Musings about consent

*** Trigger warning ***

Over at Shakesville, Melissa asked the question, “In what ways has the idea of sexual assault and/or street harassment affected your daily movements?” The comments made me cry and made me furious. The one comment that really stuck out for me, amongst all the stories of rape and assault, was someone adding, as a footnote almost, the times that she has said yes to sex when she didn’t really want to.

I have not been raped where I never consented to sexual contact.

But have I been raped if I said yes when I wanted to say no? Because I’ve done that. Have you been there too? When it just becomes easier to say yes and get it over with so the man (usually your partner, in this type of situation) will stop bothering you trying to get you in the mood, rather than continuing to say no and have to come up with justifications? Or maybe you haven’t wanted to in awhile and you worry that if you keep saying no, the relationship might suffer, so you say yes?

Because I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I can remember crying after sex, silently because I did not want him to know, because I felt ashamed. I never got so far in my thought process to think that he should be the one who was ashamed, that he had guilted / coerced / pressured me into having sex that I did not want to have. I never stopped to think that every time I did this, I perpetuated the cycle within my relationship because I had then rewarded his tactics with exactly what it was that he wanted.

I never thought of it as rape.

But now … now I think it is. It’s not the same kind of rape as someone forcibly pinning you down and violating you, but it is a rape nonetheless. It is a rape that is performed by our society – women are put in such a position that saying no to sex can have negative implications that sometimes outweigh our right to an un-violated body.

I am now looking at this from a completely different angle. In future, if a man wants to have sex with me and I do not, and he does not accept that ‘no’ as the final word, I am going to view him as a possible future rapist. My body belongs to me and someone who cannot respect that I know what I want and I know what is best for me is not someone I want to be intimate with. It just does not seem like such a large step to go from unrelentingly begging / cajoling / coaxing / etc to simply taking what he wants. He is already showing a lack of concern for me – how long before the leap in “logic” occurs to him?

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6 Responses to Musings about consent

  1. donna says:

    And how is someone supposed to know that? You’re practically expecting men (and women — I’ve certainly done my fair share of coercing) to be mindreaders.

    I’ve been cajoled into sex that I ended up enjoying, and I’ve been cajoled into sex that I didn’t. And in the cases where I didn’t, that was 100% MY issue for not being more firm. If I can’t say no, then yes, that IS my fault, and you cannot, simply *can not* try to ruin someones life by calling it rape after something you consented to.

    Nobody should say yes to sex they don’t want. And yes, it’s fucking brutal that many of us have done it, for whatever reason. But if we’re consenting, for whatever reason, it’s still consent. That’s the very definition of “not rape”.

    Rape is a very, VERY emotionally charged word. And as someone who HAS been pinned down and forced, I am GROSSLY offended that anyone would compare the two.

    Again — it’s not cool, and it shouldn’t happen as much as it does… but find another word for it, because that’s not rape.

  2. marmot says:

    While I agree with some fundamentals behind this argument (ie there is a power differential between men and women, which can lead to some nasty stuff), I don’t agree that the situation you’re describing is rape.

    If a woman consents to sex, and still has the power to choose, I don’t consider it rape. Now, it gets more blurry if she’s in a situation where afraid for her safety, or she’s economically dependent on a man and has no resources to turn to – if the power differential becomes that extreme, I think of it as a nonconsent situation. But what you’re describing isn’t a power differential of that magnitude.

    I get quite upset when I read these sorts of arguments, because as a rape survivor, I feel it trivialises rape. I agree that it’s not cool to be pressured into having sex, but if you still retain the right to say no, I think you’re talking about a different thing – not necessarily an insignificant thing either, but not rape.

  3. erin says:

    Donna, you said: But if we’re consenting, for whatever reason, it’s still consent.

    Marmot, you said: I agree that it’s not cool to be pressured into having sex, but if you still retain the right to say no, I think you’re talking about a different thing… (Emphasis mine)

    And my point is, if one is not freely giving consent, then it is not a freely made choice. The patriarchy in our society puts women in a situation where consent is not always freely given.

  4. donna says:

    disclaimer: I tried really hard to sanitize this, but the more I think about it, the stronger my reaction gets. I won’t say anything more on the subject, because I’m pretty close to being physically ill at the concept already.

    I think we have a big, BIG disagreement on what constitutes freely given consent.

    If their life or livelihood is at stake (ie, the gun to your head argument) then they’re not capable of giving consent. If their mental status is seriously altered, or they’re underage, or otherwise incapable of understanding what they’re consenting to, it’s not consent.

    Giving in because you’re tired of arguing IS consent.

    Admittedly, the line of consent is fuzzy (heck, we spent a whole day in my EMR class on what’s considered consent, albeit for a slightly different topic) and there are grey areas… but “I want to save my relationship” and “I’m being held down against my will” aren’t even in the same zip code, and again, as someone who’s been in the “held down against my will” category, I have a near visceral reaction to the thought that someone saying “OK, fine, whatever, let’s have sex if that’ll make you happy” is the same thing. That… god, there are no words for how horrifying that concept is to me.

    Until you’ve virtually crawled home, bruised and broken with their laughter still ringing in your ears … and not having any idea how to stop it from happening again, don’t even THINK to tell me they’re the same thing.

    The word “rape” has been watered down so much that it barely means anything anymore. It doesn’t need to be watered down any more.

    I disagree with the concept that all women are victims by default, and we have no personal responsibility to take care of ourselves. You might be consenting for the wrong reasons, but you’re still consenting.

    Don’t get me wrong, being pressured into sex is still wrong, but don’t call it rape. It’s an insulting comparison to anyone who HAS been raped.

  5. erin says:

    Donna, I hear what you are saying. In fact, in my original post, I said: It’s not the same kind of rape as someone forcibly pinning you down and violating you, but it is a rape nonetheless.

    From the online Oxford English dictionary: verb 1 (of a man) force (another person) to have sexual intercourse with him against their will. 2 spoil or destroy (a place)

    From the online Mirriam-Webster dictionary: 1 : an act or instance of robbing or despoiling or carrying away a person by force 2 : unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent 3 : an outrageous violation

    The actual definition of the word does not have to include physical force. I understand your concerns regarding the watering down of the word. However, I’m using it in a valid way. “An outrageous violation” sums up what I mean quite well. If a man, a man I am in a relationship with and who professes to love me, pressures me non-stop to have sex, not stopping until I say yes, even though I do not want to, I think that is a pretty outrageous violation of my rights as a person. I should have the freedom to say no, and have that be the end of it.

    Of course, this is a feminist issue, and we already know that we disagree on that stance, so that may be why you seem to be comfortable taking the blame* in these situations and I see it as an entrenched problem in our society.

    *I’m saying this based on this line in your first comment: And in the cases where I didn’t, that was 100% MY issue for not being more firm. If I can’t say no, then yes, that IS my fault…

  6. donna says:

    Almost every one of your definitions (ie, the ones that are actually relevant to sexual activity, to which “an outrageous violation” does not specify) includes the word “force”. In no way does “begging” include force.

    Like I said: Find another word. Please.

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