No Means No Has Got To Go

I came across the following comment on an LA Weekly article responding to George Will’s characterization of being a rape survivor as a privilege:

[I]s “survivor” really the correct term for girls who get wasted at parties and are too drunk to remember whom they had sex with?

I’m only all too familiar with the atmosphere at this campus.  The majority of the women at UCLA are Asian girls who have no interests other than having their face between a book in their dorm room.  Even though they make up the majority, I would be willing to bet they’re almost never victims of “rape”.

The “victim” will always fit this profile: girl from a small town, too young to drink but ends up at a party where she gets wasted, ends up with a guy she thought was cute and then wakes up to regret. Instead of taking responsibility for her actions, learning and moving on now she’s told that she is a “survivor” of rape.

Taking responsibility for your actions would be the first step in getting on with life, but that’s not what society wants.  It wants you to feel eternal shame, regret, misery, self loathing.  Then they can get you the number to a nice, expensive therapist who’ll prescribe some effective drugs for your depression and now you’re now perfectly inserted into the matrix.

Really, to group these women in with real victims who are kidnapped at knife point and brutally assaulted is insulting, to say the least.

I couldn’t help but respond.

First, the “stranger in the dark alley” attack, is largely a myth in the US.

Second, your comment is a perfect example of rape culture; thank you for bringing up every commonly held misconception about rape and what constitutes rape. You made it easy to address. Rape culture, simply put, is a societal attitude of entitlement toward sex. Rape culture is telling a rape victim that she brought it on herself by dressing provocatively, by drinking more than one or two beers, by being a “tease.” Rape culture is the sense of entitlement to sex behind the resentment someone in the “Friendzone” feels at not having his “kindness” and time rewarded with the sex he figured he’d get if he logged enough hours being a friend. Rape culture is every time he says “she was asking for it.”

Rape culture is an attitude that believes that sex is something every man (generally men, but not always. I use men vs women in this piece because that scenario is most prevalent, but the dynamic exists in other forms as well.) is inherently entitled to, especially if a woman, in a man’s opinion, does more to indicate that she wants sex in general than she does to protest when a man initiates. Thus the unfortunate joke: Is it shoplifting or rape if you force sex on a prostitute. Mode of dress, how attractive a girl is, how drunk she allowed herself to get at a party—which is completely irrelevant since someone who is drunk lacks the mental capacity to consent— how overtly sexual she is in general, are all excuses used by society and people who subscribe to rape culture in trying to diminish the severity and validity of rapes which don’t conform to their mental image of what a rape victim to be. The stranger in the dark alley myth does a lot to reinforce rape culture. To someone who subscribes to rape culture, only the victim of a stranger in an alley, or a similar situation, can call themselves a true rape victim. Everyone else is either exaggerating, or seeking privileged status as a survivor.

I’ve learned a few things about rape culture, through discussion, that I’ve found interesting.

The question of prudence always comes up in discussions on rape culture—which precautions is it reasonable to ask a woman to take to avoid sexual assault, while simultaneously not blaming them for their rape. An example I like using in framing this discussion is walking at night, alone, in a neighbourhood known for crime, and getting mugged. While the mugger has absolutely no right to mug, there were precautions the victim could have taken to possibly avoid being mugged. That’s not to say that the victim is at fault for the mugging, but it leaves what to be said for prudence. It’s the same rationale behind advising women not to drink heavily at parties, or not to dress too provocatively on campus, or handing out straws which can detect date-rape drugs in drinks.

I always feel a mixed reaction toward women’s safety seminars. On the one hand, as I said, there is what to be said for prudence, but putting the focus on women protecting themselves rather than on men controlling themselves, has always seemed, to me, wrong. That mugging victim wouldn’t have to worry about being mugged if the neighborhood was cleansed of its criminals. Rape victims wouldn’t have to worry about being raped if men were better equipped by society to control themselves. What makes these discussions so difficult is a pervasive lack of education focused on teaching young men how not to be rapists, rather than teaching women not to be raped.

