Monday, January 15, 2007

Behaviour that works

I recently wrote a post which included reference to a scenario from a NZ rape crisis schools education programme:

Jo is a Year 13 Student at XX High School. She is at a party on a Saturday night. Jared is going to be there and she’s been trying to hook up with him for awhile. She’s wearing a short skirt, boots, and a low cut top –she’s sure to catch his attention –She looks great. Jo and her friends drink a few bottles of wine before they get to the party and she feels pretty drunk by the time they arrive. At the party she starts talking with Jared, he asks if she wants to go up to one of the bedrooms –they walk up the stairs followed by comments from Jared’s mates as they close the door.

In the room they start kissing, and Jared is putting his hands up her top and down her pants, she likes it and starts touching Jared. Jared then takes off his pants and hers. Jo starts to feel uncomfortable and pulls back a bit, and pulls her underwear back up. She doesn’t want to have sex with Jared but doesn’t know how to stop it. Everyone at the party thinks they’re having sex, and she doesn’t want Jared to think she’s tight. Jared pulls her knickers back down and they have sex.

I deleted a comment from that thread, but I've decided it illustrates a point rather well, so I'm going to write a post about it:

what is of concern is that one can get the impression that women reward such behaviour as opposed to punishing it. a lot of men claim that it does work (and presumably they wouldn't if it didn't). Ie you proceed assumiong you have consent to avoid asking for it and opening the door to rejection.

This is actually a reasonably common argument when people discuss consent. You let a thread go on long enough and some man will make some sort of argument that boils down to: "men who don't seek consent get more sex than men who do, women shouldn't let that happen."

Now I've no idea if the premise is correct. How would you know if men who ignore consent have more sex than men who seek consent? But the argument reveals some really disturbing thought patterns.

The first is that men are only motivated by their dicks, and so must be trained, much in the way you would train a dog. Women can control men by depriving them of doggie treats and if they don't do so then it's inevitable that men will continue to poo on the carpet and ignore consent.

Now we're just going to stop for a second and put the blame for rape where it belongs - on men who rape. Of course the moment we do that the argument falls apart. Women should not have to centre their sexual actions around discouraging men from raping.

I want people to think a little bit about what it would mean for women to centre their sexual actions around encouraging men to seek consent. Women who freeze or disassociate because of past sexual abuse would have to stop. Women who don't have a language to describe consent would have to learn. Women who have learned that their sexual role is to please men would have to unlearn. Women would have to ignore almost everything mainstream society tells us about sex.

I'm not saying that many of those changes aren't desirable, but you can't make that change in the hope that men will stop hurting you. It's not claiming your sexuality as your own if you're doing it to stop men raping.

The other disturbing aspect to this comment was also common on other on-line discussions of these scenarios. Here's an example from Anarchia

Well that makes it harder. About a hair harder. She didn’t consent, so it’s rape. What should happen next is going to depend on things we weren’t told in the story.

It's really common on discussions on rape scenarios for people to switch straight from a discussion about whether or not it's consent, to a discussion about consequences. Sometimes people start talking about whether or not someone should be prosecuted, sometimes people are implying that the repercussions should be that the guy doesn't get sex.

What seems missing from this is any idea that women are people, and the reason you shouldn't have sex with someone when you don't know if she really wants to have sex with you is because you could really hurt her. To be honest I don't care about rapists and what happens to them, I just want them to stop.* Even if I supported the justice system in any form (and I really don't) I know that they're never going to catch and convict every rapist. I know that the only way we can stop rape is by convincing men that women are people, and our desires are as important as their desires, and our right to our bodies is more important than mens' rights to our bodies.**

Every time someone skips straight to ensuring there are consequences to rape they're implying that they think it's more likely that we can catch and convict every rapist, than we can change men's minds. That belief depresses the hell out of me.

* I'm fairly certain that the only rapist I've ever argued should go to jail is Clint Rickards.

** I can't put into words how much this sentence scares and depresses me.


  1. There were always flyers in my undergrad dorm, advertising self-defense classes to protect yourself against sexual attackers. The signs said "If you're reading this . . . HE could be too." What does that even mean? I can only interpret it as a way to scare women away from their own confidence, even as the self-defense course claims to boost confidence. The constructed logic is that the world is full of scary beasties and it's not safe for you, so the onus is on you to protect yourself against the rapists. Because they're coming after you.

    Besides ignoring the fact that 95% of rape victims know their attacker (he's not some bogeyman in a dark alley), this follows the party line that it is a woman's responsibility to stop rape.

