I Want to be Kissed by a Scoundrel
Some authors even go so far as to blame Han for male confusion regarding sex assault.
Since day one, my fear regarding the #metoo movement is that it will devolve into strictures not on male sexuality but on female. I worry that in the name of protecting women from sexual violence, women’s ability to embrace their sexuality as it IS, not as others think it should be, will be diminished and controlled. I’ve already seen several social media proclamations about what women always like or never like from people who seem otherwise fully reasonable in matters of sexuality and feminism. Some male feminist allies claim that because (other) men are animals women need to be constantly shielded (by said male allies) from (other) men’s gross and sweaty aggression because women are sexless bastions of purity and are helpless, passive victims who have no ability to defend themselves in the demanding presence of peniskind. Women shouldn’t even have to think about penises because their brains are too dainty.
The implication is that this shielding process needs to occur BEFORE the fact; that women should never have to endure any act, no matter how brief, no matter how G-rated, that they didn’t strictly initiate because they lack the wherewithal to do so without being forever ruined by the encounter. Fielding the occasional unwanted romantic overture will surely break the exquisite, inscrutable Faberge eggs that are female minds and thus women need to be kept under the control (thumbs) of the good men who would never do such a thing. It all feels very weird and backwards and Victorian to me. This concept that women are born victims who need to be constantly protected from sex, never allowed to get into situations that are too challenging for them to handle because they don’t have the strength or the skills – it rubs me the wrong way.
And entirely without my consent!
Applying this logic to the Han Situation, as a decent, righteous man, Luke should have ensured that Leia was bundled offworld into the care of robot nuns who would have protected her virtue and made sure that her lips remained unsullied by smuggler saliva. Right? She would have rather kissed a Wookie, she said as much! And as for what Leia may have secretly wanted but not clearly stated, well, her safety simply had to come first.
The fact of the matter is, I want to be kissed by a scoundrel. I pretty much have my whole life, starting with when I was 10 years old and sitting in a dark movie theater – a very protected child, mind you, who had not yet internalized any misogyny (that came later). I don’t know what chemical cascade happened in my heart and mind but Han kissing Leia was the single greatest thing I had ever seen. Even though I didn’t know why I knew, I knew that somehow, someday, that was gonna happen to me. I hoped so anyway. The first available scoundrel I came across was going to kiss me. I wasn’t going to kiss him, oh no, because that wasn’t how things were supposed to work. I would entice him with my princess-ish charms like spaceship repair, blaster accuracy, and exotic hairstyling, and he would kiss me, and I would like it a super lot.
So these dudes suddenly coming out of the woodwork to explain how creeptasticaly problematic the Han-Leia relationship is feels an awful like people mansplaining my own sexuality to me. Remember mansplaining? It’s bad. Don’t do it. Because I am telling you as a woman that Han kissing Leia was not creepy, it was perfect and wonderful and even now I still think that with every fiber of my being even though I know that I am supposed to think otherwise and that I should not be admitting this terrible humiliating secret to my closest friends, let alone writing a thinkpiece on it that might actually be read by somebody someday.
But, but, but he didn’t have her permission, they were on a spaceship in the middle of nowhere, blah blah blah, yeah I read that first article. Look, we saw about 15 minutes of the entire Leia-Han relationship, ok? We don’t have a clue what transpired between them after the Death Star blew up, what happened at the afterparty the night Leia gave Han and Luke their medals, what happened for months on end on Yavin and on Hoth and on transport ships in between. We didn’t see how Han may have comforted Leia when she was feeling low about Alderaan’s destruction, we didn’t see how many times they chatted and flirted and laughed together and all the subtle non-verbal communication going on between them that Han picked up on and we didn’t because we are imaginationless idiots writing thinkpieces for Mic magazine.
Leia did not feel threatened or in danger from Han. NOTHING in her demeanor at any point in time in any of the movies indicates that she was scared of Han, like in a rapey way. She seemed perfectly comfortable with him. She argued with him, insulted him, bossed him around, treated him like an inept servant. From the moment they met she was busting his chops. She called him a scruffy nerf herder, for Porg’s sake. Later on she risked her life and her freedom to save him. Han and Leia always had a relationship of equals – maybe not even equals, really, since she was a princess and he was a lowly smuggler. He was kind of her employee, her underling, her minion, even. She had a lot more power than he did, really, in pretty much every way.
