“As I was turning down a man’s advances today I realized I was trying to be nice about it… even after he hugged me without asking, bugged me for my phone number, and I had already said a few days ago that I wasn’t interested in going on a date with him.
So why was I trying to be nice? This deeply disturbed me. When I asked myself why, I realized that one of my calculations about how direct I feel I can be is the reality that most stalkers, kidnappers, and killers are men — and many are “set off” by the rejection of a woman.” —Shanya Luther, M. Div
The man in this example may have felt he was flirting, essentially paying her a compliment with his attention. What’s the difference between flirting and harassment? Flirting is welcome, harassment is not. Being able to tell the difference is knowing where you are welcome and where you are not.
Consent culture requires emotional maturity. It takes a lot of the guesswork out and replaces it with clarity. For this to work, everyone needs to be okay with rejection: both receiving and giving. Yes, it removes some of the mystery and it also removes much of the potential harm. Some will still avoid consent because taking what they want is as enjoyable as getting what they want. Some will avoid it because if you don’t ask, you don’t get a “no.”
What would happen if you slowed it down and took the time to become more sensitive to someone’s reactions, looking past the surface smile?
When a woman decides to reveal her real response she risks getting labeled a slut, a bitch, stuck up, disagreeable, “not a team player,” or any of a long list of names we call someone who is not doing what we want. Ask yourself: is she smiling because she’s into you, or is that smile saying; “please don’t hurt me”? Is she not smiling because she’s not amused or because she’s scared you might get angry? Frequently I hear men say they wished women would be more straightforward. This is why they are not.
Louis CK (now infamous for using his position of power over women to fulfill his own sexual whim) said: “A woman saying yes to a date with a man is literally insane… and ill-advised! Men are the number one threat to women.”
Also, men have a tendency to overestimate women’s interest in them, and women have a history of concealing their true response. (Carin Perilloux & Robert Kurzban, 2014)
Let that sink in a minute.
Between our cultural bias towards men initiating encounters, which requires a lot of guessing, courage, and risk; and women’s acculturated “niceness,” tendency to caretake, and realistic fear of invoking violence, it amazes me anyone actually enjoys a first date.
A friend shared a piece of advice given him when he was young and wondering how on earth to kiss a girl. Advice: touch her face. If she closes her eyes, she wants you to kiss her. If she keeps her eyes open, she doesn’t; take your hand down and move along without making a fool of yourself.
Most of us have had years of this mysterious courtship.
Being told as a young girl that boys are sometimes mean when they like you added to my confusion. In third grade when Sammy Oliver chased me around the playground trying to kiss me, I was furious. While telling my mom I cried; she was laughing.
By seventh grade (and into eighth and ninth and …) I talked for hours with my girlfriends, analyzing boys’ actions, sifting for clues to how they felt about me. “He kicked a soccer ball at me, do you think he likes me?” Are men also obscure about their interest or do they show it in different ways, like kicking a soccer ball at a crush? Or was that just random, or did he really not like me?
Much has been said recently about the “fragility of the male ego” and its relationship to male violence. The ability to tolerate emotional discomfort (aka rejection) is an acquired skill. The more you practice being responsible for your own feelings and not lashing out or blaming others, the more emotional capacity you grow. The more you sustain rejection with softness, the less brittle you become.
If you have a hard time with rejection and want some insight; if you feel rough around the edges with dating, sex, and consent, let’s work together. I am forming several groups in January 2018 to work on consent and beyond.