RE: “Normalizing sexual violence,” column, Jan. 25.
The problem isn’t so much one of normalizing sexual violence specifically, but that we live in a culture that normalizes men taking the initiative and women responding. The man is the one that should ask for the first date, the man proposes to the woman, the man should lead when dancing. Also, realize that any ask or invitation creates pressure to comply. When your mom asks you to Christmas dinner with the family, or a friend asks you to go for coffee they are “pressuring” you to comply because they want to spend time with you.
Decades of our culture have shown thousands of scenes in books and movies where the one passionate and unwelcome kiss from the man breaks down the women’s reluctance and she falls in love with him. From Snow White in 1938 to Downsizing in 2017, the man kisses without the woman’s consent to launch a romance that is “happily ever after.” It’s extremely rare in books and movies for the lead actor and actress NOT to fall in love while saving the world or providing comedic hijinks.
In the column, you say “…in the hope that you’ll appease him enough that he’ll just let you go. (That’s still not consent, by the way),” yet, how can a man tell the difference between a woman’s fearful appeasement and consent? From his perspective he successfully, romantically wooed her. Absolutely there should be more clear and direct talk to improve communication in these encounters. But again, we have the culture that celebrates the ambiguity of flirtation and romance. In Louis CK’s case him explicitly asking for consent was considered assault in itself. And certainly it could be – it would be a very uncomfortable workplace be if a man repeatedly asks the women around him for sexual consent – but isn’t consent key to the #MeToo revelations?
As a man, it’s a challenge to feel as much fear women live with every day. When I do try to put myself in a woman’s place, it seems our culture adds to their fear even with common gestures of politeness. Opening the door for a woman and letting her go first puts the man behind and in her blind spot. If I imagine being alone in an elevator with a person that frightens me I would want them to get off first so they are not coming up behind me. Our traditions have us letting the woman off first.
Are there other traditions and activities men can do to make women more comfortable and reduce their fear? Obviously, don’t catcall or assault women but men need to be more attuned to the possible fear women feel and make efforts to reduce it. When your car and hers are parked on the same side of the lot you can circle around the long way, race ahead, or wait until she gets in her car so the sound of your footsteps behind her does not create the feeling of a wolf stalking a rabbit. Get off the elevator on a different floor so the woman doesn’t feel stalked.
Men should continue to take the initiative, but not to pressure or coerce women, but to understand their fear and try to mitigate it.