You Need to Ask Your Husband About Sexual Harassment
The current conversations that are happening surrounding sexual harassment, assault, and rape culture
are incredible. They’re painful at times, but the way women are stepping up and speaking about their
experiences—and the way that everyone else is listening—is really refreshing, powerful, and the
conversation is truly one I didn’t quite anticipate having in 2017 and 2018. But I’m happy we are.
However (I know; there’s always a “however”, isn’t there?), there’s one conversation that feels like it’s still… missing. And you know what? It’s not a conversation that is easy to have. Trust me: I’ve had it, and it kind of sucks.
If you’re partnered with a cis hetero male and you haven’t asked him if and how he’s sexually harassed or assaulted women in the past… you need to. I would even go as far as to say that if you value real honesty and understanding in your relationship—if your relationship is one that you believe is founded in a sincere belief in equality and egalitarianism—you have to have this conversation.
Because here’s the thing: it is super easy to get on Twitter and rant every time we find out a new celebrity male has been accused of harassment, assault, or rape. Facebook is the perfect venue for a few paragraphs about why Aziz Ansari is the worst, Harvey Weinstein belongs in the basket of deplorables, or James Franco should just… stop. (Like, stop everything.) You can upload a snap decrying the list of 51 men who have been accused since Weinstein—you get the idea.
But you know what’s not super easy to do? To sit down with your male partner at home, look him in the face, and ask, “Have you ever sexually harassed a woman? Have you assaulted a woman? Have you raped a woman?” and then brace yourself for the answer.
I’m married to a self-identified feminist, a guy who was raised by an empowered mother and who
respects women. We’re equals in our marriage, and we literally share every single task that our daily life requires. Even though he had a great head start (thanks to his mom), there was still a tremendous amount of work to do. More than once, I have cited Rachel Wilkerson Miller’s tweet: “Behind every woke man is an exhausted feminist you need to thank” because y’all? It has been *hard* work. And this work wasn’t, and isn’t, one-sided. It’s not like my husband had to learn all the lessons and I had to do all the teaching—unlearning the anti-female culture that has been ingrained into us since birth has been a team project.
We have both challenged one another throughout the eleven years that we’ve been working on this
project. We have fought, we have argued, we have been mad for days. We have also cried and laughed
and been so happy that we crossed whatever roadblock was in the way. We have stayed up for hours,
having conversations about men and women and humans and feminism and femininity and masculinity and intersection and it’s pretty much the most exhausting, and rewarding, thing we have done together. Once our son was born in 2009 we ramped these conversations up tremendously (because neither of us wants to raise a male that hates women—implicitly or explicitly).
These conversations aren’t just about women and making sure everyone in the house knows they’re just as awesome as men. These conversations are about the media our family consumes (How are women treated? How are men?). These conversations are about the conversations we have together, and the conversations we have with other people. These conversations are about how women and femininity are represented in the media and our culture, but also about how men and masculinity are represented. These conversations are a lot.
I know early in our relationship that I wanted to know about my husband’s dating past. Not because I had grudges against his exes (on the contrary, I’m friends with quite a few of them), but because I wanted to know how he had treated women in the past, how he had been treated by women, and what this would bring into our relationship. Also, it was (and is) really important for me to know the whole truth—even the parts that are hard to hear.
When it comes down to it, I have a hard time believing that any male raised in most places around the
world has managed to make it to adulthood without harassing women, without disparaging women,
without averting their eyes when another male makes an offhand comment. Without failing to speak up to stop a male friend from saying something, doing something that a woman doesn’t want him to do. I think that our cultures encourages men to behave like this, and doesn’t allow young boys the space to be fully emotional, kind, supportive, respectful humans. I think you have to fight hard to raise a boy that way.
I know that for a lot of people, it’s frankly easier to not have these conversations. A lot of people like to keep the past in the past, and I can mostly respect that. But, especially now, especially with the
conversations we’re all having… don’t you want to know? Doesn’t part of you worry? Or at the very least: don’t you want to make sure your partner is the person you think they are?
Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But I know that for me, this conversation is both non-negotiable and on-going—I couldn’t have it any other way.