Thursday, 4 September 2014

Oops I Did it Again: Is it really that hard not to rape someone?

How do people get consent during sex? What does consent look like? What does it not look like?

Here's what advises young men:

Sometimes, someone being raped will clearly say no and will NOT clearly say yes. They might say no verbally, with words, they might say no by crying, they might say no by physically trying to push away the other person or get away from them. They might try and change the subject from sex to something else, and some might try and make a deal with a rapist agreeing to a kind of sex they still don't want, but feel might be less traumatic...They may also be saying no by nonparticipating in sex, by being passive or dissociating (mentally going somewhere else in their heads so they don’t have to be fully present during their rape). 
Rape might seem like a heinous crime we're all on board with being wrong, but there's actually a surprising amount of disagreement in convention about what is or isn't rape. Here are some common views that would disagree with the above.

-Girls are more passive and shame-filled re sex. It's normal for them to be conflicted about it. It can't be counted as rape just because the guy has to encourage her agreement.
-It's the girls responsibility to say no clearly, the guy can't be expected to guess or mind read.
-If she agrees to do it for a reason that's not about her wanting to, but some other thing, that's still consent.
-As long as you stop if she makes you stop, it's OK to pursue her in any way, even if it's forceful or she's asleep--girls are submissive and they like that sort of thing.
-If she's not saying 'no' she's given consent by omission.

The difference in perception seems to centre around three issues:

Getting permission, her responsibility, and rape fantasy.

What exactly is consent?

Generally, 'consent' gets defined as 'giving permission'. What's confusing for some people, I think, is that sexual consent gets defined (both in law and in life) with a slightly different connotation.

Imagine getting consent to use someone's garden for a party. The most we can infer is that in some sense the owner doesn't mind this. They may actually find it kind of annoying in certain ways, but they've decided for whatever reason to agree to it anyway. Maybe they owe you a favour, or are trying to be a good sport.

Sexual consent, however, has a normative quality, it's not enough to give permission for someone to use your body for sexual pleasure, you have to want them to in order for it to be 'consensual sex'.

If a guy is only after a girls permission, rape is limited to violent rapes in which the girl makes her 'no' very clear but is being overpowered. But this outlook underestimates the use of coercion, intimidation, or vulnerable targets to get 'permission' against the girls will. Permission is easier to argue. She didn't not say yes. She agreed to do X if I didn't make her do Y. And so on and so forth. But if one is actually looking out for signs that she wants to give her permission, this becomes an entirely different set of things to look out for.

Is she active in the process of making this happen? Does she seem excited by it? Is she engaged in the activity? Does she stiffen up and push away? What's her body language like? Is she relaxed and full of anticipation, or does she seem scared, or sad?

The girl has to be the one to make it clear

Having to look out for signs that she *wants* to give her permission, instantly puts this additional responsibility onto a guy. He has to read her body language, examine the context, empathise with her position, and have thought outside this situation some about what sort of pressures there are for a person re sex and how they might come about. Is this fair? Or is it her responsibility to make matters clear to him. After all, he's not a mind reader.

This belief that it is the girl's responsibility is in some sense predicated on the idea that it is hard, if not impossible, to really determine if a girl wants to or not. But none of this is actually true. Enthusiasm and terror look fairly different in people. This is not to say sex is not a breeding ground for mixed signals--there are many good and bad reasons why a person might be nervous or feeling shy--but the appropriate reaction to getting mixed signals would be to check with her. While asking might itself be pressuring a simple 'we don't have to if you don't want to' or any other number of things gives her a much easier out. And if still in doubt, it is always OK to opt to not go through with it. It's only sex afterall.

Of course it's true that it would always be better for both party's if the girl made it clear, but if it were always possible for her to fearlessly make her 'no' clear, there'd be no such thing as coercive sex in the first place. The fact is she may be scared and trying not to upset the guy in case it makes things worse. Or she may be in a vulnerable state of mind, where she is easy to guilt into it, or to use any number of social pressures on.

What is not the case is that her hesitancy in saying 'no' can readily be assumed to be consent by omission. 

"But maybe she wants me to force myself on her"

Finally we get down to the real pressure of why some guys might feel weird about checking with the girl that she wants to, and that's, that it'll 'kill the mood.'

It's important to understand that this is not necessarily the case. Without wanting to sound like a cliche, clear communication and trust are assets not cripples to a good sex life. But there will of course be some girls who, aside from enjoying rape fantasy, need the line between reality and fantasy to actually be blurred for them to enjoy themselves--In their minds they're consenting, but they want to make it genuinely confusing whether or not they are.

But this is inappropriate for them to expect. As Louie CK jokes, you can't rape a girl on the off chance she's into it.

Wanting something does not make it right. Rape itself is contingent on this principle.

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