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The Journal Of The InnKeeper
Ranty Lessons by Joreth
Only Yes Means Yes 
29th-Aug-2011 06:20 pm
Super Tech, strong, feminism
Only Yes Means

Yes We've all been raised under the umbrella of No Means No, that campaign by feminists in the'70s to combat rape and sexual assault. It's the idea that when anyone says "no", there is no "but your eyes are saying yes" or any mixed message at all that a rapist can fall back on. No means no. Period*.

And I completely agree. There is no argument from me here whatsoever.

And yet, I do have a problem with this campaign. The problem I have is not that I disagree with it in any way, but that it doesn't go far enough. It does not solve the problem. When a masked man jumps out of the bushes and drags some girl screaming to the ground, he is very well aware that no means no. And when a "nice but clueless" guy pressures a girl into sex because she's giving him mixed signals, he's well aware that no means no too, he just never heard it. In fact, I wrote before about the study that suggests that people understand rejection even if the word "no" is not actually used. So "no means no" is not the real problem. The jackass "she totally wanted it" sort know damn well that no means no, and they're deliberately ignoring it.

The bigger problem is in those grey areas, those times between two people who have some sort of pre-existing relationship, where ambiguity fucks up the picture.

We have a social agreement of ambiguity, and I think that's the real, underlying problem. It has to do with things like The Rules, and lyrics from the Billy Joel song "nice girls wouldn't tell you what you should do", and popular media (like romantic comedies and love songs) that says our One True Love will be a mind-reader so we shouldn't have to be explicit. If he can't read our minds, then he's not The One, because he doesn't know us.

Bullshit.

I have two stories that are very similar, but I have opposing viewpoints on them.

In the first story, some of you may already be familiar with the incident on Fetlife. A woman had a pre-existing resistance-play relationshp with a man who is experienced in kink and in the kink community, and also in poly and the poly community. They had negotiated their boundaries, set the ground rules, and all was pretty good. Until one night, he lulled her into thinking no play was going to happen, and then immediately jumped into a resistance scene. Well, OK, awkward, but still within their boundaries. Except that she wasn't into it. For some reason, she found herself unable to say "no"; in fact, she found herself unable to say anything at all. So she tried to tell him that she wasn't into it by just going limp and not responding or fighting back.

This, by the way, is a very common defense technique, and one I have utilized myself on many occasion. It's still my default, instinctual reaction, not something I do consciously, but only when I feel pressured or threatened. I lose the ability to speak and I go completely passive as my mind wanders off somewhere safe, where this bad thing just isn't happening to me. Mine was developed when I was a teenager because the guys in my neighborhood only hurt me worse if I fought back. So I learned to just hold still and eventually they would get bored with my lack of response and go away.

Anyway, so there she was, limp and unresponsive, and adjusting her mind to accepting the situation until he tired and let her go. When suddenly, he did something that they most certainly had not pre-negotiated. He penetrated her without protection. They had never had PIV penetration before and certainly had not had risky activities without protection. As a prominent member of both kink and poly communities, this is not a case of "he didn't know better" and "she didn't say no". This was flat-out stupid.

So, the girl shied away from accusing him of rape and admitted her part in getting herself into that situation. She admitted that she never actually said "no" and that resistance-play was part of their relationship. But, in this situation, with people who are clearly part of a culture that makes a HUGE fuss about consent and negotiated boundaries, I think of this as sexual assault. He, of course, defends himself with "but she didn't say no".

And THAT'S the problem with this concept.

The other story involves a friend of mine from high school. She and I and about 5 guys we knew (2 of whom were our boyfriends) were out at Denny's late one night, when another guy with a group of his friends walks in, and my friend goes quiet and sort of shrinks in on herself. We ask what the problem is and she tells us that the guy who just walked in raped her a few weeks prior. Well, it took both her and myself to bodily wrestle our boyfriends and the rest of the group out of the restaurant to prevent them from going over to his table and beating the shit out of the kid right then and there (he was maybe 17 or 18 years old, she was 16 or 17, our boyfriends & friends were all 18-21 - this could have gotten them jail time).

We get our menfolk outside and somewhat calmed down, and I ask my friend to tell us what happened. So she told us about meeting these guys on the bus, or in the mall, or somewhere stupid like that, and hanging out with them for the entire day. That night, they all went to a motel and rented a room, where someone brought beer and they hung out drinking and watching TV. Some movie came on that she got into watching, but the guys wanted to go out and do something. So she said that she would stay there to watch TV, and the guy in question volunteered to stay with her.

So they sat and drank and watched TV. Eventually they started making out. She had been flirting with him all day, so it's really not unreasonable for him to have thought she might be receptive to making out. And she was. But the making out led to sex. So I asked her if she ever told the guy no. She hadn't. I asked her if she ever did anything to imply no. She hadn't. I asked her how in the hell was he supposed to know that she didn't want to have sex. She had no answer.

Our boyfriends and the other guy friends in our group stopped chomping at the bit to go back and beat up the rapist. Suddenly, they could see themselves in the same position - a girl who doesn't want to but won't say so, a girl who flirts, who drinks, who makes out with them, who does nothing to stop the sex from happening, who then cries "rape" the next day when they honestly had no idea she wasn't into it and would genuinely have stopped had they known.

I have a lot of sympathy for this kid, and I still maintain that what happened wasn't rape. Maybe it was non-consensual or maybe it was buyer's remorse, but I have a strong aversion to painting this kid with the label "rapist" because we have no evidence that he wouldn't have immediately stopped if she had just said so. I am very hesitant to put him in the same category as the guys I grew up with who beat the shit out of me and popped my arm out of the shoulder socket and locked me in closets and pinned me against walls. And with the totally fucked up legal system regarding sex crimes, I definitely do not want to ruin his life over a mixed message that I can completely understand him misunderstanding.

