“I gotta be honest with you Jennifer. Me and the homie wanna hit.”
I paused for a minute the first time a boy said that to me. I was a junior in high school. I was still exploring my sexuality but hadn’t been sexually active before. I had been talking to this guy, let’s just call him “Dave,” for a few months and had liked him long before that. So, when he introduced a friend, who I had no attraction to and had never expressed any interest in engaging with, into a conversation about sex with me, I was…uncomfortable to say the least. When I read Nate Parker’s newest interview with EBONY.com, my experiences with predatory boys and men in high school immediately came to mind.
I turned “Dave” down. And, he never called again. At 16, that was the first time I realized the prevalence of “letting the homies have some” and how important it was to some guys. Not only that, I realized that there were going to be some instances in my life where I would be reduced to my sexual (un)willingness rather than my personhood or desired wishes in a relationship. I will also admit that I felt the sting of rejection since my sexual unavailability was the cause of this young man’s resulting lack of interest.
Parker’s reflections on “toxic male culture” mirror my own experiences with cisgender heterosexual (cishet) men (the emphasis here is my own).
“I’ll say this, I think that they are more things than the law. I think there is having a behavior that is disrespectful to women that goes unchecked, where your manhood is defined by sexual conquests, where you trade stories with your friends and no one checks anyone. At 19, that was normal. As a 36-year-old man, if I looked at my 19-year-old self as my son, if I could have grabbed him earlier before this incident, or even just going to college. Because for me, it’s about this incident, but it’s about a culture that I never took the time to try to understand. I never examined my role in male culture, in hyper masculinity. I never examined it, nobody ever called me on it.“
Having a type of “manhood” that requires “sexual conquest” means conversely having womanhood defined by being overcome, colonized, and exploited by male people.
It means that women will be repeatedly reduced to their parts rather than seen as whole human beings. This point is echoed in Treva Lindsey’s newest article on Parker and the prevalence of rape culture in rap music at Complex. She states, “It reduces a woman to a sexual organ without any agency. She becomes her pussy. The reduction to a thing does excite some women, but for others, this objectification erases their humanity and sexual autonomy. ”
Another effect of this manhood-by-sexual-conquest culture is the cloudiness that many young, cishet men have of the term consent. A theme that struck me in Parker’s EBONY interview was this idea that these men often pursue relationships only if the girls are “down.” Meaning, down to f*ck, or down to hook up, or down “for whateva.” Rather than prioritizing these women’s sexual autonomy as a critical part of the relationship, they are valued specifically for what they will and will not allow men to do to (not with) them. Demetria Lucas D’Oyley’s transcript of a male friend’s experiences in college say as much when he notes,
“Girls would come by and that would be their purpose. It was no pretense, like, “oh, we’re just gonna chill or watch TV.” It was unspoken. She might show up with some friends and they were down too. It might just be everyone gets their d–k sucked. It might turn into an orgy. It might be two guys f–king the girl at once. Or if you want some privacy, you go wait in your room and she comes into f–k you, then send her to the next room.”
I can’t imagine that each one of these young women were 1) sober (which he makes clear in the story that they usually were not), or 2) giving consent at each of these instances of sexual contact. Yet, D’Oyley’s friend, like Parker (who calls the rape of a young woman a “threesome), saw nothing concerning or even disturbing about the kinds of sexual experiences he describes. It’s the “culture” I guess.
About a year after “Dave” asked me to engage in sex with he and his friend, a basketball coach in his mid-twenties at my school made the same request. I was 17 (and living in California where the legal age of consent is 18 years old). I had been experiencing domestic abuse and was between reliable living circumstances at the time. In a lot of ways, I was in a state of dejection and this coach had comforted me through some of my issues over the preceding months.
When asked if he and the homie could “hit,” I reluctantly said okay. I thought I was a big girl. I thought these types of sexual encounters – between people who were not dating or even really attracted to one another or who were perfect strangers – were normal. On two separate occasions – one where I was given alcohol, I was used by grown men as an instrument to bolster their manhood. I was raped twice. Twice. Because coach “let the homie hit.”
These experiences informed my sexual life for a decade. I still struggle with the effects of the trauma these men caused.
This is the fundamental issue with this idea that young cishet men – whose identities and manhood are often wrapped up in conquest – can define or even grasp the meaning of consent. We have to discuss the ways that cishet manhood in and of itself is harmful to women, specifically where it concerns Black women.
This is why I am still waiting for Nate Parker, and so many other men, to be honest and say they are, in fact, rapists. I am also watching for other cishet men to voice their concerns with these behaviors.
This isn’t just culture. This isn’t just hype. It definitely isn’t conspiracy to harm cishet Black men. It’s rape. It is rape that is interwoven and, in many ways, hidden in plain sight. And it is killing us.