I have three brothers. They have always protected me. Along with the other men in my family (my mother too) they have been my fierce guardians, understanding the dangers in the world they needed to protect me from before I even knew what they were. Their loyal guardianship of me remains unwavering to the point that if a man were to hurt me physically, I know I could destroy that man with a phone call.
This awareness comes with great responsibility on my part. Knowing that the delicate nature of male/female interactions can create misunderstandings and escalate threats due to an absence of clear communication and boundaries, means that I must take responsibility for controlling sexual situations for the benefit of my own protection, and for the protection of the other person.
Clear communication is the key. Both women and men fear communicating clearly because making statements that declare intentions or introduce clear boundaries feels finite. Gamesmanship allows for manipulation, scapegoating, and denial. These are the preferred tools of unethical people, and we have fostered a society where it is almost dangerous to display clear ethics.
Many women have understandable trepidation when it comes to being assertive enough to reject the sexual advances of powerful men because this often entails jeopardizing career prospects or risking social rejection. For women, reporting harassment or sexual coercion subsequently places someone who has power over her in the line of fire, therefore she is then placed under the same scrutiny by default. This can and does affect the livelihoods and social standing of women who take this route, but it is only because women are not owning thier power.
The men who display this unethical behavior understand the societal constraints placed upon women. Women are expected to acquiesce to the egos of men, and workplace “ole boy culture” perpetuates this. Some men use this to their advantage, and this is inherently cowardly. Cowardice is the defining characteristic of bullies. They know that women are required to be pleasing, and that her ability to be charming, attractive, and sexual are invariably connected to their income. Income is not power however. Women need to accept this separation. Once we own our power, our incomes will no longer be affected by our sexuality.
Our power lies in our ability to say “no” and do it clearly without gamesmanship, charm, or fear. This power, once we own it as a gender, will re-write the rules. While we still ponder whether women have the power to say “no” and whether men are properly penalized for not adhering to these commands, we disempower ourselves.
We need to hold ourselves accountable for not being direct, we need to hold each other accountable for not standing for other women, and we need to hold men accountable for thinking that masculinity is synonymous with bullying.
Men do not defer to the desires of women when pursuing sexual affairs. Men resist asking women what they want, because they lose the power to manipulate the situation if they do. Women allow this for the same reason.
When a woman displays body language or makes “suggestions” that she is not open to sex, men see this as time for negotiation, manipulation, or coercion. When women say they are “uncomfortable”, this is a signal for men to make things more comfortable by pursuing the sex they want using a different angle. When women signal they want to end the evening without a sexual encounter, the communication that men receive is, “If I ignore her signals I can find a way to convince her to change her mind somehow (plowing her with alcohol, joking, finessing, etc.) and then I will get what I want.” However, if a woman clearly states that she will not be having sex or any semblance of it, there is little recourse for combatting this posture. If we want our sovereignty respected, we must demand it clearly. “Signaling” that you are uncomfortable is not the same thing as saying “I don’t want this, so it isn’t going to happen. Period.” This requires us to own our power to decide our fate and no longer give this to men.
We not only should take responsibility for controlling the sexual situations we find ourselves in, it is our duty. It is also our duty to take responsibility for the effects the public disclosure of malfeasance will have on all individuals involved, and weigh the validity of our assertions truthfully, clearly, and ethically.
The #MeToo movement should evolve to include, #CommunicateClearly. Some other great options are #IdontcareifyouthinkImabitch, #Iownmypower, and #RealMenAskQuestions.