THE SUPPORT SPECTRUM


Talk about sex
Many of us grow up with unrealistic beliefs about sex: that we should instinctively know what to do; that we should be ready to achieve an erection instantly and maintain it for hours; and that it is unmasculine to have to talk about what gives us (or our partner) pleasure. These beliefs and others keep us from knowing our own sexuality and from enjoying our sexual relationships. Sex without discussion does not allow consent, or even minimal expectations, to be communicated. Without mutual agreement, sex becomes rape. Sex is healthy when it reflects the free and mutual sharing of one another. When we discuss what makes us comfortable and uncomfortable and try new ways to express ourselves, we also greatly reduce the risk of sexual assault.

Take "NO" for an answer
We have been taught that it is a routine part of seduction to ignore a womanís saying "no" and to assume she means "maybe" or even "yes." But without clearly established consent, what we call seduction is actually rape. Decisions and wishes about sexuality must be respected because they are critical to a personís identity. We must accept that women mean what they say, especially when it comes to their right to control their own bodies. No one has the right to deny another person the freedom to choose if, when, or with whom to be sexual. This freedom is a constant, regardless of previous sexual relations or marital status. Even after a person has given consent, he or she still has the right to change his or her mind. Unless we are willing to accept "no" from our partner, "yes" has no meaning.

Discuss your expectations
Expectations are hopes crystallized by silence. Acting on our expectations without sufficient information can cause serious misunderstandings and lead to rape. There is nothing wrong with feeling sexual desire, but all too often, we do not communicate our desires, find out our partnerís feelings, or establish consent. Instead, we project our interest in sex onto our partner: we assume she or he feels as we do, and we misinterpret any friendliness as invitations. Establishing consent for sexual (or physical) contact at one point does not reduce the need to re-establish consent later. A personís consent to come to your apartment, to kiss you, or to touch you is not the same as consent to other sexual acts. Neither do so-called nonverbal cues such as someoneís winking at you, drinking with you, or starting to undress you imply consent for sexual intercourse. Even if we think our partner is sending us "mixed messages," it is up to us to get clarification. Acting on our assumptions may seem more spontaneous but often leads us to be dishonest, manipulative, or to use physical force to get what we want.
Most of us have grown up with the bias that talking about sex is "just not done." But without communication, gender stereotypes are our only guide to behavior: men are encouraged to push for as much sex as possible. Women are forced to take all responsibility for deciding where to stop. This double standard is unfair and destructive to all of us. Discussing sexual expectations, especially in new relationships, is the best way of confirming mutual agreement, and the only way that we as men can take responsibility for the consequences of our sexual behavior. Share your hopes, feelings, fears, and fantasies with friends, dates, and lovers. Such sharing creates possibilities for freer, more honest, more mutually satisfying relationships.

Recognise and share your feelings
All men and women experience a wide range of feelings: pride and compassion, sensitivity and competitiveness, fear and acceptance, vulnerability and hate, just to name a few. These emotions are natural reactions to events in our lives. However, we have learned to divide our feelings into masculine and feminine, with very little overlap. The range of feelings acceptable to men is very narrow. We pretend that men can only be aggressive and strong, logical and unemotional. In fact, we are also at times confused, nurturing, intuitive, and sad. Our adherence to traditional gender roles distorts our sense of ourselves and prevents us from seeing others as they really are. Because we have learned that our own reactions are unacceptable, we deny having them. We project them onto women - and onto other men - to build ourselves up at their expense. We avoid making emotional contact with men and depend entirely on women for our emotional connections. Our discomfort with our own feelings makes it harder for us to be ourselves with others, and our intolerance makes it harder for others to feel comfortable with us. On the other hand, exploring how we feel helps us decide whether we are comfortable with our own behavior and with the behavior of others. Letting others know how we feel helps us understand and sort out conflicts when they do occur, instead of running from conflict and pretending that everything is "fine." If we are willing to risk changing the ways we relate to men and women, we can begin to develop trust in our ability to relate to people as people. As we learn to be aware of our feelings and to express them honestly, we develop more confidence in ourselves and find it easier to form and maintain deeper, more rewarding relationships.

