A man who wants to hear a Yes will find a way to drag it out of you.
October 6, 2014 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I do not believe that most women — that most victims of sexual assault — freeze or shut down when faced with the prospect of coercive sex because they don’t really care what happens next, or because they're excited to push through the moment for the sheer joy of accusing the aggressor of rape after the fact. I believe that these women, these people, have a finely tuned sense for their safety, that when a woman reports having "a feeling that it would turn into an ordeal if I rejected him," she is not crazy and she knows what she is talking about.
Mallory Ortberg explores the ongoing debate surrounding passive versus active consent as its effects echo through the Alt Lit community: On Deciding What Counts: Elizabeth Ellen and What Makes A Victim.

[TW: rape, sexual assault, child abuse]
posted by divined by radio (126 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite

 
That essay she's responding too really is rambling and I didn't read every word, since much of it seemed irrelevant. What jumped out at me, though, besides the ridiculous non-understanding of consent, was the story about how she (the writer of the original essay) molested her sister and two other kids. What's the point of that story within the essay? In telling the story, first she assumes the reader would think "that doesn't really count." I thought no such thing; it counts. It might not be criminally prosecutable because she was too young, but it definitely counts as molesting someone and a horrible thing to do. But what exactly is her point "Look, we all play fast and loose with consent, even me!"? I can't imagine she thinks it's terribly persuasive to point out that even she (a person who doesn't seem to understand consent) has molested someone, and therefore it's so gray everyone does it?

There are many other parts of the original essay that make no sense (what's with the story about her friend who was mad that she broke up with her bf?), but this story about molesting her younger relatives really perplexes me even more than the rest.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:23 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


But what exactly is her point "Look, we all play fast and loose with consent, even me!"?

"If we used these metrics to define rape, we would see rape everywhere!"
posted by almostmanda at 11:28 AM on October 6, 2014 [21 favorites]


All the same, Katz' piece describes a woman repeatedly putting herself in dangerous situations with a stranger who is paying for the shelter, food and drugs that she is freely imbibing in. There is perhaps an implicit cultural exchange that he believed had been agreed to, and she did not.
posted by Scram at 11:30 AM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


But what exactly is her point "Look, we all play fast and loose with consent, even me!"?

People are terrible at modeling other people's thoughts.

Also, how does someone get to be so damn good at writing?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:31 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


People are terrible at modeling other people's thoughts.

Serious good faith question: Do you mean I'm doing a terrible job of figuring out what she meant or that she did a terrible job of imagining what the reader would think? I'm not offended if you mean me (since I freely admit I have no clue what her reasoning is), I'm just curious.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:34 AM on October 6, 2014


Active consent laws, as written today in SB 967, would make this dude a rapist, which he is.

I don't know where the whole "A man who wants to hear a Yes will find a way to drag it out of you." comes in because she never gave "affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement". She was clearly saying no then trying to rescue herself from a train wreck by at asking her rapist to at least have the common decency to not give her STDs/get her pregnant. A lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent and that's not "dragging a yes out of you" under sane active consent laws.

My mind goes back to last week and whether things like this are trying to be backdoored into the conversation. Because that article last week was really no bueno for me.
posted by Talez at 11:37 AM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


Do you mean I'm doing a terrible job of figuring out what she meant or that she did a terrible job of imagining what the reader would think?

The latter.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:40 AM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


There is perhaps an implicit cultural exchange that he believed had been agreed to, and she did not.

Oh, this is gross.

You realize that the end game of this statement -- which you've chosen to address under the euphemistic guise of "an implicit cultural exchange" (?!) -- is that there are sometimes reasonable circumstances in which a person who has been offered a modicum of hospitality has, upon acceptance, duly and altogether silently obligated themselves to provide sexual favors in exchange for said hospitality, yes?

No.

From the OP:
I will assume that as the person best qualified to speak on what happened before and during her stay with Dierks, Katz did not board a plane to New York City because she believed she was going to have to continually fight off sexual advances from her host.

If I had a guest coming in from out of town, and I had romantic or sexual designs on them, and I asked if they would be willing to share my bed and their response was "I'll bring a sleeping bag; I'd like to sleep on the floor," I would be appropriately chastened (and privately a bit mortified). The message would be abundantly clear. The No is obvious. The No is there.
posted by divined by radio at 11:40 AM on October 6, 2014 [66 favorites]


All the same, Katz' piece describes a woman repeatedly putting herself in dangerous situations with a stranger who is paying for the shelter, food and drugs that she is freely imbibing in. There is perhaps an implicit cultural exchange that he believed had been agreed to, and she did not.

Yeah, she did not. He went ahead anyway. He is a rapist. Here is a link to the essay in which she describes her rape. Good day.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:41 AM on October 6, 2014 [16 favorites]


Mallory Ortberg is generally fantastic, so just by the headline and blurb I was expecting this to be very good, but I hadn't seen the original article being critiqued, and so the turn into Ellen's past was a fairly insane holy shit sort of turn, the kind of which I do not often experience in this kind of essay.

The stuff about affirmative consent is indeed excellent and very well-articulated, but, man, entirely devoid of moral sanity indeed. Holy shit.
posted by Kybard at 11:42 AM on October 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


All the same, Katz' piece describes a woman repeatedly putting herself in dangerous situations with a stranger who is paying for the shelter, food and drugs that she is freely imbibing in. There is perhaps an implicit cultural exchange that he believed had been agreed to, and she did not.

And that is the moment where, as the offerer of a place to stay, you say "oh, shit, my bad, I'm so sorry, I thought you might be interested but I guess I wasn't clear. Please, please, take the bed, I'll sleep on the couch or in another apartment or I totally understand if you want to stay in a hotel instead. Sorry, I should have been clearer with my intentions because IT IS IMPORTANT TO GET CONSENT and I DO NOT WANT TO ENGAGE IN SEXUAL ACTIVITY WITH YOU IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO ENGAGE IN SEXUAL ACTIVITY WITH ME and YOU DON'T OWE ME SEX JUST BECAUSE I'M LETTING YOU STAY IN MY HOUSE. Again, so sorry, total misunderstanding."
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:44 AM on October 6, 2014 [90 favorites]


I don't know where the whole "A man who wants to hear a Yes will find a way to drag it out of you." comes in because she never gave "affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement". She was clearly saying no then trying to rescue herself from a train wreck by at asking her rapist to at least have the common decency to not give her STDs/get her pregnant. A lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent and that's not "dragging a yes out of you" under sane active consent laws.
posted by Talez at 1:37 PM on October 6


The "dragging a yes out of you" idea is from a passive consent point of view - that (under the passive view of things) if you are not saying no, then you're saying yes, so "at least use a condom" becomes a "yes" in the mind of the rapist. It's not meant to be a model of active consent - it's an example of why active consent is necessary.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:46 AM on October 6, 2014 [17 favorites]


There is perhaps an implicit cultural exchange that he believed had been agreed to, and she did not.

No. There is an implicit belief that he gets to do whatever the fuck he wants to women because he is entitled to all of them, and she is a human being who does not deserve to be raped for any reason.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:51 AM on October 6, 2014 [12 favorites]


divined by radio and Mrs. Pterodactyl's responses to Scram's comment are much better than mine. On re-read, my phrasing is ambiguous: I don't mean to lend any credence to the idea that such implicit cultural exchanges exist. Thank you to both of you.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:51 AM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


All the same, Katz' piece describes a woman repeatedly putting herself in dangerous situations with a stranger who is paying for the shelter, food and drugs that she is freely imbibing in. There is perhaps an implicit cultural exchange that he believed had been agreed to, and she did not.

Part of my point here is that, even if this were true and there WERE an "implicit cultural exchange that he believed had been agreed to", it wouldn't matter; no matter how nice or helpful you are to someone, you are not owed sex. I have a friend from middle school coming to visit this weekend or, hell, if you're looking for a "stranger", I've gone to MeFi meetups where people from out of town have ended up sleeping on my couch even though we didn't know each other before. I did NOT believe that there was an "implicit cultural exchange" but, even if I had, it wouldn't matter; if I'd tried to initiate sexual activities and they weren't interested, I would stop, because you don't get to have sex with someone who doesn't want to have sex with you. Letting someone sleep on your couch does not entitle you to sex with them if they don't want to have it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:52 AM on October 6, 2014 [13 favorites]


The whole part about Ellen's sister is completely chilling. I can't even.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 11:52 AM on October 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


I said No. Sophia Katz said No. Saying No was easy, making the man who wanted to hear Yes listen to me when I said No was the challenge.

This part, this, how she frames the aspect of who speaks and who listens, who gets to ignore what they don't want to hear and just take what they want. Damn.
posted by rtha at 11:55 AM on October 6, 2014 [30 favorites]




i was molested over a period of years by my brother who is 3 years older than me starting when i was 7. oh my god does it count. i'm 33 now and i still have nightmares, still get afraid, still am unable to do certain things because they trigger me. so many times when i share that story people try to find a way for him to not be culpable - oh, kids play games, oh was he molested, oh it was so long ago, oh maybe he misunderstood, oh kids can't be responsible for that, oh oh oh oh. FUCK THAT. he threatened me, he manipulated me, he held me captive, he stole my chance to learn about sex in a non-fearful way, he did it all purposefully. i am betting her sister has a much different take on it than she does. this woman is a serial child abuser, i don't fucking care how old she was when she did it. i don't care what rapists think about consent laws. i'm glad she's troubled by them. i hope they piss her off.
posted by nadawi at 11:59 AM on October 6, 2014 [50 favorites]


Like how do you lack enough self-awareness to write an article complaining about how HARD consent laws make stuff and then throw in a "Oh, BTW I molested three kids when I was younger, including my sister who has severed all contact with me."
posted by Elementary Penguin at 12:01 PM on October 6, 2014 [46 favorites]


On the topic of the actual post, when Ortberg talks about this:

There’s plenty of insincere hand-wringing in the beginning of the piece, “I am scared to death…People who care about me have urged me not to write this,” the idea being that criticism from other feminists is so frightening that she will fall apart at the slightest provocation.

That part of the original essay drove me crazy because of the sickeningly disingenuous co-option of the actual vitriol women face when they talk about rape and misogyny and sexual assault on the internet. It's all the worse because it's taking something that actually happens, violent threats against women, and making it seem like the cause of those threats is feminists, who are actually the ones subjected to those threats. It fascinated me in how horrible it was because it's like a master class in twisted victim blaming -- the idea that her friends and family wanted to protect her from the big scary feminists but she spoke out bravely because this is So Important is mindboggling.

