On the 5th of every month, bloggers from around the world are open to write about rights and issues concerning women. First started by Shine and Marie, we’re hoping to bring a variety of women’s issues to the forefront to make people aware of what’s going on. For the month of August, we’ve chosen to write about Physical and Mental Abuse. Please join us in telling us your stories, thoughts, and ideas on a monthly basis. To read previous installments, click here.
This is a tough post to write, mainly because I’m convinced I’m going to get comment-flamed if I word any of this wrongly – which I will, and I don’t mean to. Really, it’s all about where you draw the line, isn’t it? It’s not always as simple as ‘she said no’, ‘she said yes’, it was consensual, it wasn’t consensual, all stand for the judge, case closed.
Because people, somehow, get confused. I’d like to say I don’t understand how this happens, but I do. Somehow you drink a bit too much, you’re wearing a short dress, everyone thinks you’re a slut anyway, and you end up in a situation you didn’t answer, and everyone seems to think that’s acceptable.
I remember being really rather incensed earlier this year when I was sitting around the sitting room with my housemates and some of their friends and said friends (guys) were talking about how their housemate had been at home one night, totally sober, when this girl he knows shows up at his house absolutely and utterly drunk out of her mind, and he invited her in and before she passed out altogether had sex with her. He was totally sober; she was totally drunk. My housemates and their friends were falling about laughing because actually, the way this story was told, was that M started by saying, ‘oh god, it was hilarious, H raped some girl last night’. She was far too drunk to give consent and while, yes, perhaps in the situation that was kind of what she wanted, and maybe that makes it alright, I’m not sure it does.
Do you see what I mean about lines? And then, what do you say – consent or not-consent? Friend A goes to visit Girl, B. A is coming on strong from the beginning and B keeps saying that she really isn’t interested, and she keeps on saying this, but somehow she’s too trusting and not assertive enough and a friendly shoulder rub turns into naked full-body massage turns into, somehow, her giving up and saying, OK then, yes, if that’s really what you want, and he sticks his cock in her mouth, and then they have sex. And it wasn’t what she wanted but she let him do it anyway because she didn’t really know how to say no and make sure he knew she meant it – I mean, how many times should you have to say it? And he was so reasonable somehow about everything, twisting the situation, making her reticence seem somehow unfair of her and not a perfectly normal reaction to the circumstances. Technically it’s consent, but it feels like a violation, and actually, look at it a slightly different way, he’s only a teenage boy, perhaps he’s really not that good at reading body language and understanding that ‘no’ isn’t a come-on in real life even though it is in the movies and in porn and the rest.
And there, coyness is our undoing, because how can we expect men to always know the difference between a ‘no’ that means ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ that means ‘no’? And does that make the situation partly her fault, or not? And if it is partly her fault, does that make it any less of a bad thing in her mind? Or somehow worse?
And so it’s all very well, all this simplistic feminist banging on about how wearing a short skirt or drinking too much doesn’t constitute consent, and how if you’re wearing skinny jeans that doesn’t mean it can’t possibly be rape; and it’s all very well, on the other side, arguing that you should stay safe and always get a licensed cab home, but actually I bet you most of the time, most women who have had that kind of experience are on a date, with a friend, with an ex, someone they know, and that person just somehow misunderstands or doesn’t recieve the signals they’re being sent, and it’s all the consequence of a series of terrible misjudgements, and perhaps if Friend A had any idea about how Girl B felt about what happened, he would feel incredibly guilty, but of course, she stopped answering his calls, starting the following day, and maybe he’ll never learn. Maybe he did know that what he was doing was wrong, but he didn’t quite realise just how wrong. Maybe she told him as he stuck it in, you know I’m going to hate you forever for this – and what clearer signal could you possibly ask for – but she was already naked and so he didn’t believe her.
So I don’t know what the answer really is. How can we educate women and men, girls and boys, to understand the signals they’re getting and to give out the clearest possible answers? How can we make sure that we all understand what we want from a given situation and we all understand what the other person wants too?
It’s not always meant to be abuse. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t abuse, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a violation or that it’s not every bit as wrong as it is. There are men out there, I’m sure, who don’t care to get consent before they undo their flies, but for every one of them, I think there are at least ten who just didn’t understand ‘no’ when they heard it.
What I’m really saying is, black and white thinking is not helpful to anyone. There isn’t always a clear line. We’re human beings, and we hurt one another more than anything else on this planet can possibly hurt us. And that doesn’t make rape any less terrible – for goodness’ sake, if anything, it probably makes it worse. Because of course you’re thinking, was I to blame? If I’d drunk less/worn more/not gone out to meet him for dinner…and there isn’t an honest answer.
It’s all about being assertive, they tell you. And that’s all very well if you’re already confident and articulate and you have that self-esteem and that feeling of self-worth and you know you’re well within your rights to scratch this ‘friend’ in the eyeballs, or scream, or kick him in the balls. But what if you’re not? So many of us aren’t, and it’s not the kind of lesson you can learn in a day or call upon just at the moment you need it.
Sometimes there is a clear line, of course. Some men really do look down on women – wives, girlfriends, lovers – and don’t see them for the human beings they are. Some men really do think that some girls deserve rape. But to think that group of men constitute all the rapists in the world and all the men who have ever hurt a woman physically or emotionally is to oversimplify an issue and mean that it’ll be harder than anything to get this sorted so women don’t end up in those situations. And I don’t know what the answer is.