Even if you wanted to, you could no longer ignore the flood of accusations of sexual misconduct and the #metoo statements that have filled every form of media in the last several months. As I listen to the conversations generated everywhere, what I notice is that there is very little agreement about why this is happening now, what it means for male-female relationships, and what should be done about it. Some believe strongly that it is long past due for women to be speaking up about their experiences of abuse or victimization. Others believe that a rush to judgment of men in general and lumping together all male behavior, from awkward insensitivity to intimidation and rape, is not only unfair but is likely to create a backlash.
With this as a backdrop, I feel compelled to offer a view that may be helpful and will surely be controversial. (This is, if nothing else, a minefield in which speaking your opinion is akin to tiptoeing around potential explosive devices.) Let me be clear, I am NOT talking about situations in which there is physical violence or threats of severe consequences if the woman does not acquiesce. I AM talking about the vast majority of situations in which a woman feels pressured into doing something she is uncomfortable with.
Emotional Intelligence is a model and set of skills related to the ability to use our emotions to our advantage, not allowing them to drive us to act in ways that are detrimental to us and our relationships. In its simplest form, it consists of 4 factors:
We all have varying levels of capability in these areas. When I teach this model to leaders and managers, it becomes quite obvious that there are differences across gender lines. As with all gender differences, this is not true across ALL people, but is a pattern that is probably statistically verifiable. The difference is especially pronounced in the first skill – self-awareness, and almost as significant in social-awareness/empathy, where in both cases, women are much more naturally skillful. There is not much difference in the other 2 areas. Almost everyone feels challenged in the ability to act in ways that are based on sound judgment rather than purely in reaction to what they are feeling in the moment.
I would argue that we are all equally responsible for our own behavior. We are also subject to the socialization we’ve experienced. Many (not all) men seem to have been socialized to believe that they are entitled to a certain kind of dominance over women, whether sexual or otherwise. Many women (not all) have been socialized to believe that it is unbecoming or inappropriate to speak up when they are feeling taken advantage of, victimized or otherwise treated as invisible or unimportant.
Understanding that men may be less innately skilled in self-awareness and empathy does not let them off the hook. These are skills that can be learned, as many men are demonstrating these days. This does require some effort as it asks them to overcome some of their socialization and internalized sense of entitlement. The fact that women may have more developed capabilities in these areas, does suggest that it is up to us to overcome our own socialization regarding reservations about speaking up when something is taking place that we don’t like or want.
Ultimately, being able to take charge of the situation as it is occurring, is more likely to lead to a good outcome for everyone than speaking up long after the fact of whatever has taken place. The recounting of long past events may be cathartic, but it cannot heal the relationship and the indefensible nature of these events can lead to irreparable harm.
I believe we owe it to each other (and to our human species) to take responsibility for making cross-gender relationships work, in whatever way we can.