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Tag Archives: Consent matters

Guest Post: On Harassment, Conditioning, and Silencing

Big old trigger warning for sexual violence on this post. Seriously. [Also, a note from Tallulah – we’ll be being very careful on the comments with this one. Go easy.]

I could talk about the PE teacher in my town who was asked to resign due to his harassment of female students, who was then hired as a school bus driver for a rural route with both primary and high school students. I could talk about how, from the age of seven, I refused to wear skirts or dresses, and from the time I entered high school at 10 to when I moved at 16 I always wore bike shorts or CCC shorts under my dress, because he was not particularly subtle about the way he looked at us – and those bus steps are high. I could talk about how this was common knowledge and was never denied by any authority figure we ever raised it with, but rather we were just kind of brushed off. I could talk about how, sometimes, I was the last person on my bus in the afternoon and I was never quite sure if something bad would happen to me, even though for a long time I probably couldn’t have articulated what it was that I feared.

I could talk about how I spent ten years of my childhood believing it was perfectly normal and acceptable for a seven year old child to stop wearing her favourite clothes because a grown man she relies on to get to and from school from a relatively remote location gets a thrill from looking up her skirt.

I could talk about the art teacher at my high school who used to run his hands up and down our backs, right along the spot where your bra sits. Considering most of us were fairly new to wearing bras in the first place, this was a decidedly uncomfortable experience. I could talk about how he used to get just a little too close for comfort in the supply room. Nothing overt, nothing nameable – just enough to make you drag someone else along with you if you needed a fresh piece of paper or you ran out of ink. I could talk about how the odd comment or complaint that was made was completely handwaved, that we were told to be very careful about what we were saying, that we could get someone in a lot of trouble by “starting those kinds of rumours”, and did we really want to be responsible for that?

I could talk about the first time I was made to feel ashamed of my body, at twelve or thirteen, getting into a water fight with my stepfather and uncle in the height of summer. I could talk about my grandmother completely flipping out, talking about how disgusting it was, how grown men should be ashamed of the way they were behaving with a girl. I could talk about how she then spent the next few hours trying to convince me I was being somehow victimised, while I was mostly confused about what had taken place – it took me a long time to work it out. I could talk about the unvoiced but ever-present fear for months afterwards that my grandma would bring it up again, that she would bring it up in the wrong place or to the wrong people and that my uncle, a schoolteacher, would suffer for it.

I could talk about how that destroyed what had been a fantastic relationship with my uncle, and how, ten years later, he still won’t hug me at Christmas.

I could talk about being called a frigid bitch and a slut in the same breath in high school. I could talk about multiple instances of sitting in a big group of friends, hearing someone trying to get into someone else’s pants, starting off sweet enough but quickly descending into emotional manipulation and thinly veiled abuse. I could talk about the time I went off with someone willingly enough and being followed by someone I considered a friend, someone who would not leave no matter how many times I said “no”, who only went away when the person I was with said that he “didn’t feel like sharing”.

I could talk about the family friend who always made me feel a little bit off for no discernible reason. The one who if I was left alone in the room with him, I would always find an excuse to leave. The one time I expressed this, I was told I was being a drama queen, and that I needed to grow up and stop being so precious, that one day I was going to have to deal with people I didn’t like and I might as well get used to it. I could talk about how he never did anything untoward, never gave me any specific reason to feel unsafe – but years after I last saw him, when he was  found guilty of four historical sexual assault charges, one of rape and three of indecent assault on girls under twelve, I was, for reasons I still don’t entirely understand, completely unsurprised.

I could talk about my boyfriend justifying his rape of me with “you could have fought me off if you really wanted you, you slut”. I could talk about how, when I tried to tell people, I was told I was being a nasty, spiteful, vindictive bitch. I could talk about how selfish it was of me to say such things, that he’d overcome such a hard life and was going to go on and make something of himself, who the hell was I to try and stand in his way?

I could talk about how my response to being raped was to sleep with anyone and everyone because I rationalised that if I never said no, then no one could force me. I could talk about how I have been told time and time again, by people who should know better, that this is a sign that I wasn’t really raped at all.

I could talk about how, when I finally worked up the courage to make a formal complaint of sexual harassment against my boss, I was asked why I had let it continue for so long, and what I had done to make him think his behaviour would be welcomed.

