I’m about to propose a radical suggestion, gentle readers. Hold fast to your bonnets.
I think one (possible) (partial) (imperfect) cure for rape culture is to make 2013 all about Respect For Consent. The piece of rape culture this begins to address is Entitlement, specifically the Dudely Entitlement to Lady Attention, Lady Bodily Autonomy, Lady Socialized Politeness Reflex, etc.
Teaching men to Respect Consent begins with the oft touted Coffee Shop Hello. For the last time, no, there is nothing wrong with a polite “Excuse me.” We do not live in a world where dudes are crucified to death for saying “Hello.” We do live in a world where women can’t say hi or no thanks or please leave me alone without a dude often continuing to press for attention, approval, a phone number. Respecting Consent means that men have to accept a woman declining consent. Even if you gave her the wrong impression. Even if you think she’s a stuck up bitch who should be smiling and validating your virile masculinity. Whatever day that ends in y this is, men have to accept that either rejection of them doesn’t make a woman a bitch OR, and this is my favorite part, that on this particular day a woman HAS consented to be a bitch, NOT to be a conversation partner with you, so just move along.
Respecting Consent means making the parameters of consent clear. Drunk consent doesn’t exist. Unconscious consent doesn’t exist. Consent under force or duress doesn’t exist. Consent can be revoked at any time. You cannot consent to something on someone else’s behalf unless you have obtained…you guessed it, their consent.
Respecting Consent is empowering for women too — it means believing in your right to say yes or no or yes then no, and mean it. It means fully considering your consent before you give it. It means freedom to rescind that consent without blaming or judging yourself. It means letting go of that socialized politeness that is not really politeness but fear. I used to smile when strangers told me to on the street, not because I had momentarily been out of touch with my emotions and forgotten how face muscles work, but because I thought it was rude to ignore them, I thought they’d be offended. I maybe thought they’d get mean. They maybe would have. Eff that. My face, my rules. Ditto for my uterus.
Respecting my ability to consent more than a stranger’s ability to boss me around lets me easily rank my obligation. Forced smile? Or maintain the Street Face already in progress. I developed that face for a reason. I’ll smile when I feel like it. I’ll engage you in coffee shop conversation when I feel like it and excuse myself to return to my book when I’m done. I’ll sleep with you when I feel like it (when we both feel like it, obv), I’ll stop you if you do something I don’t like, and I’ll leave when I’m ready. Please feel free to do the same.
Notice how everyone retains the right to ask? Notice how Respecting Consent (and specifically a person’s right to decline consent doesn’t spiral directly to the decline of civility and friendliness and good neighborhoods and happy homes?
I’m not naive. I know rapists most often just don’t give a crap about consent except that they get off just thinking about violating your consent. I doubt I or anyone else can teach those assholes anything about respect. But the “well-meaning”, the “nice”, the “tragically misunderstood”, people with rape fantasies who think /everyone/ has those fantasies, the drunk and horny, and the bystander who thinks it’s not her business or his business to interfere — these are people we can reach. People who could benefit from having “Graciously Take No For An Answer” stamped on their hands/faces would benefit from a Respect Consent campaign.
I say we give them the opportunity. What do you think?
Look for news and further radical deviation from the dominant narrative in which women are presumed to be in a default state of “Yes” on twitter and this blog this year. Join in! #RespectConsent2013