For the last week I’ve been watching the #MeToo movement rise and fall in the media. Women are sharing, in great detail, personal experiences in order to highlight just how pervasive the problem of sexual harassment and assault really is.
What I’m also noticing is that men, on the whole, have been largely silent.
Now, I hope–sincerely–the relative silence is about allowing a safe space for women to talk about their experiences without trying to interrupt or explain why those experiences are wrong or mistaken or taken out of context. Sincerely.
My worry, however, is the silence is due to many men not hearing what women are shouting over the chasm. The chasm which exists between the way women define and view sexual assault, harassment, and consent, and the way that men do. That chasm is so wide and deep when you shout across it no one on the other side can hear you. All you get in return is a fading echo.
Generally, there are things which both women and men see as obviously and categorically wrong. A woman raped and beaten by a stranger. A child sexually molested by an adult. They tick the boxes of what we agree is defined as rape or sexual assault.
We go down the list. Is it any better if the person who rapes and beats a woman is someone she knows? How about if it’s her spouse? How about if the child is thirteen and the adult in question is twenty-two and swears she told him she was eighteen?
How about if a woman doesn’t bear any marks from her rape or assault? Rape is a crime of violence against women, regardless of bruises or ligature marks. Yet some feel a woman has to have noticeable marks of that violence as evidence of a man raping her. She must bear physical evidence of having ‘fought back’ in order for some to believe her consent was not given.
Already we’re wading into murky territory. And that’s just rape.
What about a man who badgers a woman into some sort of quasi-consensual act? I know women who have had sex because having sex was safer than continuing to be bullied, badgered, stalked, or harassed. I know women who have had sex because it was easier to have sex than to keep fighting against it. Think about that for a moment. Women, especially young women who are still defining their own boundaries, will sometimes have sex simply to shut men up, to stop further harassment, to control the situation, or to be able to walk away.
If you don’t see that any of those as wrong, it’s a good indication of how wide the chasm really is.
If a woman has sex or sexual contact with a man because she knows the danger of him forcing himself upon her violently is real, does that make it any better that what we classically define as rape? Does it make it right or ok? How about if a woman has sex or sexual contact with a man because she knows the real danger of him ruining her financially? Does it make it any better? Does it make it right or ok?
Sometimes men will grind a woman down to a point where she does not say ‘no’. She doesn’t say ‘yes’. She simply stops saying ‘no’. To some, the lack of the negative implies consent. I’m guessing this is where Harvey Weinstein’s defense of the accusations of rape is going.
He’ll argue because his victims didn’t say “NO”, there was implied consent.
This is important and this is where the chasm is the deepest: consent is NOT JUST the absence of ‘NO’. It must be the PRESENCE of ‘YES’.
This is what sexual harassment is. It is badgering. It is pressuring. It is using the power held over someone else to wear them down, not to the point of yes, but to the absence of no.
And if that absence of no is taken for consent, or seen as ok or justifiable, or not that bad, that’s a massive, massive problem.
What women are trying to do with campaigns like #MeToo is show what all the badgering, the pressuring, the threats, the bribes, the blackmail does. They are showing, with their own stories, how the very real potential for serious harm–bodily, psychological, financial–plays out in real life. Women are not dumb. Women will do what they need to do to take control of the situation in any way they can to mitigate the damage.
Out of all the articles I’ve read recently, this paragraph from Lupita Nyong’o’s account of her time with Harvey Weinstein, stood out to me, yet it will likely get lost in the shuffle of more salacious details.
“Harvey led me into a bedroom — his bedroom — and announced that he wanted to give me a massage. I thought he was joking at first. He was not. For the first time since I met him, I felt unsafe. I panicked a little and thought quickly to offer to give him one instead: It would allow me to be in control physically, to know exactly where his hands were at all times.”
Harvey Weinstein will use that as evidence of consent. Many men will read that as evidence of consent.
Women who have experienced a similar situation will read it for what it is: a woman swallowing a smaller indignity to save herself from a larger one.
All of the lewd comments, the innuendo, the leering, the lurking, the touching, the insinuation? All of that is done without a woman’s consent. No man on the street has ever asked a woman if she wanted her booty to be commented upon. No boss has ever asked a female colleague if she wanted him to opine on what she’s like in bed. No supervisor has ever asked a woman if she wanted to view his porn collection or hear about the dirty dream she featured in.
