Consent, Hollywood, and sperm donation

By Amanda Marcotte
Sunday, August 8, 2010 14:37 EDT
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Marc and I went to see “The Other Guys” Friday night (it was fun, but not like earth-shattering or anything), and of course there were trailers. Many were fine, but this one made our jaws drop to the floor:

And Marc called it—the trailer, at least, is the ultimate in Nice Guy® fantasy. On the surface, we’re supposed to feel a little sorry for this guy, as if it’s cute that he refuses to speak up instead of lurking around as a friend hoping that she just cracks one day. But if you look even a centimeter below the surface, what you have is a story about a man who goes around a woman’s explicit non-consent to be impregnated by him and uses subterfuge to get what he wanted. (At least from the trailer, but I don’t see a way around them featuring him asking if he can be sperm donor and her explicitly saying no.) Who knows how it ends? They could whip out a “Chasing Amy” ending, where another reactionary male fantasy (lesbian converts for a man, and he basks in the chance to have a mature, sexually experienced woman he convince himself is somehow still a virgin) is shown to be a lie, and the guy who buys into it a fool who loses the girl. Maybe the gravity of what he does is dealt with, and there are consequences (such as losing everything) for using deceit to get his sperm into the body of a woman who explicitly said no.

But the likelier possibility is that there is some fight when she finds out, they separate, and then they get back together, because he’s proven himself to her by hanging in long enough and being a father figure to her kid. (Even if there is an “out” built in where we find out that the kid is biologically that of the intended sperm donor.) It then becomes a charming tale about overcoming minor obstacles like a woman’s explicit non-consent to get what you want out of her. I was kind of at a loss to even describe what kind of violation it would be to swap in your sperm for that of an intended sperm donor. It’s not sexual assault as we commonly define it, and yet it still has much in common with traditional sexual assault, in that it’s using sexuality as a weapon to control the woman in question. Just because the man who does it is really drunk at the time doesn’t change the fact that he deliberately set out to overcome her refusal with deceit.

I will say it lays the Nice Guy® fantasy bare. The usual refrain is that women are idiots who go for jerks instead of the Nice Guy® (who is so Nice that he thinks women are universally stupid), and that this justifies the Nice Guy® trying to use underhanded tactics to get with the woman he likes, because she doesn’t know what’s good for her. This preview shows how the end game of that thinking really is contemptuous of the importance of consent. And even if the movie itself takes this betrayal seriously, the pitch—the preview—relies on the audience buying into the idea that it’s bad, but not evil, to foist your sperm on an unwilling woman so long as she’s already up for being inseminated. Needless to say, that’s the same logic in play when victims of legally defined sexual assault are considered not-victims because they had a history of choosing affirmatively to have sex, especially with multiple partners. If she’s up for it with one guy, the logic goes, then what’s the diff? The difference is consent, of course, and I was thoroughly creeped out watching this preview with an audience that didn’t seem to share my sense that this is straight up creepy.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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