I could talk about how when a much later boss got me completely wasted at my leaving party, to the point where I couldn’t walk, and fucked me in a back alley, he waited until I was sober the next morning to tell me that he had a pregnant wife, because he heard through the grapevine that I was very strict about not sleeping with married people or straight women, and he thought I should “learn my place” and realise that I’m “not such a high and mighty bitch with a moral high ground after all”.

I could talk about these things, but I very rarely do. Since I was seven years old, I have been told that my body is not my own, that my consent is not my own, that my feelings of discomfort are not my own. I have taught myself to suppress my gut instinct upon meeting people. I have been taught to smile, to be polite, to suck it up if I feel unsafe. When I complain, I have been told I’m being irrational, oversensitive, and selfish. The underlying message is, how dare I try and ascertain any kind of control over my own body?

I should talk about it. But I don’t actually know whether I can.

Cultural Studies

Trigger warning for sexual assault

Recently, a friend and I were having a conversation, and I used the words “rape culture”. And the conversation went like this:

“What’s rape culture?”

“Fuck. Um…well, it’s the idea that we live in a world where rape is a crime that many, many women, and some men, face, and that as a crime, it is often lessened, because it’s in the patriarchy’s interests to control women’s bodies, and to encourage male aggression. Ok, wait, that’s a really bad definition…”

“The patriarchy?”

“Lordy. Um…look, can I send you some links…?”

“Yeah, I guess, but I mean, why do you care so much? You’ve never been raped…”

I didn’t, but I wanted to explain to him that he had just perpetuated rape culture. First, the assumption that I’ve never been assaulted, because he would automatically know that. Because it would be my responsibility to share that information, or he’d just be able to tell, I guess. Second, the idea that violent crime only affects the victim.

When we talk about 1 in 5 women being assaulted, or whichever statistic you’d care to use about violent crime, we focus on the 1. We think about how many women we might know who have been raped. We think how lucky to not be one of those people. But what that means is that women constantly live in a space where there’s a fairly good statistical chance we’ll be Next. Where my friend can say to me “But I’ve seen you. You’re really good at keeping yourself safe”, and not think about whether it’s reasonable that I have to do that. Where I can be harassed by a group of men walking down the street on a Sunday night, and my first thought is not to fight back, but how quickly I’d have to run to get home safely. It’s using the threat of a violent crime to control women’s behaviour, and lessening the severity of the crime because it suits your purpose.

Rape culture is where a judge can tell a sexual assault victim:

“If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you,” Hatch said.

Hatch told the victim and the defendant that no one would be happy with the sentence she gave, but that finding an appropriate sentence was her duty.

“I hope you look at what you’ve been through and try to take something positive out of it,” Hatch said to the victim in court. “You learned a lesson about friendship and you learned a lesson about vulnerability.”

Hatch said that the victim was not to blame in the case, but that all women must be vigilant against becoming victims.

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change,” Hatch said that her mother used to say.

When you blame others. WHEN YOU FUCKING BLAME OTHERS? The “other” is TO BLAME. By the same token, I would never been assaulted if I just hadn’t let a dude slam his way into my house, or led him on with my sexy, sexy flannel pyjamas. What are women meant to do? How are we meant to learn about vulnerability? Never go to bars? Never leave our houses? Never, ever, see other people?

The US election, and the constant use of women’s bodies as political tools must have been wearying for some people, at best. And downright triggering for others. I am on the other side of the world, and I’d like to lock Todd Akin in a room with some victims and some heavy objects. Here’s a good rule of thumb. If you are using the word rape in a sentence, and it’s not to denounce a violent, horrific crime, then you need to take a good look at yourself.

I don’t know what we do to go about ending this. Call it out when we see it, make a fuss, slutwalk. But the thing about living in a culture of fear is that some days, you can’t get yourself out of the bathroom. And that’s OK. It’s a reasonable response. We all need to be pushing back against the Richard Mourdock’s of the world when we can, and we need allies.

So, if, like me, you’re finding the way US politicians seem comfortable talking about women problematic*, and because this has been something of a heavy post, here, have some of the queen.

* Problematic = TLG code for Really Fucked Up

Guest Post: Your sexism was my Saturday Night

A guest post from the brilliant Constance. (Link NSFW)

This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but have kept putting off because I haven’t been sure exactly what I want to say (or how to say it). I’m still not sure, but I’m realising that this might be one of those topics I will never be sure about, and my feelings and thoughts will always be a fluid jumble, absorbing and evolving the more I learn and talk about it.

