Thursday, October 18, 2007

"The Opposite of Rape is Enthusiasm"

Appearing at The Jaundiced Eye, the Independent Bloggers' Alliance, and My Left Wing.

The Rape of Proserpine

When Sara Wilson (not her real name), a 23-year-old woman was raped by a long time college friend, she found little support and a great deal of self doubt. Shortly after moving into her first apartment, Steve her former classmate, dropped in with a bottle of wine and some take out. One bottle of wine turned into two. Later that evening Sara suggested it was time for him to go. She remembers that out of the blue, "Steve was there kissing me. I tried to push him away but he just kept kissing me." Her head felt cloudy and hazy from the wine. Steve started to move her skirt up her leg. "I was telling him to knock it off, it wasn't what I wanted but I was so drunk. I definitely didn't want to have sex with him. We were friends for God's sake!" Sara recalls. But Steve did have sex with Sara that night. She remembers being pushed down on the couch. She remembers his hands on her shoulders. "It was like it was happening but not to me to someone else." The next day Sara awoke alone with her head throbbing to find a note on the kitchen counter from Steve. It read "I had a nice time. I'll call you later — S." Sara didn't know what to think but she knew what she felt — ashamed, betrayed, and embarrassed. Looking back at that morning Sara recalls, "I kept thinking how could this happen? I felt sick to my stomach and violated and I didn't use that word at the time, but looking back that's exactly what it was — a violation."

Late last night, or early this morning, depending on your timezone, thereisnospoon attempted to clarify statements that have earned him the moniker "thereisnorape." While I witnessed the original exchange -- much of which was subsequently deleted due to administrative error -- I have always thought said moniker was overstating his position. He absolutely did not say that rape did not exist. He simply narrowed the definition beyond what many of us particularly those of us who have lived experiences of date rape, would be comfortable with. Sadly, he has done little to diffuse such judgments with his most recent statement, nor, in my opinion, the discussion which followed.

what I said, very specifically (0.00 / 0)

was that women who are intoxicated and conscious and do not specifically say "no" to sex while intoxicated and conscious, should not be able to say later that they were unable to assent to sex because of their intoxication.

Dear god.

I cannot help but notice the total absence of the word "yes" in that statement. It is ideas like this which make necessary campus prohibitions against sex with any intoxicated person. Think of the latitude a fella gives himself by using such criteria as a guide. Well her eyes were open and she didn't actively resist, so... Sadly, for a fair number of men and boys, such passivity is an open invitation.

I contend that fundamental to this confusion is the idea that women "consent" to sex, rather than actively choose it. It is an ingrained notion; this idea that men should always be the pursuers, women the pursued, and that women have a responsibility to actively "opt out." It falls to us to be gatekeepers, responsible not only for our own sexual choices but for those of men who might want to fuck us.

A tip of the hat to the blogger formerly known as nonpartisan who introduced, into that heated discussion, the ideas of Hugo Schwyzer. Here is what that history and gender studies professor says about the word "no" when it comes to consent.

Most boys, for example, get the “no means no” message pretty loud and clear in high school and college workshops. It’s a worthy if basic message, and one well worth repeating over and over again. But as anyone who works around young people and sexuality will tell you, in and of itself a “no means no” reminder is woefully insufficient. Many of the young men and women I work with, for example, talk to me of what I’ve come to call the “stoplight” phenomenon. Traffic signals, of course, have three colors: red for stop, yellow for caution, green for go. Good drivers are taught to stop on “red”, which functions as a “no”. But of course, even at the busiest urban intersections, no light stays red indefinitely. If you wait long enough at a stoplight, every red will become green. And when all we do is teach young men that “no means stop” when it comes to sexual boundaries, we often send them the message that if they just wait long enough (or pester, push, nag, beg, play passive-aggressive games) they’ll get the “green light” they’re so hungry for. Good “sexual boundaries workshops” go beyond the “no means no” message.

That relentless cajoling will be familiar to many women and girls who have dated. I have also encountered a fair number of men who doubt that women enjoy sex enough to actively choose it. Having sex with a woman or girl who has been thusly cajoled tends to reinforce that notion. There comes a time, for many, paricularly young, girls, when they resolve that their resistance is futile, and finally lie back and think of England. Convince enough gals to have sex on those terms, and you will likely deduce that women are far less sexual than men.

Hugo Schwyzer again:

The message that needs to be repeated over and over again is this one: true consent is never tacit, it is never silent. Too many young men become date rapists by confusing silence with a clear, verbal affirmation.

Believe it or not, females do enjoy sex. If the woman you're with does not appear to enjoy sex, you really should consider the following possiblities:

  • She doesn't want to have sex with you, but has consented because you wore her down.
  • She is a rape and/or childhood sexual abuse survivor and has sustained significant damage to her sexuality. (This requires sympathy and patience.)
  • She is asleep.
  • She is dead. (This may sound over the top, but I have been with men who were so self-serving, that I'm quite certain they would not have noticed if I had been dead.)
  • You are terrible in bed and incapable of interpreting meta-communication, so she has resigned herself to just getting it over with.
  • She is too intoxicated to know quite what is going on.

Some but not all of the above are examples of rape. None of them are "good" for her.

Hugo Schwyzer introduced a concept, which has become viral to some extent, and should be spread far and wide.

A dangerous line I sometimes use: “The opposite of rape is not consent. The opposite of rape is enthusiasm”. It’s dangerous because it’s shocking, and of course, it’s dangerous because it twists the purely legal meaning of the term “rape.” But from the standpoint of one who cares desperately about the well-being of young people, my goal in offering workshops like these is not merely to prevent sexual assault that meets the legal standard of a criminal act. My goal is to prevent that, of course, but to also offer shy and uncertain young people tools to prevent them from having bad sex characterized by obligation, confusion, and detached resignation. I always argue that anything short of an authentic, honest, uncoerced, aroused and sober “Hell, yes!” is, in the end, just a “no” in another form.

This is my advice to men who may be still be confused. No matter how homely, or stupid, or assholeish, or loserish you are, there is a gal out there who will genuinely want to fuck you. (Lid for every pot, and all that.) She will not have to be persuaded, begged, convinced, coerced or plied with alcohol. Look for her. And until you find her, keep it in your pants.


Hugo Schwyzer said...

I am genuinely pleased to be viral.