Respect othersí feelings
Have you ever tried to express yourself to someone who refused to listen to you or said you had no right to feel the way you did? Frustration and hurt are understandable responses to such emotional abuse. Being discounted like this also makes it harder than it already is to share feelings. In the extreme, our disregard for othersí feelings is at the heart of rape. On the other hand, if we treat others the way we would like to be treated, they will be more likely to communicate with us honestly and directly. It is not necessary to agree with or even fully understand what someone says in order to respect their feelings as real and true.

Encourage womenís efforts to empower themselves
Men who have never experienced what it is like to be singled out as the victim of a crime based on their gender often have difficulty understanding womenís fear, and they may discount it as paranoia or man-hating. Supporting Chimera and other self-defense training for the women in your life - relatives, classmates, friends, and mates - is not promoting division between the sexes, but rather a more powerful, intimate relationship based on equality and mutual respect.

Ask women what makes them feel unsafe
Over 80% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Women have cause to fear not only the stranger in the bushes, but also their classmate, their co-worker, their friend, or a member of their family. What makes you feel unsafe may be very different from what frightens the women you know. Actions which seem harmless but may increase a womanís fear include standing too close or touching any part of her body without asking. Donít try to bully a woman into not trusting her own sense for when she is safe or in danger. There is no reason why a woman should know that you are "one of the good ones" without evidence. Find out how your behavior affects the women in your life. Once you know, it will be easier to act in ways that help them feel more secure and to avoid doing things that they find threatening.

Develop full relationships with both men and women
Many of us grow up learning that we are supposed to find one special person of the opposite sex who will fulfill all our physical and emotional needs. This sort of conditioning drastically limits our relationships with other men and women and puts unnecessary and dangerous pressure on us and our sexual partners to be each otherís "everything." In reality, there are many people with whom we can enjoy satisfying relationships when we are open to the ways in which we can share ourselves. Sexuality is only one possible aspect of such relationships. We can also share our hopes and fears, enjoy each otherís special qualities and unique perspectives, take time to play, and give each other support. The more emotional connections we develop with caring male and female friends, the less pressure will fall on our sexual partners as our only emotional and physical outlet.

Give women space
Sexual assault is an ever-present threat for women. On the street, in lines, in crowded situations, leave space between yourself and the women around you. Consider that many women arenít comfortable with a male stranger this near. If you are approaching a woman walking alone at night, try crossing to the other side of the street. The difference it makes in your life may only be a few seconds, but for her, it may be the difference between walking in comfort and walking in fear.

Confront women-hating attitudes in ourselves and others
Misogyny is the often disguised yet widespread fear or hatred of women, including the attributes in ourselves which are traditionally labelled feminine. Think of the power we give to the accusation "sissy" or "fag" when our fear of not fitting in drives us to act out the most extreme macho behaviors, including rape. We all have the potential to listen, accept, and nurture. Realize that developing emotional strengths and skills is something that all men need to do.

Recognise and interrupt sexual assault
Assault can occur anywhere: on the street, at a party, a football game, or the workplace - any time, day or night. It ranges from forced sexual intercourse to any unwanted touching, and also includes verbal abuse. Many actions learned as normal, such as a "friendly" pat on the behind, are in fact assaultive if they donít involve the consent of all parties. Be aware of women being assaulted physically or verbally. Notice what is happening and who is involved. Intervene with comments, questions, disruptive noises, or physically if necessary. Asking if a woman wants help is important. Responding to a call for help is essential. Getting involved makes the violence visible and may stop a rape. Acknowledging a responsibility to interrupt assaults does not imply that women need male protection. The belief that women need men as protectors from other men only reinforces the myth that women are powerless, and puts an unhealthy burden on men. Do not expect a woman you assist to trust you any more than her assailant.

Support anti-rape organizations
There are many people working against rape: Ada James Campus Womenís Center Speakers Bureau on Acquaintance Rape; Chimera, Inc. (womenís self-defense); Dane County Advocates for Battered Women; Dane County Commission on Sensitive Crimes; Men Stopping Rape; Oasis; Parental Stress Center; Protective Behaviors, Inc.; Rape Crisis Center, Inc.; Take Back the Night Coalition; Task Force on Prostitution and Pornography; Wisconsin Committee for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, Inc.; Womenís Transit Authority. These organizations deserve your support.

Text © 1988 Men Stopping Rape, Inc.


For more information, visit the official new Men Stopping Rape website or e-mail Men Stopping Rape.





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