This story is also part of the problem.

There are a variety of reasons why people do not say no when they should. Sometimes it's because they internalize the Madonna/whore concept. Sometimes it's because they don't really know what they want. Sometimes it's because they don't want to hurt someone's feelings. Sometimes it's because they're afraid to say no. There are consequences to saying no. In the best case scenario, the consequence to saying no is hurting someone's feelings for rejecting them. But all too often, the consequences are much worse than that.

There's the consequence of being accused of being a tease. There's the consequence of being talked into sex, of him "wearing her down". There's a social consequence if the story gets out, either the "truth" that she's a cocktease, or a lie that she had sex anyway. And, there's the rare-but-not-as-rare-as-we'd-like-to-think consequence of being physically assaulted.

This doesn't just go for women towards men. It works this way for all genders, and it even works this way in non-sexual settings. For instance, how many of us are familiar with the phrase "I'd love to, but I can't"? We all tend to phrase our rejections in ways that imply conditions beyond our control, rather than not wanting to. It's part of the social contract - we don't want to hurt someone's feelings, or there may be worse consequences to a rejection unless we can come up with an excuse that justifies the rejection. I know that I, and many of my readers, say that we would love it if people would be more honest about rejection, because an excuse just makes us want to find a solution but there's nothing we can do about "I don't want to". But the social conditions of our culture preclude that.

And this is where Only Yes Means Yes comes in.

I would like to continue the spread of "No Means No" as a concept and to encourage people, women especially, to stand their ground and be more forthright about their boundaries. But "no means no" requires people to do just that - police their boundaries. And by the time a person is in a position to be policing her boundaries, she (or he) is already in a vulnerable position and often not able to. It makes the potential victims responsible for their own safety. "No Means No" is still absolutely true. But it's not good enough.

We ought to be putting the burden of responsibility for other people's safety on those who would be compromising that safety. And that's what "yes means yes" is all about. This concept assumes that the answer is ALWAYS "no", unless and until you hear a clear, unambiguous, explicit "yes", instead of assuming the answer is "yes" until you hear a "no" or that the answer is "keep trying until I say stop". So that there are no grey areas, no fuzzy borders, no mixed messages, no ambiguity. This doesn't just go for the first time, and it doesn't just go for penetrative intercourse. It goes for all sexual activities, all the time, even with pre-established relationships.

The biggest opponents of "Only Yes Means Yes" tend to be men who claim that they won't ever get laid if they wait for a yes because women  don't ever say yes, even when they want sex. First of all, boo hoo. If the only way you can have sex is to find women who are afraid to say no, I'm really not very sympathetic to your sense of entitlement. Second of all, if all the men in the world just up and stopped fucking anyone who refused to give consent when they really did want sex, I guarantee this whole "nice girls don't say yes" bullshit will go right out the window.

Now, since all the men in the world will NOT just up and stop fucking anyone who refused to give consent, I understand that those individual men who do might find themselves, initially, having trouble finding female partners. Because there is still slut-shaming and it will take time for the idea of active consent to percolate throughout society. Women can often be afraid to say "no", but they are also often afraid to say "yes". But women owning up to wanting sex is a rapidly growing demographic in our society, so I'm certain that these hard-up guys will find women who can say yes if they hold out for it, as long as they're not doing the creepy-guy-entitlement thing that puts so many women off. And, in that case, it's not an issue of not finding women who give active consent, it's an issue of creepy-guy-entitlement.

I've also written before about an encounter an ex of mine had on a date. He had asked out this girl a few times, they seemed to be real dates, and they had kissed a little. After a while, when he felt it was time to progress past the kissing stage, he found himself sitting on her couch after another date. She was sending him mixed signals. She was flirting and laughing and leaning towards him, but she also had her knees up between them and was hugging a pillow. So he asked her for a kiss. She complied, but he said her kiss was very passive, as per her usual M.O. He could not tell from body language if she was interested in him or just humoring him.

So he just asked her outright if their relationship was going anywhere and if there was hope for some sex in the future. She answered "well, it's all about the chase, isn't it?" Again, I find myself feeling a lot of sympathy for the guy here. What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Does she want him to pursue her through her ambivilent signals? Is that a hint to keep pushing? What a line a guy has to walk! He said he had visions of addressing a judge saying "well, no, she didn't say 'yes', but she strongly implied that I should ignore her resistence to me." Yeah, that's going to go over well in a court of law!

So he said "no, if I have to chase someone, that means she's running away from me," which I still think is the best answer to that kind of question. That was their last date. As of the last time I spoke to him about it, he still wasn't entirely sure if she was trying to reject him without rejecting him, or if she really wanted to play some kind of coy maiden game. But he didn't feel he had the freedom to find out which. And if she genuinely wasn't interested in him, he genuinely didn't want to force his attention on someone who didn't want it.

So, we have a culture in which many women (and some men) are stuck in the middle, damned if they do and damned if they don't, where they can't say no, but they can't say yes either. In both campaigns, No Means No and Only Yes Means Yes both require a society-wide paradigm shift. But No Means No requires people to defend themselves against unwanted attention. Which they should, but is going to be much harder to accomplish than Yes Means Yes, which requires people who already want sex to admit that they want sex. I think that paradigm shift will be easier to accomplish and healthy for society in general. It would remove those grey areas of date rape where it really isn't a clear cut case of assault, it would make things more fair for men who are typically put in the pursuer role whether they want to be there or not and when there isn't a clear signal of whether they *should* be there or not, and it would require people, but women in particular, to own their own sexuality, to know themselves, and to communicate their wishes to their partners. And if everyone is required to actively consent to sexual activity, there can't be any more slut-shaming, or else no one would ever get laid and the next generation will never be born.

