Instead of asking, “Did she say no?”, we should start asking, “Did she want to have sex?”
This item is a little old, but I wanted to flag it because it really gets to the heart of the debate about what sexual consent is. Feminists are increasingly clamoring for an affirmative consent standard, where someone has to indicate, through language or body language, an actual desire to have sex. I call it the “only kiss people who are kissing you back” standard. Anti-feminists disagree, arguing that feminists are trying to label all men rapists or police sex or some other horseshit. Here’s a piece I wrote kind of detailing out my problems with that argument, mostly that it’s a strawman and that assuming someone is automatically in a state of consent unless they phrase their refusals just so is not held for any other intimate behavior, such as allowing people in your home or allowing people to watch your children, and just for sex. Which is to say anti-feminists are actually arguing that the barrier for someone barging into your house should be higher than for them barging into your body. (And considering how most of them are anti-abortion, it follows that they believe the barrier for to force someone to have a baby should be lower than to force yourself into their house to sit on their couch.) Which is fucked up, to say the least.
Anyway, the larger story is a frustrating one, of a teenage girl who says she was raped by a classmate on a field trip and who has basically had to pull out of her high school while her alleged rapist goes on without facing any consequences. You should read the entire article to see the administrative problems and just general victim-blaming that seems endemic to these situations. I wanted to single out a couple of details that show that the standard of affirmative consent—of only having sex with people who want to have sex with you—is so important.
Teachers, Garfield’s principal, district officials, a rape advocate, the National Parks Service and the FBI, which has jurisdiction over the national park, were all alerted, and details tumbled out quickly: The alleged perpetrator was a classmate, who admitted that he had had anal sex with her. He acknowledged to law enforcement that she told him to stop several times but said he persuaded her to “roll with it.”
When asked if Emily said anything during the incident, the boy disclosed to the school district investigator, “I did not pay attention to her that much.”
Basically, people who support the affirmative consent standard don’t want “I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to what she was saying long enough to tell if it was no or yes” to be a legitimate defense.
Part of the problem with putting the onus on victims to make the rape “official” through refusing and fighting back is the next thing that happens is we get into a quibbling match over whether or not they fought back enough to “earn” the right to have their rape considered a rape. It encourages this mentality where badgering someone until they stop saying no or simply ignoring them so that you can honestly say later you had no idea that they were refusing is somehow in-bounds. It becomes the victim’s fault for not refusing in exactly the right way, even though most rapists aren’t actually going to take any no for an answer, no matter how you phrase it.
What if, instead of saying, “Did she say no?” to this young man, the question was, “Did she want to have sex with you?” The answer to that seems screamingly obvious. Far from making things more complicated, framing the question this way would have made things much simpler.
Sure, there will always be men who will whine that it’s so hard to get laid if you have to bother knowing if your partner wants to have sex, too. But so what? If I ran around saying that it’s so hard to get invited to dinner without just walking into people’s houses uninvited, that wouldn’t change the fact that I’m criminally trespassing. If I insisted the only way I get to visit people is by barging into their houses, you’d tell me that it’s my responsibility to learn how to make friends so I get invited. Men who want to have sex should be held to the same minimum standard.