The whole concept of explicit verbal contracts for physicality was just surfacing at universities when I was in my twenties, and was subject to about the same level of incredulity that trigger warnings are today. And like trigger warnings, the verbal contracts at very least started to bring to the surface deep structural issues (in this case, the pervasiveness of men's institutional control over women and their bodies).
It took another incident to start to bring home what a woman in this culture has to deal with. In my twenties, I was really only good at drinking, so I spent a lot of my time going to house parties, since I never had the income to blow at the bars. There was a young woman, "Janie" we'll call her, who used to hang out with us. Janie was (and still is!) a bright, bubbly girl who had an amazing smile that she beamed constantly. She was always full of positive energy, and a delight to be around. She was also all of 16 years old when we first met (I was about ten years older), and perhaps slightly naive about the sexuality that she radiated. She was, however, a pretty good judge of character, and surrounded herself with people whom she could trust; while she was out on the punk rock house party circuit frequently, she was always surrounded by her extended family of big brothers and big sisters who would watch her back (and, it also helped immensely that she was never much into booze or drugs, so she wasn't compromised in that sense).
One night Janie, my friend Al, and I were at a particularly loud and crowded party. We got there early enough to make three or four runs at the keg before the line got too long. After that, Al and I did pretty much what we always did at parties: lean against the wall, slam down whatever booze we got our hands on, and cracked wise. This party, as crowded as it was, didn't afford us too many beers, so we were light on the booze and heavy on the cracking wise. At a certain point, Janie circulated back around and chatted with us briefly. I lamented my lack of beer, and Janie volunteered to go get me one, since she knew the guy dispensing the beer would let her cut to the front of the line. I was fine with that, so against the wall I stayed. An ass pocket bottle of whiskey was passed my way, and I got a short drag just before Janie got back with my beer. As she gave it to me, I told her not to stray too far, that I was planning on leaving fairly soon, pretty much as soon as I finished the beer. And that's the last thing I remember with any real clarity.
The next day I had to open the record store at about noon (it was Sunday). As I jammed my key into the lock in a mad scramble to get the lights on, drawers counted, and the store open, I managed to slam my right hand in the heavy glass and metal front door. That was the first event that I remembered clearly since I got that beer from Janie the night before.
At this point, anybody reading this knows exactly what happened. But at the time, Law and Order: SVU had yet to turn roofies into a standard plot cliche, so I had yet to grasp the situation.
I was definitely much more than just hung over. I got the store open reasonably close to on time. It was the summer in a college town, and the store was right off campus, so no one was banging the doors down to get in. The light was slicing through my head: it was so bad that I took of my prescription glasses, stuck them in my pocket, and grabbed some shades from the sunglasses display. At about that time, Al walked in, and seeing me behind the counter with a set of Velvet Underground wrap around Ray Bans pasted to my mug sent him into a laughing fit that lasted five minutes.
I told him that I had no idea what happened to me the night before. I could only remember drinking, at most, five beers, along with a slug or two of whiskey. I figured something must have happened after we left the party, but Al assured me that I started acting very strangely right before we left. Al and I were frequent drinking buddies, so he was shocked that I was going to hell so quick on such a small amount of alcohol.
I had totally blacked out part of the night. The only time I had blacked out before, I had consumed many, many times that amount of alcohol. To this day, those are the only two times I have ever blacked out.
I was completely confused about what happened. Al and I went over the night minute by minute, but nothing got much clearer. He said that after Janie got me the beer, I chugged it, and then told Janie to say her goodbyes so we could hit the road. That took her approximately twenty minutes to a half hour; by the time she got back, I was slurring my words. As we walked to the car, Al noticed me stumbling. He passed a friend who had just arrived at the party and got his car keys. Janie in the meantime decided to leave with another friend, so Al was left with only me. He couldn't talk me into leaving my truck there, so he told me to follow him, and he led me safely home. As I went up to my house, I was barely walking, so it seemed unlikely that I did anything other than fall into bed when I got home. It's a wonder I managed to set my alarm.
As we discussed it, all I could do is say "man, that beer Janie got me really did me in". About the third time I said it, Al gave me a strange look, and I realized what had happened: some asshole was trying to get Janie, but got me instead. Considering how whatever that beer was spiked with hit me, it would have completely wiped out poor little Janie.
We got a hold of Janie a few days later. I'm not sure if what we were saying to her registered, other than the fact that she had to be careful when she was out. Fortunately, she already was careful. I can't say the same for some of her peers that showed up in the scene a few years later.
* * * * *
I will never understand fully what it is like to be a woman (obviously). Even my wife, who is no shrinking violet, has had to get off the bus a stop early, or get off and walk around the block, just so some creep that was bugging her on the bus can't see where she lives. As for me, there aren't many places in this city where I am afraid to walk (a few, but not many). Only once was I concerned about my safety when I was being followed on the street, and all it took was an opportune scrap of 2" x 4" to redirect the attention of the people following me.
It is all women, and it is all men. There are thousands of small, seemingly insignificant gestures that are coded in ways that men don't understand. But worse, there are thousands of gestures which clearly cross the line that our culture still tries to excuse. The fact that you have every intention of treating women decently is moot unless you work to revolutionize the sexist culture that surrounds us. The fact that anyone finds the discussion of these things even remotely feminist (as opposed to being about SIMPLE HUMAN DECENCY) is sad.
So remember this next time you want to complain about being "friendzoned": first, she doesn't owe you anything, much less her body. Second, her friendship is probably the most valuable gift she could give you. Third, if you even think "friendzone" is a thing, you don't deserve her friendship.
It is time to start shunning and shaming sexist behavior.
* I won't deny that boundaries are being violated in each case, but they are in no way equivalent. It's the same with the idea that men can be the victims of physical domestic abuse. I once discussed with an acquaintance some of the episodes from an earlier relationship when my significant other physically attacked me, and he went immediately to "see, men can be victims of domestic abuse too!", which was completely absurd because I had a foot and 110 pounds on my ex. She was not a real physical threat to me. Situations that are different are very, very rare.