Harvey Weinstein did not ask Lupita Nyong’o if she wanted a massage. He announced what he wanted, to the complete and utter disregard of the woman standing before him. She was nothing more than a vessel for his sexual gratification. Not dissimilar to the potted plant he allegedly ejaculated into in front of a female reporter.
Women do not exist for the sexual gratification of men. Women do not exist for the viewing pleasure of men. Women do not owe men sex, sexual acts, sexuality, politeness, smiles, sashays, exposed legs, cleavage. Women are not human repositories for male sexual fantasies, they should never be expected to bear the weight of those fantasies outside of consensual relationships. And by consensual, I mean one which is clearly marked by the presence of yes, not just the absence of no.
We need to have an open and ongoing dialogue about sex, about power, about violence. About consent. And that conversation needs to between women AND men, not just women shouting ME TOO in an echo chamber. And not just men shouting NOT ALL MEN in their own.
Maybe #MeToo will be the rickety, dinky little rope bridge that allows a few people at a time to cross that chasm.
One can hope, right?
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A few people at a time. But this will fade again, and all too soon. Some women will feel stronger and more capable for it. Others might end up feeling diminished and humiliated, because of reaction to their words. A few men will finally “get it,” and connect the words they choose (or allow from others) with what women hear. Most won’t. But better some progress than none. And these days, we have to take everything we can get.
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I’ll take a few. Hell, I’d be happy to know people are actually listening and reading as opposed to merely just brushing it off as a group of women being hysterical shrills. So we march on. We raise our sons to raise their sons to raise their sons and someday someone else’s daughter will be able to walk down the street without worrying about who’s hiding behind the bushes.
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This reminds me of the piece Gabriel Union published in the LA Times after Birth of a Mation came out. She has sons too.
Women with sons have a very different tough task than women with daughters.
I have to raise my girls to own their bodies and sexuality and to slap (metaphorically of course) any man who tried to own them in the face.
Hopefully that will balance with the women who are raising sons to wait for a yes as opposed to assuming from an absence of no.
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You teach those girls to slap NOT so metaphorically if they need to. Every girl, young woman, woman, should pack both a metaphorical punch and a decent right hook if the need arises.
Yes, we talk about consent a lot, no necessarily as in ‘let’s talk about consent’ but I hope in everyday situations, including with each other. Hopefully my incessant loop ‘if someone tells you or shows you they are uncomfortable with something, you have to stop doing it. Immediately’ will play in their heads as they get older and are faced with situations which can be confusing and tricky, especially for young people.
God, this one got me. It so perfectly articulates this chasm that exists and how complicated it all is…as well as the myriad ways we as women, feel subject to play along with these scenarios to have some semblance of power if we are not the one who presently has it. As we know, it is unbelievably pervasive in work environments, especially in settings like L.A. or high profile industries. But we unfortunately have to play the game on some level to stay in it. Yes, we want to refuse and walk away from it with our souls and dignity in tact. But the reality of this is…it’s just not always an option.
All this said, I do have a fear that is quickly taking shape as our gender rises up. Yes, we deserve equality and respect and to be treated with dignity and, above all, to own our bodies and sexuality as our own and on our own terms without fearing that our expressions will be misconstrued or, worse, having to hide our bodies or dim our light to avoid harassment, discrimination and abuse. HOWEVER, if we start a movement that is aimed at creating a war between genders, to drawing a line between us and them that pits us against each other…that will do so much more harm than good. We need men on our side, not fighting against us…isn’t that part of the current problem? These injustices need to be brought out in the light, no question, but we can’t gain equality and respect and all of the things we deserve if we make ‘them’ the enemy, focusing on how they, as a whole, are the problem. This will only create walls that will make it next to impossible to communicate and connect. And honestly, this is what is at the heart of the problem. We have to find a common ground, a mutual respect and reverence for each other. This simply can’t be done if we try to take down the good with the bad.
Is this possible? Not sure at times…
“But one can hope, right?”
