At 21, I interned at an alternative news weekly in Charleston, South Carolina. Though I was tasked with writing the blurbs and human interest stories that staff writers hated, it led to a gig as a columnist. On the magazine’s back page, nestled with ads for escorts and strip clubs, I was given space to wax poetic on everything from the creation of persona to my dating life.
One of those columns, titled “Southern Hospitality” detailed the way that my friends and I had been treated sexually that year. Hint: it wasn’t pretty. It was a litany of stories about being mistreated, objectified, and used. None of it was surprising to the college-aged women around me, but older folks were horrified by the stories. For us, it was normal. Instead of dates, there were 2 am booty calls. Ideas of consent were malleable. Moreover, even though my friends and I felt liberated and willing to engage in occasional casual sex, we found that so often, basic manners were nowhere to be found.
Unfortunately, I could write that same column today. Ten years later, with the inception of online dating and smart phones, it’s only gotten worse. Most women I know who have dabbled in online dating have been the recipient of unsolicited photos of body parts (one, specifically). I hadn’t had the pleasure of receiving one until recently (from an elderly gent on Facebook), and after nearly three years in a monogamous relationship, I was more than a little shocked. But when I told my girlfriends, they were completely nonplussed. If anything, they seemed surprised that I’d give it a second thought. I’m also a little surprised at my prudishness.
Though it would be easy to compile a list of disgusting male behavior that my friends and I have experienced, I don’t think it would be news to you. In order to interrogate how these actions have become the status quo, I had to more fully unpack how despite my misgivings, I tolerated being treated so terribly. I assume that many women may have had the same sad trajectory.
The short version is that my first love and I broke up, I gained weight, and I eventually felt like no men were interested in me. A study abroad trip to Italy on which all the students (except me) were romancing each other made me feel like there must be something inherently wrong with me. I wanted attention, too, and I went looking for it in ways that could easily be rewritten as a cautionary Lifetime movie. For many years, I spoke of one of those dangerous sexual situations as if I’d been assaulted. At the time, I didn’t understand that I could be complicit yet also taken advantage of. I was 18, scared, and lonely.
I felt powerless, pathetic, and unwanted. The longer I felt that way, the fewer standards I had. I was awash in desperation for love, and that only dissuaded men more. I took what I could get, and it wasn’t much. Times I asked for more, I felt humiliated. I learned to pretend that I wasn’t looking for a relationship, that casual hookups were fine. It rarely felt fine to me. I remember leaving college horrified by so many of my sexual encounters. They felt cheap and unsatisfying. It’s been a long time, but that terrified and trampled girl is always inside of me. These days, I’m grateful that my partner is a #wokebae who respects the hell out of women and is quick to call out misogyny and shitty behavior in general. I’ve long forgiven myself for allowing men to treat me so poorly, but it would be a lie to say I don’t deeply regret it. I don’t think that sex and love must go hand in hand, but I wish that more of mine had.
Written by Anna Claire Hodge; a PhD, accomplished writer, and a monthly columnist for The Boutique Next Door. Find more of her work on her website, www.annaclairehodge.com, and follow her endeavors on Instagram @to.thine.own.self.be.trill.