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88 Responses

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin June 15, 2010 at 9:23 am |

    Let me try to expand things out to a more macro level, if I may. In short, we are all being manipulated constantly. As you’ve written, manipulation and coercion are key to sexual assault.

    So much of our capitalist system is built on the concept of manipulation and coercion, especially through marketing and advertising. This is true in the media, true in politics, true in interpersonal conduct, and true in all kinds of areas. And while these might not be immediately violent, they are sometimes the precursors to violence.

    I appreciate your sober and interesting analysis. In my opinion, if we really want to confront the root causes of rape culture, we might consider looking at an even broader spectrum of influence.

  2. Faith
    Faith June 15, 2010 at 9:54 am |

    “The degree of consensuality is defined only by the person who experienced it.”

    While I appreciate the importance of people being able to define their own experiences, I also have to disagree with this at least to a certain extent. It is possible for a person to be raped and not be aware that what occurred was rape. How a person defines their sexual encounters is going to be largely based on their sexual education. If they have not been given a clear education on what consent is or what rape is or is not, then they are not going to have a clear picture of their sexual encounters. If, for instance, a woman has been taught to believe that men have some sort of entitlement to sexual access to women’s bodies, at least under certain circumstances, it is very much possible for a man to rape this woman and the woman being unable to properly identify or articulate what has occurred.

  3. btnk
    btnk June 15, 2010 at 10:05 am |

    Would the legal system ever use this type of definition if it was rape is determined by post sexual encounter criteria?

  4. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 11:14 am |

    It is possible for a person to be raped and not be aware that what occurred was rape.

    Absolutely – this is basically what happened with me. What I’m saying is that it is important not for outside parties to define women’s experiences for them.

  5. benvolio
    benvolio June 15, 2010 at 11:17 am |

    This is seriously tangential, but I can’t help but share: The Boston crowd at the NBA finals game last night serenaded Kobe Bryant with a chant of “No Means No!” whenever he came to the free-throw line.

    Not that I’m imagining Boston basketball fans are undergoing an anti-rape culture enlightenment, but geez, that’s a little bit of awesome.

  6. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 11:19 am |

    BTNK- not being a legal scholar, I couldn’t say. Women’s voices, thoughts, and feelings are completely devalued in the prosecution of rape, so I can’t see pre-assault manipulation into consent being taken into account.

  7. JutGory
    JutGory June 15, 2010 at 11:21 am |

    “The degree of consensuality is defined only by the person who experienced it.”

    This is problematic, as well, because the person who initiated the contact may not have experienced raping someone; the person may have experienced consent. In short, the two people involved in the experience may have experienced different things.

    So, whose definition of the experience is more valid or accurate? And why?

    -Jut

    1. Cara
      Cara June 15, 2010 at 11:25 am |

      Jut — whose definition of an experience where one party feels raped and the other party doesn’t feel like a rapist matters most? Really? You need to ask that question? Because I say that if you do, you’ve just taken the side of a hell of a lot of rapists. Including, I’m quite sure, mine. Thanks for that.

      By the way, in a rape, the two people always experience different things — one experiences the sense of intense violation of self, one experiences what it’s like to violate another person in that manner, and usually a rush of power. There’s really quite the gap between those two.

  8. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 11:26 am |

    This is problematic, as well, because the person who initiated the contact may not have experienced raping someone; the person may have experienced consent.

    Lots of rapists think they’ve experienced consent. Sometimes that consent that they “experience” is simply “she didn’t say no”, “she kissed me back at first”. My whole point here is that they may have extracted consent out of someone who didn’t really want to. They may think they’ve experience consent enough to assauge their guilt, to avoid legal repercussions, but that does not mean that what they did was actually OK and totally cool.

    It’s on the initiating partner to make sure that their partner gives full and enthusiastic consent. It’s on the person who starts the encounter to make sure that the person they are doing it with is cool with it. If the other partner has expressed doubt or reluctance to proceed with anything, that’s a sign that the initiating partner needs to back off.

  9. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos June 15, 2010 at 11:29 am |

    You know what I’d love.

    I’d love it if we could separate out the messy legal issues from the equally messy issues of emotional reaction and support. Even if there’s no hope of pursuing a rape case in the court system, victims have a right to identify sexual behavior as harmful, and the right to seek out support as a result. And meanwhile, far more focus needs to be spent on ensuring that everyone walks away from the experience joyful and enthusiastic.

  10. Einvernehmlicher Sex ist es, wenn keiner es bedauert « Alles Evolution

    [...] einem Artikel auf feministe.us wird nun noch etwas weiter an der Schraube gedreht. Es reicht nicht mehr aus, wenn die Frau [...]

  11. Jenny
    Jenny June 15, 2010 at 11:31 am |

    While I agree in theory, you can’t hold people legally responsible for the FEELINGS of others, only their own actions. If someone asks me to do something, and I feel a pressure that they aren’t actually trying to project, and do it grudgingly, and feel bad about it later… that doesn’t mean the person ever meant to do something that would make me feel bad about it. I know that by and large, this isn’t the case, and manipulators know what they’re doing. But I’ve had enough misunderstandings (in sexual and nonsexual situations) even with my fiance, who understands me better than anyone, to know that how you feel is not necessarily how the other person meant for you to feel…or thought you felt, or would want you to feel. If you don’t speak up and stand up for yourself, the other person will not always know they’re making you uncomfortable. Some people are unempathetic, some are just idiots, but it doesn’t mean they’re all evil. (Of course, if you speak up, as in the example you gave, and they force the issue anyway…)

    1. Cara
      Cara June 15, 2010 at 11:36 am |

      (Of course, if you speak up, as in the example you gave, and they force the issue anyway…)

      So if you admit that what was actually discussed in the post isn’t what you’re talking about, why exactly are you bringing it up? In my mind, it really just serves to conflate the two and suggest that what was discussed in the post may have been somehow excusable.

  12. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 11:40 am |

    @ CBrachyrhynchos EXACTLY. That’s pretty much what I’m trying to say – that women like me who have experienced assault through manipulation and pressure have the right to recognize and talk about their experiences as such.

    @ Jenny Like I said, everyone has the right to determine their own experiences, and I’m not telling you what you’ve experienced or what’s happened to you.

    you can’t hold people legally responsible for the FEELINGS of others, only their own actions.

    First off, folks, please stop acting like I’m talking about the legal system. I am not talking about the legal system because the legal system gives absolutely no credence to rape victims/surviviors. For my rape to be prosecuted would take a fundamental change in our legal system. I’m not advocating for that because I don’t know where to start.

    It is on the person who is initiating to make absolutely sure, 100% sure, that their partner is actively and enthusiastically consenting. What they meant to do doesn’t fucking matter. It’s what they did, how they made their victim feel. If someone applies pressure and manipulates consent out of me, I have a right to say, that was assault, that was rape.

  13. William
    William June 15, 2010 at 11:50 am |

    Let me try to expand things out to a more macro level, if I may. In short, we are all being manipulated constantly. As you’ve written, manipulation and coercion are key to sexual assault.

    So much of our capitalist system…

    Hey, Comrade, I know you’re probably not trying to be an asshole but do us all a favor and think before you speak. Your name tells us what you’re passionate about, and thats fine, but rape is already on the macro level on it’s own.

    Rape is endemic to the human experience. Tt is not only present but completely out of control is virtually every culture, under every system of government, in every racial or cultural context, and throughout every period of time. Anytime you put human beings in the same place you end up with a disturbingly high incidence of rape. Rape is an issue that stands on it’s own, it isn’t a symptom of some greater, more important issue that you care so dearly about (unless the greater issue is rape culture, patriarchy, and the general cruelty of humanity which, again, shows up pretty much everywhere). Don’t use rape to score points for your politics.

    RMJ started an interesting discussion about the meaning of consent and the problems with what happens after someone says “no” and how we form the narrative around that. Thats a good discussion, it’s worth discussing on it’s own, it addresses something that is worthy of it’s own attention for it’s own sake. Your derail and your cynical attempt to make rape about capitalism is frankly repugnant.

  14. Jenny
    Jenny June 15, 2010 at 11:59 am |

    Well, take this bit:

    So the initiating partner SHOULD ask “Are you sure? We really don’t have to”. Unless it makes the other partner feel further manipulated. Which is up to the other partner. The initiating partner could be asking this with the sincerest of intentions, but if the other partner feels manipulated by it, then it’s not ok. (Of course, if they hadn’t felt manipulated by it, it WOULD be ok.) The initiating partner is doing the EXACT SAME THING in both situations, but in one situation, it is coercion, and Not Okay, and which one it is is entirely defined by the other person and how they feel. How is the initiating partner supposed to know that? Yes, some people can read body language, but plenty can’t, and plenty of other people are good at keeping their true feelings hidden pretty darn well.

    In the situation that happened to the author, where a “no, I don’t really want to” was clearly exchanged, the further coercion on the part of the initiating partner was obviously unacceptable. I don’t think there’s any doubt there. No means no. NOT somehow excusable. But the article goes on to talk about more subtle situations, and I think it gets a bit iffy to start calling people rapists when they are not intentionally putting any pressure on the other person. The question is more… when does “yes” actually mean “yes” (and to what extent can we expect the initiating partner to tell the difference?)

