Over at Delaware Liberal a commenter, Mouse, asked a question:
“I’m a bit confused by the rules. I highly and fully respect women and have a young daughter. I would certainly never do anything inappropriate or anything I believed to be unwelcome toward a woman. If I approached a women I was attracted to, it would be tentatively and shyly. Given that, if I make a pass at a woman thinking she will be receptive and she is not, am I a sexual harasser or done something wrong?”
I’ve seen comments like the one above a thousand times. I’m not picking on the commenter, nor am I questioning his sincerity. Everybody got that? Good. Moving on. What I am going to do is break down his familiar comment and attempt to explain.
“I’m a bit confused by the rules.”
The “rules” are consistent across human behavior. The rules are exactly the same whether you are interacting with men or women. The rules become confusing when we place ourselves in the role of mind-reader instead of simply asking a question. Confusion can be cleared up, in most cases, by simply paying attention.
Consent is one of the first things we teach our children. Keep your hands to yourself is a biggie. We also teach them to read others facial expressions, body language and to listen to what their friends are saying. We say, “Sam, stop that. Alex doesn’t like it.” We then explain the behavior Alex was exhibiting (shrinking away, saying no, not laughing along, crying, etc.). We teach this. So why do these rules, that we all know, break down so spectacularly in male-female interaction? Let’s go back to the comment:
“I highly and fully respect women and have a young daughter. I would certainly never do anything inappropriate or anything I believed to be unwelcome toward a woman.”
I believe him. His intentions strike me as honest and sincere, but he doesn’t seem know (beyond extremes) what inappropriate/unwelcomed behavior consists of. He finds the rules confusing. He simply isn’t sure if his actions towards women are sexual harassment. Hopefully, this post will help him, and others, answer that question.
“If I approached a women I was attracted to, it would be tentatively and shyly. Given that, if I make a pass at a woman thinking she will be receptive and she is not, am I a sexual harasser or done something wrong?”
In every interaction context matters. When I read that last sentence, questions flooded my mind.
“If I make a pass at a women…” what women? A woman you are on a date with? A cashier checking out your groceries? A stranger in a bar? I’m going to assume it’s a woman he’s on a date with because everyone knows making passes at random women is wrong.
*This post would be easier to write if he asked about a specific incident with a specific women, and not just general “women”. Every women is different, one approach won’t work.
So he’s on a date with a women, which means he actually asked her out, or she asked him out. In the case of our commenter we’ll assume, she said yes to the date with him. Which tells me that both people are at least interested in seeing where this is going. Both are open to possibilities. (OMG! Yes, there are people who go on dates for nefarious reasons, but we are not discussing that!)
*Going out as friends can morph in to something more, but everything I’m about to write about “the date” can be applied to every situation.
*Also, I’m going to keep this post G-rated. I’m assuming his “make a pass” comment means going in for a kiss.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that both people on a date are thinking about the same exact things. Not kidding. Men and women are thinking: Am I enjoying myself? Do I like this person? Is there chemistry? Do I want to end the evening with plans to see them again, a kiss… more? Right? Both people are asking themselves these questions, and both are signaling, through a variety of ways, where they are heading and what they are thinking.
Let me point out that this is how we approach all potential relationships. If a man meets another man (at work, in his neighborhood, etc.), and they decide to go out for a beer, the same process takes place. Am I enjoying myself? Is there (non-sexual) chemistry? Do I want to hang out with them again? Where exactly is this heading… A good friendship? A friendly acquaintance? A “I never want to hang out with that jerk again?” Men maneuver these encounters all the time, and I’m left wondering why they don’t do the same with women?
Sometimes when I read comments like these it strikes me how men make themselves the subject while making women the objects. It’s like men are on a date and the women just sits there, expressionless and not interacting. (Btw, If that’s going on there is no consent, no goodnight kiss, and definitely no second date.) It’s like they have to guess, because who can figure out what she’s thinking.
They don’t have to guess. They just need to pay attention.
