by Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW
I recently flew internationally and noticed a few things. First of all, the redundancy. Redundancy is not a bad thing. We have two lungs and two livers and two eyes and two ears, all in case one fails/is damaged. Engineers design for redundancy so that if one safety feature fails, another can take over.
But redundancy is annoying and extremely time consuming. To fly: first show proof of negative Covid test and vaccination and identification at the departure point at check in. Then show identification and have our bodies and carry-ons x-rayed to go through security to get to the gate. Then, show our identification and ticket to get on the plane. At disembarkation, show identification, proof of negative Covid test, have luggage checked and provide declarations of what we are bringing in or back. All of this adds about another six hours to travel time. But it’s for safety. Each of these individual steps are to ensure that the traveler is safe for the airline employees and fellow travelers to be around. They are not infected or carrying dangerous weapons or contraband.
Our brains have two systems that constantly scan for safety and make the TSA look like slackers. They are the limbic system and the amygdala, and they have one question that reverberates in all novel situations: Am I in danger? These parts reside in our hindbrain, the old brain, the part that was around when we lived in tribes and met up with other tribes in order to trade and/or mate and/or raid and/or murder one another. Opportunity and danger have always been twinned together.
I’ve been an eager observer and cheerleader of the Me-Too movement and its goal to increase the safety and justice for my kind: girls and women. I am an unapologetic feminist. Females are physically smaller than males. We are less strong. We are less violence prone. Each person’s safety is every person’s responsibility. The vulnerable require and deserve special protections if we want to earn the claim of being a civilized society.
But I’ve been concerned, as a mother of males, as a lover of humankind, as someone who holds fairness as my apex value, how there is now a primitive tendency to frame all uncomfortable or awkward sexual situations as the result of predatory male behavior.
Young people are dumb, dumb, dumb. Literally, as in the old English word dumb, meaning “temporarily unable to speak.” They don’t know how to ask for what they want, identify their emotional needs, set boundaries, to say yes or no in a clear and consistent manner, give or receive honest and constructive feedback, because…they don’t know. And they have to develop self-awareness and figure out how to communicate these important bits of information by bumbling around, just like we all do.
This lack of ability to speak up effects all genders, and blaming one gender for every mis-attunement is outright unfair. It’s just as toxic as blaming rape victims for looking attractive, or asylum-seeking political refugees for being illegals.
I think we need a greater redundancy system around sexual consent. Especially because boys first and primary exposure to adult sex is via online porn. Porn is expectation poison because it depicts penetration-focused, male-dominance, clitorally ignorant sex that is exactly the opposite of mutually pleasuring, consensual physical contact. Female porn stars are actors. They are pretending to enjoy it. Just like any other actor they are paid to pretend. Entertainment is not reality. Those radio love songs about perfection and adoration don’t depict an actual relationship. Freddy Kruger is not real. King Kong doesn’t exist. And porn is insidiously fake.
Young people need to be willing to ask permission before touching, to ask before progressing from one type of touch to another, and to ask questions like “what feels good to you?” so that sexual exploration is safe and consensual. This also removes the pressure from one party (usually the male) to somehow psychically know what the other party (usually the female) wants. Remember, young people are dumb! They need extra words between them, and extra time to find their own truth.
All of adulthood is a master class in balancing one’s personal agenda against the validity and importance of other people’s agenda. Our boss, our kids, our spouse, our pets, our friends, and our various community commitments all have agendas for our time and activities. What we want or need is not always in harmony with these other sources of demands.
We navigate these tensions via communication. We acknowledge when we can’t fulfill a commitment we have made. We apologize when we disappoint someone who relies on us. We figure out when to end a relationship with an overly needy or demanding person. We suck it up and do what is asked of us when that seems like the important or appropriate thing to do. We take care of our own needs even when it’s inconvenient for the people around us.
I propose more words, more checking in, more time spent planning before acting on sexual impulse. Redundancy shouldn’t just be for fuddy-duddy engineers or bureaucrats or organs. We need consent redundancy.