    For example, let’s say a man who really, really likes me takes me on a date, buys me a fancy dinner and flowers, and is sweet as can be all night. Later, he makes sexual advances on me, and even though I’m not really feeling the chemistry, I go along with it because darn it, he has been just so nice. I can see that he doesn’t expect anything from me, and wouldn’t be offended if I said ‘no’, but I still feel an internal pressure to “pay him back”. Later, I feel a bit like I prostituted myself out. He, meanwhile, has no idea that any of this internal struggle is going on, and just thinks I’m into him. Obviously there is an issue here of societal pressure, “be a nice girl” pressure, “you owe him” pressure…but it’s not being applied by the man in question, who really just wanted to impress and woo and had noble intentions. So is he at fault?

    And you could replace those pressures with, say, the pressure to hook up in college, or even a pressure to impress the other person that he himself is not putting out, but which you feel all the same. The initiating partner does not necessarily need to be the source of the coercion that makes you feel like shit. And it’s not really fair to say “Well, when you asked ‘are you sure?’, that was a leading and coercive question….but you do need to make sure that she’s sure, so ask her.”

    That got rambley there, but hopefully makes some sense.

  15. Jenny
    Jenny June 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm |

    And clearly I forgot to end the blockquote.

  16. Jenny
    Jenny June 15, 2010 at 12:03 pm |

    … and also the part that was being blockquoted. I apologize, I’m new to this particular comment formatting.

    [And in this situation, if the initiating partner wants to make sure that their more reluctant partner is cool with proceeding, they only need ask, “are you sure? We really don’t have to.” Though, I suppose, this assurance could also be a part of manipulation. The definition is not up to the initiating partner.]

    1. Cara
      Cara June 15, 2010 at 12:09 pm |

      Jenny, nowhere in your fabricated scenario do you mention one party feeling as though they’ve been raped. Feeling as though you’ve done something that on second thought you wish you hadn’t, or even feeling as though you’ve been used, is not even remotely the same as feeling raped. I assure you, I’ve felt both. And they both suck, but they’re definitely distinct, and on totally different levels.

      You know, a lot of people here wouldn’t have trouble with the concept that it doesn’t matter if you intended to be really sexist with that comment, or if you intended to do something racist. (Though, of course, it’s been proven time and time again that some people here do.) Can we not apply the same goddamn concept when we’re talking about rape? Frankly, I don’t give a shit about the intentions of someone who has violated me. What, they didn’t mean it? Well golly gee, I feel a whole lot less raped now. I guess I won’t need that therapy after all, since they didn’t intend it or anything!

  17. Faith
    Faith June 15, 2010 at 12:13 pm |

    “What I’m saying is that it is important not for outside parties to define women’s experiences for them.”

    My concern is how to approach situations like yours from the outside. If a woman shares an experience with me and it is clear to me that what occurred is rape yet she doesn’t feel that it is, should I remain silent and not tell her that what happened to her is rape? Or should I explain that it was rape and explain to her why it was rape? Is it honestly better for the woman to walk around not understanding these matters rather than risk defining her experience for her? Because, to me, that is doing absolutely nothing to combat rape culture or rape itself. We can not begin to eradicate rape and sexual assault until we can all properly identify it.

    Personally, as someone who has been sexually assaulted but took years to realize that, I’d much rather have had someone who could have explained to me that what happened to me was assault rather than fully consensual sex instead of me walking around for years unable to identify why those encounters made me feel so confused and violated. And the reason that I was so confused was because I thought that it was consensual when it actually wasn’t.

  18. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 12:17 pm |

    Jenny, I don’t know how much more clearly I can put this. It’s not about the rapist. And I am not calling anyone a rapist except for my rapist. It’s up to the person who experienced it to define it for themselves.

    Furthermore, in the situations you describe, there is no “no” and in the hypothetical situation, the woman does not feel like she has been assaulted. And I am not talking about every shitty sexual situation. I’ve had totally consensual shitty sexual experiences with the person I love, and with people I don’t love.

    This is not about calling a whole new class of men rapists. It’s about enabling women, like me, who have experienced assault that they were coerced into to define their experiences of rape, and to remind people that rape takes many, many different forms. Rape is often presented as cut and dry, but it is not – it takes many different forms. The qualification that you quote was soas to not erase women who might have experienced assault with manipulated consent, when perhaps they’ve been berated for a long time into consenting and then the partner asks “Are you sure” to assuage their guilt.

    The question is more… when does “yes” actually mean “yes” (and to what extent can we expect the initiating partner to tell the difference?)

    Yes means yes when the non-initiating partner is fully and enthusiastically consenting, when there is no “no”, no “I don’t want to do that”, no “please stop”. When the initiating partner ignores these requests and goes on to pressure a yes out of their partner, that’s not consent.

    We can expect the initiating partner to stop when their partner says stop, to not wheedle consent out of their partner, to listen to them.

    The definition is up to the person who experiences assault. Please stop making up straw-woman situations.

  19. Holy!
    Holy! June 15, 2010 at 12:20 pm |

    If I’m in a situation where the woman is not obviously 100 percent down, I let it go. Nor do I try and initiate another sexual situation with that person in the future. It’s best to make things as cut and dry as possible; it works out best for everyone.

  20. Faith
    Faith June 15, 2010 at 12:21 pm |

    “Your derail and your cynical attempt to make rape about capitalism is frankly repugnant.”

    I have to disagree with that statement and I am disagreeing as a rape victim. Rape is not something that “stands on its own”. It is a product of the society in which we currently reside. And, yes, I actually do believe that the capitalistic culture in which we reside plays a large part in creating a society in which such large levels of rape occurs. Capitalism is a form of coercion and manipulation as is rape. It is also the capitalistic culture that forces women into a position of vulnerability and subservience. While I’m not sure this thread is the place to have that discussion, I don’t see where Comrade Kevin’s comment was so terrible.

  21. Jenny
    Jenny June 15, 2010 at 12:23 pm |

    Cara, you seem to be making this very much about your experiences, which I know nothing about and am not trying to comment on.

    I still, in my mind, don’t claim this as rape. But I feel – shitty thinking about it. I feel a shame I don’t attach to the first instance, which was a silly mistake on my part. I feel sad and anxious and worried.

    According to the author, we’re not necessarily talking about feeling raped, though we’re talking about feeling shameful and shitty. And that is also what I am talking about. Feeling pressured, regretful, and dirty, even if you don’t call it rape.

    Intentions aren’t everything, actions are much more important. But the issue I take is here: If you say “yes”, and the guy says “are you sure? We really don’t have to,” and I say “yes” again… well dammit, what else is he supposed to do? How can I claim that the “Are you sure?” was a manipulative move? How is he supposed to confirm my intentions without saying it?

    Coercing people into sexual behavior (even if it isn’t technically rape because you get a “yes” out of them) is super shitty. Turning a no into a yes with your “Come on baby, please? Just do it… c’mooon” is obviously bullshit manipulation. But saying “People should ask “Are you sure?” unless it makes the other person feel more manipulated in which case it’s bad too,” is asking for way too much mind-reading. If the initiating partner is, from as objective a standpoint as possible, being gracious and not putting out any pressure, they shouldn’t be held responsible for pressures that the other partner feels. And if someone, sincerely asking for consent in a polite and objectively non-coercive (“Are you sure? We don’t have to, it’s ok”) manner gets a “yes”, they should be able to believe it, without fear that they’re going to be cast as the bad guy later. The fact of the matter is that we all feel pressures when dealing with other people, and even if a guy asks me very respectfully to do something, and is not going to be upset when told “no”, I’ll still feel a self-imposed, people-pleasing pressure to do it, and that’s not his fault.

    (Now if we want to talk about how girls are socialized to be people-pleasing doormats at the cost of their own desires, that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.)

    1. Cara
      Cara June 15, 2010 at 12:59 pm |

      Jenny, as someone who has been raped through coercion, I think that my experiences are highly relevant here. And your attempt to shame me for incorporating my experiences as a rape survivor into my analysis regarding rape is silencing.

      Further, what Andrea said. We’re not talking about people who are giving enthusiastic yeses. We’re talking about people who are not giving enthusiastic yeses and are being pressured and coerced regardless of that. What part, exactly, is not clear?

  22. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 12:28 pm |

    Faith, excellent question! As I’ve said above, I’ve been on that side too, but I know that for a long time I was not ready to acknowledge that to myself, and I might have lashed out.

    I’ve been on the side of hearing about someone else’s experiences too, and I’ve tried too hard to tell friends that they’ve experienced rape, and I’ve later regretted it (situation is too murky and personal to really explain in detail, sorry).

    I think in these cases, it’s important to just listen, tell them it sounds awful, let them talk to you. The most important thing in this situation is to listen, to offer sympathy and love and support as best you can.

    If you define their experiences for them, you might cut off an avenue for them – they might not feel safe talking to you about it because they don’t want to/aren’t ready to frame their experiences that way. It might be helpful, after some discussion, to say “you know, that sounds like assault/rape” or if you’re comfortable talking about it, “your situation kind of reminds me of my rape.” But if they reject that definition, let them reject it, and continue to listen and love and help.