Only Yes Means Yes does not solve all the world's problems, nor even all the rape problems. There would still be actual, real, violent rapists who don't care if their partners say yes or no, and there would still be cases of authority abuse where the rapist uses his position of authority to coerce his partner into saying yes. This is not a magic bullet or a cure-all, there aren't any of those. But I think the No Means No campaign has done its job and reached about as far as it can reach (in those societies that subscribe to it) and now it needs to be coupled with Only Yes Means Yes. The two work together, but Only Yes Means Yes takes us further into a sexually healthy society than No Means No can do alone.

I did not come up with this campaign. In fact, I couldn't even remember where I saw it when I started talking about it some time ago.  But apparently there's a book called Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape . There's also a blog with several bloggers contributing, including the editor of the book (link to the book at the blog). I haven't read either the book or more than a couple of posts on the blog. I'm not even positive this is where I first saw the campaign. But I'm not the one to come up with this concept. I'm just embracing a concept that I think has the potential to end a very real social problem - ambiguity in sexual relations and repression of female sexuality.

There is also a fantastic article called Manufacturing Consent: Is It Rape? all about the ways that people (he focuses on women) are coerced into giving consent. It goes into explicit detail and categorizes the different ways that people can find themselves giving consent when they really aren't consenting. If we are to move towards a society that embraces active consent, these are the dangers we need to watch out for. These are the ways the active consent system can be abused. Personally, I take my cues from the standards the BDSM community claims to hold (even if they sometimes don't). When I'm in the mood to play one of these chase-me games, when I want a little "romance", or even when I want the freedom to say "no" and not mean it, I say so up front. I negotiate with my partners when these types of games that so many of us actually enjoy are appropriate. And THAT is active consent. Clear communication, unambiguous answers, explicit negotiation. With these tools, I and my partners can give active consent and still allow for the "fun" of ambiguous play. And I believe that Only Yes Means Yes as a paradigm, as a social contract, is how we achieve this harmony, this compromise, of so-called calculating consent and the fun-times games some people like to play.

There's also a new symbol, for those who are into symbols. In order to facilitate spreading the word, I will be sporting a new badge in my LJ sidebar and encouraging others to display similar symbols where appropriate. Below are a collection of images, derived from a new symbol intended to represent the concept of Only Yes Means Yes, originally created by someone on Fetlife that was then modified. Take them, use them, modify them, or make your own. I'm encouraging the use of any stylistic Y or "yes" or "OYMY" to represent the concepts of Only Yes Means Yes, female sexual empowerment, active consent, and open communication about sexuality. But if you're not into creating symbols and logos, you can use these:
Red stylized Y (font: Algerian). The red comes from the color of the title on the book's cover. Single color round symbol with stylized Y (font: Algerian) and the two rape awareness slogans. This image is intended for public domain and left as a single color to give individuals the freedom to apply their own creativity with colors or changing the text. Red stylized Y (font: Algerian) on black circle with the two rape awareness slogans. Color scheme comes from the book. Red stylized Y (font: Algerian) on black circle without the two rape awareness slogans. Color scheme comes from the book. Red stylized Y (font: Algerian) on black BDSM triskelion with the Only Yes Means Yes slogan. Color scheme comes from the book. The No Always Means No was removed from this variation because in BDSM, sometimes "no" does not mean "no". However, in BDSM, when "no" does not mean "no", some other word is established to substitute for "no", so the concept is still valid, it's just a different word. One could say "The Safeword Always Means No" instead. Red stylized Y (font: Algerian) on the black and blue stripes of the BDSM Pride flag with the Only Yes Means Yes slogan. Color scheme comes from the book. The No Always Means No was removed from this variation because in BDSM, sometimes "no" does not mean "no".  However, in BDSM, when "no" does not mean "no", some other word is established to substitute for "no", so the concept is still valid, it's just a different word. One could say "The Safeword Always Means No" instead.
A horizontal slogan that can be used as a web banner that includes the red stylized Y (font: Algerian) and both rape awareness slogans.
All of these images are also available on physical items to help spread the concept like t-shirts and coffee mugs at Only Yes Means Yes - sites.google.com/site/activeconsent website.

**EDIT**

This video was brought to my attention in the comments, and I think it deserves to be included here.  It's a standup comedy routine about a guy who is faced with a girl who won't ask for sex and expects the guy to just "go for it".  The video seems to end on the punchline for the bit, and it is the punchline, but the bit continues for another line that I happen to think should have been included, so I'm adding the transcript of that line beneath the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=za7jQ1s1BV0


He goes on to say sarcastically: "I'm gettin' kind of a rapey vibe from this girl I dunno. I suspect she might enjoy being raped, maybe that's her thing.  I don't want to ask first and ruin it so I'll just take a shot and rape her, what the hell.  What's the worst that can happen after all?"

No means no is important.  But it's not enough.  We must be able to say yes when we mean yes and we must all stop assuming that consent is given until it's taken away.  Instead, we must assume that consent is not given until it is.  And thank you to all of you who think your partner's consent to sex trumps your feelings of entitlement to that sex.  If she doesn't say yes, it's a no.  If she wants to say yes but can't in some unambiguous manner, she needs serious help.  Wait until she gets that help and/or look elsewhere.


