How to speak up when you feel uncomfortable…
Last night I got a mass email that appalled me from a guy I know. He shot a mass email to 100+ women asking us to fill out a ‘ sex survey’. It was soon the heated topic of many women online and in text, all outraged. The email and survey left me with a knot in my stomach. It felt exploitative at worse and invasive at best.
I wondered if he understood the power of his words and the pain and discomfort they were causing. A girl friend of mine who also received the same email, was so repulsed by his third question about how she orgasms, that she directly wrote him stating this felt like sexual harrassment. Again we did not ask to be emailed, nor ever expressed interest in being part of a survey about the most private questions.
While my initial reaction was disgust, I realized this was an opportunity to create awareness so that this doesn’t happen again. Maya Angelou famously said, “ When you know better, you do better”. So I spent an hour writing him a step by step email, walking him through my thoughts. While I won’t share the whole email, here’s what helped me turn this anger/frustration into a productive conversation.
My hope in sharing the below ideas is to offer a framework for how we can productively speak up when we are made to feel uncomfortable.
- Open your first paragraph with acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation + your loving intent. “EX. Dear X, I hope you can hear this, you can understand that the below is sent wrapped in a lot of love for you as a human. The email you sent above has been the heated and painful topic of conversation amongst many women I know and women I don’t on social media and in texts. Instead of feeding the fire of frustration, I thought instead to write you and explain simply one response to your email, thought by thought.
- Begin with format — what was it in the approach that was off?“ EX. There’s a time and place for mass emails and a sex survey doesn’t feel right to be one of them […] so a solution is to either acknowledge it up front or not claim false personalization. “Hey this is random” — you wrote. Erroneous. You’ve been planning this idea to survey 100 women meticulously. So own it — your pulling wool over our eyes is insulting. Right off the bat, you create an inauthentic tone.”
- Identify what missed the mark ( ie. lack of intention, lack of safety, ect). “EX. The email is clear about your wants. The intention behind it is not. What are you using this incredibly private data for? Perhaps if you could have stated a direct way my inner most private thoughts would benefit humanity, I might consider. But based on this email, I not only feel unsafe sharing on a google doc, I also feel strange not knowing what this concretely will be used for. To help women? To help men? How? Whats your plan? Inviting us into an honest conversation there, would have greatly shifted the tone. Your note put me on the immediate defense and now its hard to see good intention.”
- Explore the power of language if something feels lost in translation. “ EX. I’m imagining there will will a lot of uncomfortable feelings around your sentiment here “ Zero worries at all if you don’t want to. I only want you to if it feels good to you.” Its gross to me. I may be the only woman, but I’m betting of the 100 + you sent this to, a fraction feel icky about that. Again, I’m trying my best to make this educational in the way of creating awareness around vernacular being received differently than how you may have meant it.”
- Cultivate empathy by walking them through the experience from your eyes. “ EX. I read your first question“ What are the 3 things a man can do to contribute to you reaching orgasm most?” At this point I’m gaping. I was expecting a survey about sex. Not performance. I was expecting a survey about how to move sex from a place of performance art to a place of true intimacy and meaning. Nope.” OR “ I’m still shaking my head at the options from the first question of what a man can do to contribute to reaching orgasm most. Who came up with these answers? Why are there answers at all? It seems against the point for you to ask of me my thoughts, and then have pre written answers from your brain, no? This question is flawed and the execution of it failed to get what you were looking for: answers.”
- Provide a totally different perspective + new way of seeing things. “ EX. The real answer, is that a man can just be. He doesn’t need to rummage the “ Top 10 Hacks to Make Her Orgasm” article, he just needs to listen […] and treat any woman as a human first, not an orgasm machine maker. So I can’t answer this question, because there’s no room for it. Its not as simple as tagging on ‘ other’ at the end of this list. Its a bigger conversation, I welcome in the future.
- Call out things that DO work and explain why. “ EX. The third question, I hope its not about skills or techniques or performance driven anything. You ask: “What is the one thing you wish all men knew?(can be sexual and/or not)”. This is better. Its on the right path. I wish this was the only question you asked. Because its the first time I feel I am being asked to lend my voice through my own words. I still don’t fully trust the mission or vision, because neither had been clearly articulated so I pass this question.”
- Close with compassion and offer solidarity in the learning process. “EX. I am trying to find compassion, and the most compassionate thing I could think of was awareness. I’m hoping some of this is resonating as I walk your through the thought one by one — is it helpful?I’m staying up late writing this because I want things to get better between the sexes. Just as you do.That starts here — in explaining why this didn’t land, and worse is making women uncomfortable. I trust thats not your mission. And I think there’s a better approach from you thats possible — a kinder, more true, more clear, more meaningful way to capture this data without wounding women in the process. I’m here to talk about this anytime and welcome your thoughts now that you’ve heard mine.”
He hasn’t responded yet, and that’s OK too. We can stand up for ourselves and not need to be liked for it. I wasn’t able to fall asleep without stopping the uncalled for email in its tracks. Its a hard email for anyone to receive, and thats exactly the moment true emotional empathy and growth can be birthed. What happens if we don’t write? Emails like that continue to create trauma. Thats unacceptable.
Uncomfortable, real, loving conversations about the injustices against us as individuals or a collective are the only true markings of humanity being pushed forward. The past 100 years have been full of them and the world has evolved as a result. This is part of that same process on a micro level.
Positive disruptive dialogue elevates us out of archaic patterns and toxic masculinity and into a space of harmony between the sexes. And now that I’ve spoken up, it doesn’t feel so scary. Change is already happening, just by raising a hand and taking a stand.
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