Cue the “Leia was actually sexually harassing Han” bit in 3, 2, 1…
Ok, so right before they kissed she was nervous. Scared, even. That is true. Brave, strong Leia was scared. But she wasn’t scared of HAN, duh, gawd, I cannot believe I have to explain this. It is glaringly obvious to me anyway that it was because she was having some pretty intense feelz that she didn’t think she ought to be having. Feelz can be scary. And she knew it too, that’s why she was so prickly and defensive every time Han got close to her. It wasn’t because she didn’t like him, it wasn’t because she thought he was a rapey bastard, it was because she liked him too much and that was a scary experience for her. And Han knew it too, he saw right through the charade. It wasn’t because he was a predator that got his jollies off of forcing women to do stuff against their will, it was because Leia was putting on an act and he understood that. If Leia hadn’t actually liked Han, Han wouldn’t have made moves on her. He didn’t make any moves on Mon Mothma, did he? No, he saved his scoundrel-y moves for the chick who he had (rightfully) perceived was into it.
But why was he so damn pushy? Why didn’t he accept what Leia was saying at face value? Well, obviously, because he was getting other messages from Leia that occurred in the many, many weeks, months and possibly even years between the events of Star Wars and the events of The Empire Strikes Back. Just like how, oh, I don’t know, two adult humans in the actual world are probably sending all kinds of signals to each other that they both might detect and act upon without anyone stopping to blink and awkwardly clear their throats before drily stammering “By the by, I am finding myself interested in pursuing a sexual relationship with you, are you in any way interested in that possibility, no hard feelings if you aren’t, just tossing it out there for your consideration.”
Han realized that the reason why Leia didn’t think she ought to be having those feelz is because Leia (like virtually all women both fictional and real) was socialized to follow a certain set of respectability rules drummed into her bunned head starting when she was in her cradle back on Alderaan being rocked to sleep by robot nannies. Leia (like virtually all women both fictional and real) had been socialized since Padme birthed her to sometimes follow society’s rules even when it wasn’t in her best interests to do so. Han further realized that Leia’s internalized rules did not involve getting it on with a sketchy, morally ambiguous smuggler very far beneath her in social status while a war was going on and both of them could die at any minute and an ill-fated romance could cause all kinds of trouble and heartache for everyone.
It doesn’t mean she didn’t want to, it didn’t mean that it wasn’t the best thing in the galaxy far, far away for her to do. And it for sure doesn’t mean she was getting rape-kissed. It simply means that Han picked up on some messages she was sending via other modes of communication that were louder than what she was saying verbally. It wasn’t that he wasn’t listening to her, it was that he was listening to some other things she was saying too.
I am – not unlike Leia – a defensive, prickly, highly strung woman. And because of that I sometimes will take a swing at even people who have my best interests at heart, who care about me, who want to be on my side. It’s not just romantic stuff either, it’s friends and family and well-intentioned strangers. Is that really very unusual? Who hasn’t made mistakes, missed opportunities, been afraid to take a chance on something that could have really been awesome if only you were brave enough to give it a whirl? A good friend, a relative, someone who cares about you can sometimes point that out, give you a stirring pep talk about winning one for the Gipper or whoever, or in the case of truly good friends, very nearly even twist your arm and force you into making the leap. No one says a word when it’s your mom or your best friend spurring you on. The idea that someone, a scoundrel, perhaps, could see through your protestations and breach your defenses and make you realize hey, there’s really something here, maybe I should take a closer look at this concept even though the good little girl in me is telling me not to is the stuff romance novels are made of.
I think this happens a lot and not only in the world of Han and Leia, but also in the worlds of Sam and Diane and Dave and Maddie and Veronica Mars and Logan and Billy Joel and whoever that complicated chick is that he wrote all his good songs about. A woman believes that because of society’s rules, rules written by the patriarchy to keep women in their place, mind you, a man she wants is off limits to her. He’s low class. Unpredictable. Crazy. A downtown man. Like, he’s so totally wrong for her, everyone who’s anyone is telling her so! He’s a scoundrel maybe even!
