asking for it and enthusiastic consent

Rebecca St. James is clearly asking for it in that turtleneck.

I barely remember her from the bad Christian pop of the 90s, but apparently Rebecca St. James is still some sort of authority on modesty and whether or not someone deserves to be sexually assaulted because of what they are wearing. I say apparently, because Fox News had her on to discuss a recent spate of “Slut Walks,” which I would describe as a sort of updated “Take Back the Night” rally, in which women march wearing whatever they want, in order to make the point that being perceived as a slut, whether because of one’s clothes or other reasons, is not justification for sexual assault. It’s largely based on lampooning the very concept of the word “slut,” since it can’t be an insult or a justification if those to whom it is applied refuse to be shamed by it.

Anyway, back to Rebecca St. James, she of 90s CCM fame. This is what she said on Fox News (video here):

“I think there has to be responsibility though for what a woman is wearing,” St. James told Hannity Monday. “When a woman is dressing in an immodest way, in a proactive way, she’s got to think about what is she saying by her dress.”

“They’re asking for sex,” she continued. “They’re asking for sex if they’re dressed immodestly.”

Here’s the thing. ONLY ACTUALLY ASKING FOR SEX CAN BE CONSIDERED ASKING FOR SEX.

What someone is wearing, whether or not they are drinking, what kind of neighborhood they are walking down the street it: these are not ways of consenting to sex. I’ll put it a bit more clearly:

ONLY ACTUALLY CONSENTING TO SEX CAN BE CONSIDERED CONSENT TO SEX.

St. James seems to believe that rape is an appropriate punishment for women who dare to dress in a way that does not meet her cultural standards of modesty. She also seems to take the very negative and insulting view of men that suggests they are sexbeasts who cannot control themselves in the presence of female flesh. And, possibly, she seems to hold the beliefs that women don’t really want sex, and are unlikely to enthusiastically, verbally, clearly consent to engage in it, and that sex is something men must convince or coerce women into having, either by raping them, or exchanging gifts and time (it’s called dating, romance, or maybe even marriage– since an engagement ring is the ultimate gift) in exchange for sex.

Here’s what I think. Sex is natural, sex is fun, sex is best (and should only happen) with someone who wants to be having it with you. Both men and women enjoy and desire sex. Sex should only be had with someone who very clearly, obviously, verbally has expressed that he or she wants to be having sex with you. It’s called a standard of enthusiastic consent, and it handily does away with slut shaming, and “gray rape” and other points of confusion about consensual vs. nonconsensual sex. You don’t have to wonder if someone is sending you signals by their clothing, or by where they happen to be walking, or by what they happen to be drinking. You’ll know.

is it beer goggles?

beer goggles image via Flickr user A_of_DooM.
"beer goggles" image via Flickr user A_of_DooM.

I just read a post from Salon’s Broadsheet about a UK poll that found most respondents were having most of their sex while under the influence of alcohol, and the respondents said they prefer it that way.  Broadsheet blogger Mary Elizabeth Williams mentions that a writer for the Independent suggested these women prefer sex the influence (SWI?) because of poor body image, and Williams also notes that we should consider the poll’s source, a feminine hygiene company.  While I’d be inclined to agree that the type of women who find crotchular deodorants necessary for purchase may also have a tendency toward low self esteem in other areas, I sort of wonder if there isn’t another explanation.

At least in my observations of fellow young women, alcohol isn’t just a form of liquid courage to give us the confidence to get naked and down to business.  It’s also a liquid excuse.  Many young women pretend to be drunker than they really are as an excuse for doing things they wanted to do anyway.  I’ve seen friends act completely wasted after one beer, because they seem to think drunk girls can get away with behavior “good girls” can’t.  If you can say “but I was soooooo drunk,” you can excuse hooking up with a guy your friends (or you, by the light of day) disapprove of.  In a society where good girls are supposed to say no to sex, alcohol becomes a handy scapegoat for our behavior.

I’m not saying I approve of excusing behavior by way of alcohol, first, because I think that we should be allowed to feel confident in our sexual choices, and to own them as proudly as we would stone cold sober, but second, because I’m wary of the level of consent anyone who is legally intoxicated can give.  In many states, someone who is legally intoxicated cannot legally consent to sex, and I think men AND women should try to avoid having sex with drunk people to avoid thorny issues of consent-confusion.

Williams writes:

Lots of women drink. Lots of women have sex. Does it automatically follow that women need to drink to have sex? And is imbibing before bed the mark of a self-loather “looking for a boost in self-esteem when it comes to bedroom antics,” as Lakeland says, or simply an uninhibited sensualist?

I’d add that some of them are simply looking for an excuse for “bad girl” behavior. And either way, though I’m a fan of both moderate drinking AND sex, I’d encourage people who mix sex and drinking to make sure their partner is still capable of clear and enthusiastic consent.

finally, a decent PSA

Last night, while waiting for dinner to finish simmering, I flipped open this week’s issue of the Charleston City Paper, our local alt-weekly.  This issue is the annual “welcome back college kids” issue, with advice on cheap eats, good places to go for dates, and ways to spruce up dorm rooms.  Basically all kinds of great Charleston tips that I can appreciate even though I’m not a college student any more, because I’m on a tight budget.  As I turned the page after reading a piece on local thrift stores, I saw this ad:

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I could have applauded.

See, so often PSAs about rape and sexual assault focus on the materials in the first part of the ad, the part that is aimed toward young women.  The part that says, don’t wear that, don’t drink this, don’t go to these places, don’t be out after this hour, don’t hang out with these people.  The feminist in me tends to think that the culture of fear we instill in our young women serves to help keep them under control.  Just thinking about it makes me want to crank up No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” and bop along with my teen idol Gwen. “Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand? This world is forcin’ me to hold your hand!” (Seriously, I wonder how many other 20-30 year olds can point to that song as a major source of their feminist awakening.) Continue reading “finally, a decent PSA”