And you thought ‘enthusiastic consent’ was only sexual. Inside the conversation at The Good Men Project.
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Lisa Hickey: I want to start by talking about an insight about something called “intersectionality”. The term is used predominately in academia and social justice circles to state that societal problems are often “intersected.” And it is most often used to describe systems of oppressions. That is—racism is often overlapping with sexism, which is overlapping with homophobia, which intersects with some of the problems we talk about with the man-box.
But my insight was this—-intersectionality is often used to describe problems. But I am SO not a problem person—I am a solution person. So it hit me today that what I am really interested in the intersectionality of solutions. How can the SOLUTIONS we are finding for these issues that men (and women) face overlap and solve OTHER problems. And this is the part of what we are doing that has always gotten me really excited. As an example, I’m interested in racism and how we work towards systems that will solve that problem. Racism is a system problem, the solution needs to be systemic also. But I don’t think you can solve racism in isolation. I think you have to solve everything from problems with our educational system to to the reasons the man-box exist to the problem of the wealth gap, to the way urban planning is done. And that gets really overwhelming really quickly, so what most people do is they say, “wow, that’s hard.” I’m going to solve racism by telling Joe down the street that he is a racist. And—I’m all for calling out individual behaviors. But I do think that a solution oriented systems approach is what is going to make a bigger difference. The intersectionality of solutions.
So what I’m going to talk about today is something called “Enthusiastic Consent”. This is most often used when describing sexual encounters and the line between rape and not rape.
This is very big on college campuses and is even written into a law in California. And what it says is this – that most people know that “no means no”. That is pretty clear. If someone says “no I don’t want to have sex with you” and you proceed with sex anyway, then that is rape. And—to be clear, the only people that think that no DOESN’T mean no are rapists. And I’ve talked to some of these people who will actually try to talk you out of the fact that no means no. They will tell stories of how they met a girl and she said no but she didn’t really mean it and they had sex anyway and then they ended up dating for a year. People who try to talk you out of the idea that no means no are rapists. There may have been a time years ago—decades ago— when women were taught to say “no” to sex no matter what. So there could have been a grain of truth back then, but it is not true any more. We have talked on these calls about how the very idea of goodness changes over time.
And so I want to “hold that thought” – about pushing back even when someone says no.
But what is even more interesting to me is when you take the notion of enthusiastic consent out of the bedroom.
I have given talks about consent on college campuses.
And what I tell students is that they can’t wait until they are in the middle of a sexual encounter to practice consent. Because if you are waiting until the very first time to either ask for OR give consent to be when you are in the heat of a sexual moment—you’re screwed. And that could be both literal and figuratively.
And I remember hearing one of those life-changing pieces of advice once. The advice was this—you know those people who talk SO smoothly, and every thing that comes out of their mouth is SO perfectly articulated and sounds so great and easy?
Chances are — it’s not the first time they have said that thing. Chances are they have actually *practiced” saying those things—sometmes over and over.
Any time you are taking an action that will impact someone else’s life in some way—no matter how big or how small—you should practice asking and giving consent.
Can I give you a hug?
May I walk you home?
Will you let me buy you lunch?
Can I wear your blue t-shirt tomorrow?
Let’s take the example of the T-shirt. If I say to you, “hey, can I wear your blue t-shirt tomorrow?” And you groan and say “uggg, yeah, I guess so.” That is NOT enthusiastic consent.
But if you say, “Sure you can wear that blue T-shirt—you look HOT in that shirt!” THAT is enthusiastic consent. And recognizing the difference between enthusiastic consent and non-enthusiastic consent in ALL your interactions will make consent in a sexual situation become smooth as silk.
Most people don’t ask for consent or give consent enthusiastically because they haven’t been taught.
Think about when someone is manipulative. When someone is manipulative—they are trying to get your consent in sneaky ways. They are trying to get consent — whether it is sexual consent or t-shirt consent — in ways where the other person won’t really know what they are agreeing to.
It might be begging. It might be playing a victim. It might be withdrawing emotionally. It might be using faulty logic. Or lying. Or threatening.
Manipulation – can be used against one person, or it can be used as a system of oppression. And the *solutions* that we use for preventing that manipulation–for recognizing it whether we are the ones being manipulated or manipulating others—can scale up or down as needed to solve a host of problems.
I’d like to open it up to the group now.
Rick Gabrielly: I like the idea of asking for consent in any relationship. And I see this especially as playing into the role of money and our relationships. If you are in a relationship there is usually a lot of talk about money. What should we spend it on? Should we buy things? How much should we save? Can I invest money in the business. Often people in relationships reluctantly give consent about spending money. It may be even worse when you have kids, especially in 2015 when kids have a lot of activities that are often expensive. We don’t always give or get enthusiastic consent when it comes to spending money.
I also like the idea of problems vs. solutions and I think if we look at money and relationships as a smaller part of the bigger whole, we’ll see that using enthusiastic consent can be used to solve a whole lot of bigger problems.