*For the moment, let's leave BDSM out of it. Yes, there are times when the word "no" doesn't mean the concept "no", but in those situations, they are explicitly agreed upon where all parties involved understand that, and there is usually some other signal that takes the place of the word "no" and clearly means "no" in its place, so the idea behind the slogan still holds, even if the sounds made do not sound like "no".
Comments 
29th-Aug-2011 11:35 pm (UTC)
I mostly agree and approve. Although I don't think it'll stop slut-shaming. I think we need general cultural change in how we view women and how we view sex to do that.

I think explicit consent should be obtained before first time sex or new sexual activities. I'm fine with implied consent for repeating activities within the context of an ongoing relationship, but with the ability to say no at any time, of course, and if the relationship ends then you have to renegotiate with explicit consent again. It would be tedious to do explicit consent for sex all the time within well-established relationships when staying within well-established boundaries.

Yes means yes isn't even revolutionary. It is pretty much a model that used to exist, since if premarital sex was less common, you had to consent to marriage before having sex with someone. Of course, non-marital sex still happened and within marriage you didn't have opt-out rights to individual sexual encounters, and that latter part I find rather horrific. So, we're working toward a better model.

I do think that many of the objections though stem from the fact that the model does encourage and possibly require more equality between males and females. That's obviously going to meet with resistance from some people. It works fine for me and many people I know. But people who prefer inequality between the sexes will have issues with a model that puts both partners on equal footing and expects both of them to take equal responsibility for their actions.
30th-Aug-2011 12:19 am (UTC)
I haven't noticed any tedium in gaining consent within ongoing relationships. It wasn't even a conscious thing for us all to say things like "I'm interested in sex tonight, are you?"

Also, staying within well-established boundaries *is* active consent. You've set up signals that indicate a consent that was explicitly given, especially if "no means no" or whatever other agreed-upon signal you use, is part of that set of boundaries.

Strangely enough, I haven't had any criticisms coming from people who want to "keep women in their place". It has all been from men who claim to believe women are equal, but who proclaim that since women do not currently say yes, if the men wait around for them to do so, they'll never get laid. The implication, of course, is that women never will learn to say yes, and that no woman does.

I don't believe this will stop slut-shaming alone. But I do believe that a society that embraces the idea that women (and men) have to actively consent to sex is less likely to have any footing in slut-shaming women, because *all* women, including your sweet grandmother, had to do those things currently seen as shameful in order to have procreated. In other words, we can't have the Madonna/whore dichotomy because all those "madonnas" have to do the same things as the "whores", like admit to wanting sex.

The underlying mindsets of equality, ownership of sexuality, and active consent, by necessity, contradict the mindsets of slut-shaming. Of course, this is a social mindset I'm talking about, not an individual mindset, and we will never change *everyone's* mind on any issue, including slut-shaming.
30th-Aug-2011 12:39 am (UTC)
Well, right, but my mother did so within the context of marriage. So, by slut-shaming standards she's off the hook. Thus the problem for slut-shaming.

And I think the men do have issues with equality. I think complaints like that tend to come from a sense that they have some sort of entitlement to sex from women. It may not be as bad as some people's sense of inequality, but I do think it speaks to inequality.

Maybe not. But it does make me wonder. It does come from a mentality of not caring as much if the other person wants to have sex. People who care about making sure the other person is interested tend to be careful about ensuring consent. When people complain that their desires won't be met if they are careful to make sure that they are making sure the other person is also interested, I wonder why they do not care about the other person.

I may be a bit biased by never having had sex with someone outside of the context of a friendship. I haven't done casual sex. Maybe there are situations where not caring about the other person's well-being is seen as normal. But I would think usually one does care about one's sexual partners, and as such it takes a pretty serious disconnect to not want to be sure they're okay with it. The most likely disconnect seems to be not viewing them as as much of a person, and the easiest way to do that in our culture is through sexism. But it could be something else.
30th-Aug-2011 01:19 am (UTC)
Well, depending on your particular brand of slut-shaming, even married women aren't supposed to ask for sex or admit they like it - they're supposed to do it out of duty, or to like it but not admit it out loud. I'm pleased to see that this is not the only version of sex within marriage anymore, though, and hasn't been the only view since at least the 1960s.

It's not so much that I'm disagreeing with you over whether or not the dissenters are in favor of equality, it's that they appear, on the surface, to be every bit as much in favor of equality as I claim to be. Some even label themselves as feminist men.

Personally, I happen to agree that it comes from a mentality of not caring about the other person, and I said as much in the arguments I got into when confronted by these people in another blog. I think what I was trying to say is that it's not an obvious stance on inequality, and can therefore be mistaken or missed, including by the idea-holders themselves.

Man As The Head Of The Household types are not the ones arguing against OYMY (maybe because it's just not on their radar yet). Men who think that they view women as equals, but who think arming women & teaching them to say no is good enough, who downplay the social pressure that goes into *why* women have trouble saying no, who think the underlying sense of caution that permeates a woman's behaviour and thoughts are just "sexist" against men, and who think it's unreasonable to ask "are you interested in sex tonight?" are the ones who are most vocally opposed to this concept. These men immediately stand up against accusations that they're sexist because they have wives who love them and who don't think they're sexist and they love women and think we're all equal.

Their stance is that they do care what they're partners want, but that they shouldn't have to wait for her to say yes, because she never will and he will therefore have to go without sex. According to these types, they can just "tell" that their partners want sex and should not require them to actually say so. In one such example, a guy told a story of his girlfriend answering the door in lingerie so she obviously wanted to have sex. That's way too close to "she totally wanted it, your honor, did you see what she was wearing?" for my taste, and a simple "so, can I assume you're interested in sex tonight, honey?" should clear that right up.