I am a feminist who is committed to sex positivity. I am constantly thinking about, analysing and ultimately hoping to help dismantle the saturation of misogyny that hurts women, men and folk who don’t identify with either of those genders. I think the media is a huge perpetrator of misogyny by (both overtly and subtly) reinforcing gender norms, gender roles, aesthetic desirability etc. I am also really interested in sex (academically and, uh, in practice) to the point that I like to try my hand at things people may consider left of centre. Namely BDSM.

Every now and again the media churns out something so overtly sexist that people are forced to (briefly, for most) acknowledge that we haven’t really come as far as we think we have in terms of “women’s liberation”. Today the White Ribbon Campaign’s Facebook page showcased some shockers from the past and present. Like this one.

Obviously talking about oppressive images of women is central and relevant to a campaign which works to stop violence against women across the world. However, a few of the pictures that they showcased have multiple layers, especially for those aware of, or engaging in, BDSM.

Now, this is possibly going to get me in big trouble, but I can’t say I’m offended by these photos. I can even see how people would find them sexy. I’m obviously conscious that people who have no idea about BDSM (and the heavy emphasis the community places on consent and negotiation) will see these photos as oppressive and violent, and not as a portrayal of alternative sexual preferences. But the thing is – how do we know that they aren’t?

There’s no context around either of these images to suggest that this isn’t a portrayal of consensual sexual play. There’s also no context to suggest that it’s not problematic sexual violence either. But when we default to yelling “sexism!” at images of women in submissive sexual positions, I would argue that we are actually being oppressive ourselves.

I’m not saying that we should assume all images of sexual male dominance are harmless. I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t be discussing what exposure to these images without any dialogue about consent may mean. What I am saying is that we need to have that discussion, and we need to drop our assumptions.

At times (and depending on your internal head noise) it can be pretty shitty to be a female feminist who’s also a submissive to male dominant/s. I know dozens of women who are committed to ending violence against women and subverting oppressive gender roles, but who enjoy being a submissive, begging plaything to their male partners in the bedroom. And although all of these women are conscious that the second consent is negotiated these acts are not in any way violent, it can still be really confusing to want to dismantle the power men have over women everywhere…except the bedroom.

When our discourse around the portrayal of potentially consensual kink screams “oppression!”, it furthers the messages that female submissives get constantly. These messages range from “woah that’s a bit twisted” to “your sexual preferences are contributing to the rapes of millions of women and children across the world” (an actual sentence I’ve had thrown at me).

I am conscious that queer submissives are not in any way immune to sex shaming and internal conflict, but given that queer dominant/submissive relationships would be seen by many as subverting traditional gender roles and norms, and images of queer sexualities are sadly omitted from mainstream advertising, I am going to talk solely about women engaging in dominance and submission with men. I am deliberately not specifying cis women, as trans women are women and are not immune to feeling conflicted about acting out the very things they may be working to end in other spheres of their lives.

I would also like to state that by lamenting an issue some women have, I am not implying in any way that we don’t have privilege in many other interlinked and pervasive ways.

Sex positive feminists are of course aware that any sex involving consenting, informed and considerate parties is fine. And if the goal is to dismantle oppression and gender norms then these acts of submission to men are ultimately not reinforcing anything problematic because they are not manifestations of some deeper desire for the patriarchy to rule us all. The fantasies exist as play. And a lot of other BDSM is super subversive of gender roles.

But the thing is, when your kind of BDSM is actually a play on things that you see as problematic in other contexts, the sex positive mantra is not super effective or reassuring at times. Even if you know it’s right. And people taking images of things some people enjoy and labeling them as “sexist” is going to elicit a very exhausted sigh from pretty much every sex positive feminist sub everywhere.

I am not in any way arguing that images of male dominance should have a blanket classification as “fine” because they might be part of someone’s sexual preference. What I am arguing is that we can’t just assume that they’re not. Perhaps in a perfect world there would be a disclaimer in the fine print of the ad that says ‘this image is meant to represent consensual adult fantasy’. I think that would be great.

