Suffice it to say, this post may be triggering. You have no idea how hard it is for me to start this post. I’ve tried about five different times. The problem is that it is so hard to approach something that is so close to my own personal history. I also have male friends, and I don’t want to alienate them. It’s hard to write something that may make someone think of themselves poorly. If that’s the case, I can’t say I’m sorry. This is one of those times, one of those issues, where it isn’t about the guilt it may make someone feel to confront their own internal biases. This is for me. This is for every woman that has ever gone through this. This is for any woman who has ever been told “you didn’t say yes, but you didn’t say no”. This is necessary to say, even if it hurts feelings, or I lose my treasured male friends because of saying it. I’m not one of those feminists that believes all men are inherently evil, but no one, male or female, wants to believe they’re capable of something they despise in others.
So, down to brass tacks:
“No means no”. Simple concept, right? No, it really isn’t. Here’s why.
No doesn’t mean “man, she just needs a few drinks to loosen her up.”
No doesn’t mean “come on, baby. I love you, I want you. You can’t leave me hanging!”
No doesn’t mean “you’re so beautiful! You can’t keep promising me we’ll have sex then not giving it to me.”
No doesn’t mean “you need to show me you love me.”
What it means is if a guy doesn’t have enthusiastic consent, he should stop. What am I talking about here?
If she needs to be “convinced” to sleep with you, STOP.
If she needs a drink/drugs to sleep with you, STOP.
If she says “no” ONCE, STOP.
There are some women in this world with psychological problems that find it hard enough to say no the first time, none the less after hours of badgering. What enthusiastic consent says is that if a man needs to “wear down” a woman’s resolve to get her to sleep with him, it’s the same thing as putting a gun to her head and telling her you don’t give a damn about her opinion on the matter. Badgering a woman can be the same as drugging her drink. Guilt tripping a woman into sex she would ordinarily not give you, and/or when she has already said no, is actually the same as drugging her drink.
It’s that simple. It’s that harsh. How is forcing a woman through words any different than forcing her by physical means? That’s what’s at the heart of enthusiastic consent. Rapists were, for a time (and still are, to a huge extent), getting away with rape by virtue of having told their victims “consent or this will get really ugly”. That’s pretty clearly rape, though, right?
The problem that I see a lot of men having with this is that they don’t want to admit women have a point when they discuss the need for enthusiastic consent. They don’t want to admit that they may have, by this definition, committed rape. I’ve gotten into many arguments in the past that involve “there’s no such thing as rape after the fact” or “she only cried rape because she changed her mind the next day”. To men thinking that way right now, I ask you to think about something; to ask yourself one question: Did those men pursue sex after she said ‘no’ the first time?
I can hear it now as if in a room full of guys. “Gee, Mana. You’re accusing a huge category of men of rape!” To that I have to say; “if the shoe fits,”. If you’re a man reading this and it hurts you to think that you may have been capable of having hurt a woman this way in the past, I have to say to you to take that hurt and realize that it’s probably what separates you from a sociopath or a psychopath. That doesn’t mean you’re absolved of blame, but it means you’re capable of taking this to heart. You’re capable of learning. You’re capable of understanding.
What I’m saying is that she may not consider what you did rape, and by the legal definition, it may not have been. Are there lovers I’ve been with that pressured me into sex I didn’t want? Yes. Do I classify some of those encounters as sexual assault? Yes. Do I classify them all that way? No. Is that hypocritical and confusing? Yes; for me especially. Enthusiastic consent is a black and white concept in a paradigm that’s a whole lot of grey. Sadly, that black and white is sometimes what’s necessary to protect those that would otherwise have no recourse in the most extreme of circumstances.
So, to the men that probably feel pretty damn alienated by this post, I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry if you’re looking at something you may or may not have done in the past with shame and hurt right now. All I can say to you is this:
Next time you’re with a woman and she shows even the slightest hesitation about foreplay, sex, touching, even hugging or holding hands, take it straight to heart! Don’t be that guy that pressures a woman. Don’t be that guy that uses guilt. Just don’t. Full stop the minute she appears not to be at your level, because that’s the only way to know that you’re not pushing her. If she gets mad at you or accuses you of not wanting her or not caring, you just tell her “I’d rather risk you being mad at me for that then push you into something you’re not into.”
And, frankly, if you ever run into a woman that honestly has a problem with you after telling her that? Send her to me. Because, while I’ve been hard on the menfolk, it isn’t totally only a male problem. It’s a societal problem. It’s ingrained into our culture so deeply and completely that it causes a shock of cognitive dissonance to a lot of people, male and female, when first they hear about it. It’s no different than so many other concepts that challenge the way you may have been brought up to see yourself; concepts that go against the accepted norm. That’s also what is meant by the words “rape culture”, which is another post for another time.
It’s hard for me to write about this. There are more women out there then you’d believe that understand how much. This isn’t an abstract concept for me. This isn’t something I’m making up, or an opinion. This is the world I live in. These are the memories I fight with every fibre of my being every time a man approaches me; even the ones I live with and consider the loves of my life.