Guest Post-Consent Culture Matters

27 Feb

A smart, funny, and did I mention absolutely brilliant friend of mine had an experience/revelation the other day and asked me if she could guest post (!!) it here.  Obviously I said yes and of course she rocked it out.  Without further ado:

I screwed up. Basically, in the simplest terms, I asked someone whom I have power over out. I spent time thinking about it beforehand – but all of that time was devoted to how I could be flirty or come off as confident. He said no, explained that it made him uncomfortable, but said we should hang out as friends.

I apologized. And was utterly mortified. I had put him in a situation where, without knowing much about how I would react or how it would impact his life, he had to make a decision about whether to say yes or no. For all he knew, I could be the type of vindictive asswipe who would make his life miserable for daring to say no to me.

When I asked him, I felt proud of myself for taking the initiative, despite the variety of reasons that it wasn’t a great idea. I was happy I had embraced something I wanted and I hadn’t thought much about how he might feel. I was too busy trying to make myself more comfortable with the situation to explain in advance that he could say no without any consequences.

I fell into the Cosmo mindset of “talking is unsexy.” Me! A feminist! Who cares about consent! Who wants to make sure her partners are happy, who asks, who is GGG. In a situation where I was uncertain of my own attractiveness, I reverted back to tropes that I’d heard in the media over and over – that it wasn’t sexy to lay out the rules ahead of time or to make clear my intentions.

Looking at it now, with the benefit of all of a week of hindsight, I believe it was because I was afraid of being rejected. What makes the Cosmo “giggle and point your belly button at him” idea so attractive is it doesn’t involve being brave. When all you are doing is leaving small hints and acting nonchalant, it’s easy to pretend that you aren’t invested or too interested in what you are doing. You can pretend you were just kidding or that you weren’t even flirting. You don’t open yourself up to the level of rejection that you would if you put your cards on the table.

But this is dangerous. It leads to relationships where people are too afraid to say what they mean, to ask for what they want, and to be who they are. Being rejected hurts, but the pain is transitory. It’s far worse to be stuck in a relationship where you feel like you have to hide what you actually want and feel from a partner than to be rejected at the beginning.

But back to our story. When I finally put myself in his shoes, I could see how I was blinded by a sense of privilege. I didn’t think through the consequences of my behavior beforehand because I’m not used to thinking of myself as predatory. Unconsciously, I assumed that he would be amenable to being asked out by a woman in a position of authority because “hey, what guy isn’t?”

If our positions were reversed, and I was the one who was in a lower position of power relative to him, I wouldn’t have hesitated to call him out as being sketchy. Putting a person in a situation where they can’t fully give consent? Sketchy. Not letting him know what was at stake? Sketchy.

But on the whole, it was a good reminder that enthusiastic consent isn’t just important in the bedroom. As feminists, we should always strive to put people in places where they can react honestly and consent enthusiastically. Not talking doesn’t work. Consent culture matters.

Had I been clear from the beginning that I knew I was in a position of authority, and that I was not in any way going to use that position to his detriment independent of his answer, I probably still would have gotten rejected. I might feel worse for putting myself out there more. But I wouldn’t find myself wondering whether he just agreed to get lunch with me because he couldn’t find a way out of it.

This friend of mine (whether she knows it yet or not) will be in positions of power for the rest of her life.  Women will be in positions of power and if that means we need to retrain ourselves or others how to flirt and interact in that environment then so be it.


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