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I understand that fear. I have a different one. My fear is that we are not creating a movement which is a war between the genders–because that war already exists–whether it is a product of human nature or a manufactured war kept churning along, I couldn’t tell you. My fear is that deep down, there are many who don’t believe in equality at all, who truly believe that women are worth less. (I feel the same way about white supremacy). And how do you overcome that? How do you even begin to address that? For what it’s worth, this is where I think Feminism as a movement has failed (and I say this as a card-carrying Feminist). We got swept along by the idea that women could do anything men could do, and what we ended up with were mixed messages that women and men were interchangeable. I see now that the focus should have always been on value, not exchangeability. Apples are apples and oranges are oranges….but they’re both tasty and one shouldn’t be valued more than the other or given preferential fruit status ;-).
In terms of making men into a ‘them’–I have mixed feelings. It sucks to be part of a ‘them’, especially a ‘them’ which is being accused of something negative. To be accused of complicity in a system which you had no part in creating nor which you asked to be a part of is tough. But it’s necessary. I do this every time I need to examine my place as a white woman in the world. I didn’t create a system which oppresses people of color. I wish it didn’t exist. But….and this is the sucky part, I STILL benefit from it by virtue of being white. And I would be remiss if I tried to pretend that wasn’t true. So I have to sit with my extreme discomfort with that and figure out how to be better. Ultimately I feel that men must do the same. Whether or not they WANT to benefit from a system which is set up to favor men, they DO benefit from it. This is the hard work. And it is hard. Really hard. When I first started reading feminists of color it was like a punch to the throat. The (righteous) anger and the rage and the thousand and one ways that white feminism has left women of color behind, I didn’t want to see myself in any of that. But of course I am a part of that and I had to recognize and own that. It’s a slow, painful process. But I hope one which leads to a deeper understanding. Once you break down your own wall of resistance (not you, personally, but ‘one’), you can’t go back. There’s no where to go back to. So you keep inching forward. So I need more men to do that. I need more men to be better men.
Phew! All of that said, I do also try to make a point to write about those men who are doing this hard work (check out Best of Men, Best of Husbands on here). And I like to think I’m here for those who want to find out how they can reflect more. There’s that hope again!
Reblogged this on Lady Dyanna and commented:
I appreciate the inner fortitude that it takes fr a woman to say #MeToo. What you have pointed out is important to this situation an absence of no is not yes. The fact that a woman feels so beat down that she stops saying no is not an example of male charisma [what the male believes]. It is indeed the fact that No means nothing to a male where a woman’s person is concerned.
Ah yes, the aura of sexual prowess which descends upon many of these interactions, masking the truth. We all have to look for the yes.
As a man, I’ve thought about the relative silence of fellow men. I sincerely hope that fellow men are using #MeToo as an opportunity for reflection, above all else.
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Me too. In fact, nothing (other than full bodily autonomy and rights) would make me happier. Reflection is important, for all of us. And it’s painful and hard, but so very necessary.
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As a man, I am disturbed that so many men have used their power to impose their desires on women (and other males, according to the accusations against Kevin Spacey). But on the other hand, it doesn’t really surprise me. Humans have often abused their relative power to make other people do things they didn’t want to do. Not every display of this power occurs in the form of a sexually-oriented attack, although it usually is the most blatant and obvious way. Nor is it limited to men. At one point in my business career, as a relatively young manager, I was fondled by the (female) VP of Human Resources for our company, and she did it because she could get away with it. I have also been propositioned by older men and had to make it very clear that I was not interested. When people feel they have the power, and the entitlement, they can do things that most decent people would not consider.
In the week or two since the Weinstein revelations, we are finding out that quite a few powerful and famous directors and actors and senior managers have been accused of such acts as well, and a number have resigned their positions and make apologies. So perhaps, just perhaps, we’ve reached the point where such acts can no longer be dismissed or ignored. Let us hope that this “awakening” is not a temporary one.
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Reblogged this on The Happy Traveler and commented:
Please read this, insightful, post.
Thoughtful and meaningful post. Am reblogging this to spread the hope and challenges.
Reblogged this on that little voice and commented:
Want to share this excellent post that is thought provoking and has a hint of hope.
Thanks for an excellent discussion of the issues around consent.
Reblogged this on cabbagesandkings524 and commented:
Another excellent and thoughtful discussion of questions and different understandings of sexual consent.
This is an excellent article and I am glad to have found it via ‘That Little Voice’. The Thames Valley Police in Britain released this brilliant video earlier this year. I think even a Harvey might be hard pressed to say he didn’t understand ….