I am becoming increasingly frustrated that I continue to have to explain to some men how power dynamics factor into consent regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault. (They are related, but different, yet another fact that we neglect to teach.)
I am no expert. But I’m a mom. I’m a former teacher. I’ve sat through countless sexual harassment in the workplace trainings in my career. Most importantly though, I’m a 45-year-old woman. I’ve spent my life contending with power dynamics and consent in male-female situations. I’ve spent countless hours listening to and sharing stories with other women of what has been done to us by men who had power or men who did not have consent before engaging in sexual contact or conduct.
That may be the only expertise I have, but it’s enough to give me the right to have my voice heard as I increasingly hear men grumble and complain as the number of women sharing their stories increases.
A man recently said to me online during a discussion of sexual harassment, “Are men just never supposed to make a first move? I feel like everything I do could be called sexual harassment or misconduct if I try to kiss a woman or even hold her hand.”
This man’s statement is shows that we need to do a better job teaching two concepts: power dynamics and consent.
If a woman gives consent, but the man is in a position of power (boss, physician, acting aggressively and placing her in a position of duress), she may not be truly giving consent which is why behavior like that from men in power is unethical, immoral, and, in some cases, illegal. (Yes, the same is true for women in positions of power over men, but let’s acknowledge that most sexual assault and sexual harassment is done TO women and men BY men. That’s what I’m writing about today.)
Power can be overt (boss, physician, etc.). Power can be hidden or invisible. Louis CK may not have had direct power over those women, but because of his inherent power (fan base, agents to whom he has access, ability to help their careers, etc.), he had power over them. (They weren’t merely women who “admired” him. I’m disappointed he used that term.)
If you’ve previously threatened a woman physically or emotionally, you’re in a position of power. There are countless articles that explain the dynamics of power far better than I could.
“Unwanted sexual contact or behavior” is the key phrase in situations where the man and woman are not in a position of power over one another, “unwanted” being the key word in the phrase. How do you know if your advance is wanted? Check your power dynamic and then…Ask. For. Consent.
Consent should be explicit (verbal) and sexual advances should never be made toward someone with whom you work or are otherwise in a position of authority over. Simple.
Check your power dynamic. Do I have direct, hidden, or invisible power over this person? Ask for verbal consent.
Again, simple, but we have obviously failed to teach and learn this as a society, at least in my generation and those previous.
Can it feel awkward to ask for consent before something as simple as a kiss? Sure, but if this 45-year-old woman can learn to do it, men can too. Have I always asked for consent before initiating contact? No, but I’ve long since learned the importance of asking for consent. We can all learn to do better, to be better.
As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”
I think men will be surprised how many women find it attractive that a man is aware enough of this issue to ask for consent, especially in the current climate.
As the saying goes, consent is sexy. We need to teach and preach power dynamics and consent to move forward, learn, and improve.
Oh, and just as an extra reminder…As a friend recently reminded me, a Saturday Night Live monologue by Tiffany Haddish recently gave more good advice. “If your thing-thing is out and she’s fully clothed, you’re wrong.”