In this new article series, “Seriously Gents” we will dive into serious topics affecting millennial men and their surrounding world. We will identify, discuss and recommend change in our perspectives, mindsets and behavior in an effort to protect the things we care about and correct what we deem wrong or unjust in today’s society.
Sexual Harassment and How Men Can Do Better
It’s time to get serious about something that will make us uncomfortable: Sexual harassment. What it is, and what we can do to quell its continuance in our culture. Before you go running, this isn’t a shame piece, or article about how all men are pigs, but an honest collection of words and advice from the perspective of a guy who is trying to change his own mindset and behavior.
By now we have all heard of the #MeToo movement which has drawn much-needed light to the staggering amount of unprosecuted sexual harassment and sexual assault plaguing Hollywood for decades. And while famous men and women are wielding their power of popularity to showcase their experienced struggles and injustices with this issue, it’s time to bring it a little closer to home for every man. It’s time to explore how the guy with a desk job, the assistant, the toll worker, the nurse, the doctor, the consultant, the accountant, the banker, the engineer, the programmer can become more aware of sexual harassment and what changes in mindset and behavior he can implement to make the women he interacts with feel safer.
It’s hard to hear and even more difficult to accept, but most men in America have committed and/or have been subject to some act of sexual harassment involving both the women and the men in their lives. At first, you’ll likely reject this notion, as I did, that is until you read the proper definition of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is defined as: ANY unwanted sexual advances, comments, requests for sexual favors, or any other verbal or physical behaviors that are sexual in nature and make a person feel uncomfortable.
This includes blatant examples like catcalling, an unwanted advance or kiss, or taking advantage of impaired judgment to elicit sexual activity, but it also includes what some would traditionally think of as lesser acts like an intentionally placed hand on a thigh or backside, a slap on the ass, “cheese-curling” your buddy, sending unsolicited/unwanted dick-pics, telling inappropriate sexual jokes at the expense of someone in the room, or touching a friend in areas they’d simply prefer not to be touched. If you think about it, I’m sure you can remember a time in college, at a bar or party when you may not have done the right thing. Sure you may have thought it was innocent or benign, because “nothing really happened” but armed with the true definition of harassment and a true sense of self-honesty, you begin to realize some of those encounters were far less than altruistic. This is why 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men claim to have been sexually assaulted in college (according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center).
I’m not here to put myself on a high horse and shame my gender. I myself am guilty of some of these things, which is hard to admit. What I am here to do is bring this issue to the top of mind for every man regardless of profession, faith, or status. I want us to attempt to recognize what these encounters look like from our own experiences, as I continue to do, so we as a group don’t repeat, perpetuate, or allow this kind of activity to continue.
So how do we change? The first step, as with many other constructs of change, is awareness. We need to work to be cognizant of our actions and pay attention to how the women we interact with react to what we’re saying and any physical contact we may initiate. Simply monitoring for any type of hesitation during moments of physical contact, or a look of discomfort in conversation is a perfect place to start. Pulling away or an obvious look of disagreement is a great indicator of when not to try harder. Becoming more aware is, in itself, a process and a skill that takes practice, but the more effort that gets put in, the better the outcome.
Change Through Communication
Being aware is only part of the battle for change, the hardest part is creating and embodying the change itself. Making a full mental shift is hard to do, and takes a long time. It will be hard and far from effortless to catch when you are thinking, feeling and acting in ways that could bring about action that could be considered sexual harassment. Becoming aware, and changing your inner mindset is the end goal, but there are actions you can practice now and along the way to embody and enforce this change of perspective and mindset.
The easiest and most effective way I have found to start creating this change in my life is to use my words and communicate more frequently and more effectively. For example, asking if a woman if she wants to dance rather than pulling the “sneak up from behind” move, asking if the escalation from kissing to “hand stuff” is okay, and again if it goes to the next level, and again if I feel sex is in play. These are common and critical ways to make sure you are creating a safe space for both of you. Asking and then respecting the answer.
Sure this sounds uncomfortable, and you may be thinking “but if I ask, it interrupts the moment and those 50 minutes we spent watching The Great British Baking Show as I tediously worked my hand closer to her waistline will be for not! I was so close!” Dude, 1. While TGBBS is a great show, I’m not sure its a real mood maker, though I could be wrong. 2. It doesn’t matter if it takes 10 minutes or 5 episodes for you to get anywhere close to a pleasure zone, you still need to make sure it’s okay. Women aren’t dumb, nor easily fooled, she knows where your hand is on her body. Furthermore, your moving extra slowly will not cause her to forget where your hand is, nor where it’s going. You’re not going to surprise her and get a reaction like “Oh! I had no idea he was even close to that part of my body, I guess I’ll just let him stay.”
Moving slowly is great, it’s less threatening, and allows time for you and your partner to make sure what you’re doing is something both of you want. However, you still should ask at each escalation point and then again if you notice a change their demeanor. You both have a right to stop at any point, regardless of what has happened up to that moment. Communicating expectations, desires, and boundaries respectfully is the best way to know you aren’t heading toward turbulent and wrongful waters.
Again, this isn’t just a behavior change, it’s a mindset change. Women demand respect, just like we do. We are both equal actors in the world and should be treated as such. Simply because women tend to be physically smaller in stature on average, and societal norms have painted them in a weaker light doesn’t mean they aren’t as bold, powerful, and strong as we are as a gender. They’re voice counts just as much as ours does in the voting booth, at work, and in society and we need to make sure we don’t only treat them as such, but think of them as such.
When Hearing No
This may seem obvious, but it doesn’t matter if it is the first time the two of you have hooked up or the 394th, a no is a no is a no--and so is a non-answer. The lack of an answer is not a yes, or a “go until I stop you.” It’s a no, even in the eyes of the law. As I mentioned previously, asking is no longer taboo or a mood breaker; in fact, it can be a mood maker. Making your partner feel safe and that they are in control of what happens to their own body is important and impactful, and a guy that can make this space is truly a man of confidence and respect--a true gentleman.
Enthusiastic, consensual acts of intimacy are what we should all aim for. Both parties enjoy it, both parties feel safe, and feel confident in their choice to kiss, fondle, or copulate. The effort you put in to ensure that this kind of respectful interaction is the only type of intimate interaction you partake in, speaks to your character as a man.
For more resources on sexual harassment, rape, and abuse please go to www.rainn.org
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, it operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) and works with local advocacy and support centers across the US to support and advocate for victims of violent crimes.
We aren’t finished with this topic. This is just the beginning. There are a lot of parts to dissect and interoperate and a lot of lines that need to be defined and discussed. What are your thoughts on sexual harassment? What changes are you making in your own life to make sure you are providing a safe space and respect for the women in your life? What questions do you have? Use the comments section down below to ask and answer any questions you’d like.