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