I think many women depend upon the scoundrels in their lives to take action in situations where said woman is scared (What if he rejects me? What will my friends say?) or is listening too hard to the unhelpful little voices in her head (I so totally should NOT be doing this! I’m such a slut) or is so intent on following the rules (I’m not supposed to kiss guys like this! He voted Trump probably!) that she loses sight of what she herself really wants. So she leaves the ball in his court whilst sending indirect, nonverbal encouragement as a passive way of getting what she wants without having to be the one who initiates it, without responsibility or remorse or risk of rejection. She sends the signals, he pursues or not and she allows herself to pretend she’s getting swept up in the moment if he makes a move. She never has to take a chance that he’s not into it, she never has to really REALLY make the decision to tell society’s rules to eff off until she knows he’s on the same page, and she never has to drop the pretense that she’s anything less than perfectly ladylike. Because one thing most women secretly agree upon regardless of girl power and slut walks, is that chasing men is like a super duperly big no-no.
The problem is NOT men picking up indirect nonverbal encouragement and acting on it. The problem is men ignoring indirect nonverbal DIScouragement, and even direct, emphatic, crystal-clear verbal statements telling them to back the eff up. There is a gulf of difference between these two things.
Han and Leia was not a Pepe Le Pew situation where her lips said no, no but her eyes said yes, yes. There was obvious, definite, 2-sided chemistry between Leia and Han. Theirs was a relationship of friends and comrades. I think a LOT went on that we didn’t see onscreen.
You send the signal and you wait. Leia knew.
I am unclear on how sending the signal and waiting is going to mesh with overt female consent for everything, even a tentative first kiss. I don’t believe that most women are, overnight, going to feel comfy with making the first move towards initiating sexual contact with men. There is a deeply ingrained cultural pressure upon women to follow a pretty narrow set of societal expectations in the sexual arena, few of which involve being the pursuer. There is even an argument to be made that these female preferences for pursue-ee status may be at least in part innate and not cultural. And I don’t think that most men are, overnight, going to feel comfy with women initiating relationships with them, either. Men may want to pursue, may prefer it, may be programmed to do so culturally and/or innately, and we’ve heard enough jokes about desperate women chasing men to know or at least strongly suspect that many guys are put off by Sadie Hawkinses despite the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.
Truth – we can’t litigate and legislate romance because it’s all very shades-of-gray-y. I am wary, oh-so-wary of blanket rules that seem to overly simplify a complicated issue that is probably best left to each individual couple to work out for themselves in any given moment. We’re dealing with instincts and desires that run way down deep in places that most of us have never probed (er, so to speak) and personally I trust women to be able to navigate those waters for themselves.
All throughout history, whenever society has acted on behalf of women for their own protection it has manifested itself sooner or later as less freedom for women. I don’t see the consent issue as being any different. The “c” word gets dropped and all of a sudden we’re hearing…from MEN…about what women like and don’t like, about what women want and don’t want, about what women will willingly consent to and what they will not. And apparently one of the things that men have decided that we delicate, wilting, crushably-fragile oh-so-feminine females simply cannot handle is being kissed by someone we’ve known and have interacted with for months without having issued a strict verbal invitation beforehand and without ever having sent any mixed signals. Ok. Sure. Yes. That makes sense (no it doesn’t).
Heads up, dudes, YOU’RE the ones that can’t control yourselves, some of you. Why don’t you let me decide what I like and want for myself? Because I want to be kissed by a scoundrel, I assure you that I do.
And I actually as I write all that, I think I understand the reason why good and decent men can’t let me decide for myself that I want is to be deeply and somewhat forcibly tongued by a man on the run from the Hutts. It’s because blaming men’s bad behavior on Han Solo is easier than considering the possibility that maybe there’s something dark inside of themselves. Something that may need wrangling and taming; something that cannot be indulged even in a society of gross overindulgence. Because I refuse to believe that men are that dumb! I do not and will not believe that most men truly cannot see the difference between someone who is into is and someone who isn’t, into it. I don’t believe for one single solitary parsec that most men cannot see a difference between Harvey Weinstein and Han Solo, that most men truly cannot see the difference between exposing yourself to a woman you barely know and kissing a woman with whom you’ve had a complicated monthslong interpersonal relationship fraught with sexual tension without asking “pretty please with sugar on top” first.
