What Lies Below Men’s Privilege? Fear & Desire
Since The New York Times and New Yorker outed Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long history of sexual misconduct last month, women have been speaking out in droves via the #MeToo hashtag. I think women calling out harassment, assault, rape, and rape culture is an amazing thing, a step forward for all of us.
And, as someone who has coached thousands of men over the past 18 years around relationships, sexuality, and communication, I’m interested in looking below the surface of men’s behavior a little more closely. The sheer range of men who have been accused — not just actors and directors but former conservative presidents, liberal journalists, celebrity chefs, and more — speaks to how widespread this kind of behavior is. A simple look at the power dynamics between these men and their often younger, professionally subordinate victims tells us that privilege and entitlement play huge roles here.
But that’s not all I see. I also see a problem with how men handle their desire.
A few weeks ago I wrote a Facebook post to this effect:
Men: Your desire is right. Your hunger is right. However, we have not been taught to communicate well with a woman. The issue is that we live in a society that shames us (men) for having desire, so we tend to store it up in a secret compartment inside of us until it explodes. Sometimes through violence. Society has created this problem. It is the persecution of our desires that have led us to this point. It’s time to make a change.
My intention was two-fold. First, I wanted men to know that all of their desires — the socially acceptable and the not-so-popular — were 100 perfect . (As are women’s desires. And it goes without saying that desire and action are two different things, but bear with me for a moment.)
The desires we’re ashamed of, the ones our parents and pastors and teachers cautioned against, the fetishes, the vanilla ones, the ones that include special toys from special websites. In my world, all of our desires are absolutely right.
But more importantly, in almost two decades of coaching more than 10,000 people, I’ve seen that men’s methods for expressing their desires tend to be mediocre at best, and horrific at worst.
One perceptive woman responded:
Desire becomes expectations, unmet expectations turn to resentment, resentment builds, then explodes. So perhaps it’s not desire that explodes, but an inability to work with and channel desire responsibly and effectively. Am I close? If so, that’s the material that seems worthy of digging into, as male entitlement is an enormous source of lack of safety for the feminine.
Reading hundreds of #MeToo posts these last weeks has only reinforced my theory that men don’t fully comprehend the impact they have on women. They think, “Boys will be boys,” “I’m just fooling around,” “Can’t you take a joke?” and the most insidious stance: “I know what women want more than they do.”
No, you don’t. You know what you want. But you have a really hard time communicating it.
It’s time for men to accept the fact that they are not communicating with women in appropriate ways, and it’s causing harm. To illustrate, let’s step back from actual crimes such as assault and rape and start with baby steps, on the least scary example: the communication technique commonly known as the catcall.
Recently, a woman friend told me about her latest catcall. She was parting from her friend near a Stop sign, and gave her a quick, friendly, goodbye peck on the lips. Witnessing this, a man in a passing car rolled down his window and yelled, “Hey, where’s mine?”
Both women rolled their eyes and quickly walked away. His catcall made my friend fume on the inside. She felt violated, and also angry at herself for not responding to the man in the moment. She had thought of several comebacks, but didn’t think it would have done any good, and was frankly a little scared to confront him. So she simply stormed away.
I’ve heard this kind of story from women many times.
Surprisingly, she also revealed that if the man had said something like, “Wow, that was so beautiful,” it would have affected her quite differently. She might have even smiled at the comment.
I’ve spoken in depth with a lot of men about women, sex, and desire, and I believe that in general, they truly don’t know how detrimental a catcall feels to a woman. In this instance, I respect the driver’s desire for interaction. At a very basic (and clumsy) level, he was trying to connect.
Let that land for a moment. Beneath the sexism, privilege, and power, let yourself see for just one moment how this catcaller at the wheel of his car was perhaps simply trying to connect to the feminine.
But his aggressive approach, without any concern for how it lands, is what angers women. And his total lack of awareness around safety is what frightens and traumatizes them.
Safety is paramount to a woman. In order for her receive a communication, she must feel a level of connection and security with the communicator. In general, without safety, a woman will not be able to receive your desire.
That’s why catcalling is such a bad strategy for connection. And of course, the even more aggressive behaviors that go up the chain from there, attempting to force a woman into connection, are exponentially worse.
Men’s desire to connect with the feminine is understandable. On a primal, archetypal level, the feminine is life and beauty. The feminine is warmth and energy and ferocious strength. Literally none of us can live without it. But you cannot force the connection, on a seemingly “trivial” verbal level or on a more serious physical one. The sooner you learn that, the better.
I recently did a podcast in which five women and one man expressed their viewpoints on #MeToo. One woman said she believed it’s a man’s right to catcall since the First Amendment gives him freedom of speech. That may be true, but just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s wise, appropriate, or efficient.
Catcalling is a lazy, semi-conscious method to express a man’s desire. And I think it’s men’s fear and shame that leads to this cowardly “drive-by” expression of lust. It’s a way to express desire without risking what a man fears most — rejection. Same with groping a woman’s body in a crowded club or on the street or subway: You want something from her, but you don’t want to take the risk of establishing rapport or asking consent. Lazy. And here’s the rub: Catcalls and gropes are like meals with no nutrients. These drive-by measures don’t just violate and offend women, they actually leave men feeling ungratified as well.
In short, they don’t work for anyone.
So, what are men to do with this huge need we have for the feminine? We are tinderboxes of desire. We’re desperate for feminine affection and fear that we won’t be received, that women won’t let us in.
In my world, the responsibility of the communication lies with the communicator. Take responsibility. Here are some rules I recommend for any man who wants to effectively express his desire:
1. Build rapport. Some examples:
“Hello, my name is….”
“I noticed you sitting over here and I was wondering if you’d like to talk for a moment.”
“Hi, may I sit with you for a moment?”
Within later, longer interactions: “May I ask you a personal question?”
“This conversation is stimulating. May we take it up a notch?”
“Thanks for letting me know your feelings on the subject.”
“I totally get why you’d feel that way,” or, “I didn’t totally get that, can you explain again?”
2. Receive overt consent. When you ask a direct question, yes means yes, no means no, and maybe means maybe. If you get a maybe, ask a clarifying question until you get a clear yes or no. And, most importantly, previous yesses don’t indicate future yesses! A yes to asking to sit down does not mean a yes to physical touch. Ask a second question. Ask a third question. Consent is sexy.
3. Express your desire vulnerably. As time goes on, rapport is built, and you feel a desire to draw nearer to a woman, you might say: “I’ve enjoyed our conversation and want to let you know that my initial attraction to you has only increased. Would you be open to having dinner next week?”
4. Pay attention to how your communication lands. If you’re not sure, ask. If it misses the mark, apologize and ask permission to try again. If does land, be quiet and wait for a response. For instance:
You: “My place is much quieter than this.”
Her: No reply.
You: Just listen and sit in the uncomfortable silence.
Her: “I’m not quite sure what you’re asking.”
You: “I get that. Sorry, may I rephrase?” (Wait for a yes). “Would you be open to coming to my place for a drink?”
Her: “No, I’m not comfortable doing that yet.”
You: “Thank you.”
If what I’ve described above looks overly detailed and too vulnerable — great! That means you’re getting it. No one has taught us men how to communicate effectively and gain appropriate consent from women, so we wing it (we even call our pals wingmen). At first glance, it might seem that if you communicated in this way, you’d never get a date, a hookup, a girlfriend, a wife, or whatever level of feminine attention you’re seeking. Let me reassure you, the opposite is true. Take the time to learn the practice of connective communication, and your chances of having your desires fulfilled will increase exponentially.
At the end of my Facebook post from a few weeks back, I wrote:
Men need education on how to communicate. The best educators are women. Without a woman educating a man, he remains uninformed. Without this step, the cycle repeats.
One woman responded, “I would like to place the responsibility for communication education back on men. I am personally tired and don’t have the energy or desire to educate any more men about communication skills in my lifetime.”
Another wrote, “I know many male communicators who have taught me about communication and presence, so I don’t buy this reverse-hook thing that, ‘Without a woman educating a man, they remain uninformed.’ That feels like a cop-out … a side-step to accountability.”
Those are great points, which caused me to think through my own stance a bit further:
1. I don’t hold any woman specifically responsible for educating a man on how to communicate. If she is tired and doesn’t want to educate, I’m in full support of that.
2. While men can be incredible teachers to other men (as I aspire to be), the refinement and nuances of communicating with women must ultimately come from the source — a woman. While I can offer tips and techniques, it is within the minute-by-minute practice of relating that a woman can best educate a man. She’s in her body, she knows how it feels, and she is the “expert” who can best describe this in its rawest form.
3. A grateful, humble man who requests education and rewards his woman for her truth will go the furthest. My brothers , don’t be shy about asking the women in your life for feedback. More importantly, don’t shoot the messenger when that feedback includes lessons for you. Be grateful and ask for more.
It is thrilling that we are in a significant shift around men’s inappropriate relating to women. It’s been going on since the dawn of time and is endemic. Where there are power structures, there is misuse of power. I’m not denying the unfair power structures that exist. I’m saying I see men’s buried desires as lying even deeper than those structures — and I see how men use their power in lazy, inappropriate, and sometimes downright immoral ways as a shortcut to fulfilling them.
Let’s learn from these events and use them to impact the world so that men can adopt a healthy way to communicate their innermost desire for the feminine, and women can feel safe to walk down the street.