By Dawn Washington
In catching up with an old friend from college who had just started a new job as a clinic director, I asked him what he would do if he was attracted to one of his employees. His response was, “Nothing, because of the MeToo movement.” And as I took a moment to celebrate internally and hum that negro spiritual, “Look How Far We Done Come,” he went on. “Men are afraid to approach women now.” And he said it with an entitled disdain. I’ll admit that I felt my eyes narrow and my lip tighten up because I know this dude wasn’t sitting before me over our Cuban-style chicken and yuca complaining about the monumental shift that is happening for women. I just knew he wasn’t tripping. After all, he is raising two girls of his own and equally important, 3 boys. If anyone needed to be woke on this matter, it was him.
A cultural norm of sexual harassment and violence that has lasted for centuries, 3 waves of feminism in this nation, and we are just at the point where collectively men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill are giving second thought to their sexual behavior towards women. Needless to say, what is happening in this country is epic and historic. Some would even say that we are in the midst of a 4th wave of feminism. But none of this seemed as important as my friend’s precious privilege to holla when and how he wanted.
His scoffing, as tasteless as it was, gave me reason to take a step back, take a breath, and ask myself, how have I contributed to his mindset? And now that men are seriously considering their privilege and abuses of those privileges, what will this mean for the dating scene?
Hegemony is a cultural theory that explains why many of our social ills stay around longer than we want. The theory says that a group of people in power can introduce oppressive ideologies (like racism and sexism) but it takes all of us, both those in power and the oppressed to maintain these systems. For example, with racism, the longer Southern Blacks paid full fare to ride buses that treated them like second class citizens, the longer that racist practice was sustained. It wasn’t until they refused to ride the buses that the oppressive system began to fall apart. A more recent example is mass incarceration, which was bankrolled by not just white people but everyone who had investments in the stock market, including Blacks. So, while men may have constructed and perpetuated sexist systems, it has been both men and women who have sustained a culture of sexism, otherwise, it would cease to exist.
It has been argued that everyone from groupies, to female porn stars, to complicit female administrators, who turn blind eyes to abuses against other women, play a role in sustaining violence against women. But complicity manifests itself in less direct ways. Last I checked, R. Kelly and Chris Brown are not hurting for women or patronizers of their music (although I hear another negro spiritual rising up in me soon with them). There are artists, genres of music, art, television shows, films, and videos whose entire business model is based upon rape culture and misogyny. And we are fans and supporters. The fact is that we buy into rape culture and sexism more times than we are aware.
I too have played my part in sustaining this culture. There is a population of women, myself included, who have come to associate some types of male aggression or initiative with masculinity. So that if a man does not make the first move, he is not worth our time. Or if he is not sexually experienced in a particular way, his value as a man is called into question. The same way that racism can cultivate self-hate in Black people, sexism can generate the same in women, which means that I must stay woke and self-critical.
In my own life, I’ve allowed men to say inappropriate things to me. I’ve lost interest in men who are “too nice.” I’ve also been among a group of men and either participated in or stayed silent as they pick apart another woman’s body. And these all play a role into how men and women define what it means to be masculine.
But now that we are at the point where our voices are finally being heard when men take their power and privileges over the edge, how will this change how we understand masculinity? Will the man who doesn’t approach, but wait for a woman to approach him garner the same interest? Will the new ways men employ to gain a woman’s attention be acceptable? If men decide to be more tentative in their dating rituals, how will we respond? How will this change how and when we give permission and how will conversations between men and women change? All questions with answers that remain to be seen. But one thing is for sure, men won’t be the only gender who will have to adjust to the new era of equality in sexual politics.
Dawn has a Master of Arts in Media and Cinema Studies and holds down a day job in academia. She is a freelance writer from Chicago who has written for The Chicago Defender, NBC5 Chicago, and Caramel Lattes and Stilettos. Read more of her works here.