Given that the case that brought this whole movement up in the first place was a case of pre-existing relationship grey areas, this seems like such a small thing to insist on - getting active consent to make sure that we're reading our signals correctly - that I keep getting surprised when people oppose it.
30th-Aug-2011 01:25 am (UTC)
After "'so, can I assume you're interested in sex tonight, honey?' should clear that right up" I should add "in a society that encourages active consent so that 'honey' would answer affirmatively to this question to clear it up"
30th-Aug-2011 01:26 am (UTC)
Well, to be technical, saying yes does not mean admitting you want it. It means admitting you're willing. A married woman can fully verbally consent to being willing and could even, if she chose, say things like: Yes, it's my duty. Or, yes, we ought to try for a baby.

So, that's part of why I don't think it'll help with slut-shaming particularly. I think slut-shaming is just too complex an issue. But I think YMY is a good issue in its own right.

I have trouble reconciling the notion of viewing a woman as equal but saying that they will never have sex if they have to wait for a woman to clearly consent, as they seem to be saying they do not view a woman as equally capable of voicing consent as a male, so in what way do they view a woman as equal? As to opening the door while in lingerie, while not a terrible indicator, I find it rather disturbing given that just today I opened a door to some strangers from AT&T while in a nightgown, since they knocked and that was what I was wearing. I absolutely was not consenting to have sex with them. There can be various situations that can come up. It's definitely not a perfect signal.
30th-Aug-2011 01:49 am (UTC)
You are correct that giving consent does not technically mean admitting you want it, but it does admit you're willing, and although that is an important distinction, I do not believe it contradicts the overall point of the message (which I don't think you're saying either).

I think YMY is related to slut-shaming the way that slut-walk is. It's the taking ownership of one's sexuality and interest in sex. I agree that it's a complex issue and I do not think YMY is the only answer. I think of it more as a side-effect, that insisting that women give active consent will, in turn, create a society that is more accepting of women's interest in sex.

I have the same problem you do with the seeming incompatible viewpoints of gender equality & women not giving consent. It resulted in quite a lengthy argument online with quite a few women jumping in to point out the inconsistencies.

Your own scenario of clothing != consent is very similar to my own reasons for finding his example appalling. I do not get dressed when I am at home unless I'm expecting company or leaving the house. Although I'm not nude, I am also not well-covered and do not believe it is appropriate for anyone, including partners, to take the state of my clothing as automatic consent.

I am not giving consent when I walk around a convention in a copper bikini, I am not giving consent when I answer the door in sleepwear, I am not giving consent if I happen to be nude at home, and I am not giving consent when I wear a "slave collar" and leash to a dungeon. None of that means inherent consent, and none of that should mean consent unless I have pre-negotiated with a partner "if I wear X outfit, I am deliberately telling you that I want sex", which was not the case in that particular story.

You make an interesting point when you say "they seem to be saying they do not view a woman as equally capable of voicing consent as a male" because this particular person's position was that women have exactly as much agency as men to say no, so women should just say no when they don't want it. If a woman has enough power to say no, then she should have just as much power to say yes, shouldn't she? If the perceived penalties for saying no are fictional and all in our perpetual-victim minds, then surely the penalties for saying yes are too? I don't think this point was brought up from this perspective in the online argument I am referencing.
30th-Aug-2011 01:21 am (UTC)
I have a friend who likes to have her choices taken away. She wants to be forced to do things. In her perfect equivalent of a zipless fuck, she'd be kidnapped and made to do things.

I've always found this to be annoying. I work with willing submissives, not kidnap victims. Yet often the day after an evening she'll say, "You should have made me ..."

Now what I did was take her to a club and tell her she didn't have to do anything. That was what got her to come in the door. While there, as she watched scenes, I asked her 3 or 4 times if she wanted to try any of the pieces of equipment or do anything. Each time she said, "No. I'm fine."

She's a friend of long standing but this has always driven me crazy. I want her to at least say, "Yeah, I'd like you to do something like that to me." She wants me to pick up a hint and go from there.

Esp. with her, I won't.
30th-Aug-2011 01:32 am (UTC)
Good for you. I know people like this too, and it's exactly the sort of thing that makes otherwise decent people (especially guys) confused over when they're supposed to be aggressive and when they're not.

I have friends who are submissive, not just in the beat-me way, but in the make-decisions-for-me way. And they have to negotiate with their Masters exactly when and how their Master is supposed to take that kind of control. And their Masters check in with them periodically and revise as necessary. This is, IMO, active consent.

I am also a fan of resistance play and kidnap scenes, as the "victim". But everything has to be negotiated ahead of time. That kind of negotiation and active consent actually gives my "perpetrator" the freedom to be the "perpetrator". The last thing any of us needs is someone who genuinely cares about my well-being, trying to do something as tricky and triggering as a resistance scene by hints alone, and messing it up.

I also had a friend once who refused to give her wishes in even the slightest things. I introduced her to Babylon 5 once and we watched 5 hours of it before I noticed that she couldn't see around a computer monitor between her and the TV. Really? It was that hard to ask me to move it, or to change where she was sitting? Yes, it probably was, and I blame that on a society that encourages people, women in particular, to not voice their desires and wishes.