Seriously, think about that -- she's using the existence of threats against women who talk about times they've been subjected to misogyny as a way to make it seem like attacking the accounts of rape victims is a way of speaking truth to power. It is filling me with a horrified, fascinated awe.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:01 PM on October 6, 2014 [34 favorites]


Some people seem to have difficulty parsing a passive "no" when it's someone turning them down for sex, and yet somehow they don't have trouble parsing the passive "no" in any other facet of life. I can't find a cite at the moment, but I remember reading the result of a study that looked at how well men parse these sorts of implicit "no" answers and, yeah, it's not that they don't understand this sort of denial, it's that it's inconvenient for them to do so, so they don't.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:02 PM on October 6, 2014 [24 favorites]


And that is the moment where, as the offerer of a place to stay, you say

"I thought you might be interested but I guess I wasn't clear. The only reason I offered you a place to stay is that I want to hook-up with you. I'm sorry you're not down with that, I'll call a cab to take you to a hotel."

Better an honest asshole than a creepy abuser.
posted by MikeMc at 12:05 PM on October 6, 2014 [20 favorites]


It is also perfectly legal, if wholly dickish, for said individual to say 'oh you don't want to sleep with me? Get the hell out of my house.' This would not be rape and be perfectly legal.

On preview, what MikeMc said.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:09 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


It should not take everything you have to turn down someone’s offer for sex.

I think this is the tragedy of the whole piece: she's right on this. I do not understand how men can not get this.
posted by graymouser at 12:11 PM on October 6, 2014 [9 favorites]


I can't find a cite at the moment, but I remember reading the result of a study that looked at how well men parse these sorts of implicit "no" answers and, yeah, it's not that they don't understand this sort of denial, it's that it's inconvenient for them to do so, so they don't.

It's linked here.
posted by almostmanda at 12:12 PM on October 6, 2014 [25 favorites]


I was very impressed by the gentle implacability of Ortberg's essay. She never attacked Elizabeth Ellen, but her essay is relentless in its forthrightness. Ortberg kindly, compassionately demanded that Ellen do the emotional work required to treat this very difficult subject matter with the respect and honesty and gravity it deserves.

I hope Ellen does not dismiss this essay as part of the feminist criticism she fears and so obviously has contempt for. This essay is absolutely saying things Ellen, and that all of us in some way, need to hear.
posted by yasaman at 12:15 PM on October 6, 2014 [26 favorites]


i've seen a lot of people argue against active consent by complaining that it will keep men from getting laid because this is just how mating works - that if men didn't "overcome last minute resistance" than they would have had a lot less sex - seemingly arguing that it's unfair for them to be denied that. i have seen very few of these men realize that maybe just maybe that was sex they shouldn't have had.
posted by nadawi at 12:16 PM on October 6, 2014 [46 favorites]


Like how do you lack enough self-awareness to write an article complaining about how HARD consent laws make stuff and then throw in a "Oh, BTW I molested three kids when I was younger, including my sister who has severed all contact with me."

Is it possible to file an arrest warrant for Elizabeth Ellen based on her confession?

That is a perfectly serious question.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:18 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


From Elizabeth Ellen's original article:

[I am thinking right now of the studies that show that female students raise their hands in class with the same frequency as male students until they enter puberty and then females begin second-guessing themselves, only raising their hands if they are a hundred percent certain they have the right answer…]


God! You were this close...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:18 PM on October 6, 2014


oh looks like she's at least in michigan now, no clue where she grew up though. but, yeah, they have a 3 years from 18 clause - but, interestingly, also 3 years from recognizing the damage - her victims might have a renewed case because of the added damage she did by writing about it and possibly triggering them to remember.
posted by nadawi at 12:30 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


[A reminder - going fishing for personal information and posting it here is not acceptable. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad at 12:32 PM on October 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


i wasn't fishing. she links her twitter on her official page.
posted by nadawi at 12:33 PM on October 6, 2014


reposting the apparently not problematic part of my comment :

EmpressCallipygos - many states only allow charges for so many years after the victim turns 18. i also think the law is mostly a grey area as far as charging a 10 year old with same-sex sexual assault, especially if the rapist is a woman.
posted by nadawi at 12:47 PM on October 6, 2014


graymouser: "I think this is the tragedy of the whole piece: she's right on this. I do not understand how men can not get this."

A friend was once describing an uncomfortable incident with a date, and said "I felt unsafe, so I gave him a blowjob to get rid of him". To me, that's rape, but the thing is, if you're the guy giving off the creepy unsafe vibes, presuming on personal space, touching inappropriately, there's no feedback loop.

And I can't fault my friend's risk calcuation: "I feel unsafe, so I can either risk escalating this by saying 'No', or take the safe way out".

Really, we need to renormalize our relations so that the question isn't "Is she consenting right now?", but "will she regret this a week from now?". Which is exactly the scenario that the people whining about affirmative consent standards are waving about as a horrible thing, and even more reason we should be pushing the "if you're not damned sure your partner is going to say this was consensual tomorrow morning, that's a definitive 'No'" as our standard.
posted by straw at 12:50 PM on October 6, 2014 [8 favorites]


I've seen a lot of arguments on the internet about sexual assault, some of which ended up burning napalm-hot. When they go spectacularly off the rails, I feel like it's because the participants are coming into the argument with completely different assumptions informed by completely different worldviews. One person lays down a bunch of premises in the opening volley, only for most of those premises to be challenged in the first reply.

Like the apologist will go "OK, maybe Z is a little creepy, but let's not call it rape because if Z is rape then Y, X, and W are also rape, and that's untenable in a world where A, B, and C happen."

And the opponent will go, "Whoa. Z is rape, and so are Y, X, and W. And A, B, and C are horrible things that wouldn't happen in an ideal world."

At which point they pick one of these points and argue it to death, or try to argue them all at once through Usenet-style back-and-forth fisking, or say "screw it, not worth arguing with you" and that's the end of it.

I have seen these dynamics over and over again, but I have never seen them laid so bare as for the apologist to admit to sexual assault without realizing that the implied premise behind that assertion would be challenged.
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:51 PM on October 6, 2014 [7 favorites]


Also, God, reading this more carefully, it's just BAD. I mean, it's also awful and terrible, but the essay itself (the original one) is really quite bad. It's incoherent and badly written and full of pseudo-casual first name only namedropping and bizarre punctuation.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:59 PM on October 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


Ortberg is a very good read, and this was a very well-reasoned article. Much of my interest is due to my having a son who's just weeks away from his 13th birthday. He's a nice kid with a few traits on the autism spectrum. Part of his particular schtick is some trouble with social cues. 13 does not mean puberty, nor does puberty herald the immediate commencement of sexual activity. He's still way into baseball stats and is by and large uninterested in sex as anything other than a gross-out joke, but I am thinking a lot about what we'll talk about when we do talk about sex in earnest, as something he will be participating in.

There should be a section of the curriculum on mechanics, of course, and one on protection. A section on hygiene and consideration and discretion around our house as he, you know, explores. But the section that seems to be the most important, or maybe just the most pressing, is understanding how to negotiate his way to really consensual sex. More explicitly, how not to rape.

I know #notallmen and all, but the packs of young men bound together -- often online -- in ignorant, infantile, creepy, sad, and frankly frightening misogyny speak to a great failure in our society. They find echo chambers to tell each other that sex is a right they must be provided with, that they won't be shamed, or whatever the hell. I don't expect my kid to join the ranks of MRAs by any means, and he may not even be straight, but we're going to have to have a talk that is not just about birds and bees and baby carriages.
posted by mcdeeder at 1:03 PM on October 6, 2014 [19 favorites]


I think a big part of the problem, societal standard were such that it was really hard to distinguish a 'no' situation from a 'yes', since 'good girls' weren't actually supposed to initiate anything or want anything, and were supposed to at least give a show of being convinced by their guy. Which, in retrospect leads to some pretty fucked up dynamics.

The other part of the problem is a good chunk of society still seems to have this standard.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:05 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


which is why pushing for active consent is so important - it's much easier to distinguish if you just don't fuck people who can't or won't say yes.
posted by nadawi at 1:11 PM on October 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think a big part of the problem, societal standard were such that it was really hard to distinguish a 'no' situation from a 'yes', since 'good girls' weren't actually supposed to initiate anything or want anything, and were supposed to at least give a show of being convinced by their guy. Which, in retrospect leads to some pretty fucked up dynamics.

"You think I'm just gonna rape you on the off chance that hopefully you are into that shit?" Louis CK joke about this dynamic.

If a girl is giving you "No" signals, don't have sex with her. That essentially elements any chance that you might "accidentally" rape someone.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:12 PM on October 6, 2014 [8 favorites]


>It is abundantly clear when someone is eager and ready to sleep with you.

No one is teaching young men and young women how to talk about and navigate sex. Sometimes people are incredibly clueless about their own emotional state, let alone the emotional state of others. Trying to guess someone's emotional state tomorrow or next week?

The burden is always on the party with the most power in an interaction, and we risk missing a huge opportunity in education if we assume that everyone is born with the skill set for communicating about sexuality and consent. All of the cases presented are clearcut rape. The problem is that the rapists didn't see it that way. Even sociopaths will test social boundaries and sometimes stop at them. Rape culture facilitates rape because it tries to hide and explain away those clear boundaries.

For every dispicable predator, there are also men like Louie C.K.'s "This would be rape if you weren't so stupid," episode. Those guys are both despicable *and* pathetic and we can leverage their pathetic quality to teach them enthusiastic consent principles at an early age.
posted by Skwirl at 1:21 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


If a girl is giving you "No" signals, don't have sex with her.

Here is a simpler one. If you are not sure that you have consent, ask. How on earth is it harder to say "Do you want to do this?" than to actually go through with a sex act when you're not sure?
posted by graymouser at 1:21 PM on October 6, 2014 [16 favorites]


mcdeeder, if he's 13, even with a disability, you should probably go ahead and start having some of those conversations. My kiddo's 8 and we have already discussed the basics (in a very general way) because he asked about babies and how they were made and what happens when you grow up. Here's a good list of books that might give you talking points on things like mechanics and hygiene.

On things like consent, we are trying to model that too. If my kid says "No, don't hug me," I stop. And if he is grabbing at me and I want him to stop, I'm very stern about it if he ignores my warnings "If I say stop, you have to stop!" "When someone wants you to stop grabbing them, you stop!" We aren't talking about rape yet, but we will when he's old enough to want to date someone. And we do talk about things like sexism when they come up, so he knows that doesn't fly in our house. We had a talk a few years ago about "not liking girls, they're icky" when I had to tell him, "hey, I'm a girl, that hurts!" which he had never thought of. (I also don't let his girl cousins say boys are icky either). We watch and read things where girls get to be heroes too.

Libby Anne at Love Joy Feminism has an absolutely great take on teaching consent to kids.

