Mar 18, 2011

The big "consent continuum" lie

Trigger Warning

Not to be outshone by august publications like the New York Times, our very own Daily Mail has decided to have a go at blaming children for being raped.

In this case, the children were 12 years old and one of them was raped by 5 men, the other by one. Let's just quickly get definitional snarking out of the way: children of 12 are not deemed capable of informed consent. Any sexual contact with them is rape.

While the Mail goes into loving detail of what they obviously see as the objectionable and blame-worthy actions of the victims, which I will not dignify with repeating here, it is nevertheless the case that they were both raped, one of them repeatedly. It's remarkable if not surprising that a major newspaper would go to such lengths to ascribe agency and apportion blame to children; this and the NYT case mark some kind of new low in rape reportage.

A close reading & heartfelt rant of the first water on the totality of the Mails' coverage can be found here.

My personal attention, however, was caught by two sentences in this article:
The other girl was more reluctant and was raped by just one player.
She was initially reluctant but eventually gave in to his persistence.
On the face of it, the two statements imply quite different things: the first, that you can be more, or less, reluctant to be raped - that there are indeed degrees of rapitude, in which one's desire to not be forcibly penetrated ebbs and flows according to some unspecified set of external factors. The second refers more obliquely to what many if not all of us have grown up to believe to be a normal part of female sexual development: initial reluctance eventually overcome by male persistence (commonly known as wrestling in the back row).

But what I would say is that actually both of these statements say the same thing, they just approach it from different ends:

A woman wanting or not wanting to have sex is a moving target - it's an elastic band that, if pulled in just the right way, will result in her allowing herself to be had sex with (in this case of course we're talking about children so it's irrelevant, but I think this is quite representative of a very mainstream view of women's agency in matters of consent).

The default position is of not wanting to have sex: the gatekeeping responsibility of women and girls in this regard is a widespread social phenomenon and is at the bottom of much slut shaming, as well as more severe instances of punishing rape victims for what is seen as their own dishonour by stoning, banishment etc. Women who do want to have sex, and admit it openly, are either a priori shunned and persecuted in more "traditional" societies, or in our more "liberal" one are singled out for ridicule and criticism, as in the case of Jordan and other openly sexual women.

So the elastic, in this popular construction beloved of the tabloids, needs something to pull against - the woman's default position of not agreeing to sex. The only safe position from which to legitimately engage in sexual activity is one of initial non-consent.

In simpler terms: "At the moment we teach girls that their job is essentially to say "no" until somebody bullies them into changing their minds. We teach them that sex is rape."

That, friends, is rape culture.

It's also important to recognise that however far the elastic is pulled - however much a man pushes against a woman's non-consent in order to achieve what they can both be expected to believe is the legitimate result - the overpowering of her will and selfhood - the woman is never ever off the hook. The safety offered by initial reluctance and eventual submission, á la Madame de Tourvel, is entirely illusory. Young women can be blamed for being raped because of what they wore; children can be blamed for being raped for lying about their age; and Madame de Tourvel died anyway.

And there you have it. Rape culture. A culture that teaches that every sexual interaction ought to be rape: it should start from a position in which the woman does not want to have sex, but does it anyway. Which is rape.

Feminists are constantly and boringly accused of hating on men, and poor old Andrea Dworkin has been erroneously quoted as calling them all rapists so many times that we may as well just print the t-shirts and be done with it.

But we're not the ones who think all sex is rape. It's people who blame women for not resisting enough, not screaming enough, not suffering enough for having sex forced on them who are the real believers in the idea that all sex should basically be a humiliation to women, a subjugation of their will. It's newspapers like the Daily Mail and New York Times that sneakily perpetuate the idea that consent is some kind of continuum, with "grey areas", "fine lines" and all other manner of twattery, and who, when the elastic snaps, turn around and hate on children for not keeping it wound tight enough, who are the authors of sex as rape.

Feminists believe - nay, KNOW - that actually there are two distinct conditions with regard to women and sex: they either want to, at any given moment with any given man for any given act, do it - or they don't. If they don't, and someone "overcomes their reluctance", it's rape. Simple. Of course in order to buy into that, you have to believe that women actually like sex, and can enjoy it and want it rather than do it to please or manipulate men - but that's way more than I'd expect from the Mail, and in any case the subject for another post.

1 comment:

  1. AAARGH this has been driving me nutty. The only person responsible for a rape is the person doing the raping. How anyone can think otherwise is beyond me.

    Or maybe I can go nick a $25,000 necklace and tell people it was so damn shiny it was asking for it and it didn't do anything to stop me from nicking it, so it must have wanted to be taken!