The gray area between sex and rape

By Alexis Book

Opinion Editor

Over a year ago, the Student Programming Board presented “Zero Shades of Gray,” a lecture on the importance of consent, to a packed Montante Cultural Center. Students were encouraged to wear white or black in a symbolic gesture, supporting the notion that there is “no gray” in sex and consent. But the entire time I was in attendance, I couldn’t help but think that they had gotten it wrong.

In fact, I believe there is a dark and hazy gray area that lies between the definition of “rape” and what is ultimately perceived as “consensual sex.” Something that nobody really talks about but almost everyone goes through: non-immediate consent. Consent that has been given after an initial thought or said rejection. Since there is no actual definition for my made-up terminology, let me paint a picture for you.

A man and a woman come home from the bar, laughing and having a good time. There’s definitely chemistry between the two, but the woman doesn’t really want to have sex tonight. After some kissing and flirtatious conversation, the guy makes a move. In an effort to nicely reject him without coming across too blunt, the girl playfully whines, “no, let’s just snuggle instead.” The guy, without any malicious intent, moves forward anyways and continues kissing her. The girl tries to readjust her body to move away from him, switching the topic to a different conversation . But once again he ignores her body language, writing it off as her being a tease or just needing to get in the mood first. Finally, out of coercion, passivity, or simply because she runs out of ways to avoid it, she obliges.

Even when our answer is yes, is it consent if instead of enjoying the process, we count the seconds until it’s over?

All too often, women find themselves caught in this gray area. When there was no fight or force. When nobody explicitly said “no” or demanded that they stop, but their initial rejection is met by coercion or manipulation. It’s when our hanging heads subtly shake “no,” or our eyes divert your gaze – when we playfully try to change the topic or laugh off a man’s advances, but are met only to further pressure.

“Don’t kill the mood.”

“Come on, what’s one kiss?”

“Don’t you trust me?”

Even when our answer is yes, is it consent if we only said yes the third time they asked?

I can vividly remember every time my rejection has been met with puppy dog eyes or a frustrated sigh. I bet most women can. These are rarely strangers we meet at the bars taking things too far, or creepy guys at the party shoving their pelvises into our thighs. It’s the one guy friend we have who we really love as a person, but have no romantic interest in, and we’re trying to nicely let him down. It’s the hook-up that we like engaging in certain sexual relations with, but never wanted to have sex with. It’s the boyfriend, or husband, who we feel horribly for saying no to because they shame us for our decision.

So, eventually, we give in. We stop saying no because it’s easier to say yes. We give in because we are socialized to believe that being curt and assertive and demanding our wants be respected is “bitchy.” We are taught that our bodies are worthless and disposable, meant for someone else’s pleasure and not our own.

So we lay down and take it, or we let him kiss us or dangle his arm over our shoulders for the rest of the night. We think of distractions and politely smile along and wait for our bodies to be returned to us. We don’t lay emotionless because women don’t enjoy sex, or because we’re lazy and absent-minded, or just because that person was “bad” in bed. We do it because if our choice actually mattered, and our voice was met without rebuttal, we would have said no.

But we didn’t.

Even when our answer is yes, does it even matter if it’s our real, honest, enthusiastic consent?

I can’t help but wonder why any decent human being pressures another person to be penetrated in the first place. I don’t see the appeal in kissing, stroking, or thrusting into someone who doesn’t enthusiastically want to be there. We are not animals. We can sense body language and nonverbal cues, and we know when someone’s “no” is more than a playful or teasing temptation. So why is this a problem? Why is there a gray area in sex?

Some people might reduce this to women being cowardly, or not being independent or strong enough to enforce their stance or say no in the first place. I don’t think it’s cowardly so much as it is expected of us. We must be virginal but experienced, innocent but willing. Our “no” is just a “yes” that isn’t ready yet. Somehow we are always stuck in this loop of feeling pressure to say “yes,” but being slut-shamed when we say “yes” and actually mean it. The constant contradiction is painful and confusing for most women, and devalues sexual experiences for everyone involved.

Obviously, this isn’t always how sex plays out. I’d like to believe that more often than not, sex is a glorious activity shared between two (or more, no judgement) wholly consensual adults who thoroughly enjoy and want to be involved in the experience. But we need to acknowledge that it’s more than a problem of “rape” or “sex.” It’s more than just “no” or “yes.” It’s going to take more than just eliminating rape culture, it’s fundamentally altering our sex culture.

Is is right, morally or linguistically, to deem every beggar or manipulator a rapist? I’m as much of a left-wing progressive as it gets Canisius, but something about that doesn’t seem right to me.  There’s more to the problem than labels and prosecution. This is bigger than viral court cases and campus seminars. We have an intrinsic and deeply-rooted problem in our society, and it comes down to women being the undervalued sex.

I don’t think that there’s any easy solution to this problem, but I do think that the only way to find one is to start talking about it.

As American writer Nayyirah Waheed once said, “‘No’ might make them angry, but it will set you free. If no one has ever told you, your freedom is more important than their anger.”

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


© 2013 The Griffin. All rights reserved.
%d bloggers like this: