In The Midst Of #MeToo, What Type Of Man Do You Want To Be?

Who decides what men are? Is it decided by decree? By popular vote? Or is it decided by you, individual men?

A little while back I was talking with a man I knew about consent. He was commenting on an article I had shared earlier that day on men who get women drunk in the hopes that it will increase their chances of getting laid. He sat in my living room and told me that he took issue with the essay’s insistence that this behavior was predatory or abusive. I was a little surprised at how I could know someone for multiple years, and they could claim to be longtime fans of my work, and they still could not get why this sort of very common behavior wasn’t okay. As a woman who had experienced this sort of pressure and manipulation multiple times, it was clear to me, from how it made me feel, that it wasn’t okay. I decided to ask him a few questions.

“Hey, so if you know a dude at work and you think it’s cool and you want to hang out but he doesn’t really want to — he wants to go home, but you just keep buying him beers so he’ll stay — would you say that he really wants to hang out with you?”

“No,” he admitted, “But — ”

“Okay, and so if you kept buying him beers, knowing full well that if you did not buy him beers he would leave because otherwise he wouldn’t want to hang out with you, and at the end of the night he felt sick and angry and liked you even less than when you first asked him to hang out but he wasn’t into it, would you then call your buddies and brag about the awesome hang-out time you just had?”

“No,” he said, no longer trying to interject.

“And if you thought that was the only way you could get people to hang out with you, to get them drunk so that they wouldn’t say ‘no’ as strongly as they would otherwise, would you feel good about yourself as a person? Would you consider yourself a friend?”

It was clear by the look on his face that no, he would not, so I concluded my questions with one more.

“So, if you wouldn’t dream of coercing a dude against his will to hang out with you and still call it a ‘fun hang-out session,’ why would you coerce a woman to sleep with you and still call it consensual sex? Why don’t women get the same basic respect in sexual intimacy that you afford your bros while watching the game? Is that the type of man you want to be?”

As I watch countless men (and sadly, quite a few women) jump to the defense of other men who have been outed for their coercive, demeaning, and abusive behavior towards women; as I watch them debate the fine points of whether or not a woman said no loud enough, whether her “I’m not comfortable” was strong enough, whether she was at fault for being mistreated by not yelling, or hitting, or running — I want to ask them all this question: Is this the type of man you want to be?

Because in this debate, in this long, harmful, regressive debate of how hard women should have to fight against a man who does not seek affirmative, enthusiastic consent in order to not be at fault for the ways in which men choose to ignore their bodily autonomy, men are showing me and women everywhere what type of men they want to be:

Men who do not care about what the women in their lives want.

Men who want the company of women but also do not care about whether or not those women enjoy their company.

Men who cajole, convince, guilt, and annoy women into having sex with them.

Men who believe that victory lies not in the enthusiastic consent of their sexual partners, but in the tired, resigned, and often scared surrender of unwilling partners.

Men who believe that the bodies and wills of women are to be conquered.

Men who are fine with women entering into dates with them knowing that the only way they are going to get out of having sex with them is if they fight against it with everything they have.

Men who think that spending an evening feeling sexually frustrated over being aroused by a woman while not being able to have sex is the worst possible outcome for a sexual encounter.

Men who would settle for a woman leaving a sexual encounter with them feeling violated, hurt, and betrayed, than have no sexual encounter with that woman at all.

You aren’t just defending an individual in these debates. And you are not defending men as a whole. You are defending this behavior. You are fighting for its continuation, and the continuation of the harm that it does to countless women. You are fighting for your right to be the next man who chooses to ignore multiple verbal and nonverbal signals from a woman saying that she does not want to have sex with you. You are fighting for your right to be the next man who calls a car for a crying woman who you’ve made to feel degraded and used. You are fighting for your right to be the next man that she’s talking about when she tells her friends about how traumatic her evening was.

That’s the man you are fighting to be. That’s the type of man you are fighting for your sons, your cousins, your friends, and your son-in-law to be.

Is this really what you want? Are you willing to own that? To openly say it and still have any self-respect?

I hear so often from men who are astounded that we would ask for so much. Affirmative consent?? We’ve gone too far! We’ve lost our grip! We aren’t dealing in reality!

But who decides what men are? Who decides how men should act? Is it decided by decree? By popular vote? Or is it decided by you, individual men?

You are fighting for your right to be the next man that she’s talking about when she tells her friends about how traumatic her evening was.

Right now, in the midst of this rising discussion around sexual abuse and assault, you — men — have the chance to look it all right in the face. You have the chance to look at the type of men you have been. You have the chance to look at how you’ve been treating women and how you define your relationships with them. You have the chance to re-evaluate what you deem “victory” or “defeat.” You have the chance to determine for yourselves what you consider to be a healthy and satisfying sexual or romantic encounter.

You have the chance right now, while it’s all being brought up, to decide that the way you’ve been is not the way you want to be. You have the chance to decide that you do not want the women in your life to fear you, to survive you, to endure you, to resent you. You have the chance to decide that you do not want to dominate, to conquer, to overcome, to defeat the women you claim to love and respect. And you have the chance to decide that you no longer want to associate, through your words and actions, with men who do want to continue to be this type of man.

You get to decide that now. You get to hear about the way in which women have been harmed by men and decide to be a better man. You get to defend that notion of a man. You get to debate for this change. You get to fervently argue that you will no longer accept this old, abusive notion of manhood. You get to choose a better path.

Or you can keep arguing to uphold the way things are.

But know that with whichever way you decide, you are telling us, and yourself, what type of man you want to be.

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