Please, writers, don’t stoke unnecessary panic over affirmative consent laws
Ugh, the discussion of affirmative consent rules and laws will never get any better if the news reporting on them isn’t so distorting. Take, for instance, this lead from the usually excellent TPM:
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — You think the attractive woman at the party who has been chatting you up all night is ready to take things to the next level. She seems to be throwing all the right signals.
But if things turn sexual, are you sure that will hold up under legal scrutiny?
So many flaws. It perpetuates the myth that there’s a legal debriefing after every sexual encounter, a myth you would think simple experience would show is false. It perpetuates the myth that men rape by accident, and that it’s a woman’s fault for sending “mixed signals”. (Research shows that men are fully aware that “mixed signals” means “no”.) It removes the importance of female autonomy with passive language—“things turn sexual” as opposed to “she expressed desire”. It perpetuates the myth that consent to one activity, such as making out, is commonly understood as consent to all sexual activities. (No one actually thinks this. Men are perfectly aware that women might be up for kissing but decide intercourse is off the menu tonight.) It stokes hysteria over the issue of whether or not the law is trying to rewrite how humans communicate, when these laws reflect empirical research showing how humans communicate.
A better lead paragraph:
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — You think the attractive woman at the party who has been chatting you up all night might be vulnerable and won’t be able to defend herself if you force her to have sex. For one thing, she seems to have been drinking too much.
But if you get her alone and force yourself on her, will you be able to defend yourself by saying, “She didn’t say no?”
That’s the situation affirmative consent laws address, and so the write-ups should reflect that. There’s no evidence that men frequently think they have consent but don’t. Non-rapist men are quite adept at explaining the signals she gave off that indicated sexual consent, if, in fact, she was consenting. Overall, human beings are incredibly good at understanding each other. If men were as bad at understanding consent as the hysterics believe, they would be unable to traverse a simple sidewalk or stand in a line, because social rules of communication are so baffling to them.
The only men who have to really worry about this is men who got a soft no that they knew was a soft no—since research shows men are not imbeciles and understand soft refusals just as well as women do—but they ignored it because they wanted to force sex on an unwilling woman. If that’s a habit of yours, well, you should worry. But most men are well aware that you no more stick your dick in a woman who hasn’t invited you, verbally or non-verbally, than you would walk into someone’s house without an invitation. As long as you believe female bodies are just as precious as houses, then affirmative consent laws are a no-brainer.
I suspect a lot of men who are panicking about this, if they did inventory their previous sexual encounters, could describe the affirmative consent they got. (She kissed me back. She unbuttoned my pants. She guided my dick into her. She got on top. She said, “Wanna fuck?”) The ones who say, well, she kept saying she wanted to go home but I said, calm down and this will be over soon? Yeah, they might have a problem. But, you know, they should. They are rapists.