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Unpacking Consent: Self-Empowerment as it Relates to the Opposite Sex

Recently, I viewed a highly-anticipated documentary. "On the Record" explores sexual assault/rape allegations towards Hip Hop Mogul, Russell Simmons, by chronicling the experiences of women who either worked for him or knew him personally. Additionally, the film centers black women's experience at-large within the "Me Too" movement, where white women have become the focus of the conversation; as opposed to discussing the sexual assault with women as a whole.

Honestly, the film left me with a mixed bag of feelings. I found myself feeling empathy, anger, and confusion all at once. While I would never question another woman's experience or the validity of her statements, I have to wonder how things would pan out if there was a societal shift in how we view relationships between men and women. Societal issues are at an all-time high while advocating for women on how to have agency over themselves, is comparatively at a low. Women should be empowered to establish healthy relationships because it benefits society. Having healthy relationships with one another and the opposite sex allows for people to coexist healthfully and peacefully.

Regardless of your background, there are ways to be proactive in your adult life that can assist in a cultural shift, ensuring healthy relationships for you and the people you welcome into your space. There are ways to empower yourself, especially during a time when things around you aren't making too much sense. The best ways to establish healthy relationships are the following:

1. Know Yourself - A lot of times this is easier said than done. We are all a work in progress, reaching milestones at various times. Particularly, when you are attempting to establish yourself in male-dominated environments such as the workplace. Therapy is an excellent tool to not only learn more about yourself and how you navigate the world, but it could also help to address traumas and establish your own set of boundaries in the future. For many, going to therapy serves as a way to check-in with ourselves.

2. Create Room for Dialogue - This is important, especially while dating. Creating room for dialogue allows for honest conversation regarding your wants and desires with whomever you choose to share space with. By having honest conversations, you mitigate the risk of being placed in situations that are violating. Driving the conversation can help keep things in perspective and allow you to make informed decisions about situations you may or may not find yourself in.

3. Set Clear Boundaries - This rule isn't particular to your personal or professional life. Setting boundaries with those around you serves as a means to having healthy relationships in all aspects of your life. It doesn't ensure that you won't be placed in uncompromising situations, but it makes people aware of what you will and won't tolerate so that they are less likely to push the envelope by engaging in unwanted behavior. Setting clear boundaries can be difficult for women, as we are typically conditioned to be docile and submissive. Yet, getting a grasp of this in adulthood can lead to less drama.

4. Educate Yourself - Some of the issues we face as women can be a sign of cultural differences. What is deemed appropriate to some, may not be the same for others. This can be a subjective experience based upon the culture in which one was raised. Educating yourself on the cultural nuances of human behavior can serve as a means for deterring unwanted attention. This step is also interconnected with creating space for dialogue. Part of self-educating is being open to having difficult conversations with people you allow into your life.

5. Accountability - Holding yourself accountable can be a powerful tool! There is something to be said for applying a lens to your behavior and assuming responsibility for things that are within your control. This one is hard because for some this reinforces the victim-blaming culture we are used to. However, I would argue that taking accountability for the decisions you make does quite the opposite. Taking on a mindset of accountability can be freeing, as it gives you agency and ownership of the places you go and the decisions you make. The onus should not be on one person, however, when we can take ownership of things within our control we gain clarity in those things that are not. In turn, we can call unwanted behaviors out for what they are and act accordingly.

Ultimately, there is the hard truth is that no matter what we do there are still people who will decide to violate and exploit others. Yet, my hope is that this article provides women with some tools to uplift and empower their relationships with the opposite sex. I want to be clear that I am no expert when it comes to consent. We are multi-layered beings. In turn, our experiences with one another are equally complex. However, I am a woman and someone who has been forced to reflect on my own encounters with men throughout different stages of my life. While these interactions can be complex, the initiatives we take to empower ourselves and our decision-making don't have to be. If anything, I would like my words to serve as a conversation starter and provide helpful tips to those who simply don't know where to begin.

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