    I’m sorry this has happened to you, Faith – rape culture doesn’t just produce rape, it further hurts and limits the victims.

  23. Jenny
    Jenny June 15, 2010 at 12:31 pm |

    RMJ, if you say you don’t define the situation as rape, than how is he your rapist? I suppose that’s not important (I’d count it as at least assault, either way, and unacceptable.)

    Really, it probably doesn’t matter in a world where most of these cases don’t end up having consequences for the initiator. My point is just that it’s possible to feel a lot of pressure and coercion that isn’t necessarily coming from the other person, and to feel, in your words, shitty, anxious, and shameful afterwards. If you define these as rape, it makes the other person a rapist which, in a world where rapists actually were punished, would be pretty dangerous. And if you say things like “Asking if she’s sure might be part of the manipulation”, that gives the initiating partners precious little to rely on. I do understand what you mean regarding lots of coercion followed by that question to assuage guilt, but I guess it didn’t come through in the original article, at least to me.

  24. Andrea
    Andrea June 15, 2010 at 12:32 pm |

    OMG. Cara isn’t talking about partners who respectfully ask for consent and then respect what answer is given. She’s talking about the ones who don’t take no for an answer, who push and push and push, and beg and behave like spoiled, entitled little brats until they get what they want. This does not seem like a difficult distinction to understand.

  25. Andrea
    Andrea June 15, 2010 at 12:45 pm |

    And by Cara, I meant, Cara and RMJ. Sorry!

  26. Jenny
    Jenny June 15, 2010 at 12:55 pm |

    Yes, I got that until the part about how asking “Are you sure?” could be interpreted as manipulative. Which makes more sense now that RMJ clarified it.

  27. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm |

    Intentions aren’t everything, actions are much more important. But the issue I take is here: If you say “yes”, and the guy says “are you sure? We really don’t have to,” and I say “yes” again… well dammit, what else is he supposed to do? How can I claim that the “Are you sure?” was a manipulative move? How is he supposed to confirm my intentions without saying it?

    Jenny, again, you are not describing rape. You are trying to make up situations where rapists are not really rapists.

    If this super-nice guy is really trying hard NOT to rape their partner, tries really hard to only have consensual sex, is conscientious about only have sex with people who consent enthusiastically, guess what? They’re not going to rape somebody. Rape is not a fucking accident. It’s something that happens through manipulation and force.

    I will say this, one more time, since you apparently did not get this from my original article specifically advocating that initiating partners use this question to make sure that their partners are fully and enthusiastically consenting. “Are you sure? We really don’t have to” is in most cases a good way to ensure consent. In most cases, I agree completely with you – that is something that an initiating partner should ask if he or she has any doubt about their partner’s enthusiasm or consent.

    However. Rapists are creative and wiley, and I’m sure this sentence could work its way into someone’s manipulation. I had that qualification on the off-chance that someone’s rapist said that, because this is about NOT erasing the assault of others.

    Also, as I specifically mentioned in this article about my experiences that you seem so bent on questioning and tearing down, much of this was written a long time ago. Having to defend my work against apologists (chiefly you!) have helped me to define my experiences as rape and my rapist as a rapist. So, thanks for that.

  28. Jadey
    Jadey June 15, 2010 at 1:01 pm |

    Response to two different comments from Faith:

    If a woman shares an experience with me and it is clear to me that what occurred is rape yet she doesn’t feel that it is, should I remain silent and not tell her that what happened to her is rape? Or should I explain that it was rape and explain to her why it was rape? Is it honestly better for the woman to walk around not understanding these matters rather than risk defining her experience for her?

    Yes. Respecting a person’s autonomy and personal boundaries combats rape culture. Someone else’s body and their experiences with it are not a lesson about rape and what it does or does not look like – they are someone else’s body and experiences. It may be frustrating and painful sometimes, but respecting and supporting someone’s definition of their own life experiences is important, especially if one believes that someone else has not respected that person’s self-determination and boundaries.

    Capitalism is a form of coercion and manipulation as is rape. It is also the capitalistic culture that forces women into a position of vulnerability and subservience. While I’m not sure this thread is the place to have that discussion, I don’t see where Comrade Kevin’s comment was so terrible.

    I agree that there is a connection between rape culture and capitalism, particularly in our society that is both capitalistic and rape-endorsing, although I firmly believe that a non-capitalistic society would also be capable of producing rape culture.

    Kevin’s comment, to me, was frustrating because his wording explicitly stated that the current discussion was not big enough on its own (“In my opinion, if we really want to confront the root causes of rape culture, we might consider looking at an even broader spectrum of influence.”), not because he drew a connection between capitalism and rape culture. This comment minimized the importance of the current discussion, and situated capitalism hierarchically as a more important issue than sexual coercion, as opposed to a joint issue.

  29. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 1:03 pm |

    And also! Co-signing Cara and Andrea. I intended this largely so that people could talk about their own experiences and have the power to describe things that happened to them that hurt them as assault – not so people could come up with straw-sex hypotheticals that try REALLY HARD to show that it’s really not a dude’s fault if he rapes somebody. And then silence people. Yeah.

  30. ACG
    ACG June 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm |

    I totally recognize that this post is about, in fact, the feelings of the victim and not the feelings of the rapist. But a lot of the discussion right now seems to dance around the question of whether rape has to involve a rapist, and answering it could possibly smooth things out some. Because if it can be said that rape doesn’t have to have an actual rapist at one end, then the victim really is free to focus on his or her own experience without externalities – this is what happened to me, this is how I feel, and this is how I’m going to deal with it.

    If rape absolutely must involve a rapist, we’re adding an external factor to the victim’s experience: It’s rape if you feel you were raped and the other person was a rapist. Women have said in studies that the reason they didn’t identify their own experiences as rape was that they didn’t feel the other person was a rapist. Removing that factor could make it easier for a victim to acknowledge his or her experience without the burden of placing a label on someone else.

  31. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 1:21 pm |

    ACG, I can’t agree. Rape happens because one person takes advantage of another, because one person coerces another. It’s not just an accident and it doesn’t just happen.

    I think that part of the problem is that rape culture has created the rapist as a kind of boogeyman, when really we all have the power to enact the hurt of rape. Rape culture is something that implicates people who might otherwise be okay people, who might not go into a situation thinking “I’m gonna rape this person” – they just like the feeling of that power. It enables their hurt of people they care about.

  32. groggette
    groggette June 15, 2010 at 1:26 pm |

    ACG, you bring up an interesting aspect. I know in my own personal situation (which is remarkably similar to RMJ’s actually), it took almost 10 years to identify what happened to me as rape. And then another few years after that to identify the perpetrator as a rapist.

  33. BW
    BW June 15, 2010 at 1:27 pm |

    @ ACG : “But a lot of the discussion right now seems to dance around the question of whether rape has to involve a rapist, and answering it could possibly smooth things out some.”

    YES! If this question is left unanswered, we are just dancing at cross-purposes here. Does it? Because, due to the lack of pertinent information, there has been a lot of disagreement on this thread thus far that probably would not have occurred. I am honestly curious!

  34. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos June 15, 2010 at 1:29 pm |

    The problem as I see it with the whole “is it really rape” conversation is that it quickly becomes a debate as to where do we draw the line, how do we draw it, what’s acceptable to get away with.

    And meanwhile, you have the whole thing of what another essayist called “not-rape.” The person involved was the wrong gender, it wasn’t forceful enough, it wasn’t invasive enough, we did actually consent after an extended fight with painful emotional abuse buttons pressed, and so on.

    @Jenny:

    If you define these as rape, it makes the other person a rapist which, in a world where rapists actually were punished, would be pretty dangerous.

    But we’re not talking about crime and punishment here. We’re talking about whether we have the right to morally say, in the interest of our own survival and healing, “you violated me, you did wrong.” For that matter “rape” is often not the legal term of art under which a person might be legally prosecuted.

  35. groggette
    groggette June 15, 2010 at 1:29 pm |

    er, not really pertinent, but that should be closer to 5 years than 10. I suck at math today.

  36. ACG
    ACG June 15, 2010 at 1:36 pm |

    I agree that we all have the power to rape, but I can’t agree that every time a person feels that pain, regret, etc. after a sexual encounter – that he or she feels raped – there’s a person on the other end who has enjoyed a feeling of power. Holy! said above that he (she? Sorry, Holy!) won’t have sex with a woman who isn’t entirely into it (which is a good standard). But what if Holy! perceives she’s into it and they do have sex, and afterward she feels raped? Either she gets to acknowledge her feelings and her experience on her own terms, or we force her to make a judgment about Holy! before she gets to make a judgment on her own experience.

  37. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos June 15, 2010 at 1:43 pm |

    ACG: Well, I don’t know or particularly care how the other person felt about it. I’m not interested in establishing mens rea, nor am I interested in calling those people up after 15 and 25 years to engage in a reconciliation session with a facilitator.

    Which for the record, I don’t use the term “rape” to describe those experiences because that line of discussion always seems to trend towards the prurient.

  38. Jadey
    Jadey June 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm |

    If rape absolutely must involve a rapist, we’re adding an external factor to the victim’s experience: It’s rape if you feel you were raped and the other person was a rapist. Women have said in studies that the reason they didn’t identify their own experiences as rape was that they didn’t feel the other person was a rapist. Removing that factor could make it easier for a victim to acknowledge his or her experience without the burden of placing a label on someone else.