And while I suppose it is possible that a small percentage of men are indeed clueless idiots who are hopeless at reading body language and can’t tell the difference between a movie and real life, it seems far more plausible to me that a much higher percentage of men know exactly when a woman is into it and when she isn’t, it’s just that some of them kind of like it when a woman isn’t into it and wanna do it anyway.
Thus the Han-made-me-do-it defense is not gonna fly with me. We men can’t control ourselves because we’re helpless buffoons…animals, really…easily dazzled by boobies, and such…we can’t control ourselves, so of course we can’t control ourselves, I mean even Han freaking Solo is a rapist, practically, and that’s what we watched growing up, you know, and um, lookit, also girls in bikinis provoke us, to insanity, practically, just to the left of insanity anyways, so maybe, possibly, if it isn’t too much to ask..if you could just give us a pass on the things that some of us did, because we are just dummm, you know, it’s, like, rape culture, I guess, and stuff, and we can’t help it. Beer commercials. Just sayin, you probably ought to be wearing a burka.
This entire argument is contingent upon a kiss that many, many women find romantic and appealing (it ain’t just me, chaps) being bad and why is it bad? It’s bad only because it’s there. It’s bad because we all saw it growing up and that includes some guys who are looking for an easy way to excuse their own bad behavior and that of others so they aren’t guilty by association. To blame it on Han Solo seems to me to be a huge dodge of responsibility, a sidestep, and what’s worse, it’s adding insult to injury. It’s compounding bad behavior by befouling something that was important to not only myself but to many women. And I don’t think that’s right, to take something away from women in order to explain away or justify the bad behavior of men. Any more than it’s right to make women wear burkas to prevent men from raping them.
I am not entirely sure that replacing the occasional unwanted kiss – which women are NOT too fragile to be able to handle, mind you – with women not being able to get what they want from sex because the culture vultures have been too bluntly instrumental about what constitutes “consent”, is a good trade. And honestly, what’s so damn great about “consent” anyway? What does “consent” even really mean? Because it’s not so cut and dry as people want to make it. What if you only consent due to external pressures and societal expectation? Women have consented to all kinds of crazy ass shit over the years when they thought they were supposed to – and still are (Aziz Ansari, looking at you here). I do not believe that swiping right for a shot to be treated as a Tinder cum dumpster by some dude you just met…loudly consenting all the while…is in any way more empowering than Han giving a seemingly reluctant Leia a kiss that she wasn’t quite sure she wanted but then she realized that she actually kind of did.
In fact there’s a suspicious conspiracy theorist in me that is starting to think all this sexual-revolution-but-with-ur-consent jazz is a gambit, a ploy, a way for men to still get exactly what they want while dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s. And what (some)men want is lots of fer-reaky sex with a rotating schedule of messed up girls whose self-esteems are in the toilet, without having to exert any effort as a romantic partners or limiting themselves in any way from the all-you-can-sex buffet. (Some)Men want women to think they’ve held up their end of the bargain by talking super loudly about consent when what many of them are doing is treating women like they are disposable sexbots. (Some)Men seem to want “consensual” sex with women to be like Lando Calrissian sexing up droids (a rather disturbing concept, given that in the Star Wars universe droids seem self-aware, yet can be reprogrammed and have their memories wiped).
By some, I may mean a whole flippin lot of them.
These men want women programmed by the culture like we’re robots. They want us programmed so we kinda feel like we can’t say no to anything (because the underlying threat is, if you don’t consent to everything, there’s always someone else who will) even as they exclaim loudly that it’s ok to say no (just be aware it’s totally over if you don’t consent to everything, because if there’s no one else who will, there’s always Internet porn) and they want us to call that empowerment. They want us to call that feminism!! So they equate a Han-Leia kiss between equals that turns into a relationship, with a grope from a stranger…with a proposition from a boss…with a Louis CK move…with a rape and somehow it’s all the same thing because if it’s all the same thing it not only makes the small things seem bigger but doesn’t it also make the big things seem smaller?
I mean it almost seems like they’re trying to float away with the rest of the garbage.
This piece was originally published on the atomic feminist.