I’m having a conversation with Black men who find themselves pursuing sexual relationships with women. Specifically, the “good” ones. The ones who will skim past this article, or link it under a post of one of their “problematic” friends without actually reading it themselves. You, who, in all of the talk about R. Kelly, will be applauded for not being overtly violent, but who have yet to go further in examining the root causes of sexual assault and violence against Black women and girls. You.
I need you to know something:
Almost every way that men have been taught to engage with women is built on a foundation of oppression, and a silent assumption that women don’t have to consent to anything you do to us.
The most common clichés about interactions between men and women are tightly woven into the culture of sexual assault. Not just the obvious double standards about how women should dress or behave, but the subtle things you hear from your uncles, your frat brothers, your barber, and your community of “good” guys.
You don’t believe me, at least not entirely. Follow me for a second.
You learn that “men are logical, and women are more emotional”
This sounds like a rational idea, and its drilled into our heads to explain what appear to biological differences in men and women’s behavior. (its not biological, by the way). How might this teaching inform how you see women’s sexual agency? If you truly believe men are naturally more inclined to logical thinking, you are less likely to listen to or see clear signs of a woman’s adverse reaction to your behavior.
How many times has a woman reacted “emotionally” to a sexual experience that you decided was consensual? How many times did you get the same bad advice from other men about “females” being emotional?
Perhaps, she is having a normal reaction to trauma, and you excused it with a false biological difference. So now you’re sure— you didn’t assault her, your logic just prevailed over her emotions.
You learn that “communication is key”
The good guys talk about “communication” a lot. Yes, communication in any relationship or engagement with people is important, but the reason for so much focus on communication is deeper than importance. What if the focus is on communication because it still leaves you off the hook for your behavior?
Communication becomes a neutral copout instead of a valuable quality of healthy interactions with women. So now, if you ever did harm a woman, it must be because there wasn’t enough “communication”. It must be because she didn’t communicate well enough. Being wrong now becomes about her communication, rather than your behavior.
You learn that men “choose” partners.
You should throw away all of the language the Black Christian community uses to describe the process of heterosexual men “finding” partners. You are taught that you, whenever you decide you’re ready, will go out into the world and select a woman. And this woman should be grateful you chose her.
There is already quite a bit of pushback about how this frame of thinking makes women property- but, more subtly, it implies that women do not get to make the conscious choice NOT to engage with you. You are rarely taught how to respond when you do not obtain the woman of your choosing.
So when a woman ignores your catcall on the street?
Declines your private message?
Breaks up with you?
Its too hard for you to accept. Because it’s YOU who gets to decide if a woman is not attractive enough, “Godly” enough, or responsible enough for your standards.
So rejection? How is this possible? It must be because women haven’t been taught to desire good men such as yourself- it must be because she doesn’t recognize a good man when she sees one.
You are rarely told that you are responsible for your sexual behavior.
This is for when you want to engage in healthy sexual encounters with women, but settle for just not being creepy. So you settle for the bare minimum of not replicating pornographic images with her body, choosing instead to perform “sensitive” lovemaking from the scene in Love and Basketball.
Listen- If you already know the basics of consent and sexual agency, you still need to hear that you are responsible for your sexual behavior. Because you do not often have to sit with this truth, an almost impenetrable wall of ego and deflection builds. Do not assume that you don’t have the capacity to honor women’s desires.
Do not assume that women always leave satisfied with their encounters with you. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are engaging in emotionally safe, healthy sexual behaviors towards your partners. Until you accept that responsibility, sex should not be a priority for you.
I hope that by now, you’re questioning many encounters, sexual or otherwise, that you’ve had with women. I hope by now, you are questioning all you’ve been taught about us, and how it might contribute to the culture of violence against Black women. I hope you’e ready to go further than a shallow performance of “good” manhood.
“Jameelah where do I start? I don’t know where to talk about this kinds of things.”
Honestly, I’m not sure either. Many spaces (especially Christian ones) host workshops, conferences, sermon series, and ministries to develop, motivate, and inspire “Black males”, but don’t see these conversations as a priority. So ask them. Start with the people that have the retreats and workshops and roundtables about, “Godly manhood”, “building a brand”, “financial wealth”, choosing a “mate”, and entrepreneurship. They are charging yall to tell you stuff you already know, rather than giving you the tools to heal and have whole, healthy, stable relationships with your community.