    Maybe it’s not so much removing that factor as challenging (in general) the idea of “who” a rapist is. If the social construction of the characteristics of a rapist is very narrow and rigid (and I would argue that it is), then that definition will be resisted in application, including by the person who feels they have been (or feels that they may have been) raped. A person may feel that a rapist cannot be someone whom they love, or whom they believe loves them; a rapist can’t be a friend, a coworker, a woman, a nice guy, someone who feels bad about it after, etc. These perceptions exist, and are valid for the people who have them in relation to their own experiences, but we can challenge them structurally.

    For an individual person coming to terms with their experiences, dealing with the rape first and the rapist later may be helpful or necessary, absolutely. It also may not, so I’d be hesitant to suggest such a thing to a person who didn’t arrive there on their own. But in terms of the discussion of rape culture, I don’t think it works. While a case of a very complicated involuntary automaticity could be postulated, I’m sure (in fact, I’m sure they are all the time – I would not be surprised if an entire MRA website was devoted to such a thing!), that would not cover even a significant minority of sexual coercion experiences. Rape culture involves rapists.

  39. Faith
    Faith June 15, 2010 at 2:05 pm |

    “It may be frustrating and painful sometimes, but respecting and supporting someone’s definition of their own life experiences is important, especially if one believes that someone else has not respected that person’s self-determination and boundaries.”

    Jadey,

    Helping someone understand that they have been raped is respecting a person’s bodily autonomy. While I appreciate what both you and RMJ are saying, I’m going to continue handling the situations in exactly the way that I have been handling them. Which is to gauge whether or not I believe the person is stable enough and open enough to have someone help them understand and define their experience. I agree that sometimes it might be best to just let it be, but I just flat-out disagree that it’s the way we should handle each and every case. I think it’s more a matter of handling matters on an individual basis rather than simply making a blanket statement that we should never tell someone that they’ve been raped.

    “This comment minimized the importance of the current discussion, and situated capitalism hierarchically as a more important issue than sexual coercion, as opposed to a joint issue.”

    I didn’t see it that way, but as I already said, I agree that this thread is probably not the best place to have that conversation.

  40. William
    William June 15, 2010 at 2:06 pm |

    I have to disagree with that statement and I am disagreeing as a rape victim.

    I made the statement as a rape victim.

    It is a product of the society in which we currently reside. And, yes, I actually do believe that the capitalistic culture in which we reside plays a large part in creating a society in which such large levels of rape occurs.

    Capitalism might dictate some of the narratives we have around rape, but all systems do that. All systems will develop a rape culture, and the relevant cultural narrative necessary to explain why rape is OK, so long as people with power want to rape. What we’re talking about here is part of the capitalist narrative, sure, because thats the culture in which we exist, but I’m deeply uncomfortable with the idea of using rape as a stepping stone to a “bigger issue.”

    Capitalism is a form of coercion and manipulation as is rape.

    Human society is coercion and manipulation. Capitalism is one set of ground rules for determining who gets coerced and manipulated in what ways. There are others, but what they all share is that they’re enforced by powerful people (generally men) with guns who enjoy using their power to get what they want. More often than not, what the powerful people want is a feeling of power and superiority, that what gets you rape. It doesn’t matter if the trappings of government look like Smith, Stalin or Saddam, you’re still talking about the basic sadism of power. You’ll excuse me if I’m less concerned with the uniform of my rapist than I am with the underlying reality of my rape.

    While I’m not sure this thread is the place to have that discussion, I don’t see where Comrade Kevin’s comment was so terrible.

    What was so triggering for me was that here, in a post where the connection between social coercion and rape is being explored, I saw a comment that basically said “hey, I know you’re talking about X but Y is more important to me so I’m going to make it about Y.” It was like hearing someone say “You know, rape is bad and all, but whats really bad is…”

    What was so terrible for me, as a survivor, was once again hearing someone trying to use rape as a spring board to a discussion they found more important, relevant, or interesting. It was especially disturbing in a post about the narratives which surround rape and the ways in which we define it because this particular derailment is one that felt completely ignorant of why this discussion is important in the first place.

    No glorious worker’s utopia, no attack against the capitalist class, no pretty little political idea would have done anything to prevent my rape because what I experienced doesn’t fit the narrative that Kevin’s politics present. The thing about rape, and about the narratives which surround it, is that it very rarely looks the way we imagine it ought to look. Thats what was so interesting about this post, that it challenged the story in a way that isn’t often seen.

    What I heard from Kevin was something else. Nevermind that the impositions of those narratives erases the lived experiences of survivors, theres “the macro level” to consider. We must remember what is important, not individual rape survivors but some bigger picture that a good man like Kevin can remind us of when we get too off topic and make the mistake of actually talking about what we have experienced, what it has been like, how we thought about it, what the meanings were. No, we should be thinking about capitalism, right? Because thats whats important. We know so because its “the macro level,” its the big picture, its the big problem. Our little experiences are just that, small and insignificant compared to the greater struggle. Thats what I read in Kevin’s comment, a distancing and devaluation that I found personally repellent because men, women, and children have been and continue to be raped on a daily basis across time, country, culture, class, status, race, and economic system. Thats the problem, thats the big picture, thats the macro level and a part of it was being discussed.

  41. cmb
    cmb June 15, 2010 at 2:08 pm |

    What upsets me most about all this is that we are all so stuck in that “stranger-rape is the only true rape” mindset that we’ve begun creating a heirarchy of hurt and legitimacy. We say, oh, well you were coerced into a sex act, that was wrong, but it’s not like he beat you!
    As a survivor of a hate-crime stranger-rape (sometimes grotesquely referred to as a ‘corrective rape’ since he was trying to rape the gay out of me) and the sister of a survivor who was coerced into losing her virginity to her boyfriend at 15, I can tell you — we were both raped. We are both survivors. We both hurt. And neither one of us suffers more or less than the other because of the circumstances surrounding our rape. She said no, and he did it anyway. I never said no, because I’d been drugged and beaten unconscious. At the end of the day, though, what we’ve experienced exists on a continuum – a spectrum of circumstances, all of which are equally wrong, not a heirarchy that places one in a position of more legitmacy and significance.
    That being said, I have definitely had sexual experiences that I did not want. I had a girlfriend who would guilt and pressure me into sex. I knew it wasn’t RIGHT, and I knew it was POSSIBLE to get out of the situation without engaging in sexual activity — but for whatever reason, I didn’t. Perhaps my status as a very recent survivor played into my behavior, maybe she was being more manipulative than I remember. There is, unfortunately, a huge grey area surrounding sexual coercion and manipulation. I personally feel wronged, although not harmed, by this girlfriend’s behavior, but I would never seek to deligitimize or undercut the experience of someone who had, under similar circumstances, labelled her (or his) experience as sexual assault.
    As has been stated several times by commenters before me, this isn’t about a legal definition under which we could seek to punish those we consider our rapists. It’s about defining your own experience in terms that are meaningful and appropriate to you and regaining your autonomy. Only when you havethe voice with which to define your own sexual experiences, both positive and negative, can you heal.

    (I want to apologize for any weird, glaring typing mistakes. I’m commenting from my iPhone at work. Don’t tell!)

  42. Lynn Gazis-Sax
    Lynn Gazis-Sax June 15, 2010 at 2:52 pm |

    Sometimes that consent that they “experience” is simply “she didn’t say no”, “she kissed me back at first”.

    Or even, “she kissed me back six months ago, so why do I have to pay any attention to the fact that she’s consistently said no ever since.”

  43. chava
    chava June 15, 2010 at 3:04 pm |

    Do people *really* believe that if we all wandered into the perfect non-capitalist utopia tomorrow, there would be no rape? Cause if you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. Jesus.

    “Capitalism might dictate some of the narratives we have around rape, but all systems do that. All systems will develop a rape culture, and the relevant cultural narrative necessary to explain why rape is OK, so long as people with power want to rape.”

    Yeah. THIS.

    As far as the post–if I’m reading the last few paragraphs right, this presents an interesting idea, because we’d finally have a way around they “was consent given–or wasn’t it?” boondoggle, opening up a way for people to express how they feel about their abuse without endlessly cycling the conversation back to “But when was/was not consent given/not given and how, please exactly was it given and when?”

    That said, I’m really not sure you can un-hook this discussion from the legal system as easily as you would like to. The two seem pretty intimately bound up to me, as much as I really like the idea of a space that isn’t so damn LEGAL about it, because honestly, that is what the above discussion is about, it is about establishing guilt or innocence on the part of the rapist (and honestly, the person raped–let’s not pretend there isn’t an assumption of false accusations floating around).

  44. Faith
    Faith June 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm |

    “All systems will develop a rape culture.”

    We’ll have to agree to disagree then, William. That statement is coming dangerously close to arguing that rape is a byproduct of human nature. That is not an argument that I’m willing to embrace.

