It’s not actually a “crisis of consent.” It’s a pivot point for true gender equality.

Good job, World.  We’re finally getting somewhere with this conversation. **Record scratch in the key of Aziz.**  Or are we? I could almost sense a sigh of masculine relief as the holidays came and went, everyone got mercifully distracted, and it seemed like this whole consent conversation was about to be over. Like if we waited a few more minutes then we could all go back to our comfortable ostrich like lifestyles. But then Oprah did this THING! You know that speech she gave when she accepted  Cecil B. de Mille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes. And you know… when Oprah speaks, bitches listen! Not only did she not let it die, she breathed new life into it and transmuted #metoo into #timesup.

Then this whole Aziz Ansari situation in which a woman on a date with him didn’t feel respected as he pressed her for sexual interaction. She wrote an article in “Babe” saying  “it was the worst night of my life.” This ignited an whole slew of articles and arguments. Everything from “It’s not that bad” to “she was clearly asking for it.” Both men and women argued for and against each party. It’s been a hot mess.

I, for one, and I’m sure I speak for MANY women, am glad that this conversation didn’t culturally blow over. Because we haven’t actually addressed the core issue yet.  What Aziz Ansari has done is create an opening for a more nuanced conversation.  This moment is the crack in the conversation for us to get to the actual heart of why every woman on the planet has her own #metoo experience, and it’s this: We don’t have a consent problem. We have a gender equality problem. Our species does not value the feminine. We do not actually have true gender equality yet. Although this conversation may be getting us close.  I wrote a whole blog on why I think that is. It’s called A New Dawn: A Love Letter to the Masculine if you care to read it.

I want to quote my friend Alison Grayson here. She stated something very much on point in this conversation:

“To anyone who asks, ‘Why didn’t they say No?’
Maybe you’ve never had your No forcibly taken away from you.
Maybe you’ve never said No, had it listened to, and then had to say No again ten minutes later. And ten minutes after that. And ten after that.
Maybe you haven’t gotten used to your No being challenged or ignored. Maybe you still think your No means something to someone else. Maybe you still believe your No will be listened to.
Maybe you’ve never been in a situation where saying No one more god damn time took more emotional labor than just caving in and getting it over with.
Maybe you haven’t been socialized to be polite and empathetic and quiet and small and not to straight up say No, that that kind of rejection is too harsh.
Maybe you’ve never feared for your personal safety at the hands of someone’s hurt ego.
Maybe you’ve never been afraid to lose connection or love or closeness by saying No.
Maybe you’ve never been in a position where you expected them to return to being a caring respectful human at any moment now.
Maybe you’ve never been so shocked at an unexpected turn of events that No felt like a million miles away.”

Another woman I don’t know named Aviva Pressmen wrote this:

“You know why women don’t scream bloody murder and then leave when we’re in an Aziz Ansari situation? Because we don’t know we’re in the middle of an assault. We wrongly assume that we are in a room with a person who views us as human who is equal and worthy and whose feelings you care about in a basic decency sort of way.

We don’t want to hurt your feelings because we have basic human empathy and we know getting rejected is hurtful. So we say “I don’t think it’s gonna happen tonight” or “I don’t want to feel forced” or we walk away or put our clothes back on or remove your hands from our bodies or our hands from wherever you put them. Because we (again, wrongly) assume that you have even a tiny fraction of the amount of basic human empathy for us. If you did, you would care about whether we’re having a good time. And if you cared about that then those signals would be huge to you. It’s only when you don’t actually give a shit about how we feel that those signals can be so easily overlooked.”

And as another friend Caedmon Webb wrote, “If several ‘soft no’ statements have been disrespected and ignored, what are the odds that getting up and leaving will be disrespected and ignored as well?”

This Aziz Ansari situation is uncomfortable because it shines a light on the fact that women are routinely blatantly not listened to. Verbally or not. And, that we have systematically normalized the fact that a woman’s enjoyment in a sexual encounter can be minimized or simply not mater at all. It is a deep and profound disrespect for women. If this conversation was about any inanimate object, rather than a woman’s body the situation would be clear. If you said to a man, “Can I drive your sports car?” And he said, “I don’t know. you can sit in the driver’s seat.” (Notice there wasn’t even an actual hard no in that statement but you totally understood what he meant.) There is NO WAY IN HELL that you would be confused about if you should try to get him drunk so that he would say yes. And if you did, we as a society accept that that makes you a manipulative, untrustworthy, disrespectful asshole. But we have normalized disrespecting  women’s bodies, and conditioned men to do so SO MUCH that people are actually confused.

Picture it: There you are, as a woman, in the most vulnerable position that you can be in, maybe literally naked, moments before wanting to be more vulnerable by allowing someone to enter your body. I don’t know if you can imagine the amount of vulnerability that that takes. Then slowly it is dawning on you that this person, whom up until this point you wanted to share yourself with, doesn’t actually care about you, your enjoyment, doesn’t respect you, doesn’t listen to you, honestly doesn’t care if you have fun, and is now pushing for you to give up your most vulnerable self. That’s what those actions are actually communicating. And we are hearing ALL of that disrespect and lack of care that is being communicated.  We feel duped. A moment ago we thought we were sharing an experience together. We thought you cared about us.  And now you have emphatically demonstrated that we were wrong. What else could we be wrong about if we were so wrong in our assessment to get to this point of naked and vulnerable before seeing how little you respected us? If you don’t care about our physical enjoyment, do you care about our physical safety? What have we done? How do we get out?  What on earth would make a woman in that situation think that suddenly some magical way that she communicates would suddenly be respected? As a woman, in a situation like Grace’s, a man has started to demonstrate  who he is, how much he is willing disrespect your desires, and where he thinks your enjoyment/participation/happiness falls on his list of priorities. That is psychologically and emotionally hurtful and challenging. Are we really hoping to create normal sexual dynamics that require women to regularly shout and slap men and cry to get our message through?  Because that’s the next phase of no that is available if the litany of soft no’s were disregarded.

The reason it is probably challenging is because almost every man has done that.  I invite you, my brothers, to just face it. Come to terms with what your actions are communicating. There’s no shame in recognizing it. It’s not your fault. Men were trained to eroticize a woman’s hesitation and to crush their own empathetic abilities. But now we are at an excellent pivot point: A point where the masses can be retrained to see women as actual equals. That means sexual equals too. So let’s collectively do the soul gardening and get there, because it’s gonna be a lot more fun for all of us when women are seen as whole creatures with their own sexual agency. You’re gonna love it.

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