Monday, June 07, 2010

Token Resistance

blue milk has written a great post about how women are not responsible for rape. Ever.

The comments thread has been both heated and interesting. One comment struck me as both understandable and rather horrific. Darsh said "It is true that guys regularily need to press on through token resistance by girls".

This is a pretty commonly expressed opinion, and it both is a problem and reflects a problem. It's a problem because it's impossible for a person to know if what their partner is doing is "token resistance" or reluctance mixed with fear. If it's the latter, consent is clearly in question. If you can't be sure that you have consent, you shouldn't keep going.

However, it's also true that women do put up faux resistance from time to time. It really, seriously shouldn't happen*. It does happen because women are told they can't be sluts, that they need to be coy, that they need to play hard to get. They are taught from a young age not to own their sexuality. So they do, from time to time, play these games.

So what to do? I think there are two parts to the answer - the short term and the long term. In the short term, men (most often, but women too) need to just stop when their partner puts up "token resistance". It's not a fair thing to do, to pretend you don't want sex when you do, but it's understandable given how women are socialised. It's up to us all to change this habit. I'd suggest that sex ending as soon as someone starts playing coy is a great way to do this. If she's doing it because she really doesn't want to be there and is afraid of the consequences of saying no, that's the only ethical option anyway. If she's doing it because of what amounts to fucked up social training, if you can encourage her to express enthusiasm for sex actively - well everyone has a lot more fun.

The longer term solution is to actually put some sex education into sex education. Teach kids that the first step in having sex with someone is talking about sex with them. That everyone should be clearly and happily expressing their desire before anyone pokes anyone with anything. And most importantly, make it really clear that this isn't a policy of prohibition, it's a recipe for good, safe, respectful and FUN sex. If you're gonna do it, do it right.

*Unless it's in the context of well defined and discussed play.


  1. Yay to the sex education ideas, Ariane.

  2. Thanks, Ariane - spot on. I was noticing in that thread that the focus remained on the "token resistance" assessment and behaviour, with no attention paid to the disturbing "need to press on" part of the remark.

    There is never a "need" to press on - sex isn't a need or a requirement or an entitlement or an inevitability. If there is resistance - stop. Deciding that you "need to press on" is disregarding non-assent, regardless of your assessment of the person's motives behind it.

  3. Hope it's okay if I comment here as well. I think I should explain myself a little better.

    First, the use of the word 'need'. What it should be read as is "To achieve my goal of mutually consensual sex, when she puts up (what I label as) 'token resistance', I need to softly press on through it."

    Though I will add that to me, sex is an important part of a good life, which is why, if I have no willing partner, I will masturbate. To me sex is a need and a requirement, though I am not entitled to have sex with anyone else. Oh, and as long as I am free, it will be inevitable.

    What nobody has asked about however, or nobody cared to consider, is that I always talk with my sex partners. I want them to feel good, as I expect that they in turn will want to make me feel good. In addition, since I do ask what they want, I believe there is very little chance of going on without consent.

    But imagine the frustration when trying to ask what she wants and the answer from a shy girl is "You can't ask me that..."

  4. Ummm, I'm not convinced any of that makes sense.

    If you are having conversations about sex, how can there be any "token resistance" unless it is, as I mentioned, part of specifically decided upon play? In the latter case, it isn't "token resistance" it's role play.

    And if one is trying to ask a girl want she wants and she says "You can't ask me that", I'd reiterate my advice to get the hell out of there. It might be frustrating, but you have absolutely no way of knowing whether she's saying that because she's shy or because she doesn't actually want you to be asking. Really, this is important, you can't ascribe reasons or motives for other people's statements. You might think you've guessed right, and you might even have done so 99% of the time, but you still can't really know what the other person is thinking unless they have told you explicitly.

  5. No sense? Perhaps I'm bad at explaining. Let's try again:

    There is token resistance because she is, or is acting, shy. She wants to have sex, but is reluctant of showing any signs of it. Which isn't exactly true of course, she will show signs, but will be reluctant to do so directly.

    And I sure as hell can ascribe reasons and motives to other peoples statements! That's how one is able to function in a normal life. Many, many times one can not simply ask directly what another person is thinking - this is especially so in negotiations and when dealing with an unhappy female (the latter isn't only a stereotype unfortunately).

    Anyway, your advice would be really, really terrible. But of course, giving any kind of advice to strangers over the Internet with insufficient information isn't exactly easy.

    One occasion where "you can't ask me that" was used was in a hotel room my girlfriend of a few months had booked specifically for us to have some alone time, and she still have periods of being shy, thus why she could say that and at other times (both before and after) giving direct consent.

    My point is that it is generally accepted that there are many ways of communicating and that body language is very versatile and can be read by another human. I believe that it is fully possible to differentiate between token resistance and actual resistance.

    I hope what I'm saying makes more sense now?

    (Sorry for the following long and run-on sentence...)
    Finally, and I do not wish to be condescending in any way, and this may be a bit off-topic to the discussion at hand, but I assume that I have more experience with dealing with females from the position of being a male than you have, so even though you are female and know what you think is best for you, and have most likely talked to many other females about their opinions, it strikes my that a male may have some knowledge of these situations that you may not have. Do you think this could be possible?

  6. " it strikes my that a male may have some knowledge of these situations that you may not have."

    Darsh, you're now officially creeping me right out. No, your special unique perspective as a het man accustomed to pressing on through what you assume to be "token" resistance does NOT give you insight and knowledge into how women* think and feel and consent and don't consent that trumps the knowledge and experience of actual het women.