  45. Jadey
    Jadey June 15, 2010 at 3:34 pm |

    Faith,

    As long as we both agree that there is some equivocation necessary – that it is possible that not challenging someone’s perception that they have been raped combats rape culture, just as challenging someone’s perception that they have been raped combats rape culture, depending on the person, where they are at, how the situation is handled, etc. I’m not saying that people don’t change their minds (commenters in this thread have described exactly that) and that guidance and support can’t be helpful when wanted, but “I agree that sometimes it might be best to just let it be” is what I was getting at, particularly that making this decision is *not* a failure to fight rape culture.

  46. Jadey
    Jadey June 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm |

    How about, “All systems based on unequal social dynamics will develop rape culture to some extent”?

    (Sorry, Faith, I feel weird that, of the two lines of conversation I have engaged with in this thread, I am responding almost exclusively to your comments. It is unintentional, however I apologize if I making you feel singled out.)

  47. Shoshie
    Shoshie June 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm |

    Hey Faith,

    I’ve been in that situation too. The friend in question was my roommate. She ended up resuming her friendship with her rapist and would frequently invite him over to our apartment. I felt so incredibly uncomfortable, but didn’t know what to say. She was trying to move on with her life and, even though she did acknowledge his actions as rape when we spoke about, she wanted to be friends with him.

  48. Jemima Aslana
    Jemima Aslana June 15, 2010 at 4:12 pm |

    chava – let’s not pretend, which legal system it is some of you have such a hard time unhooking it from. It’s the USian one. Legal systems don’t look the same everywhere. The crime of rape is not defined the same everywhere. Conviction rates are not the same everywhere. And yet, the exact same types of rape happen everywhere. Fancy that.

    Fact is, we can unhook the discussion from the legal system easily enough if we want to. The question is not whether we can it is whether we want to. And I think that boils down to what someone else mentioned up-thread: the unwillingness to see certain people as rapists. Or rather the unwillingness to view other people than the stereotypical rapists as such. Returning to the “but the law says” is a cheap cop-out. If you insist on allowing law-arguments based on your preferred USian laws (I realise there are probably just as many hated ones), then you must also allow law arguments based on other sets of laws, and thus you have made it okay for others to argue that a woman must not deny her husband sex, because it says so in the law.

    Laws are crappy arguments for what’s right and wrong and what’s acceptable and what the definition of something is. See laws are made based on what we perceive as right, wrong, acceptable and the definitions of stuff. Laws are not arguments in themselves; laws are the consequences of arguments previously made. And laws can be changed when good arguments are hoisted in an effort to change them.

    So therefore let’s keep the bloody laws out of this. If we go by Danish law rape only includes coitus acquired by violence, threats of violence or incapacitation of the victim and their ability to resist. That means that in Danish law rape is not if you penetrate someone using toys. Rape is not if you carefully whittle away at the victim’s sense of self. The Danish law’s definition of rape is horribly lacking. It is only a few years ago that it was redefined to be gender neutral. Until a few years ago only women could be raped according to Danish law.

    Are you sure you still want to look to laws for definitions of shit? Laws that were made by men, in a society in which women are frequently devalued and considered chattel – if not officially. I, for one, do not.

    @ Faith and others: the talking to people about their experiences.
    My father just divorced my mum. In my many subsequent talks with my mum, she has divulged the kind of coercion my father used to get her to consent to his type of sex. A type that holds severe health concerns for her – both mental and physical. He would actively keep her awake with his harrumphing and frustrated passive-aggressive sighs until she figured that unless she consented she wouldn’t get any sleep and thus wouldn’t be prepared to work the following day. And you can’t exactly tell your boss that you can’t come in today, ’cause your hubby kept you up all night, because you didn’t want to bump uglies with him.

    My mum has, to my knowledge, not yet identified what he did to her as rape by coercion. I have. I have talked with her at length about it, and I have tried to strengthen her self-worth by confirming that she did nothing wrong in wanting to keep herself safe, and he was in the wrong for manipulating her like that. (and it’s not the only area either). I will not put the word rape in her mouth. She has lived with his manipulation for 42 years. He has attempted to define her very being, and has actually had some success with that. It is awful to watch her at the age of 61 struggle to figure out who she is and what she wants. It is not for me to place words in her mind to prod her along towards a definition of rape that includes her experience. That would be too close to what has been done to her by my father.

    I would, in general, be very leery of doing it to any rape victim. Since the rape by coercion is the one that most severely attacks the victim’s definitions of rape, a counter-attack to ‘fix’ the definitions can be so similar to the original coercion that it may well make things worse.

    My father has been trying to change my mum for 42 years. My brother and I have been acutely aware of this. My brother told her outright “Never ever let someone dictate your self to you like that again.” And a few weeks later he went and tried to do the same to her, telling her how she ought to be a mum to him, rather than just accepting who she is. It pissed me off so badly, because I live with my mum, and I saw what those words of his did to her. He may not have meant ill, he may not have realised that his words were a faint echo of our father, but the effect was there nonetheless, intentions or not.

    Now, if it was any regular person telling his ma to not be quite so mom-like, we could probably just laugh about it. But this was a 22 year-old scolding his 61 year-old mom for her behaviour in a restaurant, not because she’d done anything wrong, but because HE hadn’t remembered that she has some hearing issues, and simply hadn’t heard the question to which her lack of answer was a reason for reproach.

    If we feel a need to have people use the words for their experiences the WE consider the right ones, we need to examine where that need comes from, and who it will help. Will it actually help my mum to apply the word rape? I don’t know. Why is not enough that she has come to realise that what was done to her was wrong? For whose sake are we pushing the word rape? If my mum comes to the conclusion herself, good on her. But I’d rather she live a few years with the knowledge that it was wrong and then maybe/maybe not end up defining it as rape, than try to push a concept on her too soon, and end up seeing her even more conflicted about this shit.

    It’ a real fine line to walk, and we need to remember that many of those who define what happened to them as something other than rape, do so for their own protection. And if we break down those protections, they (and we) may not be ready to handle the results of the realisation. And we need to think real carefully about for whose sake we take this risk, and whether we have a right to take it at all.

  49. scrumby
    scrumby June 15, 2010 at 4:12 pm |

    I’m with ACG and 10 CBrachyrhynchos on the need to have a way or a place to talk about sexual assault that isn’t framed by the legal mindset of crime and punishment. I had a bad sexual experience in college that by RMJ’s definitions would be rape but by my own standards isn’t. In my head calling it “rape” absolves me of my own missteps and permanently labels the man I was with because I’ve been so indoctrinated with the legal standard which is better suited to “stranger danger” violent assault than the actions of two drunk kids. I didn’t say no and he didn’t ask and later we talked about it and he apologized and we both walked away with better guidelines for sexual interactions. And even if I’m able to heal, even if didn’t “persecute an innocent man”, I still did the wrong thing because a bad thing can’t not be a crime.

  50. Atheistchick
    Atheistchick June 15, 2010 at 4:17 pm |

    William, I see where you’re coming from on that. The comment made me feel as if rape weren’t a severe enough phenomenon, as well. You’re right–it’s not a stepping stone to a larger problem; it is a problem on its own. (I also am an assault survivor.)

  51. chava
    chava June 15, 2010 at 4:35 pm |

    @Jemima–
    Way to put words and arguments in my mouth, there.
    I never made an appeal to “but the law says!” and indeed said that I found the idea of a space apart from law in which we could discuss rape and sexual assault very appealing.

    All I said was that I wasn’t sure you could un-hook the two as easily as one might think, I didn’t actually say WHY I thought that, you decided that for me….

    In any case, when CBrach said this:
    “But we’re not talking about crime and punishment here. We’re talking about whether we have the right to morally say, in the interest of our own survival and healing, “you violated me, you did wrong.” For that matter “rape” is often not the legal term of art under which a person might be legally prosecuted.”

    I thought that in my mind, the end to that sentence is “you violated me, you did wrong, and you should be punished/justice should be done.” The next question is, what kind of system, what kind of punishment?

    NOW! I will say, that in my own experiences of sexual assault/hararassment, the LAST thing I have wanted to do was deal with the legal bullshit, or to feel like I had a damn “responsibility” to deal with it beyond what I felt capable of at the moment. Sometimes, getting the person punished was more than I wanted to deal with. But I did want to know that there was a system I could turn to in the event I decided I could.

    So….I guess I am saying that I am all for a space where we can talk about these things without bringing “the legal system” into it, but that ultimately, yeah, maybe our feelings and thoughts should ultimately play into re-defining that system. When we want to/are up to that discussion, and not before.

  52. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 4:48 pm |

    I think there’s some interesting conversation going on here! I want to clarify a couple of things:

    I’m not saying that anyone has to define their experiences in any specific way. Scrumby, I don’t expect you to define your experience by my ideas, and Jemima, you’ve articulated what I was trying to get at in my response to Faith above. When someone who has had a not-entirely-consensual sexual experience comes to you to talk about it, it’s most important that you listen to them and offer them whatever support they need.

    I also don’t think that crime and punishment are very relevant here. This is about rape victims/survivors being able to define their own experiences and thinking about how consent is framed, and getting away from the yes/no dichotomy.

    The legal system is actively hostile to rape victims/survivors, and none of this would qualify as rape under the law, at all. My article was targeted towards feminist discourse and how my rape fit into rhetoric around rape. The concerns and needs of rape victims should always be prioritized over the definition of who is and isn’t a rapist. This isn’t saying “you need to stay away from this individual because he raped me”. This is saying, “my rape doesn’t fit into the usual discourse, but it, too, is rape.”

