This past weekend I was taking a subway ride from my apartment in the East Village to Brooklyn. More specifically to Park Slope: a magical land of socially conscious iced coffees and thousand dollar strollers. It was an absolutely gorgeous day outside, and I was aptly decked out in a sundress and shades ready for a picnic with friends in Prospect Park. The ride that day was unusually rocky, but I tightly clasped the subway pole and firmly planted my feet like a champ. With my summer Spotify playlist cranked up, I didn’t have a care in the world.
All of a sudden, a man who’d been sitting across from me got up and walked over motioning for me to remove my earbuds. The grave look of concern on his face immediately made my stomach drop.
“You have to be careful…” he said in a hushed yet reprimanding tone. I stared at him blankly.
“That guy who was standing behind you was taking pictures underneath your dress with his iPhone!” He explained that he’d been trying to motion to me while it was happening, but I’d sadly never learned the international symbol for “Watch out- there’s a perv trying to Instagram your lady bits.”
I thanked him for telling me, but, despite his good intentions, the damage had been done. I’d been sexually violated without even knowing it. The rest of the subway ride was a blur. I wanted to cry. I felt angry. But most of all….I felt ashamed. Can you believe that? I felt ashamed! His cautionary words,
“Be careful, be careful,” kept sloshing around in my head. Was that to suggest I’d been doing something wrong in the first place? Was it my fault for simply having female body parts and dressing in a short sundress? Was I asking for it by standing in such a suggestive wide-spread pose? Maybe I was neurotic, but it seemed all of a sudden as if all eyes were on me sizing me up. Avoiding any eye contact, I slumped down with my arms folded making sure to cover my chest. Whether it was in my head or not, I felt sexualized, and it didn’t feel good.
Each Monday I cash in one of my guilty pleasure chips and watch The Bachelorette. The initial trailer made it pretty clear that at some point in the season Kaitlyn has sex with one of the guys, and it becomes a huge scandal. Well, you probably know by now that this “incident” occurred on this past Monday’s episode. Watching (or rather listening) to the actual scene between Nick and Kaitlyn felt sort of, for lack of a better word, icky. This wasn’t because of what was actually happening, (which was behind closed doors and probably nothing more than foreplay.) Honestly, it sounded raw and vulnerable and no different than most of our own intimate experiences. What felt wrong was sitting in my living room listening to something that I knew I shouldn’t be. Once again, reality television had succeeded in taking a private and tender moment and completely exploiting it.
The morning after their intimate encounter, Nick is unsurprisingly cool and calm. Sporting a goofy smile and showing zero signs of remorse, it’s quite obvious he’d enjoyed the evening immensely. Kaitlyn, however, is a different story. Initially, she’s beaming with the after effects of new love. But as some time goes by and it starts to sink in, you watch her begin to dissolve into a puddle of self-judgement and humiliation. It’s rather upsetting and uncomfortable to watch….mostly because I’ve been there. Many women have been there in that very same place. You’ve had sex. Maybe a little sooner than you’d expected to, but it was consensual and felt good. And the next day it seems as though he skips off without a second thought and you start down your shame spiral. The last time I checked it takes two to do the deed, so why was Nick Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky while Kaitlyn was a neurotic mess? Couldn’t she have just owned her actions and moved on?
I’ve personally had issues owning my sexuality for most of my adult life, and it’s taken me years to view sex as anything other than dirty. But once I finally gave myself permission to be a sexually confident woman, all the shame seemed to dissipate, and I felt truly empowered. And then something like the subway incident happens, and it feels like I’m back at square one. So I guess it can’t be all that surprising that Kaitlyn felt ashamed of what she and Nick had done together when I’d somehow absorbed all of the blame and guilt for a sexual act I had no part in whatsoever! And yes, we’re just talking about a reality show, but maybe this needs to be a bigger conversation.
Sex is a totally natural part of life and a necessary component of romantic relationships. It can be an expression of profound connection with a monogamous partner, and it can also be a lust-fueled, sweaty joyride with someone you’ve just met. As long as it’s consensual and it feels good, why should it matter which category it falls under? As women we need to stop apologizing for being sexual beings. We need to stop apologizing for being human.