I've only just found this, via fuckyeahfeminism, and I'm going back to the source to talk about it, partly because this is something that people will get up-in-arms about (for one side or another) and because I don't want to base what I'm saying on second-hand interpretation.( Collapse )
But that's not why I'm bringing all of this up. And I am not putting this behind a cut.
I'm bringing this up because these guys in this focus group, the judges and juries, the sexual assault volunteers and counselors -- they're all assuming that the woman can look him in the eye and say no in such a way that he knows she means it. What if she feels like she doesn't have a choice? What if she's scared of what might happen if she does say no? What if she feels trapped in the situation?
What if she's shrinking and nervous by nature? What if she's ashamed of herself for even letting herself get into the situation? What if she's mortified at the fact that she's not okay with sex when everyone else around her is? What if she's afraid of being judged for not putting out? What if she's said no with her body but been ignored? What if she's saying no, but quietly and looking away when she does?
(Aside: I don't think of that "sort of saying no and looking away flirty" thing as necessarily "flirtatious." I think of that as "I'm terrified to look you in the eyes and deny you what you want because if you lash out at me, I am defenseless." Or maybe I'm projecting.)
What I'm trying to get at is -- just because she doesn't say no firmly and loudly and looking you in the eyes, does not mean she's saying yes. Can it be legally classified as rape if she doesn't say no clearly?
Because while teaching people that no means no and that they should seek enthusiastic consent is a good thing, it doesn't cover everything.
It doesn't cover the young girls who are scared and feel trapped when they find themselves alone with a boy.
It doesn't cover the already-neurotic girls who are already frightened by everything.
It doesn't cover the women who feel like they aren't allowed to say no, either because the man is in a position of power or because she's stuck alone with him and has no way home if he doesn't give her a ride.
And in these cases, the woman is left alone. Ashamed and afraid to be around him. Unable to say anything to anyone because "you didn't say no, did you?" And the thought of ever telling anyone that you think he was wrong, let alone even considering trying to take it to court? "You didn't say no, did you?"
Which all translates to: "It's your fault because you didn't say no."
"He can't be blamed for not reading your body language because you didn't say no."
None of this accounts for the girls who can't say no. What do we do? Saying, well, she needs to learn to be more self-confident and we can teach her that -- that's great, but none of that helps take away the things that have happened to her in the past, and you can't force self-confidence on someone. And more to the point, telling her that she should be more confident and firm in what she wants just reinforces the idea -- already echoing in her head -- that she's to blame.
Because if you were more confident, you would have been able to say no in such a way that he would have taken you seriously.
All of this -- all of it -- functions in a way that lifts blame from the perpetrator and shifts it to the victim, someone who is already suffering from psychological distress over the violation and the victimization and the memory of what happened.
What do you do instead?
I'm not going to say to stop teaching girls to say no firmly and resolutely, because that's a very good thing -- but we also need to teach boys how to read body language, and that even the quietest "no" is still a no.
We need to stop blaming the victims, or the nebulous "miscommunication" (because even that term still translates to "she should have been clearer") and start listening to people when they say "I don't know where this falls on the spectrum, I don't know what I could have done, I just know that I feel like I've been violated."
And maybe you can't make a rape or sexual assault conviction out of that, but -- fuck, you can listen. You can offer solace and understanding and an ear that isn't going to repeat that same goddamn "did you tell him no clearly and firmly" line. You can be the person who doesn't blame her. You can be the person who tells people to back off if they're making fun of her or attacking her, either because they think she did it on purpose or because they think she's lying about what happened or because they think she's trying to ruin his life.
I'm going to repeat this one because it's so important: you can be the person who doesn't blame her. If she's in this situation, especially if she's one of the girls who couldn't say no, then it's likely that no one is going to not blame her, most especially herself. She's going to feel like it was her fault, and ninety-nine percent of the people she confides in will treat it like it was her fault, either explicitly or implicitly.
Trust me, she needs someone to say "I understand the situation you were in and he was wrong and you have every right to feel violated an unclean." And no, that doesn't mean don't try to teach her to stand up for herself in the future, but do it with understanding.
And for God's sake, do it without blame.