Consenting Adults: Gender, Power, and Reading Each Other Correctly

How do we know what we want, and what we want others to know we want? Babble of the Sexes helps us translate the mixed messages we send each other.

babbleofsexeslogoimage.edJay says…

There is a lot of effort put into helping men be better men and better people. And rightly so. There is a real need to change our understanding of what it means to be a good man today.

Sometimes it feels like all men are depicted as being at the same place in their understanding of and desire to change power and privilege. We know that’s not true. There is a spectrum from some men willfully resisting to others actively working to act in new and better ways.

At the same time if often feels that women are portrayed as having a unified voice. That every woman wants the exact same shifts in behavior. That also isn’t true. Again, while there may be a majority voice, there is still a range in women’s expectations about behavior.

And that spectrum can be confusing to navigate, even for men who are committed to embracing new ways of relating to women. Let me be clear. I’m not talking about some lame excuse of getting “mixed messages” from a woman. I’m talking about the fact that two different women may have very different expectations.

Consent: Men vs. Women

For example, let’s talk about consent. I think it is one of the most important issues being addressed today. It seems like a no-brainer that women would agree on the issue. I believe most do. Yet there are some that don’t agree and even more, I suspect, that some don’t implement it in the same way.

I know two women who have expressed their thoughts on an issue of consent, and their ideas seem, at least to me, to be largely out of step with current thoughts on consent.

Both of them have told me, “I don’t want a guy to ask if he can kiss me the first time. If he doesn’t have the guts to risk it then he isn’t a strong enough man for me.” I’m not suggesting that I think they believe this, they actually declare it out loud.

And, coincidentally, I know a guy who went on a date with one of those women. A guy who tries hard to be a respectful, honorable guy. Coffee turned into an afternoon of talking and then into dinner. They talked about getting together the next day.

He eventually walked her to her car and asked if he could kiss her. She said no. When he contacted her the next day she said she wasn’t interested in going out again. Wow.

Since I knew her, I asked her about it. She confirmed it. She said asking is a turn off. She wants to know he is “strong enough.”

Talk about confusing. Here the guy is trying to be a good man and this is the message he gets.

This isn’t about excuses. It is about recognizing that the road to change for men has its own challenges.

And a second date?

In the end it means men have to listen to, and participate in, the discussions, the conversations, and the learning that is going on. From all of that they need to decide what kind of man they want to be.

And then they need to embrace it, to act in a way consistent with that goal. They need to do that regardless of the push back they may get. Even if it means they don’t get a second date sometimes.


Alison says…

Dating is about finding someone who has beliefs that are compatible with yours. Being respectful and asking for consent before interacting with someone physically is an example of a value that a man can hold. It can be a hard thing to hear that you didn’t get a second date because you held true to your values but ask yourself some questions.

Did you really lose out in not proceeding further with someone who doesn’t share or respect your values? Consent goes both ways, it isn’t just about respecting women. Do you want a relationship with someone who doesn’t value consent (maybe not even your consent)? In being the kind of man who asks first to confirm the willingness of the other participant, you have certain feelings about gender roles and power dynamics.

In being the woman who rejects a man who is willing to wait to ensure everyone is complicit, she has her own feelings about gender roles and power dynamics. The “asking for a first kiss versus just taking one” is the first conflict when those two differing viewpoints collide. Even if your relationship can recover from this first conflict, there are bound to be conflicts in the future when these viewpoints diverge.

Do you want to be with someone to whom you need to justify who you are as a man?

Do you want to be with someone who has only one definition for masculinity and expects a partner to play a role by rote with no script provided in advance?

In how many other future situations do you want to be liable for not reading this individual’s mind?

The reality is that everyone walks into relationships with their own preconceived notions about how people should act. Finding a relationship that works for you is about finding someone who respects your values and communicates with you in a way that you understand or can learn to understand.

Miscommunication is absolutely a thing, something that became obvious in the genesis of this piece. The reality from a survivor of sexual assault perspective is that sometimes “mixed messages” is a dog-ate-my-homework excuse for not asking for consent and just taking what you want or after the fact victim blaming.

Isn’t it okay to want what we want?

When we first talked about this piece my hackles were raised a bit because I didn’t want to be a part of something that could be used to feed that underlying toxic “she was asking for it, some girls like it like that, how was I supposed to know” messaging.

The thing is, Jay would never support anything like that because he’s not that guy, 100% not that guy. We can acknowledge that men and women have different expectations in behavior without condoning sexual trespass. The message here is that yes, you may be rejected because you are the guy who asks for consent. And this is why it’s not really a bad thing in the end:

You’re the one who has to look yourself in the mirror and if you feel good about making sure your partner was comfortable. A missed second date with the wrong person is an opportunity for a first date with someone who might be the right person.

Rejection sucks, but being rejected for standing by your beliefs isn’t anything to be ashamed of.


Jay responds…

Alison, I think that’s exactly right. Too often we focus on the parts of the person we want, like the fun parts or the sexy parts.

We forget that one of the most important parts of a successful relationship is making sure that core values match or are respected. Without that, there is little chance of long term success.


Photo: Paul Brooker/Flickr

Originally posted at The Good Men Project


You may also like

Before You Hit Enter – Some Things To Consider…
We Are Happy To Welcome Lisa O’Brien as Summer Intern
Sex-Positive Holiday Gift Ideas!
It’s Time to Stop Shaming Men for Their Sexual Desires

Leave a Reply