Since the publication of the sexual encounter between U.S. comedian Aziz Ansari, and a woman using the pseudonym “Grace,” on Babe.net about a month ago, a lot of opinion pieces have been penned.
All are well written and point out the glaring problems in the way sexual relationships unfold between men and women. They’re all problems that need to be solved.
But we’re missing a step.
Disgraced comedian and power masturbator Louis C.K. had a bit where he explains to the audience that the modern woman only has one natural predator: men.
Most of the opinion pieces worth reading in the wake of Grace’s story have been written by women. They describe things that happen to women. They explain why these things must stop. But they’re missing the root of the why. Not why they must end, that’s self-explanatory. Why are they still happening?
How this starts in men can be explained with the way they’re raised – trained in casual sexism from pop culture – but it doesn’t explain why it exists into adulthood.
Why aren’t men understanding what women seem to?
Why are otherwise woke-dudes like Ansari, having sexual encounters like the one Grace reported?
These men don’t realize they’re not woke because they’re also not entirely asleep at the wheel of social justice.
This drowsiness comes from understanding that according to feminism (and rational thought) women are equal and have agency, but not understanding that for most women, agreeing to a sexual encounter has the potential to be either great sex or literally fatal – and anything in between.
For men, the worst-case scenario is bad sex and probably an embarrassing story to tell our friends – eventually. Maybe a child that if we don’t stick around for, there’s no real, enforceable consequence.
Men don’t understand that just because equality is an ideal they believe in, doesn’t mean it exists in practice.
It’s entirely possible for a woman to be enthusiastically consenting, encounter something that turns her off or reminds her of a dangerous and terrifying experience, then be afraid to continue, and afraid to say no.
Her demeanour may change, it may not. Either way, without a clear and vocal no, it likely won’t matter to drowsy dude.
Weird for someone who claims to be woke to not care about that.
Drowsy dudes understand that No Means No: they’ll stop when they hear it. They understand that women – at least in theory – have agency. So it makes sense that if a woman – in theory – has agency, she can say no, and they can just keep going until a clear no is heard.
In a No Means No culture this is how consent works and is digested to the drowsy dude. They don’t understand that if they’re coming on strong, women may not feel comfortable saying no. Maybe a strong come on is an indication of potential violence. She may choose to endure if the only other option feels like violence.
So, it’s safer for women to endure; and enduring is misread as consent.
Even though drowsy dude believes that women have agency, he also probably believes that there’s some “equality gap” in sex. Meaning women are still gatekeepers for sex: if a man wants sex, he has to endure anything from romantic comedies to giving oral sex to get there.
If he has to endure – when her enthusiasm wanes, but she doesn’t say no, isn’t that basically the same thing as he did during that rom-com?
Not even close.
Understanding that a mismatch in communication exists is the starting line for trying to solve the problems around consent.
Bad sex versus sexual assault
Some men understand that it’s not even close. Some also understand that women may agree to things for fear of harm. But these maybe-woke men may not have the experience or trust in themselves to interpret the non-verbal cues other men ignore.
These maybe-woke men go hard into overcorrecting. They either won’t make any advances – because if you’re not in a situation with non-verbal cues it’s impossible to misread them – or they’ll get enthusiastic consent for some vanilla sexual activities without deviating from those.
Maybe-woke dudes don’t want to misread non-verbal cues, and they don’t want to ask for more in case that’s unduly threatening or coercive. This is all fine if vanilla is enough, but it’s also a recipe for bad sex for a lot of people.
Right now there’s no good way for men to learn how to have good sex. As it stands, most men learn proper sexual relations through a handful of healthy sexual relationships with a couple of sex-positive and confident women. That’s both a vanishingly small per cent of the population and a massively unfair burden to put on women.
Men are half of heterosexual encounters. Men are also far and away the majority of the problem in sexual encounters.
If we, as a society, want to fix this problem we need to force men to be part of the conversation. We need to bridge the gap between bad sex and sexual assault that’s been laid out in the in the weeks since Grace’s story has been published and dissected.
Right now, the men who need that education the most, the Matt Damon’s of the world, can’t enter the conversation in any meaningful way. If the conversation has moved to consent culture, women’s agency and the #metoo movement at large, we’ve left a lot of men behind. The men like Damon who don’t understand what an unwanted butt pat and rape at gunpoint have in common.
These men need a real answer to that without being shamed, dragged or clap-backed. These men need to be invited into the conversation. A too quick, too severe, shunning of someone for non-malicious ignorance means they won’t try anytime soon to re-join the conversations they need to be listening in on.
It’s also true that men need to learn to listen, learn that receiving criticism will be part of this conversation. We need to not always feel the need to defend ourselves when problematic behaviour is identified.
But without real answers to ignorant questions, men will simply stop asking them and remove themselves from the conversation.
They won’t learn better.
And how can we start to have better sex if the majority of the problem never learn what a butt pat and rape have in common? Give men a cup of the coffee, let them wake up.