(Again, disclaimer: This is from a cisgender, white female perspective and I’m talking about larger cultural norms - NOT any given specific man or woman. Please remember this while reading. Thank you.)
I’m continuing to think about gender relations, and honestly I hope I don’t get complacent ever again about this. We have an opportunity here to shift our cultural norm. Just like the Black Lives Matter movement and the extreme polarization of politics right now, things are coming to a head in a way that I haven’t seen in my lifetime. And I feel the room for huge paradigm shifts.
Anyway, I’ll reign my excitement about this in, and focus on a few more personal, “in-the-moment” observations. Because I still firmly believe that change happens within individual humans, and the one-on-one relational connection is where the energy and power truly resides.
Recently, I listened to a couple “Dear Sugars” podcasts that address the “gray area” around consent. One comment stood out to me like a slap in the face: “Women value men’s feelings over their own, and don’t want to ‘hurt men’s feelings’ by saying ‘no.’” (paraphrased) This is one reason why consent is so muddy, and so many women don’t feel as if they can say “no,” even to different stages in sexual intimacy.
I also recently finished reading Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso, her memoir about being a child female victim of a pedophile. She talks so often about being worried about the feelings of her abuser and his way of manipulating that.
Women are socialized to make people feel good. To make men feel powerful and necessary. Women are vilified when they are too powerful, when they are too independent. They are selfish and greedy when they put their needs first, instead of continually second. Or third, or fourth. To their male partners, to their kids, to their boss, to their co-workers, to their customers. Women are rewarded for taking care of others, specifically others' social and emotional needs. So a woman resisting a man’s advances, or not melting into his hands when he says he wants her may (correctly) feel that she could (very truly) be losing a relationship, breaking an attachment, rejected, ostracized and condemned to aloneness. The man may (very truly) feel offended, hurt, shamed, not good enough, and take that out on her by rejecting back. Let’s think about this. How often does this happen?
I am generally a pretty independent female. I have power in a lot of ways that other people (male or female) don’t. I have been called selfish and greedy at various times and while it hurts on the inside, I generally don’t let that label change my outward behavior. (It takes more than that.) If you read my last blog, you know I isolated myself (to my own detriment) in part because I perceived that negotiating the sexualized playing field was a losing battle for a woman.
And yet, I can think of countless examples where I was unconsciously taking care of others’ feelings over my own because I did not want to risk the relationship.
We all need relationships - family, friends, lovers, neighbors. We just don’t do well without at least a couple really good relationships. And sexuality is a way of bonding in relationships. So is taking care of others’ feelings - their egos, their sense of goodness and lovability. Sex and feelings should be mixed up. But that comment in the “Dear Sugars” podcast struck me so hard because it shows that these seem to be mixed up in different proportions and with vastly different outcomes, for men and women. Women often sacrifice their sexual needs and allow men to enjoy themselves in order to strengthen the emotional bond, or at the least not deal with the backlash of emotional hurt and ego-wounding that saying “no” might lead to. Do men feel this way? Do men act this way? Do men think about the “feelings” of women in the same way? In general, as a culture, I think not. This is part of why consent is muddy - because emotional needs of each party (the woman and the man in this example) and sexual needs are not taken into account, rewarded or punished in the same way, for both parties. Not a level playing field.
What we need are men and women who do not equate saying “no” to a measure of the others’ worth, desirability, lovability or attractiveness. We need to value emotional connection, safety, and different sexual preferences at the same level as we value attractiveness and sexual desirability. Where women’s and men’s emotional needs are on par and where sex is not the primary way of meeting these. Can we speak and receive in this way? Can we divorce ego and personal needs from the Other? Or at least value the Other the way we value ourselves?