I mean, the outcome remains to be seen. But I have hopes that he's getting the message about equal worth and consent.
posted by emjaybee at 1:26 PM on October 6, 2014 [12 favorites]


If you don’t have hard proof, if you don’t have a police report, then what do you have? Only what you remember. Only what you felt. - stories like passwords by emma healey
posted by nadawi at 1:28 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've been in both of the situations she described -- both the one where I was staying over at a friend's, too drunk to get home, he promised me I could sleep in his bed and nothing would happen, and then of course I spent three hours dodging gropes and attempts to spoon until I finally had sobered up enough to get up and walk five miles home in the rain at 4:00 in the morning, AS WELL AS the one where a guy thought he deserved sex from me this time because I'd had sex with him before, and spent three hours raging, cajoling, menacing, grandstanding, philosophizing, etc. in attempt to turn my no into a yes, until he finally got bored with that and smacked me across the face and asked "do you really want this to go on every single day? Because it's going to, this is never going to stop. Only you can stop it." I stopped saying no after that, which was enough for him, but I never said yes.

The first was frustrating, but I was young and unenlightened and thought that was part of the burden of being female. The second I had no problem labeling as what it was, but sadly everyone in power disagreed with me and nobody ended up punished for it but me. Ortberg is right on target, I love the new California law, and everyone who argues in scary handwaving hypotheticals about what it might "accidentally" criminalize is, intentionally or not, enabling some very problematic coercive behavior, imho.
posted by KathrynT at 1:30 PM on October 6, 2014 [45 favorites]


How on earth is it harder to say "Do you want to do this?" than to actually go through with a sex act when you're not sure?

it's not necessarily a question of people not knowing what to do, or what they should do. It's more of a question of knowing that "no, seriously, this really does mean me."

As the Toast article was pointing out. She had no problem telling two guys "no". Where she had the problem was with the guy actually accepting her "no".

Telling a guy "it's not hard to ask 'do you want to do this' when you're not sure" is one thing, getting them to accept that they need to do this in the first place is the issue here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:34 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


and even more reason we should be pushing the "if you're not damned sure your partner is going to say this was consensual tomorrow morning, that's a definitive 'No'" as our standard.

I agree that's an excellent approach, but I think we have a fundamental problem that needs to be solved before this is even a viable conversation.

If you don't really understand how other people's sex or desire or attraction works, it is impossible to know what constitutes a positive experience for the other person. I think there are a lot of people (men and women) who don't really know what "no signals" or "lack of enthusiasm" means because they do not know what a clear "yes" or "enthusiasm" looks like. (And yes, there's the misogynist narrative that women should not be enthusiastic or they are bad that makes this situation worse, and that men should not care.)

Even well-meaning men have a hard time ignoring the cultural message that they deserve to be given sex for little effort, which in lieu of education turns into "sex doesn't take much effort" and then "she's not actively trying to get out the window, so..." Ask a panel of Well-Meaning Partners which comes first: arousal or boob grab? Their answers may make you sad.

We are going to have to start getting explicit if we want things to change. We need to tell people out loud that desire is a requirement for sex but that desire still isn't consent, and what desire and consent look like, and that it is bad to do things to people or things who are not clearly and competently telling you to. It can't go without saying, it turns out.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:35 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


We've discussed the basics, too, emjaybee. How it works, what ELSE a penis does, sexual differences, where babies come from, etc. It's more the "Here's how it works with you and a partner, son" that we haven't gotten into.

The consent/respect stuff is more what I'm talking about, and how to read another person who may not be saying something explicit because both sex and youth are fraught and new.
posted by mcdeeder at 1:41 PM on October 6, 2014


until he finally got bored with that and smacked me across the face

you tell me his address right now do you hear me

right now
posted by poffin boffin at 1:43 PM on October 6, 2014 [32 favorites]


I could be completely off base, but my read on the alt-lit story and all the others in a similar vein is that these guys aren't confused, or bewildered or misunderstanding what consent is. They're using their power to get what they want.
posted by cell divide at 1:44 PM on October 6, 2014 [19 favorites]


i'm pretty sure some of my rapists don't know they're rapists, but i agree that they'd know they were using their power to get what they wanted - i would just wager they thought that was acceptable. this is why i love the move towards yes means yes - it will change the way we teach consent and the rapists will stop getting the cover of the supposed gray area.
posted by nadawi at 1:48 PM on October 6, 2014 [16 favorites]


I think nadawi's point above about "last minute resistance" is important in understanding this. I think a lot of men think that there is some kind of "conquest" in coercing a woman past that stage and into actual sex, and that this is not rape. Active consent seems to challenge this.
posted by graymouser at 1:53 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think a lot of men think that there is some kind of "conquest" in coercing a woman past that stage and into actual sex

I think a lot of men think that this is normal behavior that the other person expects and wants to happen and is actively playing their role as the faux-unwilling participant. Like when I say I shouldn't go out tonight and you say oh, come on, you need a break. Like when your friend kind of wants to ride the roller coaster but is scared and your job is to be the adventurous leader. In all those cases there is a "win" at the end, but the point wasn't the win.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:02 PM on October 6, 2014 [9 favorites]


It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia - The Implication. Mac and Dennis discuss the advantages of seducing women on a boat.

I've always valued this clip for exactly capturing why "they didn't say no" is not an exonerating standard, and why "enthusiastic consent" needs to be that standard instead.

Tangentially, "The Implication" also gives a good clue about why so many people, often women, get very upset with "lawyering" in discussions. "But you didn't say no" is sort of the extreme of laywering and after you've had it pulled on you once your tolerance for laywering goes down across all conversations, everywhere.
posted by ProtoStar at 2:05 PM on October 6, 2014 [33 favorites]


The Implication is exactly what I think of when the subject of active vs passive consent comes up.
posted by Justinian at 2:16 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


So, uh, if Ortberg thought this essay worthy of demolishing (and it was rambling and somewhat incoherent... not an especially fruitful target) why did she link to it behind 'donotlink'? It's just, like, her (Ellen's) opinion, man... It's not as if 'Hobart' is a stormfront front or something.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:17 PM on October 6, 2014


Just thirding, in this thread, the recommendation of It's Always Sunny's scene about "the implication", which Emily Nussbaum described as television's only funny rape joke. It is a bleakly, absurdly funny look at the delusional thinking rapists go through when telling themselves that they aren't horrible people — a process that it seems Ellen is all-too-familiar with.

Mallory Ortberg is one of the best and most important writers working today. It gets said in every thread about her, but it is especially relevant to say here.
posted by rorgy at 2:18 PM on October 6, 2014 [9 favorites]


(Also, how fucked up is it that I found the rape accusations against Tao Lin not only believable but sort of inevitable? Like hearing that somehow makes perfect sense, considering everything else about Lin that I know.)
posted by rorgy at 2:20 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've never believed in passive consent. In college I dated a beautiful, smart woman who, by way of taking it to the next level after the first few dates, felt comfortable getting completely smashed, and, as it were, putting herself at my disposal. I realized she was so inhibited that this was probably the only way we were ever going to get it on, at least for the first time. But personally I hate being drunk so I would only have a light buzz on.

The long and the short of it is we never had sex, because if her idea of consent is trustful sodden passivity then as far as I'm concerned ain't gonna happen, and after a few more dates that all ended with me taking her back to her place, and rousing her into finding her keys and letting herself in and leaving her there, I stopped seeing her. Seriously, consent be damned, if she's not actively and enthusiastically jumping your bones then she's not, as they say, that into you.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:22 PM on October 6, 2014 [9 favorites]


So, uh, if Ortberg thought this essay worthy of demolishing (and it was rambling and somewhat incoherent... not an especially fruitful target) why did she link to it behind 'donotlink'? It's just, like, her (Ellen's) opinion, man... It's not as if 'Hobart' is a stormfront front or something.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:17 PM on October 6 [+] [!]


Possibly because Ortberg knows how click-bait and online advertising dollars go, and her intention, as stated in the beginning of the article was to illustrate someone who is engaging in a particular form of commentary-for-clicks.

We (users of Metafilter) use donotlink here all the time when wanting to link to something that we disagree with, but with to maintain clarity by citing the original source.
posted by daq at 2:35 PM on October 6, 2014 [12 favorites]


So, uh, if Ortberg thought this essay worthy of demolishing (and it was rambling and somewhat incoherent... not an especially fruitful target) why did she link to it behind 'donotlink'? It's just, like, her (Ellen's) opinion, man... It's not as if 'Hobart' is a stormfront front or something.

If it's worthy of demolishing, then it's not worth giving its sponsors any support through pageviews. Otherwise you're just rewarding the writer for having written the piece — which, given what the writer did and how she writes about it, I wouldn't want to do, either.

On preview, what daq said.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:36 PM on October 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


How on earth can anyone say yet that Dierks or Lin’s entire lives have been ruined?

Dierks has temporarily left Twitter. Both men have been criticized roundly on the Internet. As far as I know, neither of them have been fired from any sort of employer (Dierks has announced he is “leaving public life,” but remember that so did Hugo Schwyzer, once, do not count him out just yet) or lost any pending book deals or had legal charges brought against them. Experiencing criticism for your actions is not the same thing as having your life ruined, no matter how unrestrainedly strangers talk about you on Tumblr. Unlike many women writers, as far as I know, neither Dierks nor Lin have received death or rape threats. Neither of them have been forced to leave their homes in fear for their personal safety.


And this takes us back to the idea that you can't accuse someone of rape because, somehow, the accusation is worse than rape itself. Like it has to be 100% proven, to every person on the internet, that rape took place before you can call someone a rapist. Because, otherwise, they might have to leave Twitter for a while. Talk about miscarriages of justice!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:43 PM on October 6, 2014 [37 favorites]


Flex has made a good FPP that centers around sex work but a bunch of it, particularly the second link from "Tits&Sass", deals head on with the concept of "enthusiastic consent". As I said in that thread I think she makes some very good points and sums up a few of the reasons I think we should refer to "active consent" rather than "enthusiastic consent".
posted by Justinian at 3:21 PM on October 6, 2014


"I think a lot of men think that this is normal behavior that the other person expects and wants to happen and is actively playing their role as the faux-unwilling participant. Like when I say I shouldn't go out tonight and you say oh, come on, you need a break. Like when your friend kind of wants to ride the roller coaster but is scared and your job is to be the adventurous leader. In all those cases there is a "win" at the end, but the point wasn't the win."

It's not just men. A lot of men and women were raised with this model of sex and consent, including vast swaths of middle-class America for the last century or so. It's deeply fucked up and one of the most literal examples of "rape culture," but even now it's fairly prevalent in a ton of mainstream places.
posted by klangklangston at 3:37 PM on October 6, 2014 [12 favorites]


It's more the "Here's how it works with you and a partner, son" that we haven't gotten into. The consent/respect stuff is more what I'm talking about, and how to read another person who may not be saying something explicit because both sex and youth are fraught and new.

Oh definitely. And you do have an added challenge if he already has trouble reading someone socially.

I am going to have to rely on the husband a lot since we have a boy, because things that were obvious to teen-girl me may not be to him, when he's a teen/young adult. I don't want to assume I know what he's worried about or how he feels.
posted by emjaybee at 3:39 PM on October 6, 2014


Holy shit at that original piece though. Ellen just makes me so angry. The entire "woe is me, my burden as a molester is so heavy to carry" tone of her entire description of that series of events reminds me of how well, every piece of shit abuser, rapist, and molester I've known in real life has recounted their own tale.

And it's just like, I don't care, I don't feel bad for you. No one should. That ones on you, go cry alone in a bathtub.

Even ignoring the other problems with the piece, that part really deserved to get pooped on. Ortberg's response was awesomely crafted and diplomatic, and I get that it's supposed to win over fence sitters and even proponents of Ellen's piece and point of view, but holy crap was that some egregious playing the victim. Fuuuuck that shit.
posted by emptythought at 3:47 PM on October 6, 2014


I agree with Ortberg and some of the comments in this thread that Ellen's essay was a bit rambling and unfocused, which is a pity, because it makes some important points. I hope she considers going back and fleshing out some of what she wrote and with better attention to editing.

I'm glad Ellen included the stuff from her mom in the essay, though, because it was basically spot-on: the guy Katz was staying with might be a scumbag, but he didn't rape her.

Also, I find Ortberg's dismissal of Ellen's concerns about publishing her essay as being afraid of mere "Internet yelling" disingenuous.
posted by jingzuo at 4:09 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


i hope this child abuser slinks back into the background and never speaks on rape again.
posted by nadawi at 4:30 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also, I find Ortberg's dismissal of Ellen's concerns about publishing her essay as being afraid of mere "Internet yelling" disingenuous.

Disingenuous? I read it more as scorn, myself.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:35 PM on October 6, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm hesitant to post as I'm conflict adverse and get way to worked up on these topics.

I'm not angry towards this women in they way some are about abusing another child as a child. There is plenty to be upset about here for sure, but admitting and using appropriate language (molestation as opposed to inappropriate play) for what she did as a 9 or 10 year old is actually a pretty brave thing. And her not knowing why, I can't figure out for the life of me some of my motivations of serious things I did when I were 9 or 10 were. I can tell you that they were not fully formed ideas and understanding of emotional consequences. Her not knowing is probably the honest answer.

I do think she underplayed the impact of her actions. I do think that she should receive support and compassion like any child who commits any major crime. A 10 year old who murders still deserves to be respected and have the ability to not be called a murder at every turn even when they self identify as a murderer.

I think the disclosure issues are and everything elsr issues that Ortberg brings up are absolutely valid. And she has a long way too go on understanding the complexity of this issue.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:50 PM on October 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


i've seen a lot of people argue against active consent by complaining that it will keep men from getting laid because this is just how mating works - that if men didn't "overcome last minute resistance" than they would have had a lot less sex - seemingly arguing that it's unfair for them to be denied that.

Maybe I hang out in the wrong (right) circles, but I've actually more often seen that as a stereotype-fueled straw-man misinterpretation of people trying to explain that they have a lover who wants to feel like the focus of uncontrollable desire, and the "they" in "they would have a lot less sex" refers to their partner being unhappy about the nose-dive, not just themselves. My sample size is just anecdotal, but my impression is that it is quite normal for people to prefer to interact that way. Enthusiastic consent is likewise quite normal. I imagine it's going to be partly a generation thing (as well as a social environment thing. I think the new university bill will help).
posted by anonymisc at 4:52 PM on October 6, 2014


I'm glad Ellen included the stuff from her mom in the essay, though, because it was basically spot-on: the guy Katz was staying with might be a scumbag, but he didn't rape her.

From Katz's post:
Once again I found myself trying (and failing) to convince Stan that I didn’t find him unattractive, but still did not want to have sex with him, and was not consenting, by any means, to having sex with him. Once again I failed, and he had sex with my body while I stared up at the ceiling.
Yep, no rape there, thanks for coming in and alerting us, I guess we can all go home now! I didn't even include the part where she started crying during sex, or where she begged him to use a condom and he refused. That anyone can straightfaced call that "not rape" is the reason active consent laws are needed.
posted by almostmanda at 5:15 PM on October 6, 2014 [49 favorites]


“I am scared to death…People who care about me have urged me not to write this,”

Given the story about how she molested other kids, I'm not sure that they were saying this for the reasons she seems to think.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:16 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


that if men didn't "overcome last minute resistance" than they would have had a lot less sex - seemingly arguing that it's unfair for them to be denied that

I feel like in liberal circles this same concept is embodied in "GGG/Good Giving Game", which as far as I'm concerned is "lie back and think of England, except also pretend you're super into fish and chips". Or just go over to the green, where it's conventional wisdom that a spouse or partner who's not especially interested in sex should provide sex anyway even if they're zero in the mood. There appear to be plenty of people out there who believe sex is an obligation (and I guess really enjoy sad handjobs). As if it's not coercion if it's a favor.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:27 PM on October 6, 2014 [11 favorites]


Maybe I hang out in the wrong (right) circles, but I've actually more often seen that as a stereotype-fueled straw-man misinterpretation of people trying to explain that they have a lover who wants to feel like the focus of uncontrollable desire, and the "they" in "they would have a lot less sex" refers to their partner being unhappy about the nose-dive, not just themselves. My sample size is just anecdotal, but my impression is that it is quite normal for people to prefer to interact that way. Enthusiastic consent is likewise quite normal. I imagine it's going to be partly a generation thing (as well as a social environment thing. I think the new university bill will help).

I really don't understand this comment. You say yourself appear to be arguing that "focus of uncontrollable desire" is totally consistent with "active/enthusiastic consent" except that all partners are encouraged to express that desire. The exception I guess would be a situation in which *one* partner *wants* to feel overpowered/role-play non-consent but that's not at all described in your comment and obviously a situation in which everybody ought to be very very careful anyway. So are you saying that nadawi is misinterpreting an argument made *for* active consent as one against? Because that seems like an absurdly small amount of credit to give someone and it's way way more likely that you are talking about completely different things. Even if you really have not personally encountered men who think the script is supposed to go no no no then yes.
posted by atoxyl at 5:32 PM on October 6, 2014


which as far as I'm concerned is "lie back and think of England, except also pretend you're super into fish and chips"

Not arguing that Savage isn't gross in a lot of respects, but that's not how I've interpreted the whole GGG thing. My interpretation of that is "In an established, long-term relationship, if your partner is super excited by something that doesn't sound particularly appealing to you but which you're not actively revolted / triggered by, you should give it a whirl in good faith, once, or maybe a couple of times, try to get into it. But if you can't, if it's really unappealing to you, then it's off the table and your partner shouldn't press the point."

However, judging by discussion of the topic elsewhere, your interpretation is hardly unique. :-(
posted by KathrynT at 5:43 PM on October 6, 2014 [22 favorites]


i'm not sure if his intent but it's definitely an issue where people, usually men, use it to weasel sexual things out of their partners. i think it's one of those areas where his ignorance of women leads him to giving problematic advice.
posted by nadawi at 5:51 PM on October 6, 2014 [14 favorites]


They're using their power to get what they want.

I'm not going to go looking for the actual citation from previous FPPs on the topic (because: yuck), but research showed that the vast majority of rapes and assaults are committed by a fairly small percentage of men. Men with a predatory bent learn that putting a woman in a vulnerable position (like staying with you when she doesn't have money for a hotel) and deliberately ignoring both indirect and direct expressions of "no" works, and so they keep doing it.

It's not just men. A lot of men and women were raised with this model of sex and consent, including vast swaths of middle-class America for the last century or so. It's deeply fucked up and one of the most literal examples of "rape culture," but even now it's fairly prevalent in a ton of mainstream places.

That kind of sex shows up in mainstream books and movies all the time -- if anything, it's more the norm than is the active consent being discussed here.

However, judging by discussion of the topic elsewhere, your interpretation is hardly unique. :-(

Cynically, I'd guess that "GGG" gets used by gross people in the same way that gross people use any other tool to get coercive sexual access. "Aw, come on honey, you aren't uptight are you?" worked in one era, Savage's phrase works now.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:54 PM on October 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm not going to go looking for the actual citation from previous FPPs on the topic (because: yuck), but research showed that the vast majority of rapes and assaults are committed by a fairly small percentage of men.

43% of college-aged men admitted to using coercive behavior to have sex, including ignoring a woman's protest, using physical aggression, and forcing intercourse.
posted by winna at 6:03 PM on October 6, 2014 [12 favorites]


It's weird coming back to this thread after reading the one above about sex workers and the right to emotional disengagement in one's sexual acts. Per that thread, the consensus seems to be that it's perfectly fine-- both for the participants, and for society-- when some people choose to engage in sex acts as a result of rational cost-benefit analysis, even in the absence of any physical or emotional payoff from the act itself; and that it's regressive to expect that someone should only have sex that's pleasurable, when actually they may well just be motivated by a desire to pay that overdue rent or get that fridge repaired.

Over here, by contrast, the reverse conclusion seems to have prevailed: when someone chooses to engage in sex acts with obviously no physical or emotional payoff from the act itself (e.g. the "Will she regret this two weeks later?" test), but as a result of rational cost-benefit analysis, then that's coercive and should be considered rape. A sex act is not OK when one of the participants is taking no pleasure in the sex, but instead thinking, "Well, I don't want to hurt his feelings," or "If I do this, I won't feel embarrassed and rude," or "At least now I can keep staying here for the rest of my trip to the city." In both the earlier thread and this one, A (who desires sex) ends up having sex with B, who doesn't desire it at all, but who's making a pragmatic decision about the (emotional, material, social) costs of engaging in or not engaging in the act, within a situation partly set up by A.

I guess I just wonder how to rigorously draw a line between the empowering and the oppressive versions of that scenario. I mean, I get that an extension of the same interaction is also "B, who doesn't desire sex, rationally chooses to have sex with A rather than be shot by him, since he's holding a revolver to her head," and that that's certainly coercive. But when you take away the nice clear "threat of physical harm" element as a criterion, it does get messier trying to distinguish between coerced and non-coerced decisions about harm-reduction in the real world. Am I being coerced if I only have sex to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to afford nice shoes? What if I have sex to avoid being kicked out of my apartment? To avoid giving up a networking advantage? To avoid feeling "mean" or creating social awkwardness?

I guess you could align "voluntary" sex strictly with the reaping of benefits, while "coerced" sex is to avoid harm, but those two are really sides of the same coin, so I'm not sure that holds up. Is there a reliable line that people can see that distinguishes between "strictly pragmatic sex = empowering" and "strictly pragmatic sex = coercive"? Because otherwise it seems like this slippery-slopes into a condition where the only reason to have sex is because you really wanna fuck, and absent that genuine desire nobody's capable of rendering consent at all.
posted by Bardolph at 6:12 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


Maybe I hang out in the wrong (right) circles, but I've actually more often seen that as a stereotype-fueled straw-man misinterpretation of people trying to explain that they have a lover who wants to feel like the focus of uncontrollable desire, and the "they" in "they would have a lot less sex" refers to their partner being unhappy about the nose-dive, not just themselves. My sample size is just anecdotal, but my impression is that it is quite normal for people to prefer to interact that way. Enthusiastic consent is likewise quite normal. I imagine it's going to be partly a generation thing (as well as a social environment thing. I think the new university bill will help).

Before I go on, I'm going to try to repeat back to you what you said in my own words, to make sure I understand you.

What it sounds like you're saying is - the guys who say "they would have a lot less sex" are saying this because they are with women who are putting on an act of "resisting" as part of the seduction. You are also saying that women you know actually do like to go along with the act like this.

If this is in fact what you're saying, then let me ask you this - how do the people in your circle tell the difference between "I'm going along with the act for funsies because it's hot" and "no, seriously thus isn't an act, I don't want to have sex"? Especially the first time?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:19 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


43% of college-aged men admitted to using coercive behavior to have sex, including ignoring a woman's protest, using physical aggression, and forcing intercourse.

I think both are true: many men (perhaps a solid majority if you consider all ages, not just college guys) have used coercive behavior at least once, but a smaller number of repeat offenders commit a sizable majority of the assaults. Here's a link (though I can recall it being discussed here as well):

“The vast majority of sexual assaults on campuses, in fact over 90 percent, are being perpetrated by serial offenders,” Lisak said.

In a study published in 2002, Lisak asked nearly 2,000 male students at a Massachusetts college about their sex lives. Six percent of them described sexual encounters in a way that met the legal definition of rape, meaning they had sexual intercourse without the consent of the woman, often using either force or alcohol. Of that group, a majority had assaulted multiple women.

“Those serial offenders were prolific,” Lisak said. “The average number of rapes for each one of those serial offenders was six.”

posted by Dip Flash at 6:19 PM on October 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


Boroporth - it comes down to power. When engaged in a business transaction power is somewhat equal- person pays X gets service item y. The rules are written out and both are willing participants. Cocersiveness is when the rules are not stated and suddendly there is all this implied meaning that the person wasnt expecting or agreeing to in the first place. The room for sex thing were stated upfront and everyone agrees then It isn't rape. But if the price keeps changing/isn't disclosed/ then that's coersive.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:28 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think the distinctions being made are between active, enthusiastic, and passive consent. Actively consenting to have sex, even if it isn't sex you're super into or is sex you're being paid for, is very different from passively "consenting" by, for example, stopping struggling and letting someone have sex at you. The point they're making is that by implying the only truly consensual sex is enthusiastic, you remove people's choice to have sex without being gloriously excited at the prospect. By emphasizing active consent, sex workers are displaying agency and taking the step of saying (out loud or whatever) "Let's have sex now, this is an OK thing to be doing."
posted by ChuraChura at 6:35 PM on October 6, 2014 [7 favorites]


[Comment removed, we are not going to go multiple rounds on an "I declare this woman is wrong about having been raped" carousel in here.]
posted by cortex at 6:50 PM on October 6, 2014 [14 favorites]


So are you saying that nadawi is misinterpreting an argument made *for* active consent as one against?

No, I'm saying that that I've seen, for one example, a guy indicating that enthusiastic consent was wrong for his relationship because [it kills his wife's mood], then he got attacked as if they'd said his problem with enthusiastic consent was that he wouldn't get laid as often as he wanted. What he actually indicated was that his wife wouldn't get laid as often as she wanted, nor in a way that made her feel good, but that wasn't heard.
When I hear "men oppose it because they'll get less sex" I know that some of that is really people talking past each other, but I don't know how much. (hopefully a lot - that seems a lesser problem, especially as enthusiasm starts to oust slut-shaming as the value the new generation grows up with).
posted by anonymisc at 6:59 PM on October 6, 2014


I think the distinctions being made are between active, enthusiastic, and passive consent. Actively consenting to have sex, even if it isn't sex you're super into or is sex you're being paid for, is very different from passively "consenting" by, for example, stopping struggling and letting someone have sex at you. The point they're making is that by implying the only truly consensual sex is enthusiastic, you remove people's choice to have sex without being gloriously excited at the prospect.

I… guess, but I’m wondering how, in practice, actively-consented-to-but-unexcited sex acts could be reliably distinguished from passively-consented-to sex acts, particularly from the partner’s perspective. What about the bits where she mentions reluctantly but actively and voluntarily “doing the things that would make him come faster”? What about the mentions upthread of people initiating compromise BJs to get out of having sex? Is there anything from the perspective of someone outside the person’s head that should have flagged those acts as problematic, passive consent rather than signs of active consent by someone who was not having fun but had nonetheless made a pragmatic, legitimate choice to sex their way out of social awkwardness?

I’m also wondering about the limit case of the sex-worker’s situation (“You can pay to fuck me, sure, but that money doesn’t buy you the right to my enjoyment”). If a client's $50 buys $50 worth of physical intercourse, and absolutely no more, then isn’t the requirement for “active” consent, whatever that may be, always kind of expecting the sex worker to throw in something else for free on top of that?

[and lest this be misunderstood, I’m certainly not hopping into the it-wasn’t-rape camp here; more questioning, possibly, whether johning isn’t always rape under this set of criteria]
posted by Bardolph at 7:17 PM on October 6, 2014


Not arguing that Savage isn't gross in a lot of respects, but that's not how I've interpreted the whole GGG thing. My interpretation of that is "In an established, long-term relationship, if your partner is super excited by something that doesn't sound particularly appealing to you but which you're not actively revolted / triggered by, you should give it a whirl in good faith, once, or maybe a couple of times, try to get into it. But if you can't, if it's really unappealing to you, then it's off the table and your partner shouldn't press the point."

AAAArrrgdamn I just spent way too long expounding on this distinction and accidentally killed the tab. But trying to summarize:

One of my more popular recent comments was all about opposing the association of "GGG" with "obligation" so I do get your point, Lyn Never. But as much as there is to criticize about Dan Savage, the original context for using the term was a sex columnist responding to people asking what constitutes a good sex partner/how to be a better one. I can't promise he got it right every time but I know I've seen him point out that if you *demand* sex from another person you are in fact not being "giving" at all. And I think as a general, gentle guideline (see what I did there) it's a good thing if you can indulge a partner's fantasies that you do personally find appealing/erotic as long as you also don't find it disgusting/traumatic - there's middle ground there for most people - and they are prepared to reciprocate. There's nothing wrong with doing thing X to someone's body purely as a favor to make them happy, if it's no skin off your teeth and they are a person you care about and want to make happy. But again I know that people will *say* GGG and just mean "you're so selfish for not having sex with me right now."
posted by atoxyl at 7:20 PM on October 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


What it sounds like you're saying is - the guys who say "they would have a lot less sex" are saying this because they are with women who are putting on an act of "resisting" as part of the seduction. You are also saying that women you know actually do like to go along with the act like this.

Correct. (Presumably not all cases of course). If I may speculate, I'd think in many cases the guy would be more than happy with her jumping him, but she doesn't want it that way and they've found their compromise.

If this is in fact what you're saying, then let me ask you this - how do the people in your circle tell the difference between "I'm going along with the act for funsies because it's hot" and "no, seriously thus isn't an act, I don't want to have sex"? Especially the first time?

Bear in mind that these people are also in your circle - part of what I observe is that many people (especially people who don't date women) often don't realize how normal it is.

I don't know what goes on in other people's bedrooms, but my hope and expectation is that people are cautious in new relationships, then they find their groove together as their relationship blooms.
I have dated a few people that wanted to be physically swept away, and while I trust myself to read correctly and err on the side of caution, I prefer not to risk someone I care about on that, so my solution has been to request a safeword. (Even that has been strenuously rejected by some, but I think most people are ok with a prearranged understanding.)
posted by anonymisc at 7:32 PM on October 6, 2014


"I… guess, but I’m wondering how, in practice, actively-consented-to-but-unexcited sex acts could be reliably distinguished from passively-consented-to sex acts, particularly from the partner’s perspective."

While I understand that a lot of the gray area would stem from the overall coercive and oppressive nature of capitalism, this doesn't seem to be that hard to distinguish in practice overall. I mean, it's like the difference between a waiter who's pleasant (if not enthusiastic) and a waiter who doesn't actually want to talk to you at all, you know? I mean, the spectrum from "YES!" to "NO!" also includes "Sure, why not?" and "If I have to…" and while the middle two are more ambiguous, they're still something that we distinguish all the time in the rest of our lives.
posted by klangklangston at 7:33 PM on October 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


i'm not talking about a couple who have a maybe problematic but not rape-y approach to sex, but rather men who think the only desirable sex is the sex that includes getting a woman off balance and needling his way into her pants. this has been expressed to me that this is just how mating works and that women who show overt attraction are too easy our trying to trick her partner. there are also sadly many people who think women don't have as much innate desire as men and thus are only doing it for status or to have a boyfriend or to have kids or whatever other motivations people guess at because they can't accept that we can like to fuck.
posted by nadawi at 7:46 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


Bear in mind that these people are also in your circle - part of what I observe is that many people (especially people who don't date women) often don't realize how normal it is.

REALLY now?

Because I'm a woman and I don't think this is normal at all. Nor do any of the women I know. All of the women I know make no bones about letting a man know when we want them - in fact, our trouble is in convincing them that we MEAN it when we say we don't want them. All the women I know would rather spit tacks than play patriarchal "hard to get" games like that.

So, no, these people are not in my circle. I'm wondering why you are assuming they would be.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:47 PM on October 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


i think a good outcome to a larger focus on active consent is that less men would agree to sexual encounters where women only get interested through coercion, whether that be in a serious relationship or not. this isn't discussing bdsm situations where things are explicitly worked out ahead of time and there are safe words, etc (although as a sub, i'm here to say that bdsm isn't free of these issues and certain types of abusers find cover in the community and we should be better at ferreting them out).
posted by nadawi at 8:01 PM on October 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


No, I'm saying that that I've seen, for one example, a guy indicating that enthusiastic consent was wrong for his relationship because [it kills his wife's mood], then he got attacked as if they'd said his problem with enthusiastic consent was that he wouldn't get laid as often as he wanted. What he actually indicated was that his wife wouldn't get laid as often as she wanted, nor in a way that made her feel good, but that wasn't heard.

So you *are* talking about a situation in which the wife wants to put up a facade of resistance but eventually be "persuaded?" This is in the context of a long-term relationship where both partners know how this works, right? I mean sure, this is a real thing, but what's the guy worried about - that a neighbor is going to spy on them and call the cops? Even if that happens all he needs is his wife's word and it's all a big misunderstanding. If he's concerned that she's going to change her mind - well *how* sure is he that it's all in good fun?

I feel like the *common* way "seduction" plays out is more like teasing - transparently only a pretend "no" almost by definition- leading up to bones getting jumped in a way that eventually makes the enthusiasm clear enough. If what your hypothetical couple does is closer to a full on rape fantasy then that's *always* something they have to be careful about and not something that really works if they don't already know and trust each other well. How often do you think occurs this series of conditions :

- two individuals regularly participate in a rape fantasy role-play scenario
- at some point things get out of hand and the submissive participant ends up feeling truly violated
- despite the inherent delicacy of the scenario and having enjoyed prior instances this partner decides that when it went wrong this last time it was unforgivable/no accident and decides to press charges
- the submissive partner is in the wrong for doing this/this result is likely to be unfair to the dominant partner

I mean, really?
posted by atoxyl at 8:04 PM on October 6, 2014


you do personally find appealing/erotic as long as you also don't find it disgusting/traumatic

oops I hope you can tell by context I mean *don't* personally find otherwise this wouldn't be worth saying. It's possible to not really "get" a sexual act but be totally fine with doing it for your partner once in a while because you know they really like it and would do the same for you.
posted by atoxyl at 8:09 PM on October 6, 2014


Atoxyl makes a good point, which is making me want to clarify my statements -

I am not speaking of rape fantasies, in a consenual and mutually-understood-to-be-acceptable relationship, as "not normal". Whatever any mutually consenting couple does in the context of a long-term relationship is, is "normal" for them.

I somehow think, however, that this is also not what anonymisc is taking about anyway - rather, anonymisc is taking about the "playing hard to get" that old-school sitcoms used to say that all women were like.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:15 PM on October 6, 2014


"I somehow think, however, that this is also not what anonymisc is taking about anyway - rather, anonymisc is taking about the "playing hard to get" that old-school sitcoms used to say that all women were like."

Alan Sherman, of the "Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh" fame, wrote a book called "The Rape of the A.P.E." where "A.P.E." stood for "American Puritan Ethic." It was basically about the sexual revolution in a semi-humorous form, and while I'm sure that if I read it now it would strike me as far more fucked up than it did when I was in high school, one of the big themes of it was how much progress had been made by 1973 in terms of abandoning the fucked up "Good girls don't" ethic that he'd been raised with. It's weird how he assumed that wouldn't be a problem anymore because the pill and sexual revolution had made it OK for women to admit to wanting sex, and yet here we are 40 years later…
posted by klangklangston at 8:27 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


REALLY now?
Because I'm a woman and I don't think this is normal at all. Nor do any of the women I know. All of the women I know make no bones about letting a man know when we want them - in fact, our trouble is in convincing them that we MEAN it when we say we don't want them. All the women I know would rather spit tacks than play patriarchal "hard to get" games like that.
So, no, these people are not in my circle. I'm wondering why you are assuming they would be.


I am assuming they are in your circle, because I see this exact belief in so many people I know, all of whom have these people in their circles.

However, on preview:

I somehow think, however, that this is also not what anonymisc is taking about anyway - rather, anonymisc is taking about the "playing hard to get" that old-school sitcoms used to say that all women were like.


No, I wasn't referring to playing hard-to-get with strangers. It was in context of some kind of existing familiarity, or a relationship. In the example I gave above, the guy said his *wife* wouldn't like it. They were married but it still got heard as the narrative.
(That said, games outside of established relationships are not exactly unusual either)
posted by anonymisc at 8:42 PM on October 6, 2014


I’m wondering how, in practice, actively-consented-to-but-unexcited sex acts could be reliably distinguished from passively-consented-to sex acts, particularly from the partner’s perspective.

You . . . . . trust your partner to have enough agency to express which is which?

I genuinely don't understand what you're trying to get at here - it seems like you're both trying to set up hard and fast rules about things ("I guess I just wonder how to rigorously draw a line between the empowering and the oppressive versions of that scenario.") and considering every sex act as a solitary event occurring in a vacuum, unconnected with the cultural and individual context of the relationship between the people involved in the act.

Neither approach seems very useful, to me, in analyzing with how us messy humans deal with sex and relationships in practice.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:53 PM on October 6, 2014


Over here, by contrast, the reverse conclusion seems to have prevailed: when someone chooses to engage in sex acts with obviously no physical or emotional payoff from the act itself (e.g. the "Will she regret this two weeks later?" test), but as a result of rational cost-benefit analysis, then that's coercive and should be considered rape. A sex act is not OK when one of the participants is taking no pleasure in the sex, but instead thinking, "Well, I don't want to hurt his feelings," or "If I do this, I won't feel embarrassed and rude," or "At least now I can keep staying here for the rest of my trip to the city." In both the earlier thread and this one, A (who desires sex) ends up having sex with B, who doesn't desire it at all, but who's making a pragmatic decision about the (emotional, material, social) costs of engaging in or not engaging in the act, within a situation partly set up by A.

I guess I just wonder how to rigorously draw a line between the empowering and the oppressive versions of that scenario.


"Exchange sex" is the non-judgmental term we used in sexual health to describe sex that constituted an overt transaction for goods or services (basics like drugs, money, shelter, or food, but also "sugar daddy" arrangements for luxuries). I would say you're being coerced in exchange sex if you would otherwise not participate, have no other way to get those goods or services, and would suffer immediately and substantially without them.

Note that this is a consideration in other fields, as well - medical researchers are ethically required to evaluate whether incentives and benefits from research are inherently coercive (despite the risk of harm, a super-poor person offered a substantial financial incentive may not be able to consider saying "no"; likewise, a very ill person offered a treatment of known risk and unknown benefit.)

Pragmatic sexual decision-making isn't inherently coercive. I know couples who were pretty bored with fucking by the time they conceived, but nobody would make the error of confusing their shared incentive with a coercive one. And trade-offs are still consensual as long as the agency is with the less-enthusiastic partner - there's an enormous difference between "no, love, I don't want to fuck tonight, but I'll do you by hand" and "if you won't fuck me tonight, at least do me by hand (pester pester pester)"
posted by gingerest at 9:02 PM on October 6, 2014 [24 favorites]


[more questioning, possibly, whether johning isn’t always rape under this set of criteria]

As a rule of thumb, it's better to ask people what they want than to worry up hypotheticals. Do sex workers want their work to be classified as rape? I don't think so, though they'd like it to be classified as work.
posted by zompist at 9:16 PM on October 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


Also, on Ellen's essay, mainly a specific part that hand't been addressed yet... which i realize isn't the direct focus of this but it's really disingenuous to not discuss when this is a piece about that piece.

There's the part her mom says that she endorses and republishes as an opinion aligned with her own:
And I do have problems with women who won’t take responsibility for their actions. Was he supposed to read her mind? No means no but you have to say it. And she obviously was using him for a place to stay, for access to a writing venue?? I don’t know. So she didn’t want to jeopardize getting what she wanted; hence she waited until later to decry the situation. In essence she gave sex in exchange for whatever it was she was there to get.
and then there's what she herself says after that:
And it’s really not that hard to make a name for yourself in the literary world in the traditional manner: writing for years in your bedroom anywhere other than New York City or Brooklyn, having your work rejected for many of those years, sometimes accepted, getting to know other writers and editors little by little over the period of a decade.

Oh wait. I guess that is hard.

But you know what. It’s what Roxane and Tao and Blake and Chelsea and I all did.
And i mean, there's bits between that(like the "there's two victims in this story and you can't have it both ways" bit, eugh) that really fired up my rage turbine, but the premise of this part specifically really grosses me out.

It's basically "you fucked your way into notoriety and acted like it was rape after the fact to cover it up, whereas i built myself up from nothing and worked hard".

This flexed a muscle of outrage i didn't even know i had. It's like learning pilates or something where you're like "woah, i have a muscle there that can get sore?". It's a whole new remix of the Attention Whore thing that i had never heard before.

I'm honestly speechless. I don't have anything super interesting or constructive to say about that. I just thought it deserved to be highlighted because Ms. Ortberg didn't even really get in to it, and holy shit that is an incredibly disgusting high-horsed bullshit thing to say that should be brought up every time anything even discussing something else that discusses that essay should be. I hope Ellen is The Woman Who Wrote That One Essay for the rest of her damn life.

This isn't just another case of someone whose done bad things trying to recalibrate the Bad Stuff Meter so they just blend in somewhere near the mild end of not bad like that MayMay guys essay on BDSM and revocable consent, it also has a strong undertone of "how dare these harpies get recognition without shoveling hard in the trenches like i did!" and that is some of the most tired old wicked witch shit that should just get laughed out off the stage.

I may just kind of be talking at a wall here, but after reading both of these pieces the first one just kept beating me over the head and the words were just like erupting forth from my hands. So yea.
posted by emptythought at 11:48 PM on October 6, 2014 [14 favorites]


I somehow think, however, that this is also not what anonymisc is taking about anyway - rather, anonymisc is taking about the "playing hard to get" that old-school sitcoms used to say that all women were like.

Well I just don't get what their sex life looks like such that enthusiastic consent kills the mood. I think they are showing a limited understanding of the concept or doing something where it's really not even relevant.

I can imagine a dynamic where hypothetical dude's wife likes to "play hard to get" with the emphasis on *play*. They both know it's all in fun - she just finds it romantic when he initiates and puts in a bit of effort pledging his undying love or chasing her around the bedroom or whatever, and he can tell when she's *not* down to play because there are "rules" to the game that they both know because they've been a couple for ages. I don't know what people "in your circle" would think of that but I don't think it's out of the question as a thing people would do and not consider especially kinky. But the reason it works out is it's not actually that ambiguous and by the time junk is touching there have probably actually been pretty direct indications of consent.

Or else if it's something darker than that, where she continues to put up a fight (or just says do what you will I guess) outwardly, but there's an understanding that this is role-play then that's a rape fantasy - I already went into this case but basically no matter what you're intentionally ignoring *whatever* rules most people use for consent and making it wholly a matter of trust between the partners.