    "I know what you want even when you're resisting", spoken by men about women and sex, has a long, ugly, and violent history. You can't possibly have been in this conversation for as long as you have and remained ignorant of that, which leads me to conclude that you're doing it deliberately. Which is, yeah, creepy as fuck.

    *Women, not "females".

  7. Sorry for mixing the terms 'females' and 'women' in my post. I see how that could be a problem. I'll stick with 'women' from now on.

    I didn't intend to say that a man can exactly know how each woman thinks and feels at any particular time, but that I as a man have some experience in how it is for men to interpret how their partner behaves. Sorry if I managed to make that unclear.

    And as Ariane's interpretation of what my girlfriend said was wrong (granted, she has very little to no information to work on), I can't see that there is any reason to hold that any woman will know what another woman intends either.

    And of course I recognise that men saying they "know" what women wants is an often used excuse to force their will. However, it was not on my mind when I wrote my comment. Sorry for creeping you out, but in my defense I think you read more into my statement than what I had intended (Which of course I as the author should have tried to mitigate).

  8. No, Darsh, I didn't make any interpretation about your girlfriend - I said that you can't know for sure (therefore neither can I). The only insight I'm claiming is that men generally have less insight than they think, not that I have more. You might have got it right that time, but even if you did, you are reinforcing the status quo of women being socialised to pretend not to want sex - so you are contributing to the frustration you mention earlier.

    The whole thing about forcing your will "not on your mind" is pretty much exactly what we're trying to get across to you. It doesn't have to be on your mind for you to be doing, you just have to misread someone's signals. That's pretty easy done, unless you are the only person in the universe that never gets it wrong when you ascribe motives and intents to other people. The point here, is not that people never ascribe motives to other people, the point is that if you do in these circumstances, and you get it wrong, you have crossed the consent line, and you may not even know it.

    So my advice (to the universe in general) is that without an enthusiastic yes, you are either conspiring to continue the ridiculous socialisation of women to not own their interest in sex, or you are potentially continuing without consent. The argument you are making is that it would be "really, really terrible" to stop, which implies that you think missing out on sex (potentially for both of you) is a much worse outcome than either of these. And I agree with Lauredhel, that's creepy.

  9. "And of course I recognise that men saying they "know" what women wants is an often used excuse to force their will. However, it was not on my mind when I wrote my comment. "


    How nice for you that you can completely stop thinking about rape in a conversation that is explicitly about rape.

  10. @lauredhel: Touché. In my head this had turned into a defence of my own actions and not a general discussion. It's a bit difficult when the only male viewpoint (man's viewpoint doesn't sound as good) I can confidently present is my own.

    @Ariane: Sorry for putting words in your mouth.

    However, the 'enthusiastic yes' you talk about isn't very likely to come up continously during intimacy/sex. And everyone has agreed that consent must be continual to be valid; "But she said 'Yes' before we started," is not a valid defence if it ever gets that far... As such, all of us are relying on other signals to decide if what we are doing with a partner is alright.

    I hold that token resistance does happen, and that it is possible and important to differentiate from actual resistance. And even with good communication, token resistance happens. Some women even go back and forth between showing token resistance and being more direct in the sex.

    It is usually the guy that has to push the encounter forward to sex. That means that a man usually needs to push for the first touch, the first kiss, etc. And it is very common to find some token resistance along the way.

    Is it possible that one can push further than the woman likes or feel confident about? Absolutely. That's why proper communication is also needed to avoid doing that. But the general rule is that if the guy does not push forward, nothing will happen!

    _Why_ token resistance happens and whether it is good or bad is possibly another discussion. I simply note what is currently the norm and adjust my behaviour accordingly. Ariane asked earlier 'If you are having conversations about sex, how can there be any "token resistance" [...]?'
    The answers may be that she could be shy, she could want the guy to take the lead, she could be wanting to appear to be a woman who haven't had a lot of intimacy or sex previously, she could be a woman who haven't had a lot of intimacy or sex previously and thus don't feel confident in what she should or shouldn't do.

    And I do believe that missing out on sex is much worse than correcting my partner in how she behaves at that time (within reasonable limits, of course). Not that they are mutually exclusive I suppose, but I will not act as a sociologist while trying to have sex.

    I have never had unconsentual sex with anyone, and I never will, so the other alternative is not applicable.

    But to try and turn this around and view things from a different angle: I'm stating that there will often be token resistance to push through, and you say that behaviour is questinable at best. But how do you think a man should behave? And what do you think would be the likely outcome with regard to each partner's goals?

  11. "_Why_ token resistance happens and whether it is good or bad is possibly another discussion."

    No, it's not, it's actually a significant part of the OP.

    "But how do you think a man should behave? And what do you think would be the likely outcome with regard to each partner's goals?"

    I've also answered this in the OP, in fact it's the reason I wrote it. I think a man should stop if he sees "token resistance", and I think the likely outcome is that women who actually want sex will get over the socially imposed "shyness" as you keep insisting on calling it, and actively, passionately engage in sex with no "token resistance". Or do you think women are intrinsically incapable of making their intentions clear?

    This is getting dull, the conversation isn't about your actions, and your defensiveness isn't very helpful, and somewhat disturbing really. You might have been lucky enough to have never misjudged "token resistance", but I'm pretty confident that the guy who misjudged it with me has no idea that he did so - so your protestations don't mean much, and are rather irrelevant to the point anyway.

    There isn't much point in continuing the conversation if you can't see the basic problem with continuing the status quo, which is at best enforcing the passive role of women in sex, and at worst resulting in rape.