The societal expectation that men seek out as many sexual encounters as possible is a huge motivating factor behind rape.
This is a relatively sad story about why I left the hospitality industry. I say “relatively” sad because what drove me to stop working in restaurants was not an abusive experience. It wasn’t rape, nor do I want to call it harassment or discrimination. Rather, it was a certain culture—present in every restaurant I worked in over the course of several years—that eventually led me to hang up my apron and look elsewhere for jobs.
“You want something else?” I say, in a moment of camaraderie, to a coworker who’s just sat down for family meal. He jerks his head toward one of the hostesses. “I wouldn’t mind a little slice of that.”
Ok, that’s fine. I don’t like your dehumanization of this girl, which, by removing her agency as a human being, opens the door for one of us to feel OK about raping her. But I don’t feel personally threatened in this situation, and sadly, I’m not yet at a point in my life where I’m taking senior staff members to task on how they talk about women.
Sometimes, however, it’s harder to ignore, as was the case last summer at a different restaurant. As I was saying final farewells to the staff at the end of my last shift before leaving for a semester abroad, the private events director said, “Enjoy your trip, Scott,” shaking my hand. And then, leaning in and lowering his voice, “Wear a condom.”
Now, I had done nothing during my time there to signal that I wanted to talk to anyone about whether I was sexually active, or about any other aspect of my sexuality. And his lack of any other parting advice made it clear that he saw sexual experience as the main motivating factor behind my semester abroad.
If I had told him enthusiastically that my dorm room in Prague was going to be Doin’ It Central, I would’ve been A-OK with this directive. His instruction to use condoms would, in that case, be quite sensible. But his assumption, based on no evidence whatsoever, that I was crossing the Atlantic Ocean mainly in search of sex is not just creepy, it’s incredibly problematic.
It’s problematic because the societal expectation for men to seek out as many sexual encounters as possible is a huge motivating factor behind rape. My refusal to continue working in restaurants is a disengagement with a culture that, often over the course of several years, refused to address me as anything other than a sexual being. The discourse from which I’m bowing out is a realm where sexual experience equals self-worth, where partners are silent, submissive, and faceless.
If this sounds familiar, you’re already familiar with the basics of rape culture. I’m referring, however, to a much broader realm than the typical boys-on-the-town trope. The words of bosses, coworkers (and family members, but that’s another post) are at least as effective in setting up the psychological conditions necessary for a man to disregard his partner’s will.
Now, what I’m not saying bears clarification. I’m not saying that its wrong for men, or anyone else, to be motivated by sex, to seek out sexual encounters, or to discuss said sexy sex with people who are interested in hearing about it. I’m saying it’s wrong to look at me and make assumptions of any kind about what I do, or want to do, with my penis.
And again, knock yourself out on your own time. I will forever advocate for your freedom to consensually do whatever your heart desires with your private parts. But what do you know about me? You know that I want to A) finish folding these napkins; and, B) get paid and get out of here. You don’t know whether I’m straight, gay, into BDSM, or on the asexuality spectrum. And until we have a respectful conversation about it, you won’t know.
So in the meantime, stop assuming that sex is all I’m after.
Scott Groffman is a blogger, farmer, and student interested in social justice and politics. He enjoys gender studies, pop music, and peanut butter. Scott blogs at themalegaze.net.