  53. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm |

    So….I guess I am saying that I am all for a space where we can talk about these things without bringing “the legal system” into it, but that ultimately, yeah, maybe our feelings and thoughts should ultimately play into re-defining that system. When we want to/are up to that discussion, and not before.

    Okay, chava, this is my post. And I am saying: I am not up to that discussion. This is the space to talk about these things without bringing the legal system into that, as I think I made pretty clear in my essay. Please respect that.

  54. james
    james June 15, 2010 at 5:26 pm |

    “If you define these as rape, it makes the other person a rapist which, in a world where rapists actually were punished, would be pretty dangerous.”

    I’ve always thought this is very problematic thinking, something I worry about is that we narrowly define the rapist as the person who actually had sex with you or (that was in the room at the time, as it were). People can be manipulated into things by social pressures coming from other people, friends and acquaintences and colleagues, I really think they should be named as rapists and held accountable for their actions too if they help put expectations in your head that meant you acted because of social manipulation in a way which later made you feel used and guilty. Just because they weren’t present when you had sex shouldn’t get them off the hook.

    I want to stress I’m not in any way denying the responsibility of the person or persons who were actually present at the time, but I also feel that responsibility is spread far more broadly and people beyond them should be held accountable too. Speaking of ‘a rapist’ often serves as a way to deny that.

  55. Tamora Pierce
    Tamora Pierce June 15, 2010 at 5:29 pm |

    I just came here from ginmar’s lj, and I have a question to ask, with respect to all here: is it time education for this was introduced to our secondary schools? I don’t know if any of you have noticed the story of the boys at the Landon School in Washington, D.C., who instigated a fantasy sex league game, posting lists of girls and their “stats,” including measurements and speculations about what they would do and how well. This isn’t the only evidence of a huge gap in understanding between the sexes (dads saying “boys will be boys,” other parents wanting harsher punishments; no one is reporting what the girls think). What you’ve all had to say is abundant evidence that we as adults are still struggling to make others understand the issues and the terms. Teaching courses only to young, college-age women is a start, but it’s not enough. I do think–I have to think–there are young men out there who would listen if told no, or who would walk a woman home if she was too drunk for informed consent, if they knew that this was the proper course of action.

    Is it time to lobby for instruction of this kind in high schools for both sexes?

  56. RMJ
    RMJ June 15, 2010 at 5:44 pm |

    Hey Tamora, glad you’re here as I am an admirer of your work :) I’ve been thinking about this today in terms of the children I plan to have, and I think that consent is definitely something that needs to be as crucial a part of sex education – both in terms of parenting and schooling – as contraception and STI prevention. Getting across the idea that folks have a right to their body and that their wishes must be respected is often lost in education, and that’s contributing to rape culture.

  57. Odin
    Odin June 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm |

    A bit late in the conversation, but I want to echo what Faith and others said about how some people can be a victim/survivor of rape but not identify it as such. I think it’s really, really important we remember this, because I’ve seen abuse apologia that used the idea that “only the survivor/victim can say what it was” to argue that survivor/victims who are in denial or lack understanding that how they are being treated is wrong should not be considered as being abused anymore. He further suggested that it would be morally wrong for anyone to try to convince or educate an abuse victim/survivor in that state, which is a seriously disturbing sentiment to hear coming from a friend’s new boyfriend…

  58. anon
    anon June 15, 2010 at 8:31 pm |

    I have been in situations where *during the situation* I’m thinking, “Wow, this is something I might a little therapy for later, and might cry myself to sleep” and I can’t find the ability to sit up, violently resist, and say, “What you are doing here is WRONG” because it was easier to deal with hating myself than have the other person manipulate me later into trying to please them for daring to contradict them, and then hating myself for being so pathetic.

    In the long run, it seemed so much less damaging to just give up, and give in. I wouldn’t call it rape–especially not with some of the horrific rape stories I’ve heard–but it is something so hard to explain and hard to live with.

  59. DAS
    DAS June 15, 2010 at 10:36 pm |

    Yes means yes when the non-initiating partner is fully and enthusiastically consenting – RMJ

    I am not so sure if a lack of enthusiasm necessarily indicates rape or non-consentual sex. Sometimes (especially in the context of a relationship) one partner will say “I really could use some sex” and the other will say “ok … whatever. Lemme brush my teeth and empty my bladder and then you can hop aboard and do what you gotta do” (or the other partner could say “I really don’t feel like it right now — why don’t you just masturbate” … but the partner did not say that even though s/he had the option to say that — and s/he knew his/her horny partner would have accepted that answer). That’s hardly “enthusiastically consenting” but if that’s the standard for rape, I reckon it makes a vast majority of men and women rapists.

    That being said, I’m sure many rapists would convince themselves that victim did consent but “ok, so s/he wasn’t enthusiastic about it”. Of course in the first case you have a partner who, the next day, probably is saying “you know what, I’m glad we had sex last night — I realized I needed it too” or at least “I’m glad I was there for my partner, it felt good to give of myself”, while in the second case the person raped would come to feel like s/he was raped (which is part of RMJ’s point here, isn’t it?)

    And, CBrachyrhynchos was, IMHO, on the money about separating the legal issues from the emotional ones. Yes, there is a lot of sexism that occurs in how rape cases are mis-handled. But even beyond that, we have a system, for better or for worse, that people are not to be considered legally guilty of crimes until a jury of their peers (or a judge if the right to a jury trial is waived) find beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime and that a crime was committed. In the case of a rape, if there is any reasonable doubt that the sex was not consentual, well then the accused rapist is (or should be) aquitted of the crime — and why should a jury, in the absence of evidence, believe one story over another (*)?

    While the effects of the “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” standard end up leading to sexist outcomes in rape cases, to me this high standard of guilt is too important to be relaxed in any circumstance.

    * there is always the argument of “given how stories of rape are not believed and the victim herself is put through the wringer, why would anyone make a false accusation of rape — you should always believe the victim” … however, this argument places too much of a social good on the role of victim shaming — do we really want to ackowledge for victim shaming any positive role for it, e.g. in weeding out false accusations? Attributing a positive aspect to victim shaming, like loosening the legal standard for criminal guilt, is a place I, for one, don’t want to go.

  60. Watch the Toes
    Watch the Toes June 15, 2010 at 10:52 pm |

    The ambiguity of the “Well I said ‘yes’ earlier, but now something feels… off” can be haunting. For me, I know I put a lot of the responsibility on myself when I’ve found myself in those kind of fucked up situations because I chose to sleep with the guy even if I really didn’t know him. Because if I hadn’t slept with that person, I wouldn’t have felt the need to give him a blow job I really wasn’t enthusiastic about giving so that I could stop him from begging to have unprotected PIV sex with me. And he wouldn’t have stalked me by calling me dozens of time a day for a month straight even when I wouldn’t answer his calls.

    I know his actions were shitty and manipulative and inexcusable, (and I’ve experienced other times that were shitty and manipulative and inexcusable by other partners), and like anon I don’t define it as rape, but thinking on it leaves me feeling a bit hallow. I think the disappointment of me knowing better but still allowing myself to get into the situation regardless grades on me the most.

    Thankfully for me these incidents haven’t traumatized me or scarred me too deeply. But they have left me more jaded, like a tiny part of myself was lost. Thank you, RMJ, for writing about this subject that all too often gets left in the dark.

  61. Watch the Toes
    Watch the Toes June 15, 2010 at 10:54 pm |

    I meant to have this in blockquotes at the top of my previous post:

    anon:
    In the long run, it seemed so much less damaging to just give up, and give in. I wouldn’t call it rape–especially not with some of the horrific rape stories I’ve heard–but it is something so hard to explain and hard to live with.

  62. scrumby
    scrumby June 16, 2010 at 1:25 am |

    @RMJ “Scrumby, I don’t expect you to define your experience by my ideas”

    I was just borrowing for the sake of example; seemed easier than making something up. Now excuse me but I must go fangasm to my roomie that Tamora Peirce commented on one of those feminist forums I’m always nattering on about…

  63. Dae
    Dae June 16, 2010 at 3:11 am |

    I was interested to see some people bring up looking at rape separated from the justice system. I’ve been thinking about that a bit, recently. Even with a perfect justice system, I think it’s hard to look at rape only in terms of the law and court judgments. I think doing so contributes to the idea that if someone doesn’t pursue legal action against a rapist, or if a court case results in a not-guilty verdict, then nothing really happened. But there’s a good chance that the accuser really was hurt and needs support.

    I think people are justified for being hurt after a harmful sexual experience, regardless of whether harm was intended or if the situation can be easily summed up according to the law, and regardless of whether the person feels that their experience was rape. And I think people are entitled to their feelings even if the person who hurt them honestly believed the situation was consensual and good.

    However, I definitely agree with the people who’ve pointed out that rape isn’t an accident. Is it possible for a consensual encounter to not be enjoyable or be regretted? Certainly. But I think most people can differentiate between sex that was forced or coerced (or otherwise exploitative) and sex that was a bad idea or not enjoyable, but still a free decision on their part.