Back to the date. Are you guys laughing and enjoying each other? Is there light touching (a touch on the arm while emphasizing a point)? Are you leaning towards one another? Or… Are you not engaging with the other person? Checking your phone or watch? Giving monosyllable responses that kills conversation? Talking about how you have to get home because you have to get up early? Pulling your arm away from light touches? Rejection happens before we get to a goodnight kiss.
We maneuver through these signals every day. We know when people like us, and we know when they don’t. In fact, I’d say we’re really good at diagnosing this behavior in others. We quite often say things like, “It’s obvious he/she isn’t into her/him.” What are we seeing in that scenario that we miss in ourselves?
“Given that, if I make a pass at a woman thinking she will be receptive and she is not, am I a sexual harasser or done something wrong?”
Okay, let’s assume that the date was great and at the end of the evening she rejects his pass/good night kiss. If she says “No” or pulls away and he stops that’s not sexual harassment. Remember, we are discussing a date which both people agreed to. At some point during the date, both people are looking forward to or dreading the kiss goodnight.
In a perfect world, a person would say, “Thanks for the evening. We really aren’t compatible and I won’t be seeing you again, so… yeah, no goodnight kiss.” That rarely happens on either side. The problem arises because we assign men the role of determining whether or not a kiss will take place, at all. That’s not fair (Hello, toxic masculinity and the ridiculous pressure it puts on men and boys), but if you’ve been paying attention all evening you’ll pretty much know if the evening will end in a kiss. For instance, did you make plans to see each other again? If that was shot down my bet is a kiss is off the table. People who like one another want to see each other again. It really is that simple.
It’s also important to remember that many, many women have ended the night disappointed that a guy didn’t kiss her. All of this goes both ways. Altho, I wonder how often men worry about how his date felt about him not kissing her goodnight? And yes, if she’s disappointed the kiss didn’t happen, then she wasn’t paying attention during the date, either. My bet is that the signs were there.
The general difference is: Men who decide to end the evening without a goodnight kiss just walk away. Decision made. Women who decide against the goodnight kiss have to reject the man’s advances. Many times a woman will simply suffer through the kiss than create conflict. Safety is always a concern for women, and we’re never sure how rejecting a man will play out. Men should always consider this.
There are, however, two ways this situation turns into a win-win. 1) They have an awesome goodnight kiss they both wanted, or 2) There is no goodnight kiss and both are happy as a lark it didn’t happen.
Feelings get hurt when one person wanted a kiss and the other didn’t. The problem men have is that society pressures them to make the first move (altho, this is changing!). This benefits them if they’ve decided they don’t want the kiss. This puts them at a disadvantage (makes them vulnerable) if they do want the kiss. Women face a different dilemma. Society still, for the most part, dictates that they wait for the man to make the first move. This benefits them if they want the kiss – they get what they want without risking rejection. Their disadvantage… having to physically reject a kiss, create conflict or a confrontation, hurt a person’s feelings and embarrass them, and, here’s the biggie, risk their safety.
One last point, the person (man or woman) who wanted the goodnight kiss, but didn’t get one, asks the exact same questions. What did I miss? I thought we had a great date? I thought there was chemistry? I thought they liked me. See how that works? Same exact questions.
So, if at the end of a date you go in for a goodnight kiss, are told “no” (in words or by the person pulling away) and you respect that answer you have not sexually harassed/assaulted someone. Ignore those words/signs and keep insisting then you are guilty.
Women are just like men. If we agree to go out on a date with you, we think (like you) that there’s potential. If we like you, we want that goodnight kiss. If we don’t get that kiss, we feel rejected and humiliated – just like you.
The first step in all of this is to stop conflating ‘normal’ male-female relationships with sexual harassment and assault – it leans towards “be careful, guys, ’cause women lie about these things and will cry harassment/assault” which isn’t true. They aren’t remotely the same, and everybody knows it. The second step is… when in doubt, ask.