Understanding The Challenges Of #MeToo And Consent (& Why Communication Is Key)

#metoo movement

The #MeToo movement is long overdue. Unfortunately, like with many movements, there has been a backlash. Some of it maybe deserved, but most of it not. The one outcome that is not up for debate is that #MeToo is creating social disruption.

How society decides to move forward in the wake of this tsunami is still unknown. What must be acknowledged is that there’s no putting this genie back in the bottle. And that’s for the best.

This movement is a natural progression of the focus on consent that has become part of our national conversation. One of the greatest challenges to this discussion is playing out right now in the “he said, she said” recollections of one woman’s date with the comedian Aziz Ansari.

As I tell my clients, unless there is a recording of an event or conversation, there will not be absolute agreement between the individuals about what happened. This is because our memories are not, and never will be, factually accurate.

RELATED: What All The Men Named In The #MeToo Sexual Harassment Stories Have In Common

It isn’t that people are lying (though some do). Mostly, it’s that they just remember things differently.

Here are 3 challenges of consent:

1. Experience determines what “facts” receive sufficient attention to be remembered.

If you ever played the game Telephone as a child, you will recognize what I’m talking about. What you hear isn’t necessarily what someone says.

Perceived tone, how you define specific words, and your brain’s ability to fill in blanks all play a role in deciding what you heard. They interact and create your unique filter.

As the message passes through each successive filter, it gets more and more distorted. But what’s funny in a game can create genuine distress in the real world.

2. Confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is a well-researched element of filters that gives more credence to experiences that support what you already believe than ones that don’t “fit”. Not only do you then act on this information, you continue to give it more weight which makes it even harder for contrary information to register.

Going back to the Ansari date, you can see how this bias crept in and set the stage for the disastrous experience that followed. In her description of their meeting, the young woman stated, “they flirted a little.” She then revealed they “exchanged flirtatious banter” through texts.

In her description of the date, you can see where her filter starts to change. But, I hypothesize, that Mr. Ansari’s filter did not. Each subsequent action was viewed through the filter of what each was expecting. Everything that followed was then colored by this discrepancy.

3. Actions speak louder than words.

This is a familiar (and true, by the way!) adage that, when combined with confirmation bias, creates real problems for consent. When confronted with discrepancies between someone’s words and their behavior, the brain is wired to focus on actions.

Someone may be professing friendship but if they have a gun in their hand or have betrayed you before, your attention is going to be on what they do. Not doing so would be fool hardy. So, if those actions are in line with what you want, you will be more inclined to believe them than hear any words to the contrary.

Should it be this way is the wrong question. This is just how the brain works.

RELATED: How To Make #TimesUp & #MeToo About Me And You

Understanding these points — and learning how to communicate differently — is the answer.

But to do that, the pendulum must stop swinging to the extremes. There are real predators out there, but there are just bad dates, too.

It’s hard to find balance when emotions are running high. #MeToo is important, but it is also a filter.

Finding a solution is a lot more complicated than using a hashtag. It takes the ability to really communicate — a skill that seems increasingly rare in the age of information.

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Lesli Doares is a Communications and Relationship Coach who helps couples stop fighting about "he said, she said" communication issues and start loving, so they can create the relationship they truly desire. Learn more about how to have a thriving marriage by visiting her website or booking a Create Your Happily Ever After Marriage Strategy Session.