    I’ve seen a lot of rape discussions devolve into people talking about it being very easy to be accused of rape, as though it’s common for women to accuse men of rape falsely. More often than not, it’s a situation where the cues to stop were there, and the rapist should have known better. As others have pointed out, it’s not uncommon for rapists to perceive consent where it’s not reasonable to see it.

  64. Still learning
    Still learning June 16, 2010 at 3:36 am |

    As much as I agree with the whole enthusiastic consent idea, I do wish people would stop always framing it in terms of the ‘initiating partner’. Many of these comments talk about how it is the ‘initiating partner’s’ responsibility, but this sort of language requires an incredibly narrow view of how sex and sexuality works.

    I know I’ve been in situations with a partner where we are both so into it that it is basically not possible to discern who is ‘initiating’ the activity. And I’m sure there are a variety of other situations where there would not be one clear ‘initiating partner’ and another not-initiating partner. To assume that sex always begins with what essentially amounts to one active and one passive partner seems very problematic, especially in discussions of rape. I think that consistently describing sex in this way is actually part of rape culture as well, because it takes any different forms of sex out of the discussion completely and reinforces the notion that sex takes this one ultimately unequal form.

    Obviously, I understand that in situations like the ones we are talking about where rape is happening, there will generally be one initiating partner and one not (except even then, I’m not convinced these are the most useful terms – for example, one partner could have originally initiated the activity, but while in the middle of having sex withdraw consent, and of course that would still be rape). But regardless, to always frame the issue as one of initiating partners and non-initiating partners seems to guide our minds firmly into this limited way of thinking about sexual activity, reinforcing the idea that this is the norm.

    Maybe we could start saying ‘if there is an initiating partner, then they should ….’ rather than ‘the initiating partner should….’?

  65. Kaz
    Kaz June 16, 2010 at 4:10 am |

    Am feeling slightly uncomfortable bringing this up, but… I have similar concerns to DAS about restricting our standard of consent too much. I’m asexual, and I have read definitions of enthusiastic consent that would make it impossible for any asexual person to ever meaningfully consent to sex. At the same time, the issue of compromise and negotiation in sexual relationships is a huge one for the asexual community, because many asexual people are romantic and would like romantic relationships and there simply aren’t enough of us out there for a viable dating scene.

    Now obviously this has the possibility of going horribly horribly wrong and ending with the asexual person feeling violated and coerced, but it doesn’t have to. And often, reading about sexuality and consent on mainstream feminist blogs leaves me feeling as if they think the possibility of this kind of thing going wrong justifies saying that people should never do it ever and that there is always some degree of coercion going on. And that makes me think these people are only actually thinking of people in relationships who are sexually compatible, where only having sex when both partners genuinely enthusiastically want to will not destroy the relationship, and are willing to throw the rest of us under the bus in the name of morals. (I should add that the places I have seen enthusiastic consent espoused most are often also the ones I have seen absolutely horrifying things said about asexuality.)

    At the end of the day I agree that we have to do something about how we view consent – fuck, I’ve *been* in a traumatising sexual situation that would not have happened if the guy had adhered to those standards of consent instead of “she’s not saying no, must be fine” – but I think there are also issues here that often get ignored.

    @Tamora Pierce – I would absolutely argue for these concepts to get talked about in sex ed, because surely sex ed should be for things like how to make sure sex is enjoyable or at least not bloody well traumatic for everyone concerned, how to figure out if sex is the right decision for you at a certain point in time, queerness, etc. I always feel guilty pointing this out because so much of feminist sites (US ones at least) are trying to fight off abstinence-only sex ed, but I had comprehensive sex ed and it was worse than useless for me. I needed what I mentioned above, I got five forms of contraception, STDs and how to avoid them, with a nice undercurrent of “sex is human and natural and everyone wants it! If you think you don’t, you’re repressing!”

    …also, insert favourite author squee here. *shuffles feet*

  66. Rachel
    Rachel June 16, 2010 at 4:27 am |

    I had a partner once who totally blew my mind wrt consent. He was feeling a bit down and asked if I felt like having sex. I said I wasn’t really feeling all that into it, but if it would cheer him up, I’d be open to it anyway. He then refused, saying that he “had a personal moral code that he would never have sex with someone who wasn’t 100% just as enthusiastic about it as he was.”

    The sad thing is that I was so surprised by this statement. Really, that mindset should be universal, but… sigh.

  67. Jemima Aslana
    Jemima Aslana June 16, 2010 at 6:01 am |

    Since RMJ told us not to I’ll disengage from the discussion of legal definitions.

    I will say, though, I’m sorry, chava, that you perceived me to be putting words in your mouth. And I realise that that’s what it looked like I was doing. It was, in fact, just me using your comment as an outset, and then my argument developed further, and I completely lost track of exactly when it stopped being about what you had said, and started being about my general observations with regards to attitudes.

    I’m sorry about that, it was very unfair to you. You have my apologies.

    @ still learning

    You bring up a very good point. I think, perhaps, we need to split the entire sexual situation up into smaller parts. The example that comes to my mind is that I could easily initiate some kissing and heavy groping, but my counterpart could be the one to initiate another level of sexual contact that I would not be comfortable with. So who’s the “initiating partner”? Both of us, obviously. So your concern seem justified to me, and in order to maintain the “initiating partner” term, we need to narrow the definition to only cover the specific action that was nonconsensual, ’cause everything that led up to it may well have been initiated by the violated party.

    Goodness knows, I’ve been the initiating partner in plenty of situations that abruptly ended, when my partner though my enthusiasm for one thing meant it was okay to do x number of other things, too, without asking and without any kind of warning.

  68. Jemima Aslana
    Jemima Aslana June 16, 2010 at 6:03 am |

    Correction: Since RMJ told us not to continue down that line, I’ll disengage from the discussion of legal definitions.

    I wonder how I managed to cut out half the sentence…

  69. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos June 16, 2010 at 7:06 am |

    Sure, I can run with the idea that enthusiastic is not the best modifier there. My objection though is that I don’t want to go down the road of talking about what’s the minimal level of buy-in we can get away with when having sex with someone else.

  70. Maia
    Maia June 16, 2010 at 8:40 am |

    Thanks for the post RMJ – I really appreciate having a space to talk about this stuff which doesn’t default back to legalities.

    I may be derailing back to the rapist again – but I think there is an important point to be made here, which people who act as if defining someone as a rapist is the most horrible thing in the world, miss.

    People have an obligation to make sure that every single time they have sex the people they are having sex with are giving meaningful consent. If you don’t make sure that the people you are having sex with are giving meaningful consent then you’re not necessarily going to rape someone straight away, or even at all. But if you do, then it’s not some unfair tragedy if people think about you and call you a rapist.

    While I absolutely agree that women should define their own experiences. I think that there’s a case for a wider definition of men’s actions. In Shoshie’s example – I think it’s important for Shoshie to have an independent analysis of her roommate’s boyfriend’s actions seperate from her room-mates.

    I’m not always sure how you draw that line though, and I think it does depend on the effects of your actions on the survivor In some circumstances there are really good reasons for saying to people “that guy is a rapist” – but if that’s going to effect the survivor negatively “that guy doesn’t care about consent” is a way of communicating his actions without communicating her experience.

    I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, because I know of a guy who is acting in a way which makes it very clear that he doesn’t care about meaningful consent, and if he hasn’t raped someone yet then he will. I don’t know any of the women he has had sex with, and I don’t want to define their experiences. But I think there are really important reasons to define his behaviour.

    (Tamora Pierce! Is here! Oh My God! I may faint! I have read In the Hand of the Goddess probably 100 times! That’s just the book I’ve read most! I don’t usually use exclamation marks! I agree about education about consent, since so much of hte discussion around sex that people get exposed to is education of how to rape. Also Trickster! Wow did I need that book when I read it!)

  71. RMJ
    RMJ June 16, 2010 at 9:40 am |

    @Still learning: Initiating partner is not perfect language, and I appreciate your counter-example. In the context of this article , I needed to refer to both rapists and people who aren’t sure about their partner’s boundaries, and initiating partner was the language that I came up with to describe that situation.

    However. It is not language that “people always use” to talk about sexuality. It is my language that *I* came up with. I came up with it to talk about *rape*, and more specifically, my rape. Rape is not sexuality, and this is not other people’s language. There is a huge distinction there, and you are erasing it.

    This is not a discussion about sexuality in general – I agree, there is often no clear initiating partner in healthy sexuality. But this is not about healthy sexuality. It’s about rape, and consent, and one person raping another person. With rape, there *is* a person who willfully goes beyond their partner’s boundaries.

    @Jemima: The example that comes to my mind is that I could easily initiate some kissing and heavy groping, but my counterpart could be the one to initiate another level of sexual contact that I would not be comfortable with. So who’s the “initiating partner”? Both of us, obviously. So your concern seem justified to me, and in order to maintain the “initiating partner” term, we need to narrow the definition to only cover the specific action that was nonconsensual,

    Um. This describes my rape. I did narrow it to the specific action that was nonconsensual.

    I was a part of initiating the kissing, etc. I was not okay with going beyond that. My rapist was the initiating partner who ignored my boundaries and requests to just keep kissing.

