I’ve been trying to fit these two conversations into some sort of context since they occurred but there really isn’t one. What I’m about to relate isn’t going to be news to any female readers and likely will echo sentiments that some male readers believe. All I can say is that both of these conversations made an impression. Not always a good thing.
the “trick question” (can you guess the right answer?)
The first conversation took place over the phone with this guy I met through a dating site over three years ago. Normally I don’t waste time chatting with these guys, I meet them in public and chat then. But he wouldn’t be in town for a couple more weeks and he was extremely personable, so we chatted. (It turned out to be a waste of my time and minutes, so I reverted back to my old policy. Exceptions to the rules never work out.)
At one point, we were discussing a rape story that was in the news. I think that’s how the conversation was started. At any rate, we got around to discussing how no means no. At least, that was my part of the discussion. He agreed, but then was confused as to what constitutes a “no.” Then he asked me a “trick question” (his actual phrase). “What if she says no, but really means yes?”
I was stunned by his stupidity. What, he’s able to pick winning lotto numbers as well? I very politely explained that he should take her statement at face value and stop trying to mind-read. Because if a woman really means yes and things grind to a halt, she’ll find a way to get everything rolling back on track. But in my whole life of sexual experiences, both personal and professional, I can only think of one time when I said no really wishing I was saying yes. There might be a couple more instances but they’re so rare as to be forgettable. (Oh, the guy who got the not-convincing no stopped and I appreciated it then and now. I made the right decision in saying no, but damn I wish I could’ve said yes.)
Unless you’re psychic, this is not a trick question. Women generally understand that yanking on a guy’s chain when there’s no blood in his real brain is a bad idea. Generally, if a woman says no (and often reinforces it by trying to get away), she really means it. Of course, women can’t be blamed for a guy’s really bad ideas ingrained by society or maybe his own idiot friends, or his misguided attempts at psychically-penetrating her mind when his own brain couldn’t handle a simple math problem. I have to stop right here or I’ll get reinvent the whole definition of rape culture, but I think you get the drift of my thoughts on this.
Mr. Trick Question was also a guy who doesn’t believe condoms prevent pregnancy and yet also doesn’t want a woman to ruin his life by making him a father. That a woman may prefer an abortion to having his child never crossed his mind (or that she might want to raise the child on her own), nor did he seem to realize that he wasn’t going to carry a fetus for nine months before giving birth — he considered pregnancy to be all about him and how it would ruin his life. It’s nice he feels a sense of responsibility, but he needs to realize he’s not a seahorse and doesn’t carry the baby himself. Oh, and that women are human beings just like him, not pretty incubators plotting to steal his precious, precious seed.
Probably best we never met. He’s not someone who deserved sex. At least not from me.
This conversation (about a year later) was even
better worse, and included a couple of unpleasant firsts for me.
This particular guy seemed really cool on paper and on first meeting, but the more he talked, the more I realized I’d encountered a species new to me: the lip-service male feminist. I’ve encountered real male feminists on rare occasion and have found them to be completely enjoyable men (none of them actually referred to themselves as male feminists, by the way). It took me a while to figure out why this self-proclaimed male feminist was giving me icky feelings. Let’s just say that someone who always uses the phrase “flip a bitch” when making a u-turn isn’t as much of a feminist as he likes to claim he is.
Oh, and he is an atheist. I have atheist friends and that’s not a problem. His problem is that he’s the sort of atheist male Greta Christina often writes about. In fact, he was discussing Elevatorgate because one of his friends had been in the group right before Elevatorgate happened. I was current on the topic and tried to discuss it from the point of view of an average woman, but he was having none of it. Yeah, way to support the voices of women. Go male feminism!!
This brought up the topic of one of his female friends who requested being moved on an airplane because she was sitting close to too many men and felt threatened. She had told him that one in six men were rapists and he was outraged by that (he was outraged at women for this, not for men being rapists). He couldn’t believe it. While I’d never heard that stat before, I told him that was probably correct given the number of women who are victims of rape. He gawped at me. Then he defended all his male friends (he has more than six). I told him that a) he really couldn’t know everything they’ve ever done in their lives and b) they probably don’t think of themselves as rapists even though some of them probably were. Most men aren’t, but a whole lot of men have committed rape at some point in their lives. (One in six? That sounds roughly correct. Keep in mind that means five out of six men haven’t harmed a woman in this way.)
I asked him if he’d ever pushed a girl beyond what she wanted to do and she acquiesced, or if he’d ever hounded a girl for sex until she gave in just to shut him up, or if he’d ever had sex with a truly drunken girl or if any of his buddies had ever talked about “taking advantage” of a girl. He continued staring at me in shock. Not that his ideas about men, rape and consent were getting enlightened, oh no, the shock was that I was as crazy as any other rape victim he knew, that I insisted on clear consent from both parties in regards to sex. (Not to imply that he tried to do anything untoward with me, in fact, he was more than a bit of a prude and tepid in bed.)
