More men need to talk about consent

By Alisina Saee-Nazari

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Editor’s Note: This article discusses the topic of sexual assault. The author received permission from “Debra” to share their experience.

It was like any other Friday night surrounded by my friends. We were drinking, playing games and enjoying each other’s company. One of my friends, “Debra”, was there, who uses they/them pronouns and identifies as a lesbian. We’ve gotten to know each other over the past year through mutual friend groups. We were flirting throughout the night, and once everyone left, we started to hook up. Things were going well, I thought, but we stopped. I then saw something was wrong, but never expected them to say, “Don’t ever take advantage of me again.”

I apologized and panicked because I didn’t know I took advantage of them. This had never happened to me before. I walked home feeling awful and overwhelmed by my thoughts. Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently? I didn’t know, and that was my problem. It showed me firsthand how rape culture (a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women) was firmly ingrained in my masculinity. In other words, the way that I and other men were taught to perform our sexuality was violent and normalized.

At first, I got defensive. “Physical consent was established,” I thought, but somewhere along the way consent was lost. I reached out to Debra a few days later to gain an understanding of how I hurt them. They said they first wanted to hook up, but didn’t after we started. Once our conversation ended, I wondered why they didn’t say “no” or “stop” or “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I found myself blaming them rather than holding myself responsible. And what if they tried, and I didn’t know? I was acting like the men “who are performing equality so strongly that they don’t practice justice; who expect you to speak up, but who never ask.”

Ashamed, I had a lot of trouble reaching out to my friends for support. I feared that they would either dismiss what I told them by calling Debra “crazy” or refusing to engage with me for being problematic. It was very clear to me how we, as men, fear being vulnerable and channel that fear to dehumanize people with labels like “crazy”, “irrational” or “bitch.” Eventually I opened up and to my surprise was met with a lot of understanding and empathy. It was liberating because it made me realize how little compassion I had for myself. I wasn’t judged for my actions, but my friends told me where I was wrong and what I could do to hold myself accountable.

I want to use my experience to inspire other men to communicate. Not only with our partners, but with ourselves and each other. It was my miscommunication that cost me a friendship, but once I shared with my friends what happened I learned what I could do better next time.

Men, consent should always be vocalized because physical cues are hard to interpret and even harder when you’re drunk. Communication isn’t clear if both parties are intoxicated, and a lack of no is not a yes. Check in with your partner as things are getting physical and open lines of communication, especially when alcohol is involved. Establishing this comfort allows your partner to feel safer speaking up and saying “no.”

When women are being attacked for rejecting men, it shouldn’t be surprising why this fear is valid. Sexuality can be fluid, but I made the mistake to assume that everything that was happening was okay or that my partner would speak up if I was out of line. Check in with someone if they’re questioning their sexuality. They may believe they want to hook up, but could feel differently once things get intimate.

Rape culture needs to be addressed within our communities, in our friend groups and with our fathers, especially when we have an accused rapist becoming the president of the United States. Especially when masculinity is toxic and fragile. Men should talk with one another when we’re confused, ashamed or scared. We are drowning in the false notions of what it means to be a man and I don’t want to drown anymore. We shouldn’t rely on the emotional labor of women or non-binary people to validate us, but rather be more sensitive with one another. We should learn together and work toward our liberation. We should help each other by engaging in more critical dialogues and leaning into this discomfort together.

Alisina Saee-Nazari is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]