We went to a party once, and I told her up front that I was fine with leaving whenever she wanted to leave, and that I would not leave until she told me she was ready. We stayed there until breakfast and she had fallen asleep twice. She learned to voice her opinion after that.
(Deleted comment)
30th-Aug-2011 04:49 am (UTC) - Re: Related
That's fucking awesome!
30th-Aug-2011 03:19 pm (UTC)
I agree entirely with your premise, but I do think the shift will be far harder for many women than you think. I've noticed a HUGE break in the mindsets of many women I know, and the gulf's so huge it's like they can't even understand each other or speak the same language.

My ex wife falls on the other side of that gulf from you. She liked sex but could NOT bring herself to ask for it or give explicit consent. She would have a pleasurable sexual experience (as in discussed with therapists and admitted that she teased to instigate & wanted the experience but was unable to say so) and then feel so guilty after reaching climax that she'd go off alone to cry. It took her YEARS of therapy to be able to talk about her own desires, much less reach out and give explicit consent, much less ask. There're a lot of women like that. For them, a change like this is going to be exceptionally difficult.

You know that people tend to self-select the groups they associate with, and this can have the effect of skewing their perceptions about people as a whole since the behavior & attitudes of those around them come to be seen as the prevailing paradigm, even when it's not. Your attitude about sex, and that of many of the women in your peer group, is not the norm in US society. I would wager that the percentage of the female population in the US who'd be extremely uncomfortable with this is much larger than the percentage who'd be happy to do it.

Some of the guys you're running in to who're ambivalent about this have likely spent much of their time around the women who're mentally & emotionally not only unwilling but in some cases UNABLE, without therapy, to bring themselves to do this. I know from reading some of the literature about this that it's a real problem... look at some of the relationship guides & women's magazines (ugh, I know) that have whole sections on "How to let him know you want it without saying so." It's a deeply internalized part of the culture for many & I can understand why some men question the ability of women they know to change. Heck, there're studies out there that say one of the things men want most in the bedroom is dirty talk & that most US women are unable to engage in it... not unwilling, but unable. You're right that it comes back to the whole "nice girls don't" and Madonna/whore thing, but that's much harder to shake for some than others. Add experience with women who're hardened in those attitudes to many women having far less interest in sex than most men & the cessation of sexual activities between long term monogamous partners that's so common and it might give a different perspective on some of the men you're hearing from.

So again, I agree with your premise & I think it's a good idea. I'm just noting that this will take a LOT of work, more than I think you credit, for many WOMEN to make this change, and given the experience many men have had (the only experience for some of them) with women who have low libidos and who're unwilling or unable to express desire that you'll run in to guys for whom the concern you mention is a valid issue. Yes, some of them are jerks or whiners but some of them are simply dealing from the only perspective of experience they have and it's not entirely invalid. A cultural shift such as this typically takes a generation at the least, and for some guys who move in to it before the women around them catch up it DOES probably mean they'll go without sex. That doesn't mean they shouldn't do it, but I'd argue by dismissing & demeaning those who raise the concern you're hurting your message.
30th-Aug-2011 06:14 pm (UTC)
I don't think you know who I socialize with at all. I happened to have once studied to be a marriage counselor and spent a lot of time with seriously fucked up people. I also never said this would be a fast process.

Anyone who dismisses the necessity for getting consent from his partner deserves to be demeaned.
30th-Aug-2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
I did NOT dismiss the need. I said attacking men who feel that this means they're less likely to be able to get sex isn't likely to advance the very worthy cause since what they're expressing, albeit in a poor manner, is that there're an awful lot of women out there who're likely to struggle with this change and that's going to make it difficult for them. The message to convey to those guys should be more along the line of "Here's a productive and healthy way to approach it," not "you're an asshole."
Your comments come off very much as the second approach.
30th-Aug-2011 10:06 pm (UTC)
"Your comments come off very much as the second approach."

Hi, have we met?
30th-Aug-2011 08:38 pm (UTC)
Erm... I am currently parsing one of your arguments in the above comment as 'some women have lower libidos (i.e. want less sex) than men, so that makes it okay to coerce them'. Please tell me that is not the case.

Seriously, both this:
Add experience with women who're hardened in those attitudes to many women having far less interest in sex than most men & the cessation of sexual activities between long term monogamous partners that's so common and it might give a different perspective on some of the men you're hearing from.


and this
and given the experience many men have had (the only experience for some of them) with women who have low libidos and who're unwilling or unable to express desire


...really come across as saying that it's okay for guys to coerce women into sex 'because men need it more'. I'm loathing that read on things, so I'm really hoping it wasn't what you meant to say.
30th-Aug-2011 09:00 pm (UTC)
You are parsing my comments entirely incorrectly.
See my response to Joreth above.

As in some previous discussion about the use of terms like "rape culture," while the goals are extremely valid the antagonistic and hateful language directed at men who're struggling with these shifts not only ignores the realities many of them face but actually turns them from taking a positive path by making them feel attacked.

Re-read her descriptions of men who, for some of the reasons I cited, are likely to feel that such a change WOULD mean they don't get sex. Valid or not, dismissing their concern and demeaning them for HAVING it rather than engaging them in constructive dialog about how to deal with the issue in a healthy manner not only won't get the VERY important message of "You MUST get affirmative consent" across, it will actually anger and alienate many of them.

Unfortunately the reactionary way in which both of you chose to parse my words is a huge part of this problem. There's a heavily anti-male "with us or against us" slant to many of these discussions where people automatically assume that calling ANY part of a proposed orthodoxy in to question means that you're supporting something awful.