What's the other option where enthusiastic consent doesn't work? They're into tepid consent? The husband pesters the wife until she relents and gives him a half-assed handy but they're both actually really into it?
posted by atoxyl at 12:16 AM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, what atoxyl said. Anonymisc, I don't know why you're bringing the already-negotiated particulars of an already-extant couple into a conversation which is not even largely about that in the first place, but is rather about couples who are just beginning their relationships and don't know each others' rules yet. But it strikes me that such a "game playing" is NOT as "common" as you're assuming, and is in fact something which is causing the very misunderstandings which come up so much in sex.

In short - unless you are a regular partner of the woman in question and this is a game you've worked out, assuming she's playing hard to get is a dick move.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:24 AM on October 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


Quite frankly, when Savage recommends thrice weekly bowjobs with a fucking smile then GGG has gone from 'useful rubric' to 'rape culture' because that is a boatload of entitlement to a woman's body with an expectation of emotional engagement.

This essay made my whole day shit, but I am glad I read it. Not so glad reading Anonymisc's dissection of someone else's relationship from one person's POV. Christ almighty, how many links can be broken in that chain of information? For fuck's sake, reliability of information requires two points at least.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:10 AM on October 7, 2014 [9 favorites]


Wow, that Ellen woman's essay is truly a pile of shit. I'm not sure how she could be more wrong or express that wrongness more poorly.

anonymisc, I'm not sure I understand the force of your objection. Are you really saying that the majority of objections to enthusiastic consent are from men who are just trying to protect the interests of their female sex partners? If not the majority of objections, what percentage would you say? Because I'm guessing that regardless of how many women like to feel overwhelmed or whatever, the percentage of male objections of enthusiastic consent based on this is in the low single digits.
posted by OmieWise at 6:42 AM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


emptythought, you're not alone. I noticed that element of "how dare these harpies get recognition without shoveling hard in the trenches like i did!," too. I'm glad that you were able to coalesce your anger into words, because every time I try, I keep dissolving into gibbering rage noise. So thank you for that.
posted by bakerina at 8:01 AM on October 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm not seeing too many people discussing the "alt lit" side of this, probably because it's a bit of a small niche scene, but I have to say, its implosion and unraveling awfulness doesn't surprise me in the least. I was interested in it during its inception - maybe even wanting to be a part of it - but it became weird and embarrassing and I got off the train around 2011. I'm glad the entire thing is finally in its death throes. As I posted on twitter: "maybe narcissism, drugs, nyc, faux-sensitivity & odd cults of personality are not so great things for a literary movement after all". There were some interesting stylistic ideas, but ultimately: spoiled, narcissistic 20-somethings living in Brooklyn who really weren't saying anything worthwhile or meaningful, or upending the status quo to provide any real kind of "alternative" to the dominant literary establishment. And yes, the gender politics were fraught. There was an unsettling number of insecure male egos faking a "bruised sensitive genius" persona and preying on whichever young women looked up to them. (We're seeing now how great that's turned out to be.) This is what experimental, challenging literature is supposed to be about? Really?

This commenter on htmlgiant nails it:

Postmodernism has nothing to do with it. Tao Lin does. HTMLGIANT hitched itself to the alt lit wagon. Commenters as far back as 2010 warned that alt lit was a juvenile fad that wouldn't last, but they were called get off my lawn types. They warned that alt lit's nihilism would be its eventual downfall, and they were dismissed as haters. I remember one commenter on here saying something like, "I can't wait until alt lit buries the old guard," whatever that means. How'd that work out?

Lin's last book wasn't as successful as expected. Now dude's facing rape charges. STD, Trull, Smith, were all exposed as sexual abusers too.

I'm not shocked that this nihilistic scene is dealing with numerous rape charges. I was never fooled by the lovey-dovey, effeminate, boyish masculinity of its male members that attempted to mask predatory behavior.

If you're a younger writer under the age of 25, I'd advise you to steer clear of scenes or cliques. Bury your head in books while the cool kids fry their brains on prescription drugs and write shitty poetry that would make Jim Morrison blush. You'll win in the end.

posted by naju at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm grateful to Mallory Ortberg for writing this. I hadn't read the prompt for this piece, but I'm glad I read her response first. I was repeatedly, and prolongedly sexually assaulted by an older child when I was child. Reading Ellen's chilling and incoherent account of being on the other end of an experience like mine has left me feeling unhinged- it answers questions I dread asking (and have asked myself over and over and over). This essay and the many compassionately incensed responses here and on the toast have quite literally calmed me, and made me take a brief break from questioning the validity and realness of my trauma for the first time. EVER. Thank you.
posted by Lisitasan at 9:10 AM on October 7, 2014 [20 favorites]


geek anachronism: Quite frankly, when Savage recommends thrice weekly bowjobs with a fucking smile then GGG has gone from 'useful rubric' to 'rape culture' because that is a boatload of entitlement to a woman's body with an expectation of emotional engagement.

You have a source for 'thrice weekly bowjobs'? That seems hyperbolic.
posted by TypographicalError at 12:18 PM on October 7, 2014


That seems hyperbolic.

why by all means let's pick apart the exact wording of what someone said and totally miss the larger point the way we always do
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:20 PM on October 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


naju: I'm not seeing too many people discussing the "alt lit" side of this, probably because it's a bit of a small niche scene, but I have to say, its implosion and unraveling awfulness doesn't surprise me in the least.

I thought about it, but i hadn't figured out exactly how to say what i was going to say without sounding like a pompous asshole or something.

Basically, i've watched this whole thing since pretty much the beginning. An ex, who i'm still pretty good friends with, is totally ~internet famous~. She has been across a bunch of different eras of internet social networking and parlayed it into being tumblr famous, and then getting in to the alt lit scene. She's both a good writer, and just really good at self promotion and building a "cult of personality" as you said.

As i saw the whole thing sort of coalesce, i realized it was all forming up around well... a bunch of in my opinion, totally dumb cocky dudes who were performing the character of as you said, the "bruised sensitive genius" while also trying to act like that old hollywood star there was just an FPP about where it's like "yea, i'm popular, but i live in the shittiest tiny apartment and only own two changes of clothes because i'm ~minimal~ and just refuse to engage entirely with anything resembling normalcy or success".

Like, the entire community supports me and i could charge even pocket change for readings and such while i do a national tour, but instead i'm going to only sleep on floors in a stinky sleeping bag and eat canned food like i'm riding the rails the entire time.

Even the guys involved who seemed like overall decent people seemed to just be saying what they knew everyone wanted to hear whenever they made a public post/statement, even about this whole blowup. Every fucking male "figurehead" of the community just feels so fucking fake. Like, Andrew W.K. levels of fake and beyond.

Another thing i noticed is that other than her, there really aren't very many women involved in the whole thing once you get to the "everybody in the scene recognizes them" level. I mean there's a few, but i wouldn't say it's like half at all. It was like "oh yea there's a couple well known ones and they constantly get criticized in ways the men don't". It's also a total fucking honkeyfest.

And i mean, as a musician, i could say this sort of thing about scenes and subgenres i've really gotten into... but they weren't selling themselves as some progressive righteous movement that was going to topple the old guard.

I never feel wrong when i hold something that specifically sells itself as being better than the standard to well, a higher standard. And it's gotten me called a party pooper or a hypocrite or many worse things over and over. But really, how is a bunch of dudes pretending to be some tender brilliant creative mind and then preying on women any different than any other shitty arts scene for 20somethings since cave paintings began? I swear to god, that shit probably predates the wheel and came around some time during tool use. I bet higher primates do it too.


I've also completely lost the ability to count the number of scenes i've heard of, or even personally witnessed imploding like this over these exact kinds of issues. Even tiny scenes, where it all centered around a big local artists collective in a specific space or something. Everyone rubs their genitals fervently and exclaims how they're so different and so much more socially advanced than all the shitty buttheads who came before them who weren't inclusive and did shitty things and whatever, and then when the entire thing burns to the ground it was just a bunch of guys creeping on women and a curious lack of inclusion. I'm shocked, i tell you, shocked.

TypographicalError: You have a source for 'thrice weekly bowjobs'? That seems hyperbolic.

I'm not going to spend 20 minutes googling like, ""oral" site:thestranger.com" and stuff at work on my lunch break, but i absolutely remember reading him state this idea many times. I live in seattle and i basically always read the stranger, which includes his often shitty column.

And yea, EC made a good point, but i figured i might as well address this since people constantly seem to want to go "he isn't THAT bad, he wouldn't REALLY say stuff like XYZ thing" for some damn reason.

I have, permanently burned in to my brain, one of the shittiest responses he ever gave anyone: "oral comes standard, any model not so equipped should be returned to the dealership for a full refund".

The exact sequence of words might not be 1:1, but the bits about it being standard and refund were all there. I also very clearly remember statements the the effect of "If sex is happening multiple times a week, as it should be, then oral should be happening multiple times a week as well".

If you've read his column at all for more than a few issues, this shouldn't seem like hyperbolic stuff at all.
posted by emptythought at 1:27 PM on October 7, 2014 [11 favorites]


Personally, I think GGG should also include "hey, you tried it and you're really not into it but don't hate it so maybe once in a while you'll do it to make your partner extra-happy, but they're not going to push you on the topic because you really did try it out." Because 'giving' shouldn't just be what you want your partner to do, but also what you want them to *not* do.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:02 PM on October 7, 2014


let's not turn this in to another fucking thread about him, jesus. i regret replying to that now and by the time i wished i hadn't i was outside the edit window.
posted by emptythought at 3:37 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


[yeah, this isn't a thread about Dan Savage, please drop the derail]
posted by mathowie at 3:42 PM on October 7, 2014


What about the mentions upthread of people initiating compromise BJs to get out of having sex? Is there anything from the perspective of someone outside the person’s head that should have flagged those acts as problematic, passive consent rather than signs of active consent by someone who was not having fun but had nonetheless made a pragmatic, legitimate choice to sex their way out of social awkwardness?

Easy. There is no fucking pragmatic, legitimate choice to sex your way out of social awkwardness, because there should be no fucking social awkwardness when you choose not to have sex with someone. Except there is - and because there is, that's where you need active, enthusiastic consent as a standard. "Yes I want to do this THIS RIGHT NOW YES" or fucking nothing.

I am so tired of men who have learned that if they just wear us down, it's okay.
posted by corb at 4:09 PM on October 7, 2014 [12 favorites]


And here's the shitty thing about trying to lower the amount of violation - it's doesn't fucking work. I offered every goddamn thing under the sun apart from vaginal and anal sex and guess fucking what? Rapists rape. I didn't offer out of pragmatism or legitimacy to get out of 'social awkwardness' - I offered it out of fear because at least oral isn't gonna get me pregnant and the STDs are easier to deal with.

