No Means No: A Lesson In Consent For All Ages
There is no arguing that when Republican Todd Akin claims that “legitimate rape” doesn’t result in pregnancy, there is some serious dishonesty, sexism, and just plain stupidity going on here. Sadly enough, the thing that troubles me the most isn’t only his choice of words; it’s the implication behind them.
By referring to this crime as “legitimate rape,” Akin is implying that there is such a thing as illegitimate rape, as though the female body has some kind of magical defense mechanism to ward off unwanted sex. Even if that were true, we are ignoring the most concrete thing that separates other forms of sexual activity from rape: consent. Resistance in any form should be enough to solve any question as to whether or not a woman actually wanted to have sex.
Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. Without getting into too much detail on what it’s like to actually prosecute a rape case, everything about the situation from the victim’s perspective, and not the rapist’s, is brought into question. Words and actions don’t seem to matter. It’s not enough for her to have refused. Anything from the way the victim dressed to how many sexual partners she had previously can change the entire outcome of a rape case, placing the blame on the victim instead of the rapist. This completely ignores any attempts the victim may have made to prevent the encounter, including saying no outright.
What concerns me — and should concern everyone for that matter — is the inherent sexism that comes along with ignoring a woman when she denies consent. By doing this, we are saying that we just don’t believe a woman who doesn’t agree to something, and not just in cases of rape. Society as a whole has a huge problem with accepting the fact that no means no. Just take a look at some of the shows on TV today; many feature a woman turning down a man’s advances, but the man refuses to give up, as though she didn’t really mean what she said. We’re taught that, if one is persistent enough, that no will eventually turn into a yes. It’s an incredibly problematic way of thinking.
I saw for myself how dangerous this could be over the summer, while working as a camp counselor. The other counselors and I were supervising the pool during an evening party when an 11-year-old began splashing me with water. He was a large boy who was known to say some pretty mean things to other campers. I was pretty irritated that he was splashing me and asked him to stop, which, of course, he failed to do. Even then it didn’t register to me right away that he was ignoring my protests; it wasn’t until a few minutes later that I noticed how big of an issue it was.
An 8-year-old girl camper began swimming near the edge of the pool by me. She was a tiny girl with a bubbly personality, and she was very attached to me. Upon seeing us talking, the boy swam over and started chasing her around the water. It was clear from the way she was trying to get away from him and her screeching that she wanted to be left alone — her body language and tense demeanor should have showed that she was uncomfortable — but if that wasn’t enough of a clue, the “stop” she yelled in protest should have been enough for him to go away.
That’s when it really hit me how serious the situation was. I could immediately picture it escalating. I didn’t see an 8-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy anymore; I saw the two of them as fully grown and matured adults. The girl was still small and skinny, and the boy was large enough to overpower her with little effort. I could see her running away from him, trying to push off his advances in a more sexual situation, but him refusing to believe that she really wanted him to stop. I saw him ignoring her physical protests right along with the verbal ones, convinced she wanted him there. It horrified me.
I reprimanded him immediately, insisting that when someone asks you to stop, it’s important to listen. Almost seconds later, a male counselor standing by the same section of the pool told him not to listen to me and to continue his pursuit of this little girl, despite her obvious protests. Here were two boys, roughly 10 years apart in age, but with the same views on women: that consent doesn’t matter. It’s not a generational thing: this mindset has clearly been ingrained into the public psyche from an early age. How often are we told not to take no for an answer? How often do we see children pestering their parents about getting a new toy until they eventually give in? How often do we hear about a woman’s whims coming with her menstruation cycle? How often do we see on television shows and in movies a woman “changing her mind” about a man who is persistent enough or who just proves himself worthy? The idea that a woman will change her mind is so ingrained that we can’t always recognize it at first.
Throughout the rest of the summer I kept noticing small instances of campers ignoring me when I said no. That very same girl who was running away from the larger boy at the pool would often come up to me and poke me in the side, something I strongly disliked. When I asked her to stop, she asked why, as though my protests weren’t enough to cease her actions. She couldn’t even comprehend why my asking her to stop should be enough.
This is where rape education seems to be lacking. The conversation on prevention shouldn’t just be about how to know when consent is given. How can we even begin to prevent rape if we don’t change the way we look at a person saying the word no? It’s a simple enough lesson, one we’re supposed to learn as children, but we’ve failed to take it to heart. Verbal denial is one of the easiest ways to let someone know that you dislike their actions, and yet words are also the easiest things to ignore. If we can’t even listen to verbal cues, how are we supposed to believe that people will pick up on the physical ones? How are we supposed to teach people that consent is not given if the victim is too drunk to make proper decisions? We can’t even teach people to stop when we say “no!” Sometimes it’s small, like a little girl failing to stop poking you when asked nicely. But too often, it’s something much more serious.
Header photo courtesy of India Nunan
May 17, 2013
May 16, 2013
May 16, 2013
May 15, 2013
May 15, 2013
May 15, 2013