First thing I typed:
"I agree entirely with your premise"
The portions you're quoting came from a section that was noted in its last sentence as intended to "give a different perspective on some of the men you're hearing from" not to defend their behavior but to put a face on comments like this:
First of all, boo hoo. If the only way you can have sex is to find women who are afraid to say no, I'm really not very sympathetic to your sense of entitlement. Second of all, if all the men in the world just up and stopped fucking anyone who refused to give consent when they really did want sex, I guarantee this whole "nice girls don't say yes" bullshit will go right out the window."
because a) the second half of the statement is simply unrealistic and b) the first half is an outright attack/insult that will HARM the important message.

Go back & read my last paragraph again, especially the opening & closing sentences:
"So again, I agree with your premise & I think it's a good idea."
"for some guys who move in to it before the women around them catch up it DOES probably mean they'll go without sex. That doesn't mean they shouldn't do it, but I'd argue by dismissing & demeaning those who raise the concern you're hurting your message."


In other words I CONSISTENTLY supported the aims of this and agreed with it, yet you STILL read sections of my words out of context as supporting something I find abhorrent. As in the previous "rape culture" discussions all I was saying is "Yes! This is a huge problem! YES! We need to change these things! However, hateful language and antagonism will not solve the problem, they'll set efforts BACK." In BOTH cases I have been attacked, told I don't "get" it, and have been accused of "supporting rape" when in fact I do no such thing.
1st-Sep-2011 05:32 pm (UTC)
Rape culture is anti-male only if you think only men can rape.
1st-Sep-2011 05:52 pm (UTC)
I didn't say rape culture was anti-male. I said some of the ideas expressed by some of the people promoting it are, and that much of the language used in discussing it comes across that way. In fact the term itself came from several explicitly anti-male works.

Joreth felt I was making the tone argument, and I was/am not in regards to ME. I am pointing out that this sort of presentation of this very important message is going to cause it to be lost on those who need to hear it most, and play in to the hands of critics who like to call proponents "man hating lesbians" in order to dismiss & marginalize the message.
7th-Sep-2011 10:42 am (UTC) - Only Yes means Yes
As you say, there is a book "Yes Means Yes" which is a collection of essays around the theme -- some of which are well worth reading. The blog periodically has things worth reading too. I'm pleased to see more attention being given to "Yes means Yes", because as you say "No means No" only takes you so far. With either one, you end up with an area of uncertainty that people end up assuming means one or the other of the binary answers. But with the two of them together it's more obvious that you're in that area of uncertainty, and should seek more clarification.

Over time I think that widespread adoption of the concept will make life easier for everyone: people being willing to say what they want is vastly easier than being forced to guess, and it being considered a good thing to ask rather than a failing due to inability to romantically read someone's mind. But despite being intellectually in favour of it, and having had my own experiences with "freezing" and hoping bad things will stop -- and thus being quite keen to know that someone else isn't in that state -- as a man there's still something emotionally triggering about the way "yes means yes" is usually presented as a concept.

It's taken me a while to put my finger on this. I think part of it is the asymmetric nature of the changes required. Recipients (stereotypically termed "women") -- those to be asked -- have both their part in the question/answer, and the current society default, in their favour: they don't need to do anything in advance to make it obvious they're a fan of "yes means yes", and if the person they're with doesn't ask very early on they have the option of saying nothing and going with the societal default rules ("alls good until someone says no"). So they can approach saying "yes" gradually, and only do so when the "yes" is likely to be respected. Initiators (stereotypically termed "men") -- those doing the asking -- have neither of those advantages. By contrast they are expected to ask, every time, without any way (other than guessing) whether the person asked will welcome an explicit question or be offended at being asked ("what do you think I am? I'm a good girl, we don't want...."). And in addition to that are expected to be the "police" for this process, in that they're expected to withhold their affections from anyone not welcoming the question.

I hasten to add that I've been trying quite hard to explicitly ask out loud myself in any similar situation. But it's often quite a challenge to find a wording that seems unlikely to offend someone who didn't want an explicit verbal question, and makes it obvious that both "yes" and "no" are equally suitable answers, and is clear enough that saying "yes" really is explicit consent. (The "only yes means yes" also appears to rule out all implicit or tacit consent completely, in any situation: to work it's not just "only ask if you're not sure", it's "always ask for verbal confirmation".) "Only yes means yes", in its pure description, is very ask culture; and western society is generally still fairly "guess culture", complete with expectation of being offended at being asked something someone "should have known" the answer to.

Possibly the way to make progress is both to encourage recipients to welcome the question and be willing to say "yes" or "no" as is appropriate for their desire; and to enumerate ways of asking that are both explicit requests for consent, and less likely to offend, and don't sound like "please initial each page, then turn to page 47 and sign at the bottom". You cover some of those in your post. But a lot of the presentations of "yes means yes" tend to ignore that aspect as trivial. Yet it seems to me that it's integral to gaining acceptance: you can ask for verbal consent in a way that doesn't "ruin the mood" or "cause offence" or whatever might be the fear. Once there's a "safe" way to ask, an expectation that no one will be offended by the question being made explicit, and the belief that anyone genuinely interested will actually say yes, then I think there'll be a lot more willingness to go with the formality of always asking verbally.

Ewen
7th-Sep-2011 06:08 pm (UTC) - Re: Only Yes means Yes
It surprises me that 1) people tend to assume that changing our culture to accommodate this concept requires a cold, legal-like document exchange of asking & answering, and 2) that it only works in one direction (both as points that you brought up that are potential roadblocks and that are often not addressed).

Before I ever heard of this concept, my relationships were already designed this way, so I don't have any trouble imagining scenarios where getting explicit consent is just a part of the process, not a mood-breaking formality. My relationships were also already designed to require consent in both directions. It just so happened that, with our respective libidos, consent was more often given in one direction than another, but obtaining consent was always a two-way street.