If advertising is adhering to normal censorship and age-appropriate regulations then why can’t alternative sexual preferences be portrayed? The only arguments against using kink in the same way we use vanilla sex to sell stuff are incredibly sex negative ones: “because it’s violent” (not if you establish consent either in the image or with a disclaimer as mentioned above. And while we’re fucking at it, why don’t we establish consent in vanilla images?), “because it’s vulgar” (define vulgar, and don’t tell me non kinky sex in advertisements doesn’t fit that bill at least half the time), “because it’s not everyone’s taste” (yeah well bikini clad ‘scientists’ selling me Tui beer isn’t my taste but I’m saturated with it), “because people might think that sort of stuff is okay to do without asking” (if you follow that line, then no sex should ever be portrayed anywhere in case someone tries it without asking).

Many things that fit on the BDSM continuum are fairly common. I was going to say “nowadays” but actually, none of it is new or more prevalent than it was 2000 years ago. And I bet you that even then, women who wanted their male partners to have power over them in the bedroom but not in any other way were just as fraught about it then as they are now.

I suppose what I’m saying here is that we get it. Any issue you have with female sexual submission to men has been thought about over and over by the submissive themselves. Why do I want this? What if there’s something wrong with me? Why does he want that? Does he respect me? What if this goes too far?

Chances are, if you’re into this sort of stuff and even vaguely aware of feminism, it’s been thought to death. And hopefully, fears and anxieties have been quashed by the knowledge that we can’t always explain why people are into things, and ultimately we wouldn’t be into them if it didn’t make them feel fucking amazing and strong and sexy and liberated. And that, as both sex positive feminists and members of the BDSM community, we think about consent and negotiation probably about a zillion more times a day than you do.

But no matter how staunch people are in owning and advocating their preferences, having messages that tell you something you may very well have done the other night is misogynistic, sexist and oppressive, just kind of makes people feel like shit. And really, people who are into BDSM get enough of that.

If a sexual image of two or more adults is ambiguous in its message and makes you feel uncomfortable, remember that anything conveying sexuality is going to have a multitude of layers.

Don’t assume that there’s no consent. Don’t assume that there’s not a bunch of people who do that for fun in your life that you may never ever know about. Don’t decide that you’re an expert on whether someone’s fantasy is harmful or not – they can decide for themselves.

Instead, have a discussion about it. I even have a mind blowing suggestion for you – you could do some research about something that you’re not personally into. That way, you can extricate yourself from the masses of uneducated sex-shaming voices that can get the fuck out of my bedroom.


Here, I’ve even got some further reading suggestions:

Come again?

I am a big believer in reform. I think given the right impetus, opportunity, and support, people can change. They can get better, improve, and come to regret things they’ve done. Naive and idealistic, maybe, but sometimes I am, darlings. I also think you can really dislike a person, but agree with something they say.

Which is why I was willing to give Hugo Schwyzer the benefit of the doubt when he wrote this piece. Because this is all very true.

It’s a key anti-feminist strategy, even if that isn’t the actual intent of the men doing it — it forces women to become conscious caretakers of their male peers by subduing their own frustration and anger.   It reminds young women that they should strive to avoid being one of those “angry feminists” who (literally) scares men off and drives them away….

This doesn’t mean that a “good man” is always in the wrong when he’s arguing with a woman.  It does mean that when men and women argue about gender justice, women are more likely to have insights that men have missed.  Here’s the basic axiom: power conceals itself from those who possess it. And the corollary is that privilege is revealed more clearly to those who don’t have it.  When a man and a woman are arguing about feminism – and the women involved happen to be feminists and the man happens to be an affluent white dude – the chances that he’s the one from whom the truth is more obscured is very high indeed.   That’s as true for me as it is for Tom Matlack.

So, when the furor at Feministe (one of my favourite feminist places) happened, I was a little nonplussed. Here was this guy, who seemed to get it. Sure, problematic relationships with his students – but who hasn’t done things they regret? We grow up, we move on. Oh. He tried to kill himself and his girlfriend? Huh. Well…he was an addict, we all do things…and…. I am increasingly on thin ice here. I can’t justify that, especially in the terms he describes it – he was trying to take care of her, she was broken, only he was strong enough to do what needed to be done. And you know what? Part of reform is admitting what you’ve done, and paying the consequences. He freely admits he hasn’t done that.

Oh. And then Clarisse shut down the comments? Well, while calling someone a sociopath – if you’re not a psychiatrist, and don’t actually know him – is dangerous, but yeah, that seems extreme.

