Long before the #metoo movement and the social awakening we’ve seen take place in recent months, I received a long voicemail from a female friend. We’d been talking in the weeks before about consent. Specifically, what it means for a man to ask before making the first “move”.
At the time this was a pretty novel idea for me. I understood asking for permission in the course of a physical relationship, but never before a kiss (specifically the first kiss). That moment, as I understood it, was supposed to just happen, be natural, and make me look like I knew what I was doing. It was supposed to look like it did in the movies.
That, I think, is one of the great disservices we’ve done to our boys/men--we’ve allowed them to believe “being cool” should trump asking for permission.
The evening I received that voicemail my friend had gone on a first date. It had gone fine, but she sensed it wasn’t a love connection. She also sensed he was about to make a move--a move she didn’t want him to make.
In her voicemail my friend told me all that had happened. How she knew he was going to make a move. How she didn’t want to kiss him but felt powerless to stop it. How uncomfortable it had made her. How she didn’t like kissing him or being put in that position.
I remember listening to her voicemail and feeling sad--for her, but also for every woman I’d ever kissed without asking first. How many of them didn’t want to kiss me? Or wished I’d asked first?
I do my best these days to ask before I lean in (though I still mess up at times). It’s not super cool, but then, being super cool isn’t that high up on my list of values anymore.
That being said, my point today about consent is twofold:
We’ve got to talk about all of it. Sex and consent. Kissing and consent. What maybe does and doesn’t mean. What goes where, when, and how it feels.
We’ve got to talk about these things even when it’s embarrassing, and ESPECIALLY when it isn’t cool.
Screw being cool. Screw being smooth. Screw acting like you “know what you’re doing”. I’d rather have the respect of a woman who had the chance to say yes, no, or maybe without fear.
I was never all that cool, anyway.
One of the things that has changed most about me over the past decade is the way I look at societal and cultural issues. I've found that with personal and internal change has come a desire to see and consider issues in a different way. In a world where we often want simple choices--A and B--I’ve found myself searching for a third option.
This was never more true than when I worked in the domestic violence advocacy field.
When folks find out I worked at a domestic violence shelter, one of the first responses I get is “I don’t understand why women stay with violent men” or “why doesn’t she leave?”.
The truth is, for every woman who experiences violence in a relationship, there are 10 different reasons why she doesn’t leave. Here are a few that often come up:
Now, while everything I've just said is true, the real answer to this question is that when we ask “why doesn’t she leave?”, we’re asking the wrong question.
When we ask the question this way, we’re putting all the pressure on the abused and forgetting that most abusers don’t just come out and hit someone on the first date--making their intentions known from day one. They slowly whittle away at someone’s self-confidence, making them dependent and in love and less likely to leave before they (literally) strike.
The real question we should be asking is, why does he keep hitting her?
This is what I mean when I mention looking for a third option, seeing issues in a new light. We can’t keep putting the expectation on women to leave an abuser. At some point we have to look at men and say “you don’t get to hit, ANYMORE”.
I thought about this during the #metoo movement as well. At some point these movements can’t just be women standing up and saying “we’re done being abused”. Men also have to stand up and say, “we’re done abusing and we’re done accepting this behavior from other men.”
Violence and harassment aren’t a female problem. They're a male problem. Only when men stand up and say, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” is this behavior going to change.
So why doesn't she leave? It’s not for me to judge. Live a minute in a victim’s life and you’ll see most are just doing their very best each day to survive.
So it’s time to ask a new question--one that puts the pressure to change where it should be. It’s time we expected more from our men. Not just those who abuse, but all men.
Fellas, this is our problem to solve and it's time to start now.
In a few short weeks I’ll be arriving back in Nashville--maybe for good. Words I never thought would come out of my mouth.
The reality is I don’t know how long I’ll stick around. I’ve had an amazing journey these past 5 years, and, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you never know where your walk will lead next.
But there are some very real reasons why Sam and I are traveling back right now…
A Bedouin is an Arab traveler, moving animals and goods across deserts for months on end. Never with a home, but always discovering a new place to stay.
My Dad was right. I have been a bit of a Bedouin these past few years--and maybe I’ll always be.
But for now it’s time for this lonely traveler to head back to the place this all began.
Time will only tell what great adventure will come next.
I had an experience recently that struck me. One that I think is important as we traverse a world where we are more alive to issues of violence, a lack of equity and equality, and others.
I was sitting outside the local community college with a female coworker. We were there to acknowledge Sexual Assault Awareness Month and to tell folks about an event that evening--speaking with young men about sex and consent in romantic relationships.
An older student (I say older just because he clearly wasn’t college age--closer to 30) came up to me at one point and started talking. We chatted for a few minutes before he left, at which point my coworker said, "what did you think about that"?
I blathered something about not totally agreeing with what he was saying when she said, “but did you see what he did? He totally ignored me until until the end of your conversation”.
I had not even sort of noticed it in the moment. I was totally oblivious to her experience of feeling small and unacknowledged.
We chatted for a long time that day and I learned an important lesson in power and privilege. I also found myself pushing back as to why this man had engaged the two of us in such different ways.
Not because I didn’t believe her or respect her experience, but because I sensed something else was going on. I sensed this wasn’t just about a social construct (like misogyny, paternalism, etc.), that this person had an individual story that played a part in his actions that day.
What I was attempting to express is we can’t look at each man and narrow down his experience to one of privilege. We’re all far too unique for that. This man, for example, revealed later that evening that he gets really nervous around women. He’s worked in largely male dominated fields--the military, hot shots--and acknowledged there was some reason he’d been drawn that direction.
My guess is there’s something in his story that reveals pain or trauma that involved a woman.
That’s not an excuse. While we’re not responsible or to blame for our trauma, we are the only ones who can do the important work of healing. That evening as I heard more of this man’s story, I came to believe he is willing to push deeper into the pain he experienced.
And that made me smile.
In order to change the culture which allows violence to remain prevalent in our society, we can’t ignore the larger cultural issues or the stories we each hold. We have to be willing to speak up and fight misogyny at every turn while also showing kindness to the individual stories and pain which have led us to this point.
We must be kind both to the stories that led my coworker to feel ignored AND the stories that led this man to feel scared and nervous around my coworker.
Without kindness for our stories there can be no cultural healing for us, and healing is the point, isn’t it?