Then I compounded the issue by telling him that every woman I’ve known, except one, has been raped. He immediately fired back with “What sort of women do you hang out with?”
Since he didn’t know I was a sex worker, I went through a number of mental contortions and felt guilty for some reason. Almost all of the women I’ve known since I was 21 were sex workers, did that skew the perspective? I ran smack into the huge wall of Whore Stigma and I really felt it. The only response I made was “Normal ones” and it was more than a bit defensive. But internally, I was sitting there double-checking my veracity and wondering if indeed being around sex workers meant I was around a lot more victims. Are sex workers really asking for it? Are we as victim-y as everyone thinks? Are we lower-class women who deserve it? Are women who don’t get raped not sex workers?
He argued he knew plenty of women who weren’t raped. I had mentally-recovered enough to tell him that if they were rape victims they probably weren’t going to tell him about it, especially with his attitude. It tends to be something women share with each other, usually after a period of trust, and not random male buddies. He was insulted that all women weren’t laying their lives open to him on demand, but at least he shut up about it. Then he went back to talking about the woman on the airplane.
Later, away from him, I realized that few of those rape stories from other sex workers were work-related. The majority of the incidents occurred in their personal lives, which indeed is just like any woman. But that’s not the important issue. I should have beat this “male feminist” with the question of why he was blaming the victims. Why didn’t he ask what kind of men my friends were hanging around? Rapists, obviously! In reality the men were “normal” men, just like his buddies, just like the men on the plane. Just like how clients are “normal” men and not uglyfatweirdolosers, just like sex workers are “normal” women and don’t exist on another planet, only making trips to Earth when they need money.
This is what happens when I’m not upfront about being a sex worker: I muzzle myself and allow Whore Stigma to constrain me. Whore Stigma always smacks me the hardest when I’m silent because I can’t say too much or know too much and I don’t like being constrained or silenced in any way, it does not suit me. Perhaps being silenced allowed me to step into the usual civilian perspective but that viewpoint is ugly (as well as ill-informed). But then, I guess I instinctively knew from the beginning he wouldn’t be cool with sex work and after this conversation, obviously not. Needless to say, things just went downhill from there and within 24hrs we had parted ways. He had a lot of issues. He is not a feminist. I believe he got the words feminist and misogynist confused.
There really isn’t much point to this post, other than relating these conversations. If I’d written about this back when it was fresh the conversations would be much better and I might have gotten more of my emotional reaction down. But I blog really slowly.
Rape affects all women. I feel that conversations about rape affect sex workers differently. We’re very interested in the concepts of consent, safety, and not being victims. Too many people feel we’re victims already. Often these people hold the contradicting ideas in their heads that we’re incapable of consent and yet are submissive and encouraging of patriarchal rape culture. These types fail to realize we’re a reflection of that culture and much could be learned by honestly looking into that reflection.
From the inside, sex workers are concerned about actual violence because the opposite end of the consent spectrum, for us, is that we always consent to everything at all times and have no right to withdraw our consent. There is no “trick question” for sex workers because to predators, we have no rights and our consent is assumed in the same manner that it is assumed of an unconscious woman. Even worse, society tends to support the view of the predators. Which gives rise to awareness efforts, like The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
My clients have been respectful to me. There are a few in a grey area, men I would not see again for reasons of safety. But they’re such a minuscule number that I can count them. And I have not suffered outright violence. Many sex workers have, many haven’t. It depends on so many factors.
Have any of my clients had sex with a woman who did not want to? I think a lot of them probably have. That they didn’t with me doesn’t mean they wouldn’t with someone else (personally or professionally). It doesn’t mean that their mistake was recent or that they haven’t wised up since then. Nor does it mean that they ever wised up. Even if they have never harmed a woman, it doesn’t mean they don’t hold some very wrong ideas in their head about consent. It doesn’t mean they’re automatically horrible beings, it most likely means they’ve absorbed the negative messages this culture sends them about sex, consent, and how to interact with women.
This doesn’t mean I fear my clients because I don’t. I don’t ponder if they’re rapists or not. Nor do I fear men I meet in civilian life or wonder if they’re rapists. It’s a topic I think about when I have the time or it’s brought to my attention by external factors but it’s rarely at the forefront of my interactions with men. I’ve had many conversations with many men about rape, it’s something a lot of men think about more than I do (I guess because many have a difficult time wrapping their heads around consent vs violation). These conversations just stick out in my mind, the first due to the jaw-dropping stupidity, the second because of my reaction to his obvious misogyny and Whore Stigma.
Consent is really simple. James Joyce wrote about it really well. I have tried and failed to read Ulysses but I have read that bit of it (who hasn’t?) and identified immediately. That’s what consent feels like. There’s no mistaking it for anything else; there’s no mistaking anything else for it.
