Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Anything Else Means Yes"

I want to talk about consent: specifically, things about consent I only recently began to realize.

For those who aren't aware, several youtubers were outed for using their influence to take advantage of women, from grabbing women on camera without consent to manipulating underage girls into doing sexual things with them (off camera).

(For more details, links at the bottom.)

Other youtubers are blacklisting them, telling followers not to give the offenders their business. Among the rightful anger and sorrow, a lot of wise things were said about what consent means and what counts as sexual abuse.

There are obvious ones: grabbing random girls' butts, for instance. Sam Pepper had no consent; the touches were unwanted. In the case of Tom Milsom, Olga was technically his girlfriend, but she was underage and emotional abuse and blackmail were involved. Obviously sexual abuse.

Plenty of people in Tom's circles knew Olga as a fangirl, not realizing she became his girlfriend. Tom used the fact that he was a pop icon and girls wouldn't say no in order to get what he wanted. No means no, but if a girl can't say no because he's a person with voice and authority, that doesn't mean she's saying yes. It doesn't mean it's her fault, she's stupid, or she's weak. If someone with a lot of influence over you says, "Let's have sex, it's not wrong, you'll enjoy it," it's extremely difficult to say no. Even though you don't want to, you'll do it.

Saying that Olga chose her idols poorly is a form of victim-blaming. Nobody saw this coming. Friends of the abusers are shocked. The sexual offenders covered it up well.

One offender didn't understand how bad his crime was. As if luring someone with kindness and attention is okay because in the end the girl doesn't say no (because she feels indebted and trapped). Consent means you're adults who both explicitly say, "Yes, I'm okay with XYZ."

The social movement against rape culture says repeatedly: no means no. But we aren't as clear that the lack of no isn't yes. Silence doesn't mean yes. Hedging doesn't mean yes.

Many women have reason to fear negative responses for explicitly saying no. When a friend asked me out and I turned him down, he got staggeringly drunk in response, knowingly inciting my pity. I nearly changed my mind just to stop his destructive behavior. Luckily I was too pissed by his manipulations and ended communication.

We face all sorts of negative responses for saying no, from manipulation to physical violence. Sometimes we'll say anything to drive the harasser away. When it's not safe to say no, you can't complain when someone isn't explicit in denying you.

Being in a relationship doesn't mean yes either. Many of us assume being in a relationship entails at least some level of consent. You consented to the relationship, after all. But did you? You consented to be in a certain type of relationship; the terms of that relationship can change. It began as an understanding to date exclusively; then you renegotiated the relationship to include kissing. How do you know it doesn't include sexual touches now too?

Did the person say you could touch them? No? Then it's not included in the terms of the relationship. If you want to renegotiate, ask. Dating someone doesn't mean you owe them anything.

The first time someone touched my butt in an unwanted way, it was a boyfriend. Upset, I wondered if I was allowed to say no; after all, we were dating. This is rape culture: we don't know if we're allowed to say no to something after saying yes to the date.

After several more offenses, I decided I had the right to tell him off, and furiously did so. He tried to negotiate and I said no. It took more conversation before he agreed. It's sad that neither I nor my boyfriend knew if I had the right to say no--that we doubted if I had the right simply because I had agreed to the relationship.

I'm not alone in this. It's so normal that I've only recently begun to realize this counts as sexual abuse. I've never met a woman who didn't do things with a boyfriend she regrets. True, some wanted it at the time and later decided they didn't like it. That's not sexual abuse; that's poor sex education and lack of general dialogue about sex. But an overwhelming number of women didn't want it. They allowed the touch because they believed they inadvertently agreed to it.

They say, "it's too bad," as if it's their fault for picking a guy who couldn't help it. Most girls I know feel guilty for letting it happen, as if the onus was on them to do more than simply say no. They swallowed the lies of our culture that men are at the mercy of their urges. BS. Men can contain themselves as well as women. If a man isn't respecting your boundaries or getting your permission, that's his fault, not yours. He's not a nice guy with strong urges; he's an irresponsible douchebag.

I also reject the implicit lie that men's sexual urges are stronger than women's. Studies show women as equally desirous of satisfying* sexual encounters. I'm tired of using the "men just want it more" excuse to justify a lack of self-control.

Man or woman, you have the right to say no. If you don't want it, you don't have to give it. There's no situation where you owe it, no situation where you ought to give in. You're not a prude or a loser. You're protecting yourself. You, and only you, have the right to decide what you do with your body, who touches you, and what your body is worth. Nobody else can dictate that.

Word count: 974.

Links to stuff:

  • The master list, complete with links to everything and who said what when.
  • Evan Edinger had the best personal response I've seen. He knows some of the outed youtubers personally.
  • Hank Green did a great video on consent in March, tearing down the concept that sex has to be a chase where one partner pursues and the other runs away.

* I have to specify satisfying, because it's true that many studies show women desiring sex with their spouses less often than men do. But an overwhelming number of women report being unhappy with their sex lives, unsatisfied, struggling with orgasm, not feeling fulfilled or intimate, etc. A significant number of women have never had an orgasm. Considering our male-centric view of sex, I'm not surprised. If we gave equal weight and focus to male and female pleasure in sex, I think we'd see equal desire for sexual intimacy among male and female heterosexual partners.