“The Dirty Word” reveals what we get wrong about consent language
Consent can be a heavy topic — but clarity about what consent is and how it is given is vitally important. With all the conversation surrounding #MeToo, and all the men being exposed for sexual assault and harassment, women are reminded of the way we’re treated every day. We’re the ones pressured to say no, to educate men, and to recognize our place in giving consent. But as Amanda Montell explains in the latest episode of “The Dirty Word,” it’s not just about saying no. It’s about toxic masculinity and the way we teach men to be men.
The “sexual trespassing” women face is made up of little things we deal with all the time.
When men talk down to us, when they touch our waists or backs while they’re moving past us, when they do something else inappropriate at the office. These issues all stem from a larger one: that men work under the assumption that a man has the right to a woman’s body, and that she’s a guest in his world.
As Amanda says, “The reason why even something like a dude calling a female colleague ‘sweetheart’ is offensive is because it demonstrates the idea that a dude has an inherent access to a woman’s sexuality, and that reduces her to an object, drawing the focus away from any of her other more relevant or apparent identities.”
Amanda then goes on to explain that marginalized people, like people of color or those in a lower socio-economic class, also have to deal with this overfamiliarity. And the thing is that it’s not something that’s flattering — it’s a power move. It’s a signal that the dominant figure has a right to treat people this way because they’re above them.
"It's not as if men don't get it," Amanda says. "It's simply that they're not motivated to care, and that fundamentally has to do with how our culture teaches men to be men. See our standards of masculinity, in Western culture, generally speaking, require that a dude be powerful and almost exhaustingly heterosexual. And unlike femininity at all costs."
This goes along with the idea that even our idea of “yes means yes, and no means no” is putting men in the position of power.
Women, in this situation, as Amanda points out, are only here to answer the questions. And even if we are saying no to something, the thing is that, in the English language, we very rarely say “no” to mean no. Amanda points out that we even have a formula for how we refuse things when we speak: hesitate, hedge, express regret, and then give some sort of culturally appropriate excuse as to why we don’t want to do something.
When we teach men to listen for “no,” we’re letting them off the hook, and taking away their duty to use common sense. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need this sort of “yes and no” because we’d teach men that women’s bodies don’t belong to them.
It’s up to us to dismantle the way we teach men to be “men.” It’s up to us to teach men that it’s okay to empathize with women, that it’s okay to display their emotions, and that it’s okay to not be the most heterosexual man on the planet. It’s up to men to learn that women aren’t intruders in their world. And most of all, it’s up to men to confront their friends and coworkers who display misogynistic behavior and tell them that it’s not okay.
To all the ladies out there: Please remember, this responsibility doesn’t have to weigh so heavily on our shoulders. “This is a problem with masculinity, not with women. And the sooner we can all realize that, the sooner it can get better,” Amanda sums up. Here’s to using conversation to change culture, and to make the world a better place for all the ladies in it.