Saturday, May 30, 2009

Strange Flashbacks

That ABC article about how girls need to be taught to be more assertive has been floating around in my head for a week now, and just this morning it triggered a memory of a night when I was 16 or 17. I hadn't thought of it for years and years, but I wonder if it played a part in my position on consent and ethics for blokes.

Mark, Jessie*, Rob** and I had gone to see a band or some such and we ended up back at Mark's place. A great deal of silliness and no doubt masses of flirting ensued. This, rather inevitably at that stage in my life, ended up in a tickle fight. One that I also inevitably lost. It's hard to win a tickle fight when your hands have been tied together. I was all good with this. I knew Mark pretty well, this was a running gag between us and Jessie was his girlfriend and was involved in the nonsense. At some point Rob crossed the tickling/foreplay line, and despite having felt completely in control up until that moment, right then I changed instantaneously into deer in the headlights. I didn't speak up, I didn't do anything. Fortunately, Mark also knew me pretty well, and when he realised what was going on he immediately intervened and the situation disappeared. I was a little shaken (mostly regarding my own lack of action), and went home soon after.

When I look back on that, my first question is "Why didn't I just tell him to stop?" I think I had been drinking, but I certainly wasn't rat-arsed. I remember way too many details about unrelated parts of the night for that. One very likely contributing factor is that there was bugger all conversation involved with the sexual encounters I had under the best of circumstances. Some giggling, and occasional whispers, but with only a few rare exceptions, I was utterly incapable of verbal communication once the hormones kicked in. I was probably desperately afraid of saying the wrong thing. Or maybe it's just that no-one ever speaks in sex scenes in movies. Anyway, the guys were no better at it than me. If you can't speak up to ask for what you do want when everyone is on the same page, what hope does anyone have of speaking up when they want to stop proceedings?

The next point that comes to mind is that I don't think Rob was a particularly unpleasant guy. He certainly didn't object when Mark intervened, and I can't really say that he was entirely unreasonable in assuming that, since I had allowed my hands to be tied and got involved in all that physical contact and flirting and all, he was only doing what I clearly wanted. The only snag was that it hadn't even occurred to me that he could think so. Actually, it hadn't even occurred to me that he would want to, after all I was fat and ugly.

And then the other thing that occurs to me is that males are clearly completely capable of having ethics regarding sex, because Mark exhibited them magnificently, and to be fair, given the total lack of communication that was endemic in my sex life, Rob did too.

There was a situation that could easily have ended in tears, even rape allegations. I definitely didn't want him to continue, but for some reason couldn't express that. Any definition of consent I can come up with, though, puts that encounter in exactly the same category as the ones in which I was happy to participate - at least from the point of view of any observer who didn't know me really well. This is why I think consent breaks down as a concept in these potential date rape scenarios.

So maybe our sex ed classes need to show videos of people having grown up sex, in which they speak, maybe even laugh. You know, they could even ask each other questions like "Do you like it if I touch you here?" - might give both sides a chance to find out the answer....

And once more, this attitude that men just have sex with anything with ovaries that stands still long enough unless someone explicitly tells them not to has got to stop. Those sex ed classes have to expect boys to think long and hard about the consequences of this action just like the girls. And those consequences are not just rape allegations. This is not just about consent. They can behave morally reprehensibly without raping anyone, and that needs to condemned, not saluted.

*Names changed because I haven't asked them if I can talk about them
**Name made up because I can't actually remember it


  1. Great post. The idea that guys are supposed to just do stuff until someone says "no" is really effed up, when I think about it. That means that they will inevitably do something some woman doesn't want - that's when she'll stop him, right? He puts his hand somewhere, she removes it, and he stops - he's already put his hand somewhere she didn't want it. Until this very moment, I've considered that normal. Holy shit.

    This also means there's no expectation that she will ask, which plays into the whole girls-who-want-sex-are-sluts idea.

    Don't know why it took me this long to figure this out, but thanks for turning on the lights.

  2. I'm glad your situation didn't escalate into something awful. I think it gives good insights into how these things happen. I think the men you were with sounded pretty decent. He stopped at least. And I was he to know, it wasn't something you wanted?

    I also can see how it would be hard to say no. And also I can see why someone would not know why they didn't say no. Life can be confusing. Sometimes we don't know what we want. Sometimes we're too scared to speak up. There are so many factors.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story. I think that you are absolutely right. My husband has a theory actually, he says that he always waited for a definite "yes." I don't think that he did this to be "polite" but to prtotect himself from allegations, should any arise. Then, he would be able to say that there was a definite agreement for the particular activity. To make a long story short... this makes sense. Our classes teach that if you hear a "no" then you have to stop. Well, maybe you can't even start anything unless you hear a definite "yes." Just a thought. Oh - I my daughter will be in middle school next year. This is hurting my brain.

  4. This also reminds me of a piece in "Yes Means Yes":

    The words that come after "I want"

  5. Rebecca, I can see why it reminded you - it's a great indepth discussion of why people don't talk during sex. I'm not nearly as bad as I was when I was younger, but there are still some elements of fear of rejection.

    Since fear of rejection defines the teenage years, it might be quite a hurdle to change it.