Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I have been thinking a lot about the idea of consent recently, from all different perspectives.  The Men and Masculinity class circulated a survey about rape culture, and rape culture in Prescott.  In the F-Word, we read Betrayed by the Angel, which, although it described a stranger-rape, a blatant case of sexual violence, exemplified how women are socialized into saying yes when they would say no, into ameliorating situations for the sake of men instead of taking a stand for their actual wants and needs.  Then, while I was wandering the interwebs for sources for my presentation on high heels, I came across Katie Roiphe, who published The Morning After.
The Morning After proposes that the anti-date-rape culture casts women as weak, without agency.  Roiphe, as an undergrad at Harvard and then in her graduate studies at Princeton, during which she published this book, grew frustrated with how women were turned into victims and taught to constantly fear, through things like Take Back the Night marches, the blue light system, and acquaintance rape awareness education.  
I have to admit, as inflammatory and counter-intuitive as her book is, I felt an inclination to agree with a lot of what Roiphe said.  Like her, I was raised by a strong second-wave feminist mother and a supportive father, with access to high quality education, and I have always assumed the mantle of responsibility for my many poor decision-making moments.  I have never felt victimized.  Coming from this background, it is hard for me imagine being in a situation where I have not given full consent; even if I have not specifically verbalized that consent, I am generally in control of the situation.  
Through courses like the F Word, I have come to understand how the socialization of gender roles in this society can foment situations where women do not feel empowered to vocalize their wants and needs.  Roiphe, I think, is ignoring the influence of the dominant culture which does disenfranchise women.  I do not fault her for wanting to see an ideal feminism in an ideal world, where all women, even without the privileges that she had, feel strong and independent.  But feminists fighting the rape culture know that this is not true.
On a personal level, however, I do not feel a need for my partners to be more intentional in gaining consent.  What caught my attention about consent in general is the idea that gender-identified men also find themselves in situations where they are uncomfortable with the experience but do not feel comfortable saying “no”. The piece of the date rape issue that Katie Roiphe is missing in her analysis is the societal influence; individual women are not all victims, but as a whole, women are oppressed and men are oppressors.  In the same way, individual men are not all preying on women, but are inherently part of a system where they have power over women.  This power dynamic serves neither party, as we've talked about in class.
When it comes to sex there are prescribed roles for men and for women meant to uphold this system through enforcing the gender binary.  One aspect of that binary is that (supposedly) men always want sex while women are always the gatekeepers of sex, and it is the man's job to convince/coerce/cajole women into having it.  Obviously, this places women in the uncomfortable position of having to defend their sexuality and honor; even if we are agreeable to the experience itself,  our reputation is in jeopardy.  But what about the gender-identified men?  What about those who want sex to be based in love, or who just don't want to complicate their lives with the risks, responsibilities, and expectations of always being sexual active, but who are told that in order to “be a man”, they must go out and get some?
As a confident, assertive woman, I often make the first move with lovers.  I recently started thinking about whether or not I receive full consent with the people that I am sexual with.  I am interested specifically in the interactions I have with gender-identified men, the gender that is supposedly always after sex.  I wanted to probe specifically into my interactions with men because the of the cultural assumption that in a non-consensual situation, it is always the man that has failed to receive full consent.  There are weird emotional dynamics around the idea of being a woman who had taken advantage of a man; like we heard today about female-perpetrated abuse and female serial killers, there is a notion that women who would do something like that are more monstrous than man, because as a woman they are naturally supposed to be nurturers, etc., while men naturally have more aggressive tendencies.  Another emotional reaction to considering this idea is that what kind of woman am I if I have to take advantage of men?  As a woman I am supposed to attract men with my femininity, what does it say about my ability to do femininity if the men I have been with did not actually feel okay with hooking up with me?
For my action piece, I spoke to two former male-identified lovers who I have a close friendship with and could trust to be open and honest.  With these two in particular, I remembered being especially assertive, possibly even demanding, of my own needs and wants.  Both of them assured me that they had enjoyed their time with me and respected the fact that I was a confident, assertive woman.  With both, I talked about how the way that I express my sexuality is different than the standard model of feminine sexuality.  These men acknowledged that fact, but both agreed that they see it as a good thing.  However, when I asked, one said that the way I act could be intimidating to men, especially in a more mainstream environment then the Prescott College community.  
Both of these men seemed intrigued by the idea of men being socialized into hooking up when they didn’t really want to.  When I thought of talking to these two, it was because I remember being in high school and feeling that if I had been flirting with someone all evening, virtually putting the option of sex on the table, I couldn’t then say no if later on I didn’t actually want to have it.  I wondered if something similar had ever happened to men who flirted with me and then we ended up in a bedroom.  One of the former lovers I spoke to seemed to think that in the majority of cases, men actually do always want sex; even if they didn’t, he believes that it is easy for men to say no when they don’t.  The other, I think, found more credence in the idea that men are socialized into sex; he is coming from a background of a traditional family structure that clashes, I think, with the sexually “liberated” (refer back to Hannah’s prezo) culture in the US today.  In both conversations, we came to the conclusion that the culture in the US has contradicting aspects where it both pushes sex on everyone yet doesn’t let people speak openly about it.  Although neither of them felt taken advantage of or coerced by me, both situations could have benefited from increased communication, and I think that’s true for most sex today.  Both thanked me for bringing up the idea of consent from all sides; the conversations were productive and positive.
In thinking that I could have put these men in a position where they felt uncomfortable with the situation, I reveal my similarity to Katie Roiphe.  Thanks to my wonderful parents and the community they raised me in, I still have the tendency, like Roiphe, to generalize my experience and believe that we are in a post-feminist world, where a confident woman could have coercive power over men around her.  Unlike Katie Roiphe, though, I am working on understanding how it is for other women around me, and hopefully, through intentional conversations promoting consent culture, take little baby steps towards that utopia.

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