What I Think About When I Make Myself Come: Honest Answers to “Intimate Questions” from a Sexual Harasser
This text exchange is the opening paragraph for Rebecca Traister’s “On the Post-Weinstein Reckoning” and is identified as “A partial text exchange between a Manhattan executive and his female protegee.” Following on this illustration of the sort of treatment women face in the workplace, the article makes many thought-provoking points about the opening of the “anger window”:
“In the shock of the house lights having been suddenly brought up — of being forced to stare at the ugly scaffolding on which so much of our professional lives has been built — we’ve had scant chance to parse what exactly is inflaming us and who. It’s our tormentors, obviously, but sometimes also our friends, our mentors, ourselves.”
Traister is always an insightful social critic, and the article is well worth reading. Yet I was surprised that what really stayed with me over the past few months was the text exchange.
Such lingering, mildly-to-very creepy slices of life often turn into a story or an essay. It’s my way of working out my own discomfort, transforming it into something I control. I could perhaps write my own text exchange as erotica, a story that I’d find genuinely seductive rather than just pathetic and unethical. In my story, I’d coax the guy to ask more interesting questions, because, let’s face it, his overtures are not particularly imaginative. The quantity of one’s orgasms mean a lot less than the quality. And I don’t have to “make” myself come. The sexy threesome of me, myself and I are always on the same page as far as orgasms are concerned, no coercion required. Although I get that the question is code for inquiring if the woman experiences sexual desire outside of the presence of a man who “makes” her reach orgasm. As for question #2 why limit erotic fantasy to actual sexual encounters with real people, past or future? Yawn.
Most importantly, in my story, the exploration of erotic desire would be consensual and the power dynamic more equitable.
In Traister’s example, the woman’s distraught reply makes it clear that the man has acted inappropriately. In that context, “I appreciate your trust in me!” is a conman’s trick. I’ve read enough books on the anatomy of a con to see that he is preemptively and falsely creating a relationship of “trust” with those words in the hope she will feel compelled to answer in kind. As a woman who has been there, I can guess what she was thinking beneath her text brush-off: “Aw, why did he have to go there? Now I have to do the emotional clean-up when I face him again and reset the limits while I massage his ego without too much self-compromise. God I need coffee.”
The male mentor likely had a whiskey or two before he made his overtures around midnight on April 7. Perhaps the wife was away or sleeping upstairs and he was hoping for some return mentoring with his own self-pleasuring project. He was clearly not in a frame of mind to admit to himself how damaging those texts would be to the delicate balance of a professional relationship between a man and a woman. Rather than creating trust, he destroyed it. Forever.
Did he ever understand what he had lost and for what gain?
But let’s not overreact. It was all in good fun, right? Why couldn’t the woman play along and give him the answer he was hoping for, which I imagine as more or less along these lines:
April 7, 2013 11:45 PM
1) I masturbate every day, especially after I have a meeting with you
I’m such a bad, horny girl, I think I need a spanking 😉
2) I always fantasize about you, so it’s future experiences I hope 🙂
btw, I’d love to see a picture of your hard dick ♥♥♥
Or could it be possible—we are very imaginative people here at ERWA–that the mentor’s questions came from a genuine interest in deepening his knowledge of the female erotic experience in an educational way? I myself am always curious about what’s really going on in people’s heads with regard to sexuality: the transcendence, the vulnerability, the connective humanity that I believe is at the heart of eroticism, female, male and every other color of the rainbow.
Today I’m going give this guy the benefit of the doubt. Unlike his protegee, who did exactly what she needed to do by refusing to engage, I’m going to answer him in the spirit of sharing my erotic experience honestly for the sake of male education.
So, Nameless Manhattan Executive Mentor, you’ve got some texts about a woman’s sexual fantasies coming back at you. And you’re welcome for my trust in you.