    I also think that this myth confuses women and often prevents them from acknowledging rape. The friends I know who have been date-raped didn't realize it was rape right away, and sometimes it took them years to name it. And I wonder if society's definition of "the rapist" has anything to do with that. We are expected to view men who rape as "rapists," as someone who makes it their career, and who will announce themselves to you scarily in a dark alley while you're walking home at night. You aren't told that the person who rapes you might be someone you love, someone you might actually want to get it on with, just not now, or not in that way. So women are made to feel guilty if they feel anything besides rage towards their attacker, if they were intimate and turned on right up until the moment he went too far.

    This also sort of takes the blame for rape off of men collectively because it assumes rapists are a separate group, like serial killers, and not a title that any man is capable of acquiring.

    Well, that was a long comment! I figured I'd de-lurk. :) I like your blog.

  2. Anonymous7:37 am

    The problem is it IS correct. And not only does it aply to sex but also to dating in general.

    Most 'geeks' and other socially inept people (I'll throw myself in here) go through life wondering why they are socially inept and one of the key factors is they seek consent. (I can show how that works in more detail if you like)

    As to training, I was also concerned that if more males are consent seekers it doesn't help much because the other males just get more dates and rape more.

  3. Thanks for delurking Lauren. Anti stranger-rape education often makes me fee uncomfortable for exactly those reasons.

  4. Anonymous11:33 am

    hi anonymous

    so what you're saying is that if some men start actively seeking consent, 'the system' becomes unfair on them because they might miss out on all the unconsentual sex that rapists get?

    and this is a concerning enough situation that men should not be trained to seek consent?

    go die

  5. For what it's worth, I agree the scenario described is rape. Contrary to what they'd generally have you believe, men are as capable of anyone else of understanding body language and other unspoken signals. This guy Jared would have to be utterly self-centred not to notice that he'd reached a limit - either self-centred or just the kind of person that doesn't give a shit.

    That said, your statements "I know that the only way we can stop rape is by convincing men that women are people..." and "...they think it's more likely that we can catch and convict every rapist, than we can change men's minds" depress me as much as they depress you, although for a different reason. Look at those statements and consider what it would involve to view men, as well as women, as people. For one thing, it would involve not talking about "men" as a class rather than as a set of unrelated individuals, except regarding things that you can prove are descriptive of them as a group (nb - things you can assert are descriptive of them as a group aren't the same thing). For another, it might involve viewing the concept "ensuring there are consequences to rape" not in terms of it being an indicator that no-one can change the mind of the generic class "men", but rather as an indicator that no matter what changes occur in our society, there are going to be people (of both sexes) who are utterly self-centred and/or don't give a shit about others. The male ones would be still likely to rape, and really there should be consequences to that.

    In considering women as people, we have to consider they also bring some obligations to their social interactions with other people, rather than bringing only a set of obligations owed by the class "men" to the class "women." In other words, I expect people I'm interacting with to give me some feedback - if someone's only letting me fuck her because she doesn't want me to think she's a prude and all her/our friends are expecting it, I'd really prefer to know that at the time, when I can do something about it. Freeing one sex partner up from any responsibility for what's happening strikes me as also failing to recognise them as people.

  6. Anonymous10:28 pm

    No, youve obviously missed the point, I resent men who don't seek consent. I also resent women who create the system that rewards them.

    Both can 'go die' as you put it. I guess that includes you.

  7. For some reason I can't seem to delete the recent anonymous comment. Please pretend it's deleted and not respond to it and I'll try again in the morning.

  8. Anonymous4:14 am

    being told to go die makes one hot headed.

    I should correct it anyway, rape is obviously worse than encouraging rape. So I should not have talked like they were equivilent. that doesn't make rewarding it a good strategy.

  9. Anonymous10:38 am

    The situation involves inexperienced, alcohol & hormone fueled teenagers and should be analysed from that view. Hormones & alcohol impair your rational judgement. There is a difference between an unfortunate drunken sexual experience and rape. How many people wake up on a weekend to find then selves in bed with someone they would not date if they were sober? Im sure most of us would have at least one experience of this.

  10. there was a study done here in the states, undergrad men at some university were asked if they would rape a woman if they could get away with it. over 80% of them said they would.

    i think that andrea dworkin was spot on that time she gave a speech about rape to group of men only. men that do rape need to be made a pariah. it's hard for me to get my brain around - we're told that rape is bad, even illegal, yet there are rarely any consequences for those who rape.

    wanted to send you to another link, a good friend of mine -
    i also wrote a similar blog a few days ago...