Saturday, 3 February 2018

Rage against the Patriarchy

Preface: this posts describes a trend that you should be aware of, and does not say that all women are victims and all men are perpetrators, because the issue is more subtle than that. It includes discussions of consent and expectations in relationships.

I knew anecdotally that I could see a strange pattern in the world around me: I knew a lot of girls who said they often felt pressured or uncomfortable around guys, and a lot of guys who claimed to not be “that kind of guy”. You might already have switched off, thinking that I'm going to go on a man-hating rant, or that this post doesn't apply to you. It does. Whatever your gender, and yes, this does apply to #notallmen.

I had read a bunch of studies that showed the same pattern: women report experiencing heterosexual encounters in a different way to their male counterparts, and have different ideas of how much consent is “necessary” for them. But it was very tempting to think that these were just studies taken throughout American colleges, where respect for women is supposedly notably low.

So I decided: I'm going to see what's going on, not in a context I can't relate to, but exactly the context I can relate to: my own friends. Not to decry anyone, but to make it so that both sides can work towards a set of expectations and behaviours that work for everyone.

I created a survey that asked women and men with experience of heterosexual encounters about the pressure they felt and that they perceived that their partner felt, and how they went about negotiating consent. Results were anonymous, and overall I had 68 responses from people I had contacted via my Facebook page. I had expected the pattern to be somewhat dampened, as people are not keen to self-incriminate by admitting to the “wrong” behaviour, especially since the right of women to give and retract consent has been so present in the media as of late.

I will now compare the results by gender. I gave the option of Female, Male, Non-Binary and Other. The latter two categories had too few responses to be able to draw conclusions, so I will be considering the differing responses of Females and Males, of which there were 51 and 10 respectively. Language was kept simple and the survey kept as short as possible to make it manageable for the respondents. The full results are available here.

This was the scale used for questions regarding frequency of pressure within relationships or encounters. The colours and order remain constant throughout the following diagrams.

Q1. Gender:
51 female, 10 male

Q2. In general, how common do you consider it to be in hetero relationships or encounters, that there is pressure to do what the other wants (pressured unintentionally or otherwise)?

Man feels pressured: both genders similarly estimated pressure on males generally, with males being slightly more likely to describe pressure on males generally as “very common”
Woman feels pressured: both genders largely estimate the pressure to be “somewhat” or “very common”, though females were more likely to describe this as “very common”.
This suggests that, while both genders estimate pressure on males similarly, females estimate that generally there is more pressure on women than males do.

Q3. In your experience of your own relationships, how common is this pressure?

Man feels pressured: both genders similarly estimated pressure on males in their own relationships, with males being slightly more likely to describe pressure on males as “somewhat common” and less as happening “never” in their experience.
Woman feels pressured: females estimated “never” at a rate of 2%, and “very common” at a rate of 47%. Males estimated “never” at a rate of 25%, and “very common” at 0%.
This suggests that there is a fundamental differences in the way men and women view the same relationships in terms of pressure on women, since half of women describe experiencing pressure in their own relationships “very commonly”, whereas men described their partner(s) feeling pressured “never” or “not very commonly” at a rate of 62.5%.

Q4. How common would this pressure be in an ideal situation? Bear in mind the impact of any problems in communication that you consider unavoidable.

Man feels pressured: both genders overwhelmingly chose “never” or “not very commonly” as being the desired outcome in a best case scenario (94% for females and 90% for males)
Woman feels pressured: 89% of males considered pressure on the woman to ideally happen “never” or “not very commonly”. Similarly, 88% of women considered “never” or “not very common” to be the optimal outcome, though men were more optimistic about this “never” happening.
This suggests that both genders feel broadly similar about whether either gender should feel pressured, with a slight suggestion that men are more optimistic about this “never” happening, rather than being “not very common”.

Q5: For you, how is it normally made clear that the other person wants to do a certain act with you and that you should carry on? Pick all that apply to you!
Females seem to have chosen all options less than their male counterparts, with the exception of 'verbal suggestion + enthusiasm', as females chose an average of 2.45 options and males an average of 4.1. This may suggest that women consider suggesting verbally followed by an enthusiastic response to be one of the most reliable or useful ways of confirming consent, whereas men do not rely as exclusively on this.

For statements 1+2 and 5+7, the only difference between the pairs are whether the other partner “would do it” or was “enthusiastic” about it. For both genders, the “enthusiastic” variant was more common than “would do it”, though the difference in likelihood was smaller for the male respondents than for the female respondents.

Statement 5 “I thought they wouldn't want to but I might as well try” had a rate of 10% amongst males, that is, 1 of 10 male respondents chose this option. This is not a large enough sample to be able to say whether 10% of the male population rely on this to confirm consent.

Overall the answers from both genders show that enthusiastic and continued consent is not the baseline for their encounters, something which is bound to cause frustration, misunderstandings and resentment.

Q6. Do you think there is a problem with how women's preferences or desires are viewed in straight relationships or encounters?

87% of women said ‘yes’, whereas of the men only 10% (1 out of 10 participants) did.

I did not include a subsequent question asking about problems with men’s desires, hoping that those who had stuck with the survey would leave with this question in their mind, rather than considering the situation as a completely even dialogue. I had not anticipated that this would affect responses to the additional “Anything else to say?” question so much.

Q7. Anything else to say?
One third of women left a response (i.e. 14), all seriously discussing their experiences and how they react to feeling pressured or uncomfortable around men. Many left damning reports of relationships they had had where their wishes were not respected. In contrast, four men (40%) left a response, either making light of the survey or asking why there was no question about how men’s desires are viewed.

For me, this relates strongly to the problem I mentioned in the post ‘Being angry and the importance of representation’: in any given situation, people see their own problems as the most important. I hope having a look at these statistics will start some dialogues that consider that this is not an even playing field, and you shouldn’t need to wait until you’re told to think about how the other person feels.

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