We need to talk about the social norms that fuel sexual assault


The recent wave of sexual harassment accusations against prominent men in Westminster comes as no surprise to many of us. We expect them to know better – to have been better people – but we’ve also seen this kind of behavior before… time and time again. They are not only powerful men, but almost always men.

It’s time to start looking at the root causes of harassment. We must try to understand why sexual harassment is much more practiced by men against women than the other way around. And that’s going to involve an assessment of our sexual norms. Once we’ve done that, we can strike up a conversation about what kind of sex we want – and how to create a culture where it’s more likely to happen.

Consider three gender-specific social norms that might play a role in why men sexually harass women.

1) men have the right to sex

The view that men constantly think about sex, and somehow feel entitled to it because of their superior status to women, is familiar to us: from sexist chants in universities, to amateur performers, to lyrics that eroticize sexual coercion. (like Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines) and films that revolve around the “conquest” of a selfless woman. We also take it for granted that there is a large sex industry, which caters – for the most part – to the sexual desires of men.

2) It’s the men who decide

It’s still common for men to invite women out on a date, decide where to go, and pay for them. Women, on the other hand, would have to play hard to be attracted and to be submissive. Consider the famous dating book “Rules”, which has tips for women such as “don’t tell him what to do” and “let him take the lead.”

Power imbalance.
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Men are also meant to be sexually dominant – and this is implicit in the way we talk about sex: men fuck / screw / bone women. The norm of male dominance continues into marriage. It is still customary for the woman to wait for the man to ask her to marry her and take her name at their wedding, for example.

3) Women should be sexually pure

Women’s sexuality is controlled by slut shaming. Many men would still be uncomfortable being around a woman who has slept with a lot more people than him – and many men still feel comfortable calling women “slag” or “dross”. “Bitches” for engaging in behavior that would make a man a “stallion”. Or a “boy”.

It is implicitly believed that women should help men control their sexual desire and aggressiveness. They can do this by dressing modestly and not flirting with men too much. Peter Hitchens recently suggested in the Daily Mail that the niqab is what women will get from all this “shouting about sexual parasites” because, as he put it: “No minister would put his hand on the knee of someone dressed like that, because it would be hard for him to find his knee, or anything else ”.

So let’s talk about it

These standards are obviously extreme, and are not held by everyone. They are also, I hope, slowly eroding. But they do exist – and it is no exaggeration to say that they have a role to play in creating a culture in which men, far more than women, feel they want and are able to. engaging in sexual harassment. After all, if there is an implicit assumption that you have a right to have sex (and this view might be especially supported by men who believe they have a right to it in all aspects of life? ) it is you who decides in the sex arena, and if a woman is dressed “provocatively” or acts “flirtatiously” you just can’t help yourself, then you might have the feel like you’re doing nothing wrong by harassing her.

The Westminster revelations have opened up a debate about the actions of men within this little bubble, a debate that needs to take place. But we should also take this opportunity to talk about gender-related sexual norms, because sex is part of sexual harassment.

We need to do more than just train men in sexual consent. Consent, after all, is a minimum requirement for good sex. What we need is a conversation about what makes good sex – and what kind of gender norms would improve gender relations more broadly. And I think they could end up being very different from the standards that we have now.

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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