I’ve danced around the topics of rape culture, slut-shaming and consent in three other posts I’d like to bring your attention to (since they don’t make my Related Posts list below), in no particular order:
a lech, a pimp and my rage
misused terminology (those two words)
FYI, having sex when you don’t want to, whether the force is emotional, physical, or under the threat of violence, is rape. And it sure feels like that when it’s over. Sex that is a bad idea and that you regret later is a very different feeling than being violated and forced into doing something you really don’t want to do. There is no mistaking the emotional difference. Here’s a handy graph concerning reported rape and false accusations.
A note about my seating preferences on planes: I don’t like being around men on a plane because they either get into my space, or talk too much, or both. I don’t like being around women with friends on a plane because they talk too much. I don’t like being around children on a plane because…children. I don’t like being around babies on a plane because the poor things scream the entire flight due to pressure changes. Basically, I hate everyone on a plane. I hate being on a plane. I don’t change seats because it won’t do me any good, regardless.
Note for commenters: We’re not going to rehash Elevatorgate here. If you start, you’ll be talking to yourself. Comment on blogs directly concerning it.
Image: Quote from “Ulysses” by James Joyce; Marilyn Monroe reading “Ulysses” by Eve Arnold.
8 thoughts on “two conversations about rape”
A while ago, the ideas around consent and rape were quite confused in the UK; things are rather better now.
However, at a rape trial the judge put it to the jury that it could be that when a woman says “no” she actually meant “yes”. Unsurprisingly, there was an out cry, and it wasn’t long before there was some clarification.
Just how long does it take to change any attitude? A couple of generations?
Korhomme — Things are still quite confused in the US. That same judge would probably be regarded as a mind-reading sage over here, unfortunately. The jury would want to hang the woman for causing all this trouble — unless she was pregnant, in which case she’d be forced to give birth before being hanged.
All it really takes to change attitudes is to listen to women but that seems to be happening very slowly as it’s a radical idea. I don’t know how many generations it would take to change, some places more than others, is my guess.
I will provide, absolutely free of charge, today’s Sophomoric Amazement at What Was Probably Already Obvious to Everyone:
1. A person who can’t (effectively, meaningfully, making it stick) say “no” also can’t say “yes.”
2. “Yes” depends, for its very existence, on “no.” Maybe the “yes” is used, but the “no” has to be there, available for use, or there is no “yes.” And the “no” is like a muscle: to be strong and effective, it needs frequent use. “Yes” is less like a muscle; it may be more powerful if less-often used.
3. “Yes” and “no” are the two sides of a single coin. The coin is called “agency.” Blessed is he or she who has some agencies jingling around in his-or-her pocket.
I will now turn the discussion back over to the upperclassmen.
Jim — The problem with your theory is you seem to think that anytime a woman refuses a man, she’s instantly heard and recognized. That’s just not true. Requiring someone to say “no” in a “meaningful” way just puts the onus on them, as opposed to requiring the other person to actually hear and acknowledge the request (this is no different than requiring a woman to fight a rapist like a hellcat, even better if she’s grievously injured, or else it’s assumed she consented). Every woman can tell you stories of being adamant and perfectly clear about their wishes and those wishes being ignored regardless (examples of street harassment come to mind — every woman has experienced unwanted attention in public and tried to do something about it).
Agency is the key word. The problem is that women’s agency is taken away at every opportunity when it suits someone else. Agency is often not believed to be something women have, amply illustrated by rape cases that make the news, and the ensuing comments.
Of course, that leads back to your fine observation that “yes” requires the existence of “no”, but all that goes out the window when it comes to women and rape. Women are assumed a default “yes” and have to go through hell to try and make their “no” heard and acknowledged, and it usually doesn’t happen.
I’m sorry — I don’t think that, and I must not have been clear (in fact, looking back, I see I wasn’t clear). What I meant by a meaningful and effective “no” is a “no” that is heard and heeded, which is the making it stick part. Especially in a forcible rape situation, those attributes of the “no” aren’t in the woman’s control; she can’t say an effective “no.” The occasion of my sophomoric amazement is just the perverse, paradoxical symmetry of the thing: how “no” and “yes” are opposites, but really exist only in pairs, like magnetic poles (and unlike electric charges).
I believe my thinking had also wandered off-topic to a large extent, as I was thinking about yes-no in general, rather than in the context of your post, which was rape. Obviously, no women are saying “yes” to Mr. Rape, who robs them of their “agency coins” by disregarding their “no.”
So, my comment was unclear and off-topic, but outside of that, really good! As Emily Litella used to say on Saturday Night Live, a long time ago: “Never mind.”
Jim — As part of a conversation about “no” and “yes” you made good points. As referring to the post, I was mostly scratching my head, but you explained that. 🙂
I have never had a Woman tell Me NO and mean Yes! Unfortunatley, I know several Women in My life that have been raped in one form or another. Most were raped by a friend or family member. It is a sad but true fact. I hate that fact as it hurt several others as well.
Vern — Rape is not a rare thing, unlike so many want to believe. You probably know more rape victims than you think — they just haven’t told you. And yes, the vast majority of rapes are committed by someone the woman knows and usually trusts.
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