    Sorry to come down so harsh because I think that both Jemima’s and SL’s contributions are worthwhile and in good faith. But this is my language to describe my rape, and I’m not comfortable with how yall are using it.

    @Kaz: Very sorry for the erasure. Only one person can decide what their standards of consent are – no one else can restrict or widen that definition. As I said in the OP, “the degree of consensuality is defined only by the person who experienced it.” I’m writing from a pretty personal perspective, and unfortunately did not adaquetely consider asexual perspectives. Apologies.

  72. RMJ
    RMJ June 16, 2010 at 9:48 am |

    A ps – it’s possible that someone else has used the “initiating partner” language and that I forgot I read it elsewhere. However, a quick search in my Google reader turns up no results besides this. And also, on this:

    “With rape, there *is* a person who willfully goes beyond their partner’s boundaries.”

    doesn’t really cover Still Learning’s valid counter-example, so, it should read:

    “With rape, there *is* in most cases a person who willfully goes beyond their partner’s boundaries.”

  73. chava
    chava June 16, 2010 at 10:25 am |

    I think that Still Learning makes a really interesting point–we’ve been so caught up in the discussion of technical consent that it can be easy to forget that consent is not this single, golden moment in time that we can isolate. It can be a lot more complex than that, and often it really doesn’t matter if you initiated the activity if you then become horribly uncomfortable with it and aren’t allowed to stop.

    While I respect that RMJ came up with “initiating partner” in the way it is being used in this article, I do think that in rape culture, there is an idea that if the person raped initiated the sexual encounter, they are less “raped,” somehow. While I can see how it is very useful language to describe certain situations, I think the language of initiating/not initiating can potentially code for the idea that rapists are always the sexual agressors in the beginning of an encounter and people who are raped are necessarily passive sexually.

    (I’m not sure if that’s within bounds of the discussion, my apologies it if is not & feel free to delete)

  74. Still learning
    Still learning June 16, 2010 at 10:36 am |

    I’ve been in at least a couple other situations where people used the initiating/non-initiating terms when discussing issues of consent, so I was under the impression that it was pretty standard language for this topic (although both times I can remember were in real life, not online, so maybe it is common in some contexts but not others?) – and it always made me rather irritated, so I decided to comment on it here. I just assumed you were using it because it was the ordinary language, not that it was something you had thought of particularly for your specific situation.

  75. Faith
    Faith June 16, 2010 at 10:53 am |

    “I’ve been in at least a couple other situations where people used the initiating/non-initiating terms when discussing issues of consent, so I was under the impression that it was pretty standard language for this topic”

    Still learning,

    My experiences with conversations surrounding sexuality and sexual violence have been largely the same. The idea that one partner initiates while the other is a mostly passive participant is the typical patriarchal framing of sexuality/sexual violence. My experience is that feminism is largely about moving away from that model of thinking. So, just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone.

  76. Faith
    Faith June 16, 2010 at 10:53 am |

    “I’ve been in at least a couple other situations where people used the initiating/non-initiating terms when discussing issues of consent, so I was under the impression that it was pretty standard language for this topic”

    Still learning,

    My experiences with conversations surrounding sexuality and sexual violence have been largely the same. The idea that one partner initiates while the other is a mostly passive participant is the typical patriarchal framing of sexuality/sexual violence. My experience is that feminism is largely about moving away from that model of thinking. So, just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone.

  77. Faith
    Faith June 16, 2010 at 10:57 am |

    “However, a quick search in my Google reader turns up no results besides this.”

    “person who initiates” or “partner who initiates” are also commonly used. If you do a search for “partner who initiates” and sex you’ll get plenty of hits.

  78. Jemima Aslana
    Jemima Aslana June 16, 2010 at 4:07 pm |

    @ RMJ

    Sorry that I misrepresented something. When I wrote my reply it was quite a while after I read your post, and so did not have it freshly in memory, but instead took my outset from the comment I responded to. I’m sorry about that, it was sloppy of me.

    As for your clarification it seems we’re actually on the same page considering what we mean by “initiating partner”.

    Having said that, and having seen your reaction, and having had a further think about it I’ll say this, and I’m sorry I didn’t catch on before:

    @ the thread in general: we probably need to be careful not to willfully misread RMJ’s language. I don’t think any of us are really in any doubt about what she meant. This “but what about those situations that are sorta like this, but not like this at all?” is a frequently seen derailing tactic in other discussions. Especially rape discussions that are brought to center around the rapists with the argument “but what if he just didn’t realise…?” Come on, we pile on the guys, when they’re misunderstanding shit on purpose, and now we’re behaving no differently to RMJ. Insisting that her perfectly understandable language really should be made clearer.

    Not cool. Yes, both partners may have initiated different parts of the activities, but we all know which initiating partner we’re talking about when it becomes rape. It’s the one who initiates the rape. Not that difficult to suss out.

  79. RMJ
    RMJ June 16, 2010 at 7:27 pm |

    Thanks for the considerate and fair replies, all. I’m a bit wrung out on this subject, so that’s all I can manage now. Since this seems to be winding down somewhat, I want to say that for the most part, yall have been a great crowd. Thanks. :)

  80. eilish
    eilish June 16, 2010 at 10:43 pm |

    If men don’t ask “am I a rapist?”, how will anything change? Contemplating behaviours you didn’t question at the time and examining them from the other person’s viewpoint is how you identify your problematic behaviours and beliefs.
    I am sure it is very distressing to have to look back and say “ooh, I was sexually coercive and that was very bad”.
    Cry me a river. If we want sexual coercion to disappear that’s exactly what men have to do.

    I was really distressed by the “but men might make a mistake and get called a rapist UNFAIRLY” meme that some commenters lobbed in. We fear whoever controls the discussion will abuse that power: we believe that if women take over it will be men’s turn to suffer. As human behaviour is pretty sucky a depressing proportion of the time, I can understand that view. But I reject it.
    IT’S TIME FOR WOMEN TO DEFINE WHAT RAPE IS. GIVE WOMEN CONTROL OFTHE SUBJECT. MEN, SHUT UP AND LISTEN.

    I’m sorry for shouting. I have spent too much time at Jezebel and feministing, where the young women think male circumcision and the lack of value society has for fathers are the really important feminist issues.

  81. ginmar
    ginmar June 17, 2010 at 12:48 am |

    The idea that we should educate boys is a good one and long overdue. Of course people will freak out about it—don’t we know rapists are those ‘bushy-haired strangers’ in allies? Nice boys that go to good schoools can’t be rapists! Ever! I sometimes think as long as we don’t make men learn it’s worse than useless to give women false hope, but that’s for the exceptionally cynical days. The fact that somebody upthread tried to argue that the victim’s opinion about what happened to them was no more important that the rapist’s, in this day and age, indicates just how much ignorance there is out there. Well, not ignorance: deliberately chosen and purposefully-developed rapist apologist bullshit.

  82. someguy
    someguy June 21, 2010 at 6:32 am |

    As a man who has pressured women sexually in the past (you could call me an ex-rapist, or something like that), I can tell you that this is the hardest lesson to learn. I knew that if someone says no that means no. But I didn’t know that if someone explicitly says they don’t want to previously, it still means no even if they go along with it in the moment. And I didn’t know that sometimes even if they say “Yes now damnit!” it means no, at least when alcohol is involved. Although I think in reality it’s not just about knowing, it’s also about overriding desire and being able to think, “Even though I really want this, I should stop this.” At least, that’s how it was for me.

    I will say that realizing I had crossed that line really fucked me up. I can honestly say that if I didn’t realize that I would be a totally different person today. Looking back I have no idea how I came to that realization, I just know that at some point I took it upon myself to never hurt someone like that again. Even now I think that my understanding of consent is always evolving, because in reality there are a million different ways for someone to have sex without completely consenting, if that makes sense.

  83. While We Were Away: A News Round-Up | Change Happens: The SAFER Blog

    [...] RMJ at Feministe has a really good post (with a very active comments section) about manipulating someone into “consent” and her own experiences in college. For me, the value in this piece is the conversation it starts about looking at sexual violation on a spectrum outside of the one presented by the legal system. So much of the discourse surrounding what rape is or isn’t is based on what would stand up in court. And while this is an important conversation, particularly in terms of how to reform the criminal justice system and encourage folks to report crimes, it’s not always the most helpful conversation. When immediately dragging conversations about consent and assault into the legal realm, defenses go up and the slippery slope argument begins: well if you’re going to call that rape, then everyone’s a rapist! But women like RMJ aren’t talking about wanting the opportunity to prosecute someone or defining what a violation is for every individual. The point (as I see it anyway) is to discuss the different ways in which consent can be violated, coerced, or simply never acquired, and with that on the table we can figure out how to make it better. The point of primary prevention, for example, isn’t: let’s talk about how you can avoid getting arrested and charged with rape. It’s (or it should be) let’s talk about the behaviors and attitudes that devalue your sexual partner(s) and what a healthy sexual relationship/encounter should look like. [...]

  84. Baltimore Rates of “Unfounded” Rapes Five Times National Average « of Heart and Mind

    [...] in prostitution, wearing a short skirt, walking in a bad area…etc. As to consent, the absence of ‘no’ is not [...]

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