And that’s the problem. You aren’t only an individual — you are a member of a society, and that society has particular dynamics which are a big source of the issues — it’s what underlies why a lot of other individuals behave the way that they do. Unconscious bias and unconscious racism are mostly what is taking place in the US at this juncture. Really overt racism and sexism do take place, but it’s not the bulk of the problem.

Cultural narratives play a big part in harmful behaviors. The perpetrator may even have certain consciously held positive beliefs, but in the moment, act entirely differently from their stated values.

“When Nicole Bedera, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, interviewed male college students in 2015, each could articulate at least a rudimentary definition of the concept (of consent): the idea that both parties wanted to be doing what they were doing. Most also endorsed the current “yes means yes” standard, which requires active, conscious, continuous and freely given agreement by all parties engaging in sexual activity. Yet when asked to describe their own most recent encounters in both a hookup and in a relationship, even men who claimed to practice affirmative consent often had not.”

These young men weren’t monsters; they weren’t bad guys and certainly didn’t think of themselves as bad guys — and yet, they were self-reporting that they were sometimes engaged in behaviors that might well come under legal definitions of assault. “In my own interviews with high school and college students conducted over the past two years, young men that I like enormously — friendly, thoughtful, bright, engaging young men — have “sort of” raped girls, have pushed women’s heads down to get oral sex, have taken a Snapchat video of a prom date performing oral sex and sent it to the baseball team. They all described themselves as “good guys.” But the fact is, a “really good guy” can do a really bad thing.”

These guys who said they valued affirmative consent didn’t have intentions to be harmful or abusive. They weren’t consciously thinking, “This girl owes me something so I’m just going to take it.” None-the-less, their social programming around entitlement to female bodies undoubtedly contributed to them disregarding their own conscious beliefs about a woman’s full participation in deciding what kind of sexual experience they were going to have together.

Marital rape wasn’t a crime in all 50 US states until 1993. Prior to that time, there was a wide-spread belief that wives owed husbands sex, and that women’s bodies were not under their own control — that it was not even possible to rape your wife. It takes time for cultural narratives to change, even in the face of changing laws. Old ideas tend to hang around in our collective unconscious for a lot longer time then we would care to admit.

Loving vs. Virginia, the US Supreme Court case that struck down laws against interracial marriage, was decided in 1967 — a mere 52 years ago. Interracial marriage was considered aberrant because of the perceived inferiority of Black people. Black people were widely considered to be intellectually and morally lacking, to be predisposed to crime and sexual depravity, and to introduce the lowest common denominator into any situation in which they took part. Just because the Supreme Court struck down laws that enshrined those beliefs does not mean that the beliefs themselves have fully evaporated.

The author, Malcolm Gladwell, who is half Jamaican, talked about his own unconscious bias towards Black people in his 2005 book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. According to Gladwell, most decisions are best made not only by our conscious cognitive processes, but by accessing all of our unconscious data and learning that has accumulated over our lifetime (which mostly manifests as a gut feeling). In most cases, this serves us well to do this, but it can also go awry when unconscious information contains bias and negative stereotypes. And since we are exposed to negative stereotypes about Black people in the media and in the news on a continual basis, it’s hardly surprising that even some Black people have internalized racism, just as many women have internalized misogyny.

As for the broad brush, I refer you again to the Nazi Germany analogy. When you discuss when the Germans invaded Poland, you don’t literally mean all of the German people. You mean the ones in power who did terrible things, and coerced or used propaganda to get others to go along with it. None-the-less, that isn’t what you say. You say, The Germans. But, for the record, I always use qualifying words like the ones you listed — and a lot of other writers do too. I have not ever read anything that says that all men are rapists, so I’m going to venture that your defensiveness around this topic is also a part of the issue.

The real culprit in all of this is the dominance hierarchy (known as patriarchy), and how it demands that people behave and relate to each other. Women uphold and maintain patriarchy also, so it’s not even actually about men — it’s a social system. But how you as an individual act has little impact on that or whether or not institutional dynamics improve.

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Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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