And can I just say I'm sick to death of 'but how is someone supposed to know?' - "please stop I'll go down on you but I don't want to fuck" is pretty fucking clearly not a "please stick your cock in my mouth". Capitulation to pressure means explicitly you are putting pressure on. Which means, regardless of anything else, you are being coercive. It's a fairly straight line here.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:25 PM on October 7, 2014 [15 favorites]


I should add that I was pressured into oral sex, twice, when I was a teenager and didn't know better. In both cases, by people who had "kindly" offered to let me stay at their houses.

For those who say that allowing someone to stay is an implicit social contract for sex, then I'd ask - why bother keeping it implicit? Why not make it explicit? Oh yeah, because the men in question know that if they made it explicit, they would never get the girl or woman into their clutches in the first place. She would say no and never come. So they wait until she's there and then spring these "implicit social contracts." And fuck that noise so damn hard.
posted by corb at 4:34 PM on October 7, 2014 [25 favorites]


I believe that these women, these people, have a finely tuned sense for their safety, that when a woman reports having "a feeling that it would turn into an ordeal if I rejected him," she is not crazy and she knows what she is talking about.

This. A million times.

Some time after our break-up, dealing with the effects of PTSD, I had a conversation with my ex/rapist about the abuse and asked what would it have took for him to stop sexually assaulting me. He said: "I don't know." It was clear he never understood what saying "I don't want to"/"I don't feel like it"/"Stop." meant or what trying to keep him from taking my clothes off meant or even what trying to push him away meant. Or, I should say, he never felt it necessary to listen. And after that conversation, it further confirmed the fact that my instinct to try and not make things worse for myself than I needed to was a good one.

One thing that struck me about the article from Sophie Katz was that she is young. The article lists her birth year as 1994, so that means she was no older than 20 when this happened.

All the same, Katz' piece describes a woman repeatedly putting herself in dangerous situations with a stranger who is paying for the shelter, food and drugs that she is freely imbibing in. There is perhaps an implicit cultural exchange that he believed had been agreed to, and she did not.

Not to deride Katz in the least but, at 20 years old, this is a young woman, and, quite possibly, a naive young woman. Myself, I barely had my head on straight when I was 20 years old and, in retrospect, was rather cavalier about "dangerous situations with strangers." I thought those stories about "stranger danger" and "all kinds of scary people are on the internet" were like the grown-up version of the boogeyman for women in their late teens/early 20s. No one I knew had ever had an experience of being sexually assaulted by someone. And all the strangers I met on the internet seemed really nice and normal... at first.

And even though I had just about all the background details you should have when hanging out with someone from the internet, you can't protect yourself from things you don't yet understand. Some of my first sexual experiences with a man were actually forceful and coercive, and yet, because he paid attention to me and complimented me all the time and I was so infatuated with him (and wrongly assumed he felt the same way), I had no idea that this was something you absolutely shouldn't expect from someone who cares about you. (And the man I dated sometime after, mentioned above, seemed to really take advantage of that naivety.)

And the man in her story -- by some cursory clicking, he must have been in his mid- to late-twenties at the time. This was not some accident that he found some young aspiring writer and *whoops* raped her repeatedly after generously inviting her to spend a week at his place in New York and do writer-ly things. His behavior is predatory. Who better to take advantage of than an adventurous, carefree young girl who doesn't yet know any better that, with some men, generous hospitality should be assumed to be a quid-pro-quo arrangement?

Excerpts from the piece by Elizabeth Ellen sickened and angered me. I, too, am shocked that someone who sexually abused other children as a child felt their behavior was acceptable enough to write about publicly, thinking that it must be clear that "it doesn't count" as actual molestation. However, it seems that sexual abusers are not the most self-aware sort. It is like there is some kind of wall that they put up between the reality of what happened and their memories of the event. To Elizabeth Ellen, she is not a molester because she was a a child herself, it was so long ago, she had to hang out in the pool afterward and felt really sorry for herself. To my ex, he is not a rapist because he "tried to give me everything", because "we went out for dinners all the time" (yes, those are direct quotes), because sometimes we had consensual sex. And so a person may rape, but they are never "a rapist".
posted by sevenofspades at 4:37 PM on October 7, 2014 [12 favorites]


For those who say that allowing someone to stay is an implicit social contract for sex, then I'd ask - why bother keeping it implicit? Why not make it explicit? Oh yeah, because the men in question know that if they made it explicit, they would never get the girl or woman into their clutches in the first place. She would say no and never come. So they wait until she's there and then spring these "implicit social contracts." And fuck that noise so damn hard.

Yes. YES.

The first time I was sold this bullshit "implicit" bill of goods, it came from a friend, and it came under the guise of "come and stay, you can sleep on the couch!" It took me a few hours to understand what was going on, but by that point he had me isolated in an unfamiliar-to-me place, and I knew I wasn't remotely OK with what was happening, and he knew I knew, but he still wasn't stopping. I tried to refuse politely -- hey, turns out that socialized deference is definitely a thing! -- before moving on to offering him that good old "anything but," and I finally went limp and dissociative because he wouldn't quit pawing at me and ugh, now he was taking my clothes off and fuck, there was nowhere else I could go. It was like 3 AM by the time he dropped the "by 'on the couch,' I meant 'in my bed'" bomb, so by the time I could sneak into the bathroom to frantically call a bunch of people who might be able to help me navigate and get the fuck out of there, no one was awake to answer.

Finally I just laid very still and silent. I stopped trying to fight him off, I did, I just let the fight drain out of me because it was goddamn useless. Because at that point I felt bereft of options, and I was totally freaked out, but I knew what he wanted, and I just wanted him to get it over with. What the fuck else was I going to do, stumble my way out of his random-ass apartment building in the dark and start running? I'd known this guy for years and had even stayed with him before with zero incident, I couldn't have imagined he would do something like this. But I was also young enough to still be in the process of learning that according to my country's legislature and a startling number of individual men, my body would never be a place to which I could definitively refuse or even meaningfully limit others' access.

So you know how sometimes you have really intense memories and when you recall them, the most intense part of the memory is the most mundane? The most intense part of that memory is feeling the tears roll down my face as I stopped fighting and started crying and he just did it anyway. I remember imagining being so motionless and quiet that I could hear my tears hitting the pillow. I know that sounds like some super fucking emo bullshit but it's well over ten years later and man alive, I can still imagine that sound! And that? That's what informs my feelings on "implicit" obligations to sex and "active consent will ruin everything for all the women who really want to be ravished" and "how am I supposed to know when she doesn't really want it?!" Which is to say: Fuck that noise so damn hard.

It's been about a dozen years since that happened, and I've learned about a lot of stuff since then, as you do. I've learned that I need to keep cab fare or a credit card on my person at all times. I've learned that I can't go out to an unfamiliar place with nothing but quarters in my pocket just because I caught a wild hair when someone offered to get me out of dodge for free. And I've learned that sometimes a man feels so entitled to a woman's body, he's willing to do or say anything to push past her autonomous boundaries and resistance, no matter how or how many times she says no. I don't care how or why or what makes them do it, but I've learned enough to know this is the truth: "A man who wants to hear a Yes will find a way to drag it out of you."
posted by divined by radio at 5:31 PM on October 7, 2014 [20 favorites]


And, can I just point out, I have slept platonically in bed with men and women numerous times. Men who have even been attracted to me! Men who I have had sex with on other occasions! And they all managed to not rape me - amazing huh? No, it's because the 'implicit social contract' is a rapist's tool, not a societal one.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:35 PM on October 7, 2014 [21 favorites]


No, it's because the 'implicit social contract' is a rapist's tool, not a societal one.

Predators use all the tools available -- alcohol, isolation, and social expectations of politeness are all effective ways to get a person into a vulnerable position, and there's a reason they keep coming up in the essays and stories here.

"No means no" was (and remains) a vital reminder that a baseline expectation needs to be that a person saying "no" absolutely must be heard. But in the responses to Katz's essay and in a million campus rape investigations you can see the way that even such a basic human right can be inverted to serve the needs of predators -- if she didn't say "no" in the right ways, then she didn't really say "no," and therefore it's not rape, right?

Which is why "no means no" is the baseline, but active consent needs to be what defines rape. If a person isn't actively consenting, they aren't consenting, and anyone who pushes past that is doing something wrong.

It was like 3 AM by the time he dropped the "by 'on the couch,' I meant 'in my bed'" bomb

A while back I offered my couch to someone and from the look on their face it was obvious that they assumed it was a prelude to exactly that. It was a good reminder of how the damage caused by gross people spreads out incredibly far and how it takes a lot more than just not being gross yourself to be rid of it.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:49 AM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Corb: "There is no fucking pragmatic, legitimate choice to sex your way out of social awkwardness, because there should be no fucking social awkwardness when you choose not to have sex with someone."

The hardest part for me is admitting that I may have been culpable in such situations. Even as I type this, I'm trying to make excuses, but the reality is that there are a few situations I can point to where the lines may be fuzzy. And this with long-term partners.

Couple that lack of an immediate feedback loop with a general cultural desire for punishment rather than rehabilitation, and, yeah, there very little incentive for a "mea culpa", and a lot of incentive for "she didn't say 'no', so I didn't do anything wrong. (right? right?)"

And then I try to type "hi, I'm straw, and I've likely been a rapist", and think "Isn't that trivializing 'real' rape? Violent rape?" and all sorts of other lame justifications.

So, yes: This is why we need a radical redefinition of consent. This is why edge-case lawyering about retracted consent is bullshit. But this is also why we need to allow for confession and forgiveness and other things that let us do radical self-examination rather than trying to mask our culpabilities with rationalizations.
posted by straw at 9:33 AM on October 8, 2014


there very little incentive for a "mea culpa", and a lot of incentive for "she didn't say 'no', so I didn't do anything wrong.

The first step starts with admitting it to yourself.

Look, the more I learned about certain pockets of culture - especially the "good girls don't want it, they make token resistance, it is your job to overcome it" mentality - the more I realized that at least with some types of rape, it's possible for it to happen without the man even knowing he is a rapist. That means that these guys may not be monsters - they're doing what they think they're supposed to be doing, by the lights and in the culture they are raised.

But that culture is killing us, and we're asking you to stop and think and reevaluate that, and consider the harm it is doing to us. Because even if you just admit it to yourself and change your ways, that is (albeit sadly) a huge fucking step and one I for one would celebrate.
posted by corb at 1:57 PM on October 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Just to be absolutely clear, corb, we're in violent agreement.
posted by straw at 3:11 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


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