Dixie Gillaspie: In an article I wrote on business relationships, I asked someone not to do something because it made me uncomfortable. The person told me I had no right to ask him not to do it. We are told that our concerns are unfounded and we don’t have the right to refuse to get consent. But that is just not true. We have to remember—id doesn’t have to be sexual and it doesn’t have to be romantic—no one has to grant you the right to say “no”. I’d like to do a series around enthusiastic consent and all of the ways people violate consent. Too many people are living a life where they don’t realize they have the right to say “no”.
Also, I think a lot of male rape happens because women don’t even realize that a male has a right to say “no” to sex without being bullied or told he is “not a man”.
Mark Sherman: Lisa, I’m glad you said that “decades ago” things were different. I grew up in a different world. In the 80’s a study was done of college women. It was a good study, well-respected. And it asked women: “Have you ever said ‘no’ when you meant ‘yes’?” And a substantial percentage of women said that yes they had. I do know that things have changed since then.
Also, if my wife and I only did things where I said “yes” enthusiastically, we would both be living a life that is much less enjoyable than it is now. As an example of this—while I like traveling, the getting ready part makes me incredibly anxious, some time s to the point of panic. I’m running around, double checking things, setting alarms, all sorts of things. But once we get there, I’m fine. It doesn’t matter how many times we go through this. So at the moment I am asked to go some place—it is hard for me to say yes enthusiastically. Part of persuasion—and I don’t think there is anything wrong with persuasion—is trying to help a person feel something that may be in their own best interest. I don’t think anyone enthusiastically goes to the doctor for example. But ultimately it is in their best interest.
Dixie Gillaspie: That’s why learning to give enthusiastic consent is just as important as learning to ask for it. In the doctor’s offices, they have found that people who do enthusiastically consent to procedures are often happier people.
Lisa Hickey: Also, there are times I may not want to do something, but I am doing it to make the other person happy. I am perfectly OK with saying, “I really don’t want to go shopping but I would love to spend time with you so I’m happy to go with you.” And then I really am happy. But if I really don’t want to go shopping AND I don’t want to spend time with that person, I shouldn’t go. And certainly not if there is a chance I will resent the other person for ‘dragging me along.’
Chris Schneck: Another variable is a sense of place. When a husband and wife share a residence together, they have a shared sense of place which might affect their relationship. I’m a white teacher in Atlanta, and I have to balance being an ally rather than being a ‘white knight’. My first two years I struggled because I wouldn’t get affirmative consent for teaching, tutoring, meeting with parents. Once I realized the importance of affirmative consent in my teaching, things got a lot better.
Rick Gabrielly: I want to go back to the idea of the patients who give enthusiastic consent at the doctors office being happier people. This seems like a big insight to me. I wonder if people who give enthusiastic consent in financial situations are happier, or my saying yes to a co-worker makes me happier. Everything is inter-connected.
Kerry Alavisa: I have a 72 year old mother and that has made me think a lot about the consent with the doctors visits. And a lot of times, the lack of consent is from feeling like she doesn’t have a choice. It’s the same with the enthusiastic consent with kids. I’d love to explore this from the point of view of the family. For example, If I’m asking my son to grab me a glass of water. I’m 52 and come from the age when I think a son shouldn’t grumble when giving consent. But I forget that he has his own thing going on—and children have a right to say no. Also, a lot of men I know are afraid of their wife’s anger. Enthusiastic consent might change that dynamic.
Mark Sherman: I’m thinking about children and begrudging consent. As someone who spends an extraordinary amount of time trying to live my life well—I’m afraid that if I’m always being enthusiastic there could be a certain artificiality about it.
Jenny Hester: A lot of this conversation is reminding me of the importance of setting healthy boundaries. Also, about the people going to the doctors and having a happy positive mindset—someone who is very confident is very quick to say “yes” or “no” very quickly. There is a certain confidence in our ability to ask for and give consent.
Thaddeus Howze: In an ideal world, yes, everyone would give clear and enthusiastic consent in every interaction. But some cultures don’t respond well to the idea of enthusiastic consent. In Japan, for example, the person may want to do something but they don’t feel comfortable showing enthusiasm. Also, enthusiasm varies by age group.
Dixie Gillaspie: I’m reminded of a friend who is not enthusiastic about anything. But I do know when he feels coercion. And I think that is the opposite of enthusiastic consent—coerced consent.
Thaddeus Howze: In Korea, if a boss says, “do this thing” you might not want to but there is a part of the Korean culture that says “You will do it and you will do it enthusiastically.”
Kozo Hattori: I’ve been teaching my son the motto of Hawaii, which is “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina I ka Pono”. It translates as “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” And what it really means is “The life of the land—that is, that which sustains us—is perpetuated in doing what is right. That which sustains us is in doing what is right.” And that is “pono” – doing what is right. The opposite of pono is hewa—that is “doing what causes conflict”. And I have been asking my son if he can easily identify whether something is right or causing conflict, whether it is pono or hewa. And he always knows. He can always tell. When someone is not giving enthusiastic consent, we can feel it in our guy. “The life of the land—that what sustains us—is perpetuated by that which is pono. And you can feel in your gut what is right.”
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