Men & #metoo: Emotional Intelligence, Flirting, and Harassment
I want to begin by thanking all of the women that have stepped up to share their voices. To tell us men that what is and has been happening to women for most of history is not okay and things must change.
I made a post that asked the question, “How do you navigate flirtation in the #metoo era?” and this question was directed to men. The reason I posted this is to open the conversation to see how some men might be learning or struggling with this topic. And it’s true, some men are scared of flirting because they don’t want to be accused, and it needs to be talked about amongst men. I realize that I also have women who are part of my audience and that asking this kind of question has impact, and on a social media platform like facebook, it makes it an open forum. I welcome the opinions and I’m grateful for the voices.
Since last year when #metoo exploded, a lot of men have posted online about how they are angry in response to the #metoo movement. Specifically saying something like, "Now I can't even flirt" and my response was “if you don’t know the difference between flirting and harassment, then stop ‘flirting’”. Yet I also have compassion for the man who thinks: "I can't tell the difference between my desire and where my desire for flirting and connecting is considered harassment by some people”. This is a sad occurrence in our society, because it tells us that we lack emotional intelligence as a society. That we lack teaching men how to feel the difference between one and the other. Obvious as it may seem.
Emotional intelligence and toxic masculinity
We have a limbic system that informs us of our own emotional state and of the emotional state of the people around us. Unfortunately, we live in a society where this sense isn’t cultivated, and thus we don't practice or develop this inherent human skill - especially men. AND it is a very intense and complex system where it is completely dependent on one’s ability to pause and feel what is happening in their own system. I’ve learned that as I feel what
is happening in myself, I learn how to notice, and then interact with what other people are feeling. It is important to note; that if a person has trouble feeling their own emotions; it’s nearly impossible for them to feel the emotions of others. This is key to understanding boundaries, and to modulate interactions and behavior as boundaries change, and as consent changes.
Part of a developed emotional intelligence, in my view, includes the capacity to know when someone is receptive to you, when they are not, and being able to have an adult conversation about what you want and what they want… as well as receiving a no and having the emotional flexibility to move on without lashing out, or emotionally withdrawing.
Emotional intelligence is the key piece for moving forward as a society and interacting with other humans. It is required of us men to learn and practice cultivating our ability to feel. To feel our own feelings, our own desires, and other people’s feelings and desires. This is deep work in a society that has taught men that it isn’t okay to cry, feel, hurt, or show any emotion at all except what we might have learned as “masculine” emotions, such as anger and pride. Emotions, that, women are taught not to show. So often we participate in behavior that some part of us can subtly feel is… Off… and yet we aren’t used to responding, in the moment, with certainty that the feelings are real and valid. We become complicit, and later, often callused as we are around it more and more.
It is embarrassing for some of us to admit that we aren’t sure about flirtation. Instead of saying #metoo means I can't flirt anymore because I'll be accused of harassment, men need to admit the truth that they may have not cultivated the capacity to hear a subtle no, or read certain social cues from a woman. It is a skill to be receptive to what other people are feeling. This is where we learn what our impact is; because we can feel it in the people around us. We are all capable of developing this but we have to become aware that as humans, especially men who consider themselves victims of the #metoo movement, we are underdeveloped in our emotional intelligence.
When we interact with other people from an emotionally connected place and we are willing to feel other people around us, then we can usually come to feel the truth about a situation. At the very least we can tell that what is happening on the surface is not the wholeness of what is occurring. It begins with trust and a willingness to feel. Which is what a lot of men aren't doing, aren't trained to do, and don't have the impetus to do so because we benefit from not having to. We stay on top, we stay in control, we stay “the man”. But this is all an illusion. Most of the masculinity we have been taught is toxic, and does not serve us, and it especially does not serve the women in our lives. Not the way we REALLY, deeply want to love them.
Men tend to want simple rules. A lot of guys I know just want simple rules. What to do and not to do because we live in a society that hasn't taught us how to have the connection we long for that will inform the way. The rules we have been taught, unfortunately, are themselves often a violation of women's empowerment, sovereignty, and their sexuality. And the women in our lives, community, and in the media are trying to teach us their guidelines, and it is important for us to listen.
A simple guideline and opportunity that I have taken on is feeling my feelings, and helping the men around me learn how to feel too.
What I’ve learned about noticing privilege and leaning into discomfort
Some responses of men I've seen around #metoo involve men asking things like, "what about me? What about the woman's responsibility in the situation?" These questions often demonstrate a degree of victim shaming, calling the experiences of women who have been violated by men, as just complaining.
I absolutely think that individuals should take responsibility for their part in any action, and it will be a great day when all humans can do that. Men do not have a right to point fingers at women not “taking responsibility” for their actions when we have a long history of not being responsible for ours. Every man individually upholds patriarchy and may not even notice it. We as men are part of a system where we flat out benefit from the way things are. And it is hard to notice how our privilege affects other people when we benefit from it. This is the work that needs to be done: we need to look at how our actions have impact, and only then can we chose to act differently. That is what #metoo calls on us to do, and men have to support men to do it and not burden the women with the work of getting us to make the change happen.
We as men have a tendency to get defensive in these situations. We get defensive when things get uncomfortable and we have to face the fact that we have participating in something that most of us agree is fucked up and wrong. It is uncomfortable to sit there and listen to the stories and know that we have participated in violating women. Even if it is from the other side of the room, by not speaking up, or stopping it when we see it, of letting it go on. Like being complicit in locker room talk; and then finding out later that that really loud guy who’s kind of our friend, has sexually harassed someone. Or worse… It’s uncomfortable to look back and see your participation in it. In not calling him out.
We have to learn how to receive the anger and the vulnerability of the anger, and be uncomfortable with it. We need to practice meeting anger without participating in continuing the cycle of men hurting women, and women hurting men. And we have to be angry ourselves about the ways women have been treated to make a change.
We have to do this work
It takes work to be able to step in when you become a witness to a friend at a bar, maybe a male family member, talking to a woman and noticing that she isn't okay or wanting the attention. Creepy uncle anyone? It is uncomfortable to speak up and say, "Stop that, stop treating her that way, stop making small comments like that one, because she is uncomfortable. Stop, you can tell she doesn't like it." When we don’t say something, we are protecting ourselves from whatever shame or toxicity that will come our way from intervening. The derision and deflecting that protect the active participants is toxic behavior.
It is uncomfortable to face your family and people you care about, your brothers, your best friends, and tell them to cut it out. But we must challenge the men around us when we see something and ask why they are treating another human being with disrespect.
There is a high level of impact that we as men aren't willing to feel that we now have to support each other in feeling. It is uncomfortable and awful to sit with it but we must listen, stay present, and feel. Whatever we are feeling pales in comparison to the oppression, violence, and fear that women are up against on a consistent and daily basis.
We have a responsibility as men to humanity by no longer taking advantage of the privilege of dismissing it because we think it isn't directly related to us as individuals. Because even if we are the “good” guy, we still benefit and behave with unconscious behaviors that impact women in oppressive ways.
We must learn to call each other on it and lean into the discomfort. The healing and the change begins by being willing to stay in connection and leaned in to feel the truth of the experiences of others. If you feel guilty about it there is something for you to look at. And if you are convinced that you shouldn’t feel guilty but you do, maybe there is a part of you telling you need to look there.
Any feeling of insecurity within yourself is a signpost to check in and check your integrity.
If you are having a hard time hearing this, then look at the places where you have been hurt, where you are resentful, and get the support you need to heal. Men it is up to us and we can help and support each other to do the healing women are calling on us to do.