While my overwhelming sentiment towards this movement is positive, there are some major problems with the direction of the coversation about sexual harassment and sexual assault. There seems to be a trending lack of awareness or willingness to differentiate between what is criminal sexual assault, what is a predatory abuse of power, and what is technically a consentual act but is not wanted or enjoyed by both parties.
This last one is important because it is more of a communication issue based on expectations than anything else. Just as some people in power (usually men) feel entitled, some people (usually women) feel entitled to a positive enjoyable experience every time they give consent. Or we mistakenly believe that if we don’t like the direction things are taking it is too late to stop. We often fail to exercise our own power in these situations when we feel uncomfortable with something and don’t want to continue. The reasons we don’t are essential to the conversation about consent.
Sexual assault is a crime with a perpetrator and a non-consenting victim that is violated physically. Sexual harassment is typically a worplace issue, but it can occur anywhere where there is a power imbalance and a lack of consent. To be considered sexual harassment, there is usually a pattern of inappropriate behavior by an authority figure or someone in a power position that is intended to offend and can be verbal or physical. Harassment is only illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision such as the victim being fired or demoted.
The biggest problem I see is rampant mislabeling of unwanted sexual advances or unpleasant encounters as rape or assault.
A failure to read social cues or level of disinterest is not, nor should it be, criminal. In order to be effective the response should be addressed with that person directly. The more direct the better if the other party is immune to subtlty. Hopefully, like in the case of Aziz Ansari, he apologizes for misreading the situation and expresses regret about making you feel violated and he has maintained that was not his intention. That’s the correct human response when you hurt another human being, intentionally or not.
Senator Franken wrapped his arm around a woman’s waist while taking a photograph at a public event in Minnesota and was publicly accused of sexually inappropriate behavior. She said she had recently gained weight and when he squeezed her waist it made her uncomfortable. This was unpleasant for her because of her own feelings about her weight, which he did not know or care about, but there was absolutely nothing intentionally abusive about it. Lumping her baseless and absurd accusation in with other real claims of sexual assault is insulting to victims.
This woman is a perfect example of what has gone wrong with the #MeToo movement. The worst part is that the media allowed this woman to give interviews on every network as she demanded he resign from office. The public shamings, deserved or not, have opened up a public dialogue, but it is a conversation plagued by confusion about what constitutes consent and what rises to the level of criminal behavior.
Let’s avoid labeling these 2 men perpetrators or these women victims because I don’t think either are at all appropriate here, and let’s discuss the public reluctance to honestly talk about the differences between these accusations against Ansari and Franken, and the kind of sexual assaults perpetrated by the likes of Harvey Weinstein. In today’s politically correct climate, no one wants to be the one to say anything that could be interpreted as insensitive to victims of sexual assault or harassment, but I want to be clear that neither of these women’s accusations rise to that level.
Consent is a complex idea because in sexual situations it is rarely laid out in a direct and verbal manner. Why? Because its not very sexy to engage in contract negotiations in bed and no one wants to evolve into a society that mandates a signed release before every sexual encounter. Consent is not implied and is something that can be retracted at any time if the other party attempts to engage in something you don’t want or didn’t consent to. This is the time to speak up or leave the situation entirely if your boundaries aren’t being respected.
When you’re with someone that is willing to guilt or shame you into doing something you don’t want to do, they don’t deserve your silent compliance. A good sexual partner will only engage in mutually pleasurable activities with you, but there are so many creeps that are selfish or clueless or a combination of the two that don’t take no for an answer. If they try to make you feel like you owe them something because they bought you dinner or imply you consented to something because of the length of your skirt that’s a pretty clear sign that they don’t care about your needs or wants.
Still, some people don’t react appropriately to your subtle or non-verbal cues of disinterest because they’re not used to rejection or haven’t experienced it often enough to recognize it when they do. Wealth, fame and power may breed entitlement, but they can also be isolating and create false expectations.
Giving in only serves to validate those expectations so why does it happen so frequently?
In the context of dating relationships or even marriage where one person feels entitled to your consent because you made a commitment to them. Consent given one time does not imply consent in the future and there are sometimes very real consequences when you reject your partner’s advances.
Most of us are guilty of giving in to someone we care about to avoid conflict and that is something I’d really like to see more of a dialogue about when discussing consent. A complaint I hear a lot from men is that they’re not mind readers and you may be forced into the uncomforable position of laying it all out for them. If you say no and your partner is still using emotional manipulation and abusive coersion until you cave? That’s not consent. It might not be criminal, but it isn’t consentual either.
Now is the time to bring awareness to all of these issues, but doing so in a manner that fails to acknowledge the distinctions between them, however nuanced they might seem on the surface, only serves to discredit the entire cause.