The one thing that stood out to me in the SB#4 conversation, of Thresher op-ed fame, was Bridget Schilling’s courage. Instead of discussing the issue as a general problem in need of a general solution, as many politicized issues carelessly degenerates into, she reminds us that sexual misconduct is really an ambiguous umbrella term tagged to a broad range of very different and very specific problems encountered by vastly different individuals. As a victim of sexual assault, her problem might have been the tendency to give in to pressure. As a possible perpetrator of sexual assault, my problem is most definitely a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of love, sex and intimacy.
Before college, I had a few gap years and a rather wayward (now that I think about it) history of developing impossibly short relationships with women who frequent bars and nightclubs, as a result of social influence and the deep belief that no-strings-attached relationships were both in high demand and supply. In that particular context and way of life, it worked for me. I never had to see those women from another university or some other firm’s marketing department ever again, should I choose not to. It was a game, refined to the point where a “hunting ring” was formed around men of my demographic with similar interests. Careful strategies were even developed to maximize prospects on any given weekend evening.
It sounds like a scene straight out of a 50’s jazz track or a light-hearted date movie, and we love to talk and think about such lifestyles in a carefree and attractive light. But, in retrospect, it was a pretty pointless game where the prize comes as quickly as it goes. Steeply escalating the relationship with a woman, but not seeing her again, leaves emotional gaps in my life and distorts my personality to some extent. It feels as if I have had a lot of love. But the truth is, I give nothing and gain nothing. Love, sex and intimacy congeals into an unrecognizable mess, and I brought a lot of the confusion to college, inevitably. You can probably already see how this is problematic when applied to life at Rice.
The crash came, of course, when I made moves on a girl in my college whose name I barely knew. I had been drinking and acting on my usual protocol, mistaking her combination of reluctance to escalate and unwillingness to leave as a test of sorts, the kind of behaviour that is known to persist among corporate women who visits nightclub to escape their balance sheets. Little did I realize, at the time, that she was simply scared and inexperienced and at a loss of what to do. Little did I realize, too, that different women look for vastly different things. Then came possibly the most shameful moment of my recent life; we kissed, and she started tearing up. My roommate quickly got between us, suggesting that maybe she goes back to her room. I can still remember the anger that boiled beneath my skin at this intrusion. My past associates would condemn it as the worst form of cock-block.
The hardest part, as with all mistakes, was accepting that I was wrong. The pain was palpable, the sort that you feel when assumptions you’ve held dear appear in full glory of all its holes and flaws. The ground beneath me hollows out; I had never so much as considered for half a second that a distinct and oft-reflected part of my lifestyle could be so mistaken. And we are not even talking about how she must have felt. I had every reason to believe that I wasn’t wrong, but now I know that this is “growing up”. Human reason is futile in the face of huge social and environmental changes, and that is why I am writing to you today in this capacity. If SB#4 does anything, it should help us wake up to the realities of college and grow up.
I don’t have many opinions on the SB#4 as an institutionalized classroom activity. What I am certain of, though, is that general problems do not exist and general solutions will not get anywhere. We come to Rice with vastly different experiences and expectations of sex, and it’s possibly the hardest thing to talk about with new friends and associates. If anything, SB#4 needs to bring some personal sharing to the ball court, to perhaps define the playing field a little better for new students. For me, sexual experience is an extremely private form of knowledge and will have to remain that way to retain any degree of legitimacy. Teaching and discussing concepts is auxiliary; hearing personal narratives is key. For Bridget, hearing honesty from upperclassmen who did and did not push away aggressors would probably have changed her beliefs. For me, hearing honesty from upperclassmen who have developed distorted notions of love and sex will certainly have affected mine. For something as arbitrary as love and sex, connection is the only cure; there is no knowledge like the subjective, no message like the personal. Don’t think otherwise.