But Feministe apologised, and all was well. Sort of. However, enter Jezebel, who will do whatever they can to increase pageviews, even if it’s posting a column basically suggesting we women are too wrapped up in the idea of consent.  At Jezebel, Mr Schwyzer has suggested this:

For a young man raised with the sense that his body – and especially his penis – is “disgusting”, a woman’s willingness to accept a facial is an intensely powerful source of affirmation. In my conversations with Glickman and Andelloux, I shared this anecdote. Both agreed that rather than seeing the facial as rooted in the impulse to denigrate, it might indeed be better to view it as longing for approval. Andelloux pointed out that in her experience, many women (often with good reason) have a difficult time believing that degradation isn’t at the root of straight men’s fascination with facials. In any case, humiliation and affirmation aren’t incompatible reactions to the same act; a feeling of indignity when your partner ejaculates on your face isn’t contingent on his intending to demean you.

And, yeah, OK, this is where I draw the line. Flavia has said it all better than me, but Hugo? remember back up there when you said that men should sometimes shut up and listen? It’s time for you to Shut Up. We’re not going to give you cookies for being an ally, not especially when you argue bullshit like this.

I should preface the rest of this paragraph with the disclaimer that some women don’t mind, or even enjoy, facials. For me, it’s entirely contextual on the person I am with, and the situation I am in. But the way they are usually (insert standard disclaimer here) portrayed in porn is inherently degrading. But don’t worry about that! According to the estimable Mr Schwyzer, that doesn’t matter! We women should suffer through a humiliating act because it might make a dude feel better about his cock? Look, I’m all for consenting adults being allowed to do whatever they want, but that? Is bullshit. And in fact, consent is barely mentioned in the piece. It’s much more about we women should “let” men do it, to save their precious egos. There’s lip service paid to the idea that “No one should be obligated to endure humiliation for the sake of someone else’s longing for validation.” Except that the entire rest of the piece makes that statement a lie.

And of course, “At the same time (as perhaps with anal sex), many people struggle to believe that receiving a facial is something a woman could enjoy.” This is something anyone involved with BDSM is familiar with – you can’t consent to being submissive, that’s unfeminist, and also, you like being hurt? What? Weird. To which, you know, shut up, I can’t be bothered with that conversation today.

But, seriously, feminist sites need to stop giving this guy airtime. He’s not a feminist. He wants to believe he is, maybe, as redemption, or just cos it’s a really good way to get chicks. Let him write what he writes at his own place, and people who care can have that conversation there. I’m not someone who believes men can’t be feminists – the kyriarchy hurts everyone, and men should  be a part of the conversation. But when a man consistently fails to take responsibility for his actions and his words, and actively promotes disrespecting women – then, yeah, nah, it’s time to STFU.

[Update: Garland Grey also has a great piece, with my favourite sentence this week: “But still, the memory of his sexism is reason enough for you to reevaluate your flimsy personal objections to this sex act, because if there is anything I know about Feminism, it’s that not nearly enough people are getting jizzed on and this is a crisis.”]

Just not with you, Sunshine

Cross posted

We all know the meme: she was wearing a short skirt, or flirting with lot of men, or showing lots of cleavage, so clearly, she was just out for sex, and she was asking for it.

Well, yes. Plenty of women do wear short skirts, or flirt with lots of guys, or show lots of cleavage, because they would like to have sex.

But here’s the crunch.

Just because a woman is wearing a short skirt, or flirting, or showing lots of cleavage, and clearly very interested in having sex with someone, doesn’t mean that she wants to have sex WITH YOU.

You may be middleaged and balding, you may have bad breath, you may be drunk as a skunk, and these might all be good reasons in that short-skirted, flirty, cleavage showing woman’s mind for her not to want to have sex WITH YOU, even if she wants sex in general.

You might be a glorious amalgam of Brad Pitt, Chow Yun Fat, Alan Rickman, James McAvoy and Will Smith, and for whatever reason, she might decide that she is not interested in having sex WITH YOU.

Even if a woman is deeply interested in having sex with someone, that someone may not be you. Sex may be exactly what she wants, just not with you, Sunshine. You still have to get consent.

End of story. Because really, there is nothing else to be said.

Mutatis mutandis for women having sex with men, or men having sex with men, or women having sex with women. Active, positive consent matters, every single time.