Feminism is not here to make you feel guilty for being a man. And radical consent – the idea that one should get affirmative and enthusiastic consent from their lovers – is a critical step toward ending sexual violence.
So men, listen up: you need to care about radical consent. It boils down to mutual respect for everyone’s autonomy and how to interact with other peoples’ bodies.
Feminism addresses the reality that women are systematically treated worse than men. That doesn’t mean the lives of men are perfect; we have financial struggles and health issues, and we also survive violence and other challenges. Part of respecting women, however, is acknowledging and supporting them in the misogyny they face, not turning it into a competition of incomparable problems.
One of the greatest misconceptions spread by anti-feminists is that feminism is about women versus men. Recognizing that I have male privilege isn’t an attack on my character, it’s just a sociological fact. If you’re reading this article right now, you have the privilege of having access to the internet. It’s not as pervasive or powerful as being a man in a sexist world, but it’s just as true.
So why radical consent? Consent is mostly thought about in terms of sex. While it is important for all people to have true consent (which includes honesty and communication) as the primary function of our sexual relationships, consent alone does not address the cultural factors leading to the epidemic of abuse, violence, and harassment towards women from men.
Radical consent is the idea that everyone should have total control over our own bodies in all our relationships: personally, socially, sexually, medically, mentally, politically, and more. As a man, and even more so as a cisgender, white, heterosexual man, I have been taught more than most people that I am entitled to things. This entitlement is inherently undemocratic, bigoted, and unboundaried.
The equation is simple. Consent:sexual violence :: radical consent:rape culture. Radical consent addresses the larger culture that allows, encourages, and rewards the subjugation of women.
For my entire life, on a daily basis, I have unwillingly absorbed messages that women are property, that I’m entitled to their bodies, minds, and lives. Conscientious people believe in respect and autonomy, even if we’ve received messages since birth that are at direct odds with this belief. This is why I must be active in my battle against the ingrained misogyny in my mind.
Oppressive structures breed passivity and hierarchy. If we are active in our defiance, we can use radical consent as a weapon against rape culture, a tool to dismantle our own negative socialization and the patriarchy around us.
So how can I go beyond just basic consent? What actions can I take, personally, to improve myself as a person and as a feminist who is a man? How do I enact radical consent by recognizing and supporting the liberty of all women with respect to their bodies, their minds, and their communities?
Here are just a few ways to improve yourself as a male feminist and as a person practicing radical consent:
- Communicate and discuss all developments in romantic relationships, not just sex. Never assume anything. Expect the same in return.
- Call out sexist language and jokes when they are heard.
- If a woman is being harassed, attempt to refocus the harasser away from her, not via escalation, which only serves anger, but by distraction and redirection, such as asking the person the time or for directions.
- Listen to women if you have offended them and be self-critical and thoughtful.
- Support political policies that recognize women’s autonomy such as reproductive freedom, health care, affordable housing, welfare, quality sex education, etc.
- Do not discuss, stare at, joke about, or in any way mock or critique women’s bodies.
- Respect personal boundaries always.
Many men see lists, like the one above, as limiting our independence, but this is a perversion of the true meaning of freedom. Women consistently face personal invasions they do not consent to: street harassment, inappropriate humor, abuse from loved ones, employment discrimination, and a thousand more examples. Our culture violates the freedom of women on a fundamental, omnipresent level.
True freedom is being the person you want to be without fear of violence. It is being supported and loved by yourself and those around you. It is not the freedom to insult, degrade, and abuse others. Treating others well makes me love and respect myself.
Women have borne the brunt of violence and subjugation for far too long. One of our greatest freedoms as men is to change and move past the misogynistic identity the patriarchy demands we adopt. Radical consent is a guide from feminism that I’m grateful for; it will lead us to more healthy, loving, supportive and respectful relationships with women.
About the author: Jesse Lehrer was born and raised in New York City and works as a social worker with LGBTQ young adults. He is always up for serious political discussions, board games, and being ridiculous.