I have known people who do not have this mindset and were not in favor of seeing relationships in this way, who were nevertheless interested in a sexual relationship with me. There is a reason why I am not currently in those relationships. It seems to me that an awful lot of people are willing to put up with the kinds of scenarios that are non-beneficial to both sides of the negotiation because that option seems more appealing than being without that relationship entirely.

In other words, a woman will put up with a man who refuses to get her verbal consent, who dismisses anything but an outright, clear "no", and who uses the Cs from the article I linked to "cajoling, coaxing, charming, etc.) in order to change that "no" to a murky implicit "yes" because if she doesn't, she won't be with that person and, presumably, won't be with anyone. And that doesn't just put her in the bad position, it puts every man she dates in that Initiator/Instigator/Pursuer role, whether they want to be there or not, and it reinforces all the stereotypes that are coercing her to believe this is the way things should be in the first place.

You are correct that there needs to be some pretty big changes made before there is a society-wide willingness to switch to the OYMY concept. But there had to be some pretty big changes made before women were allowed to vote, or blacks were allowed to own property. Personally, I would prefer to make this change without erupting into a civil war over it, but if we could climb such hurdles as giving "property" their own rights, I think we can, over time, get more people to appreciate the value of clear communication and active consent.

It takes individuals talking about it and insisting on it, and it takes dedication to a concept that will probably require more than a lifetime or a generation to see come to fruition.
8th-Sep-2011 10:02 am (UTC) - Re: Only Yes means Yes
I suspect there's a certain amount of reducto ad absurdum going on in most people's heads when they rush to "we'll need lawyers to write the contract and witness our signatures" view of the suggestion. Which probably relates to fear of the unknown (of which more below). But the (understandably) strident way that "Only Yes Means Yes" tends to get initially presented seems almost designed to lead people to rush to that conclusion. The "softening" words and description, suggesting it can be part of seduction (or in some descriptions doesn't even have to be a verbal yes, an action that clearly means "yes" is also sufficient) all come late in the piece, often as vague, almost throw away lines (and well past the TL;DR boundary). So it doesn't surprise me that people assume that "legalistic" approach is being suggested. Particularly when it's suggested with tones of This Is A Big Deal (tm). (As I noted in my first comment, my emotional reaction to such a presentation is also along those lines, even though I know intellectually that the "cold, legal document" connotations aren't intended literally.)

The "only one direction" assumption comes from two places: one that the stereotypical relationship model is that initiation only happens in one direction, and the second that most presentations tend to use a gendered description ("men need to...."). The latter being why I went out of my way to invent new terms -- Initiator/Recipient -- to make it more distinct from that stereotype, and more obviously egalitarian. (Although possibly only Computer Scientists would love the "another layer of abstraction"...)

All of which ties into the "fear of the unknown" comment above: my impression (and personal experience) is that very few people are taught how to negotiate, let alone negotiate consent, in any non-business scenario. (And the business negotiation tends to be of the "Getting to Yes"/"Getting past No" variety, which is hardly desirable here.)

There also appears to be little written about good (respectful, direct, clear, non mood-breaking, etc) negotiation (or communication) in this sort of "intimate" situation. Or at least if there is anything good written, I'd love to find it -- I've been keeping an eye out for several years. (Suggestions welcomed!) So maybe that's another aspect to be addressed early on: more (much more!) about how to seek consent in a "not spoiling the romance" sort of way. (It seems to me that the various "condoms for reducing spread of disease" programs started making progress once they focused on talking about making it part of the romance, rather than a "break in the action for safety's sake".)

The BSDM/kink communicators seem to have gone further with this than most, both in making such communication explicit and in creating ways for clear communication to happen. Which is one reason I've read/talked to a fair number of people about it. But not all of the things used in that context are directly translatable to "vanilla" situations (especially with people unfamiliar with them). And as recently discussed events illustrate, even in some kink such negotiations do not always seem to be completely honoured as negotiated. (The observation, somewhere in that context, that a sub was grateful for not being penetrated in contrast to their negotiated position because they had been by every other dom struck me as particularly damming.)

(And yes, I agree, many people are willing to put up with all sorts of less desirable things merely because it seems "less bad" than the alternatives they can think of/believe are possible. To which the only solution I've ever found is helping them to realise that there are other realistic options.)

Ewen
7th-Sep-2011 06:21 pm (UTC) - Re: Only Yes means Yes
I'd like to add that, not only does consent not have to be given in a formal, fill-out-this-form sort of way, but it also doesn't have to always require the ask-answer method. One of the goals for getting people (women in particular) to "own their own sexuality" and to admit when they want sex is to get them to admit that whether anyone is asking them or not, and to do it in a way that does not imply required reciprocity (this is the tough one for many men to convey). The idea is to take out the women = pursued / men = pursuer equation and to make all participants equal participants and/or to make each individual take the role that is best suited to them, not what society says they should be.

For example, if I want sex, I don't wait for my partner to ask me if I want sex. I tell him. That opens up the discussion for whether he wants sex or not and whatever other details are necessary ("I do, but not right now", etc.) My partners often don't "ask" me at all, they just let me know that they are receptive to any suggestions of sex, should I become interested in sex ("Just so you know, I'm up for sex tonight if you are, just let me know, no pressure") and that leaves the burden of "answering" to me - I have to own up to both my yeses and my nos. I think it has taught us all a lot about our own sexuality, and a lot about rejection - how to give it and how to handle it.
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