these experiences myself and 2) concerned about a backlash that does more harm than good.

  4. Jean Roberta

    Part 3. The maverick art critic and self-styled feminist Camille Paglia once described rape as the intrusion of sex into a non-sexual situation. (I’m not sure of the exact wording.) This seemed to me to be a a stunningly good description of all sorts of sexual abuse from the victim’s viewpoint.

    Sexual harassment or abuse at work usually looks like a detour or derailment of what is supposed to be happening. Women agree to meet with men for work-related reasons (the hope of getting hired or promoted, the hope of learning about a new, upcoming project). If the meeting is moved to a private place, the woman is likely to feel uneasy, but doesn’t want to jeopardize her prospects.

    When the man shows the woman that he lured her with false promises or implications, she knows she has been scammed. The issue is not whether sex, per se, is good or bad. It’s also not about whether the woman is “the kind of girl” (my parents’ phrase) who enjoys spontaneous sex.

    From the victim’s viewpoint, this situation is not about sex in the form of mutual pleasure.

    Even if the victim was fantasizing about sex with a particular man before the bogus “meeting,” she has still been scammed. And her situation gets worse if he tells everyone he knows that he “banged her a few times” (in the words of one the men in show-biz who was recently named).

    Of course, sexual predators describe these scenarios differently from the women they have misled or coerced. This is nothing new.

    The new thing is that now, there is a competing narrative in the cultural mainstream.

  5. Daddy X

    When I was sexually active, the very idea that someone actually wanted to have sex with me was the turn-on. I simply couldn’t imagine having sex with someone who didn’t want to. Of course, back in the day, there were women I would have liked to have sex with, but I’m so averse to rejection that I always allowed the woman make the first move to avoid likely embarrassment on my part. I seldom refused. I was a go-for-it guy.

    In my various jobs in the restaurant business, many women worked with me as their boss. When I became partner in a SF saloon, the waitresses working there (and customers) came on to me much more often. My sex life took a significant jump, like in the first week. Years later, after working several months in another establishment, I was promoted manager, and guess what? Female employees and customers practically threw themselves at me. My position of authority must have been a turn-on for them, because I certainly didn’t alter my approach. I let them come to me.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hi, Daddy,

      Thanks for weighing in. I keep hoping for more male comments.

      I think you underestimate your personal appeal. Why give all the credit to your “position of authority”?

      There are lots of men like you, who like and are attracted to women but don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that they can take what they want. One reason I wrote this post was to emphasize this fact – not every male is a sexist bastard or a potential rapist.

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