By Maria Prudente
On the night of the presidential election, a breakup of mine coincided with Trump’s victory. I couldn’t help but notice the symmetry of two completely annoying things happening simultaneously: a win for a man known for objectifying women and a breakup initiated by a guy who had spent several months objectifying me. One event was meaningful to me so, sorry to the dude who promptly unfollowed me on Instagram but our breakup was small potatoes. I spent the rest of the year dedicating myself to things that were more important: my career, education, health. Men were left off that list.
A year after the Trump win, we remain politically in flux while socially unifying in the wake of the Weinstein rape and sexual misconduct scandal. This is a movement of women publicly sharing their experiences of sexual assault by men in positions of power, which made them feel ashamed and which have continued to emerge since early fall- new stories proliferating daily of women, targets of their predation. This story prompted great circumspection and, like many, I admire and champion the vulnerability but also strength shown by these women. However, I cannot help but draw the parallel between private and professional relationships between men and women. We are able to identify objectification within the construct of our public relationships, but we seem to be complicit with this problem in our private relationships.
I feel it is more important now than ever to codify proper sexual ethics and to create boundaries in the workplace; however, there remains a quandary for single heterosexual twentysomething females in modern dating. If we are now going to place such emphasis on the nuances of non-consensual interpersonal interactions, we need to begin doing this with our consensual relationships, too. In order to empower ourselves we need to examine whom we date, why we date them and what we’re willing to tolerate. The tough truth is that ethics in a private relationship should mirror the ethics of a professional relationship. Twentysomething females are dating guys who have altered the dating rules and regulations because they either don’t want to see you more than once a week, don’t want the label of “relationship” or indeed want to date and sleep with you casually while also dating other people. Take it or leave it, they say. Like men who thought it was okay to grope their co-workers, somewhere along the way twentysomething guys thought it was okay to start treating females like objects. When a man invites you over but refuses to come outside to answer his door when the building’s buzzer is malfunctioning- he doesn’t see you as a person but as an object. Why do we so often forgive his failure to text first or pleasure us first sexually as “it’s just a part of dating?” Why have we allowed him to gaslight us into thinking we are crazy to call 10 times the moment we find out he’s been cheating? Why do we apologize to the modern man for breaking his made-up rules that only seem to benefit him in the moment Every. Single. Time?
To clarify, I am not inspired to look at this deeply because I’ve had many unsavory dating experiences and, therefore, I think I’ve been wronged more than anyone and am entirely absolved of accountability. I know it is impossible upon meeting someone to predict how any dating experience will pan out, and, no, not every man is like this; however, it seems that it’s in the getting-to-know-you process when these issues are revealed. The way we behave in approaching and keeping a relationship with a man suggests we know not of our female power. I’m not afraid to say that I’ve been dating a long time, and I continue to be confused by feeling powerless and objectified. I am frustrated by this because if we women only knew how much we have evolved and begin living as we truly are, men would understand that we are not the more subordinate of the two.
Women are becoming so self-sufficient that for many, outside of the desires for emotional intimacy, companionship or procreation, our only need for a man is sex. Additionally, research tells us that female biology tends to trend away from monogamy; which suggests that women, like many modern men, are equally capable of having fulfilling sexual relationships with people who are not their primary partner. What if we accepted this information to help level our power dynamic? What if instead of creating a climate where we are making men think twice about disrespecting us sexually, we teach them to think about respecting us sexually and as equals? Sexual respect feels a lot like emotional respect, it’s unambiguous and it’s mutual.
As I look back at the past year, I am grateful that I gave myself the opportunity to be alone and to pour all of my energy into what will serve me and, ultimately, a potential future romantic partner. I ask my fellow twentysomething women, myself included, that when it comes to dating we start setting boundaries and lifting our expectations. If we are really on a mission to empower ourselves, we need to start asserting our needs, wants and individual identities into the fabric of modern dating. If we are going to hold Al Franken and Matt Lauer accountable for objectifying women in deplorable ways, then we need to start holding our dates accountable for treating us with respect, and as human beings not objects. Most importantly, we must celebrate each other in a world where modern dating does not tell women that their importance and value is predicated only on how beautiful and precious they are. We now understand our right to power. Let’s use it.
Maria Prudente is an actor, singer and writer. She is currently at Columbia University. Maria can be found on Instagram as @mariaprudente and followed online at www.apinkmoon.com.