Problem Two: Playtime Between Varying Cultural Backgrounds
Another problem we experienced came about because of the variety of cultural backgrounds in our group. We represent at least 15 different countries, all of which come with their own cultural narrative regarding sex and dating. That narrative can be almost unrecognizable from country to country. What is acceptable for people in Brazil or Israel could be straight up sexual assault for someone from Germany or Sweden.
It takes listening and understanding to realize that what might seem totally normal in one country might not be normal or acceptable in another. Even people who grew up in different parts of the same country can have vastly different interpretations and norms. No one is wrong for living within the rules of their particular society. However, it is important to realize that not everyone is living by the same set of rules.
Again, we found ourselves in a messy situation when those wires inevitably crossed. No one necessarily did anything wrong. It was a serious misunderstanding between cultures. People still felt that their boundaries were pushed, though. It became a reoccurring problem.
Consent Isn't Always Clear Cut
The majority of consent violations are messy and confusing, both for the people involved in the interaction as well the community involved. Perspective plays a huge role in how we interpret situations. How one person sees an event will almost always be different from how another person sees it. On top of that, no one is perfect. Even the most consent focused, feminist, careful people I know have accidentally violated someone’s consent in their life. Even I have been scolded once for not properly asking for consent.
People also just want different things from flirting, sex, and even platonic touch. Some people get upset when others go in for a hug without asking. Others would say that asking something like, “Can I kiss you?” would totally ruin the mood. Everyone is different, which simultaneously makes sexual exploration fun and interesting, but also difficult to navigate.
Read: A Step-by-Step Guide to Negotiating Consent
How can we do better?
If we want to change this pattern of sexual harm, we must focus on learning how to be emotionally intelligent. We must understand that people experience things differently because of their background, social standing, or in how they were raised.
The emotional intelligence required to hit on someone without making them uncomfortable will be the same skill set needed to identify the serial aggressor from the person who just accidentally misread a situation and made a bad choice. Of course in both situations, the action needs to be called out and discussed. The ways in which that should be done, however, are clearly different.
Another important aspect is knowing what to do once you're told that you hurt someone or violated their consent. It’s easy to get defensive. Yet, in situations like this, the only valid response is to listen, apologize and see what that person needs to feel safe again. That’s it.
It’s hard to know our own blind spots. Until quite recently, the societal idea was that men are supposed to be the ones to make the move or take charge. A lot of young men, even in these sex positive groups, struggle with walking the line between expectations for them to take charge and their desire to be respectful and do the right thing.
If we shun every person who has ever gone in for a kiss at the wrong moment and call them predators, we will quickly lose all of our male-identifying allies. Instead, we need to continue being strong against the predators of the world, but remember that most of us are trying our best and we have to be kind to each other.