After Weinstein and #MeToo, men are worrying about what kind of behavior is acceptable when they interact with women. Of course, the obvious answer is don’t assault and harass women. However, even men who don’t sexually assault anyone may still engage in some less than great behavior with women. As I man, I definitely understand how we are taught some really awful messages about consent and healthy relationships. It does make it difficult to unlearn some of these toxic messages, but we should try if we care about being better people.
David Wong wrote a great article that highlights seven reasons why men don’t understand consent well. I’d like to emphasize two of his points in particular.
Myth 1: “Forcing Yourself On Women Makes Them Love You”
Many male characters in media have had their harassing behaviors be scripted as romantic. Like David Wong, many of the “cool guy” characters in movies I saw growing up were actually pretty awful to women at least once when they were on screen. Han Solo, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Rocky Balboa. They all had scenes forcing themselves on a woman who was clearly stating she wasn’t interested, but the persistence is viewed as romantic. There are many other examples as well.
Real life doesn’t work this way. As I have written about before, I used to be a nice guy and felt entitled to a relationship if I treated a woman with enough kindness. That was unacceptable and it was sad I really didn’t have many positive relationship models to learn from. Television and movies are not the main cause of this of course. Media exacerbates the cultural idea that persistence is romantic. We as a society are still learning how to get better at demonstrating consent and developing healthy relationships. We need more positive examples of healthy relationships and respecting people’s boundaries.
Myth 2. “Asking Permission Is A Sign Of Weakness”
This is related to the first point and also connects to some unhealthy messages men are taught about being tough. As our heroes demonstrate in the movies, Real Men just go for it or even can read minds and know when it’s okay to kiss a woman. Asking for permission is viewed as weakness.I really didn’t have much dating experience until my early 20s. I had a long term college girlfriend, but when we broke up and moved to different cities for grad school, I realized I didn’t really know how to date and begin relationships.
At the end of one of the first dates I went on, I went in for a kiss only to be rejected! I thought the date went well and at the end I should kiss. Just like the movies! The funny thing is I later learned this woman did like me, but wasn’t quite ready to get involved with me as she was still processing some things with her former relationship. If I only would have asked, I would have saved myself some embarrassment and actually had a conversation with the woman I was interested in. I would have treated her more like a person instead of a trophy to be won.
Now in my late 20s, I always ask before I go in for the first kiss. I also ask before the first time we have sex too. I make an effort to not assume anything and actually get verbal consent with the woman instead of just forcing myself on her and hoping she’s okay with it.
You might be thinking how that would totally ruin the mood! But you would be wrong.
There have been exactly zero women who have told me I ruined the mood by asking. I ask before the times I’ve had sex with women I just met that night. I ask even if I know the woman fairly well, but it’s the first time we had sex. No one was like “oh I was totally going to f*ck you, but you showed me respect as a person and ruined it!”
Getting a verbal yes and checking to make sure the woman is into it is the right thing to do.
And it’s so easy! It may feel a little uncomfortable at first since we are not used to doing it, but it gets easier over time. You don’t have to be robotic about it. You can be playful. You can be silly. Whatever the context suggests. But getting affirmative consent when you are not sure is definitely what everyone should do.
Now if you are having regular sex with someone, then no, I don’t think you need to ask each time. If you are sexually comfortable with someone you can have a discussion about what nonverbal signs indicate they want to have sex or you can give consent ahead of time. But it’s good to get into the habit of making sure.
So the crux of this post is that is okay to ask. Asking shows respect. Asking makes sure you are not doing something the woman isn’t into. Asking simply treats the woman you are interested in as person and someone that you care about. There is more attention on sexual violence in the media right now and I hope it sparks more conversations about consent and respecting people’s boundaries.