A perfect example of this is “No Means No.” No Means No was meant to raise awareness of rape on college campuses, and set a standard by which rape could be reduced: If you hear no, stop. Don’t ask again, don’t “just finish,” don’t back off and then start again—just stop. At the time—back in the eighties—it seemed like a good idea. Recently, however, there has been a push to redefine the way we view consent. The problem with No Means No, is that it places the onus on the woman to say no, rather than on the man to receive consent. Therefore, consent is not an affirmative process, just a tacit understanding until the woman says “no.” It’s kind of ironic how a slogan meant to fight rape culture instead promoted it by—almost certainly unintentionally—implying that one is entitled to sex without receiving prior affirmative consent, as long as they believe they have consent.

The problem with that is that it often becomes a debate over what constitutes no. Often the media perpetuates the notion that when a woman says no, she’s just playing hard to get. Rape cases have been lost because, despite the fact that there was no consent, the victim did not fight back hard enough. The onus was on the woman to protest instead of on the man to receive affirmative consent before initiating. Rape culture goes so far in its sense of entitlement toward sex unless the woman protests just the right amount, that there are still those who believe that partner rape (also known as spousal rape or marital rape) is not a crime! The rationale being that marriage itself constitutes overall consent, and therefore, consent is not required to initiate sex with your partner. I have a friend who was repeatedly raped by her husband, despite her protests. He believed, as do an unfortunate many, that marriage, by dint of the institution itself entitled him to sex whenever he wanted, regardless of his wife’s opinion on the matter. Even after she left him and demanded a divorce, he had no idea that he had done something wrong. Again, he felt entitled to sex, for whatever reason, and therefore required no consent.

There are people who will read all of this, and still fail to understand the validity and prevalence of rape culture and its terrible effects. They will continue to deny the validity of rape claims by people whose rapes do not fit into their idea of what rape should be to be valid. For their benefit, I’d like to explain what rape is. Rape, and the reason why its effects are so severe, is a violation of what it is that makes a person a person. It violates the sovereignty of a person’s body and sexuality. All we really control in this world is our body and what we choose to do with it. We choose what we eat, we choose what we wear, we choose whom we have sex with. Sexuality is the most intimate and personal function of our bodies. We exercise control over our bodies and sexuality when we give consent to sex and sexual activity. Rape violates the control a person has over what is most intimate and personal to them. It violates a person’s sovereignty over his or her body. It is one of the most traumatic things one person can do to another, and it often results in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, addiction, complete destruction of self-image and self-worth, inability to form lasting, healthy relationships, depression, even suicide.

I’ve dealt with enough rape cases to know that regardless of how valid other people think a survivor’s claim of rape is, the effects are always the same, and always devastating. The PTSD, etc, is the same whether the rape happens in a dark alley by a stranger, in a little girl’s bedroom by her father or brother, or at a party by some bro who thinks it’s cool to take advantage of the drunk chick. Again, consent cannot be given by someone who is drunk because they lack the mental ability to consent. The violation is real regardless of the circumstances, the effects are real regardless of whether or not an opinion poll says they should be. The act of forcing or coercing someone to have sex with you without first obtaining consent is rape, and it is devastating. Period. The squabbles over whether or not the victim was at fault only highlight a serious problem that we as a society must address: Changing consent from something passive to something active.

It’s time for Yes Means Yes. Consent should be affirmative and constant. It should be understood that unless she actually asks for it, she isn’t “asking for it.” That skirt she’s wearing is not an invitation for sex unless she actually invites you to have sex with her. There can be no room for ambiguity with Yes Means Yes because sex cannot be initiated unless consent is affirmative and understood. The onus is placed on the man to receive consent rather than on the woman to protest. Therefore, operating under Yes Means Yes, questions of how loudly or how violently a victim protested against her own rape, or whether or not she actually consented of she doesn’t fight back at all, will be irrelevant. Unless consent is obtained, it’s rape. Yes Means Yes should be an integral part of sex education programs in schools (many of which currently lack even basic consent as part of their curricula), promoted through popular culture and media, and enforced legally. Yes Means Yes would effectively end rape culture because consent would no longer be a matter of assumption or entitlement, implied unless a woman protests enough—it would be affirmative and clear with no room for ambiguity.