Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Who says ‘authoritative touch’ anyway? Ashley Cross, a Columbia student, wrote Saturday in the Times’ “Modern Love” column about the experience of dating a fellow student who had been accused of rape at Harvard. She seems to have no sense of the rape at all, only anger at boyfriend who had been somehow ‘neutered’ by the rehabilitative process. This is the world’s worst relationship writing I have ever read. Why do women always defend men like this?

The larger point, it seems to me, is that what she wanted was sex a little more aggressive than a boyfriend who had just been accused of rape and felt remorse for it, and now she’s kvetching about it in a national newspaper, but I’ll let you all judge:

One evening, as we were sharing coffee and cigarettes at a local diner while trading quips from “Casablanca,” he subtly blew smoke in my face. For all I knew it was unintentional, but I smiled at the gesture.

“If you were Humphrey Bogart,” I said, “then you’d know that blowing smoke in a woman’s face is an invitation for sex.”

Rather than smile back, he blanched. “I didn’t know that,” he said, then changed the subject.


Almost all of his close friends were girls. From what I knew, he had a strong relationship with his parents, who were progressive and intelligent and nurturing. He was a rule follower, a brilliant and dedicated student, a chronic people pleaser. He had a history of serial monogamy. I simply couldn’t reconcile the smart, gentle guy I knew with this startling revelation.

As I peppered him with questions, he talked me through the fateful night of only a few months before, when he and the girl, who’d been a friend, had mingled at a party and drifted off drunk together before winding up back in her room, where, several hours later, they had sex. She became hysterical, claiming he forced himself on her. He left, bewildered and distraught. That night he wrote her a letter apologizing for upsetting her and left it at her door. He told me the letter was an attempt to salvage the friendship.

“Did you rape her?” I asked.

“We had sex,” he said. “But I didn’t mean to hurt her, no.”

Nothing he had done that summer made me disbelieve him. Later, as events unfolded, I would learn everything I could about the case, not only from all the news media coverage but also from visiting Harvard and talking to mutual friends and co-workers of theirs. At the urging of his parole officer, I read the accuser’s statement of what had happened. Still, I believed him and supported him. (Ed. note: The complaint was summarized by the Harvard Crimson is still in the Crimson’s online archive. It seems pretty clearly rape.)


Already he felt the shame of the charge and conviction. With the sexual evaluations, he was forced to question the normalcy of his impulses. Now the rehabilitation extinguished the remaining spark he had left, the irreverence I’d originally fallen in love with, replacing it with a generic “respect” for others that in reality was a kind of bland and suffocating politeness.


Desire, once joyful, became a source of stress, something dangerous and potentially ugly that needed to be suppressed, and an awkward civility overtook our love life. Anything sexual between us became for him an urge not of primitive pleasure but of apologetic shame.

Regardless of how much I reassured him that everything was fine, he grew increasingly afraid of touching me in an authoritative way. In public, we stopped kissing or even holding hands. And during sex, any sound I made alarmed him, and he’d recoil, so I learned to stay silent.

Even so, he began asking, constantly, if I was O.K. But I didn’t want to be O.K. — I wanted to have bold, carefree, shameless sex with the man I wanted. One night I grew so tired of him asking me if I was all right that I snapped: “Don’t ask me that ever again! I’m fine. Don’t ask me that.” Which, of course, only led him to apologize about asking me, and then to apologize about apologizing — “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”

[Link], and hat-tips to Shakespeare’s Sister’s and Adam B.’s analyses

No comments: