Male entitlement to women’s bodies exists across the spectrum.
The strangest thing happened to me at a party recently. A gay male acquaintance — someone I’d only met a couple of times before — stuck his face between my breasts and nuzzled into me like a cat. It wasn’t a momentary nuzzle, either, but a prolonged groping and fondling, coupled with moans of pleasure. I’m sure if he could have purred, he would have. I, on the other hand, froze. First, I was shocked, and then I felt humiliated. We were surrounded by onlookers, some of whom were laughing. It took me a couple of minutes to shake myself out of my stupor and pull away from him.
By definition, sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact, and this was definitely unwanted. He didn’t ask if he could touch my breasts, let alone fondle and nuzzle them. Initially I thought, well, he’s gay, and he’s not doing this because he wants to have sex with me, so maybe it’s not that big a deal. But let’s look at the facts. Whether or not the perpetrator derives sexual pleasure from the contact is irrelevant under the law: what matters is that the touching was of a sexual nature — such as fondling breasts, including over clothes — and there was no consent given. Often sexual assault is used to humiliate the victim, or to exercise power.
It’s not surprising, then, that right before he assaulted me, this acquaintance accused me of ‘upsetting’ him last time we met, while refusing to tell me what I had supposedly done wrong. I wracked my brain trying to recall what I might have done to upset him, even starting to feel sorry for him — and that’s when he went in for the grope. Society has a name for this behaviour: gaslighting, which is a form of emotional abuse designed to make victims doubt themselves and their own recollection of events. He deliberately employed this tactic, putting me on the back foot emotionally and effectively lowering my defences, before violating my physical boundaries. In less than ten minutes, this master manipulator and predator cycled through emotional and physical abuse, leaving me feeling humiliated, confused and ashamed.
I was confused in the moment about why he would do this to me. I barely know him, and we see each other once a year. He’s gay and I’m a lesbian. However, I have come to see it as one of several options, or perhaps even a little bit of each. Either a) he is getting off on the power trip that is purely psychological, and devoid of social context; b) he is getting off in a way best left to Freudians to understand (let’s not forget his pleasureful moaning while his face was deep in my breasts); or c) this is yet another sign of the deep misogyny that runs through our culture. What made him think that he had the right to my body? Did he just assume that women are there for his entertainment? Why on earth did he not think to ask before doing that?
The answer to those questions is male entitlement, and of the three possible reasons he acted this way, this is the one that most interests me. Historically men have had unfettered access not only to women’s bodies, but to the entire public arena. If they wanted to assault a woman for pleasure or power, they could. If they wanted to humiliate her in front of a group of peers, to make her doubt herself and her place in that social group, they could. And it feels like the more women start to gain traction in accessing social, economic and political power, the more men push back. Instead of making room for women in order for everyone to share equally, men are desperately trying to retain all the power for themselves. Male entitlement means actively putting — and keeping — women in their place, lest the men lose their own power. And sadly, this dynamic appears to play out even in the queer community.
Male entitlement and abuse of power exists across the spectrum. Being gay or straight has no bearing on the way men feel entitled to use and abuse women’s bodies. Any touching without consent, that causes fear, humiliation or shame, is assault. And any sexual touching that does the same is called sexual assault. I couldn’t call it out in the moment because I was paralysed in shock and humiliation. I had to leave the party straight after I managed to pull away from him, unable to talk about what had just happened. But I am calling it out now. I was sexually assaulted by a gay man in a deliberate, two-pronged attack, designed to humiliate me and put me in my place. People laughed — maybe they thought it was harmless fun, or maybe they were in shock as well, and didn’t know what to say.
This behaviour is not okay, and the more we call it out, the more others will recognise it and say it’s not okay too. I don’t feel traumatised by his actions — I am angry. Angry at a society where this type of behaviour has ever been okay. Angry at him for making me feel so small. And angry at the thought that he might do this to other women; that men like him everywhere might keep doing this to women. I didn’t call it out in the moment, but I will be sending this article to him, so hopefully he can reflect on his behaviour, think about why he did it (power, pleasure, misogyny?), and hopefully change his ways. Gay men can and do sexually assault women. The queer community is not immune from misogyny and male entitlement. If we want to change society and make it a place where men and women are on equal footing, we must call out this behaviour wherever we see it.