What do I think about when I masturbate, you ask? I know you want a steamy, explicit story to help you get off, and there are about 200 of mine floating around out there, so check those out for some ideas. What I’d really like to tell you is why I don’t think about past or future experiences. I never think about real people. My fantasy world is detached from the realities of sex in our society. That reality reminds me every day that it is dangerous, even deadly, for my reputation if not my life itself, for a woman to have sexual thoughts and desires, much less any presumption those should be respected as part of my humanity.
Here’s a story that I hope will convey this feeling. About twenty years ago, my sisters and I were driving to a spa for a sibling weekend getaway. My older sister had brought along several issues of Libido magazine, one of my earliest encounters with female-authored erotica (Anais Nin was the first, of course). I read the stories and we all discussed what we liked and joked about some of the scenes—one story I recall was an Orientalist fantasy about a man pretending to “sell” his blindfolded girlfriend to an Arab who turns out to be the boyfriend himself. Nice twist: transgressive but ultimately safe (and an old erotica trick, I’d learn). When we reached our hotel, I said, “Oh, I’d better not leave these magazines in the car. If someone saw them and decided to rape us, the police would think we were asking for it and the guy would totally get away with it.” Our lighthearted mood broken by that dose of common sense. My sisters agreed we had to hide the magazines.
Decades later, I still feel the truth of that message. Any shred of a sign of sexual desire, including wearing a form-fitting sweater, means a woman is broadcasting consent to the world and deserves whatever she gets.
Accordingly, my fantasy world must be carefully walled off from the real world where my sexuality is either protected by the ownership of one man (father then husband) or free pickings for any predator.
Inside the walls, well, that’s a different story.
The scenes I imagine are transgressive and explicit and mostly, though not always heterosexual. However, the partners are always nameless and faceless. They don’t have bodies either. They exist as job descriptions, voices, intentions, desire. In my Land of Sex, the strength of that desire erases past and future. There is only delicious Now.
And yes, these partners “make” me do those “naughty” things, things no “nice” girl is allowed to do. Basically it boils down to admitting I like sex and want everyone to know it. As we often read in erotica, they know me better than I know myself. They know exactly what to do to bring me to ecstasy every time.
These apparently “submissive” fantasies might seem like strong evidence I am yet another feminist secretly delighting in male dominance, but in thinking about this for quite some time, I believe it’s the opposite. The man knows me because he is me (pardon the grammatical incorrectness, it just feels right). As a dutiful daughter of my culture, I identify my proactive desire as male. My female self is desired but exploited in the usual idioms—except in this case by me. I control the scene completely. In my fantasy world, I am assured, as one never really is in the company of most actual men, that my pleasure and release are the highest priority in the universe.
It’s pretty awesome to be me in my fantasy world. In real life I have to worry about my executive mentors using me to get off and that doesn’t feel so good. I realize that with all my talk of keeping my sexuality “safe,” I do publish erotica under my own name. Yet the same fantasy rules apply to my writing—I control the scene and the woman always has her needs satisfied.
I probably have more male readers than I would if I wrote about tender, lifelong female friendships and quilting. Another message I’ve absorbed from our culture is that men really only pay attention to and care about women when they want to have sex with them or the women are their daughters. As in “if she were my daughter, I’d really show that sexual harasser what’s what, but she’s not so, eh, what can I do?”
May I make another confession? Maybe this is just a girl thing, but when it comes to sexual partners, I can’t help myself from caring about the mind inside the body. I’d like to think—and this is a fantasy of a different kind but no less heartfelt—that most men of any maturity actually do care about their partner as a person and that they care about her pleasure as more than just a proof of technical expertise. I hope men also want their partners to appreciate them for their unique humanity and not just their wallets. I’d like to think that women and men can work together to explore the things we have in common as desiring subjects without objectifying and demonizing each other. I wish we could all be more honest about the toll that our society takes on everyone’s sexuality, female, male, and every other flavor on the ice cream menu, too.
That’s a lot of fantasies. But you asked.
Jeesh, it’s after way midnight. Thanks for listening and I hope this helped. Oh, and I was joking about that dick pic. Please don’t send it. Ever. I appreciate your honoring this request.
See you at work, Boss!