A Dialogue on Feminism and Patriarchy between friends.
I had a male friend reach out to me privately to discuss feminism and patriarchy because as a father he wants to raise his boys to be the best possible human beings. I want to share our discussion publicly because I think there is a great amount of healing that can occur when we have these conversations open, honestly, and in a safe space. I encourage everyone to have these conversations amongst friends, their partners and children so that we can put a stop to toxic masculinity and rape culture once and for all.
His initial email:
I want to thank you for taking the time to discuss this with me. I feel like the dialogue around sex, sexual violence and rape has gotten really tough to understand lately. With the discussion around Nate Parker, Derrick Rose and all of the campus rape statistics that are so jarring I don’t know what to believe.
I came up with the idea of discussing it with you because we know each other well enough for me to not be judged or worse yet be called a misogynist (eye roll for this grossly overused term) if I push back against some of the current conventions about what is and what isn’t acceptable. I encourage you to forward our emails to anyone you feel like can add to the conversation. I’d love to get a running dialogue of a few smart people working to understand each other.
This stuff concerns me most of all because I’m raising two sons and my goal has always been to raise the best possible HUMANS that I can I’ve always felt like i owed that to society. I don’t want my sons to contribute to a culture that makes women feel harassed and unsafe or obviously to engage in sexually violent behavior with women they are intimate with. I also have a deep parental need to protect them and probably the thing that scares me the most are these cases of “gray area “ rape that have been cited in the media of late. Reading the comments of some feminists on the topic makes me afraid my boys could be behaving like young horny stupid boys and be labeled as rapists. Coming up i always knew that no meant no and if I’m being honest with myself I’ve coerced and “spit game” to sleep with women. I’ve never been aggressive or violent or intimidating but I’ve begged thrown around a few come-on why nots and definitely continued being physical with a woman who was resisting sex (kissing her, touching her… etc) until she finally relented and we had sex. I guess what I’m wondering is if in hindsight that stuff should feel wrong now cause it doesn’t. I’ve never had a woman cry or (to my knowledge ) feel assaulted or violated after a sexual experience with me but tbh I’d like to know how I can educate my boys so that they never find themselvees in a position where they have committed these acts of “gray area rape” or even worse be accused of it and feel like they’ve done nothing wrong (a different type of victimhood). I’m interested to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reaching out and your patience. What you’re doing is super important for everyone to heal and move forward as a community.
First off I would like to start with the fact that patriarchy and toxic masculinity is harmful to everyone. Men are raised to believe that they have to be a certain way because they are a straight male. They’re losing out on a lot of intimacy, love and positive experiences because of this. Toxic masculinity is engrained in our culture.
Somewhere along the way you were taught that a girl needs some coaxing and that she’s playing hard to get. That this is a game the sexes play. This is not ok and harmful to both parties. You called it gray area — I think it’s a behavior that someone taught you to believe is okay. Maybe it was your boys or your cool uncle — but my point is it’s a common belief among men that women need to be coerced into sex.
On the reverse side of things as a girl you begin to think that this is normal and that you don’t have control over your body — especially if this is your man and he’s gotten it before. You have to give it up even when you don’t want to. It is very scary and uncomfortable to be in that situation of coercion. As a woman you end up giving in for fear of the situation becoming forceful. Because you’ve been forced in the past and/or you have been taught men will just take what they want. But you don’t actually want to do it. So you feel empty, used, and devalued. You start to change your behavior — “Well I can’t hang out with a male friend alone after a certain time because he might press me to have sex. And I don’t want to deal with that awkwardness or HAVE to consent sex just to avoid being raped.” These are real things women have to think about every time we are alone with men. It is why I don’t often put myself in situations where I’m alone with male friends by myself in their space or my space. Coercion. I encourage you to ask several of your female friends about this and gauge their responses.
I had a situation recently where I was hanging out with a guy and we were having a good time out talking at a bar. We’d hung out in a group before this and we were just getting to know each other one on one. I liked him but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be physical with him yet. I invited him to my place because I wanted to show him some of my records and I wanted to continue our convo in a quiet place. We were hanging out and talking and out of nowhere he grabs me and kisses me. I immediately freaked out “omg I shouldn’t have invited him up. This could get scary. I don’t know him etc.” But because he was a perceptive & respectful dude he saw me get uncomfortable and apologized and told me how he felt about me. I told him I like him but I wasn’t sure about being physical yet. I was going thru some healing post breakup and I just wanted positive male interaction. It was a super healthy exchange. THIS IS A RARITY. Usually this situation ends up with me fighting off advances and trying to get him to leave. I’m glad this dude was respectful. The night could’ve taken a different turn completely.
I think a lot of this can be alleviated by direct communication and no assumptions. Teaching men to ask women how they are feeling and if they’re comfortable. If they’re even feeling them to begin with! Because if it’s unclear you need to ask! Teaching them to not only think about their needs but the woman they’re with as well. A lot of times women want to be imitate in non sexual ways to get closer to men (more on that in a min). Laying feelings and attraction out on the table and asking a woman how she really feels about them. Being okay with rejection and being vulnerable. Instead of just thinking about how bad they wanna fuck and how to get it. This is how horny boys get in trouble. Teaching them about self control and mutual respect. Teaching them about coercion (sexual assault happens to men too) and that if they don’t want to fuck it doesn’t make them less of a man (again toxic masculinity).
Here’s an article about coercion — some of the examples are extreme but it also happens in subtle ways like I mentioned above:
Also we need to teach our boys that platonic touch is okay. Non sexual touch is okay with women. Sometimes I think men don’t get enough nurturing and sex is the only way they can experience intimacy with others. Cuddling is ok. Holding hands is ok etc. This is why our definition of masculinity needs to be dismantled. It’s not weak if you don’t want to have sex and just chill with your partner / friend and cuddle.
And just teach your boys that women don’t need to be coerced. If we want to do it with you we will — when we are ready. If we don’t — don’t try to convince us or guilt us into it. The decision to have sex should be mutual and the energy exchange should flow freely between both parties. That’s what makes sex great. And your boys should be having great fulfilling sex with their partners and experience non sexual touch as a way of further bonding. Not mediocre guilt sex.