I've seen a number of articles in recent weeks, all written by women, emphasizing that a woman is (or should be) in total control of her body at all times. All the articles debunked the frequent occurrence of what they referred to as rape (in the context of 'date rape', or sex at a party while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and similar situations), and sought to place all the blame on the men concerned.
To illustrate the general tone of these articles, here's one from an Australian author.
I recall some very uncomfortable moments ... when people I assumed were like-minded about the simple idea that a woman has the right to say no at any point before or during sex revealed some alarming views to the contrary. Views like "if she goes back to a guy's hotel room, what does she expect?" And "it's her fault for putting herself in that situation in the first place". And "scrubbers who hang around football players deserve what they get".
Ugh. The logic here is ugly and warped. It's based on the premise that men cannot control themselves. That they are wild beasts who barge through any door whether it's open or closed. And that women surrender their right not to be sexually assaulted after 2am. Or when hanging around footballers. Or when agreeing to be alone with any man.
The most troubling aspect in this debate is the concept that any woman ever deserves to be sexually assaulted. Naively, I thought we'd progressed miles from the arcane idea of "asking for it", from the idea that a woman's clothing or sexual history had any bearing on her right to say no.
. . .
Back on the phone with my mum, both of us dismayed by some of the attitudes we'd heard expressed publicly, we decided it all came down to the concept of progressive consent. Not a catchy phrase, admittedly, but one that's absolutely crucial when it comes to navigating sex in any context. The premise of progressive consent is this: just because you agree to one thing, it doesn't automatically mean you agree to something else.
If you agree to go home with someone, it doesn't automatically mean you want sex. Maybe you just want to kiss. Maybe you want to decide when you get there. Maybe you agree to one type of sex, but not another. Maybe you agree to have sex with one guy, not two. Or two guys, but not four. Maybe you agree to have sex with the guy you like, but not with his mates watching. Maybe you agreed to have sex an hour ago, but now you don't want to. Now you want to go home. Or go to sleep. And obviously, both parties have the right of refusal at any point - not just the woman. Is that all so hard to understand?
There's more at the link. All the other articles I read were of similar tone.
Ladies, you may hate me for saying this, but there are a few great, big, hairy elephants in the living-room that the author above (and the others I've read recently) won't acknowledge. They include (but are not limited to) the following:
- The consumption of alcohol and/or hallucinogenic drugs, which we know full well will inhibit the operations of logic, rational thought, and moral restraint in both men and women;
- The 'crowd mentality' that can overtake individuals in a group setting (particularly when fueled by alcohol or drugs);
- Different cultural norms that inform and influence the actions of those formed in and by them.
I respectfully submit that these three elements, taken together, can make a mockery of a woman's right to permit or refuse sex. Note that I don't deny the woman's right to do so: I merely point out that under certain circumstances, it won't make a bit of difference to reality. Let me explain.
First, alcohol and drugs. A woman may be able to have a few drinks, or smoke a joint or two, or inhale a couple of lines of cocaine, and remain in control of her faculties. She may be able to decide that she no longer wants to continue flirting with the guy she's been teasing for the past hour or so . . . but is he similarly capable? If he's been drinking and/or doing drugs as well, his tolerance for those substances may be significantly less than hers. Sure, it'll be morally and ethically (and possibly legally) wrong for him to act on his impulses, but by now he neither knows or cares about that. He's reacting out of emotion and animal drive, not intellectually. Under such influences, he may no longer be capable of behaving rationally.
The 'crowd mentality' is another well-known factor. It can influence people to behave very differently to what they'd normally do, particularly if alcohol and/or drugs are an additional factor. Just look at 'street parties' that turn violent; night-club crowds that dissolve into a fighting mob of drunken revelers; celebrations after 'the big game' that degenerate into an orgy of burning vehicles and broken shop windows. The same thing can happen at an ordinary party. I've read more than a few newspaper reports about women who agreed to have sex with an individual at a party, in view of others, and it turned into a 'gang-bang' situation (to which the women hadn't agreed). I'm very sorry that they wound up in such a mess . . . but why the hell did they agree to public sex in the first place? In such an atmosphere, where normal moral and ethical inhibitions are lowered, it's all too easy for things to get out of hand. Those involved may not even realize that she didn't want them to join in. They may take her assent for granted . . . and they're usually in no condition (or mood) to listen to any objections.
Finally, cultural norms. Have you listened to so-called 'gangsta rap'? Notice how women are frequently referred to as 'bitch', 'ho' and the like? What does that tell you about the status of women in such a society? That's right . . . they're very low on the totem pole. They're seen as existing for the use (and abuse) of men. I've met many such men in my work as a prison chaplain (because, inevitably, many of them end up behind bars). Their attitudes are a fact of life . . . and such men are present in every single US town or city. They sometimes come into contact with others from different backgrounds, such as women who've been brought up to have more self-respect, and say 'no', and expect the men in their lives to honor their choice: but these men, from a very different background, have never had to take any notice of 'no' before. If you run into one at a street party, or drunken after-the-big-game celebration, he may not pay any attention to your protestations that you don't want to go all the way. If he thinks you've given him the slightest encouragement (even mild flirting), that justifies him, in his mind, to go to the limit - whether you like it or not. That's your purpose in life, as far as he's concerned. You're sex on the hoof, nothing more.
I'm afraid that women simply have to safeguard themselves against such dangers. Such safeguards include not going to places where you don't have any sort of safety net; not over-indulging in alcohol or drugs (in public, at least); not flirting with strangers; and being aware of differences in social background and ethos. If a woman insists that such factors are irrelevant, and that her choice must always be the dominant factor, she's living in cloud cuckoo land, I'm afraid. She's lost contact with reality.
I've worked with rape victims, and I'm all too horrifyingly aware of the devastating consequences of this crime. I grew up with three sisters, and have had a number of relationships with the opposite sex. I'm not blind to the rights of women, and was brought up to accept them as the norm. However, those rights didn't stop my parents teaching my sisters to dress, speak and behave appropriately, avoid potentially dangerous situations, and in general behave like ladies. Because they did so, and were taught to get out of a potentially harmful situation as soon as they detected it 'going downhill', none of them had any serious problems with men . . . unlike many of their friends and peers.
Let me try to express this conundrum by means of an analogy. I don't want to be run down by a drunk driver. Therefore, I try to practice defensive driving, including staying away from areas where I'm likely to encounter such drivers (e.g. bars in a roadside strip mall on a Friday night, and so on). By keeping clear of the danger, I'm being prudent. It won't help me to insist that I have the right to be on the road outside that bar-filled strip mall at any time I choose. Sure, I have that right: but if I choose to exercise it at certain times, and/or in certain places, I'm asking for trouble. I should - I do! - know better; therefore, I modify my behavior. Is that too hard to understand?
I'd like to hear from readers about this - particularly the ladies. Am I being unrealistic, or unfair, or sexist, in holding these views? Am I correct in thinking that it's a woman's responsibility to take such factors into account, and avoid such dangers if possible? I accept that sometimes the dangers can't be avoided, but one can minimize them by careful preparation and attention to detail. If one chooses not to do so, but rushes into potentially dangerous situations without care or concern, without planning or precautions . . . isn't the blame for anything that happens at least partially on one's own shoulders?
What say you, readers?