Consent is about helping, respecting and empowering people. Gender shouldn’t be part of the equation.
There are new videos going viral about consent, involving happy animated genitals, a butt, and even a hand. These dancing, giggling, and inexplicably mascara wearing sexy parts were even featured on Huffington Post. Their inspiring message? “If it’s not yes, it’s no!” Which is great.
But these videos seriously miss the mark. Here’s why:
All of the potentially-raping, non-consensual touching appendages portrayed are male. And all of the violated appendages are female. All of them.
Let’s break this down:
It implies that only men can rape or sexually assault, and only women can be raped or sexually assaulted (and only by men).
This is based on a few things. The tradition definition of rape held that only women could be raped, and only by men. Mary Koss, a feminist researcher whose work has been very important to our societal understanding of rape today, relied on this definition of rape to exclude male victims who are forced to penetrate. In other words, she stuck with the patriarchal definition of rape to exclude male victims of women (or other men) who are forced to penetrate. These men had ‘unwanted contact’, according to Koss; they didn’t suffer sexual assault or rape.
Some will say that if a man’s aroused then it can’t be rape because he wants it, and the definition of rape is sexual contact when someone doesn’t want it. However, if we switch the genders, we see how absurd that is: “if a woman’s aroused, she wants it” is obviously no justification for non-consensual sex. Why should it be for men, then?
Essentially, this view of masculinity removes agency from men’s sexuality. This is based on a toxic view of masculinity—a toxicity that is not inherent in men, but forced upon them—in which men must prove their worth through their virility. In which men aren’t men at all until or unless they engage in frequent sex, are always physically able to respond to sexy stimulus, are always ready to penetrate. If a man is a man because he is always ready and willing for sex, then he can’t be raped.
And if men can only be raped if they aren’t really men, aren’t strong, virile, potent men, then those who are forced to penetrate will be much less likely to come forward and report the assault against them. Koss stated that men experienced less shame at being assaulted than women, to justify this redefinition. But what if those men simply couldn’t communicate their shame, because even to do so, as a man, could be understood as shameful according to this toxic standard of manhood?
Implying that women can only be raped by men also excludes transgender victims and aggressors, as well as women who are victims of same-sex assault.
There’s a lot more to say about this topic. The basic message is that there are many people who suffer when consent is presented as a gendered issue: those with penises, those who fall outside rigid gender dichotomy, those who were assaulted by women. Are there any benefits?
Aren’t women raped more often than men?
A common argument here is that men commit sexual violence much more frequently than they are victims of it. That’s based on a few studies, one of which coincidentally by Koss, which used highly criticized methodology (and the exclusionary definition of rape above) to claim that men aren’t raped by women, and women are raped a whole heck of a lot by men (that’s one of the sources that gives us the famous 1/6 will be raped statistic). Other statistics, for example by the CDC, show that men make up as much as 38% of sexual assault victims when a more inclusionary definition of rape and different methodology is used.
So there are statistics for both ‘sides’ of this argument. The fact is that these statistics cannot capture the full extent of this issue. They are tools only, and frankly of limited use: anyone who has been assaulted can tell you that. This isn’t about statistics, or which gender has it worse: it’s about real human suffering, that affects all people. Men too. It doesn’t matter how often compared to women. It matters that it’s happening and it needs to stop. There shouldn’t be‘sides’ to this issue.
All people’s suffering is important and valid. This shouldn’t be about who is victimized more often. It should be about helping those who need it.
Acknowledging the struggles of others doesn’t diminish our own. Acknowledging that men can be forced to penetrate, by women, and that this is rape does not mean women who are raped are less worthy victims, or that they should be helped any less.
No one’s experience is any more or less important than another’s. We all deserve immense compassion and empathy, especially when we’re hurt. Gender shouldn’t enter into that equation at all.
These videos imply that women are the gatekeepers of sex.
This is a profoundly disempowering message for women, and men.
- Men are just horndogs whose desires are always legitimate, simple and straightforward, but women?
- Women are responsible for disconnecting from their desires to keep their butt cheeks clenched because… Why?
- Because women are pure innocent flowers that must protect themselves from the stain of sex, implying that female sexuality is somehow tainted?
Or worse, because women’s bodies are inherently sexualized and men must gain access to our sexy parts, by somehow circumventing the gatekeeper that is the human women who are inconveniently attached to these disembodied parts?
That’s a free ticket to Nopeville on the Big Old Nope express, as far as I’m concerned.
If women are the gatekeepers of sex, and men need sex in a straightforward way, the way that we all need food and water, then women are unnecessarily cruel when they don’t provide sex for men. This makes sex antagonistic.
And if women are the gatekeepers of sex, then their own desires and sexual autonomy aren’t important: what’s important is keeping that gate closed, until or unless a man says the magic word that ‘makes’ her open her legs. This makes sex a transaction. A transaction in which men must do whatever necessary to get what they need. A one-sided transaction in which what men have to offer is in exchange for sex with women… meaning that having sex with a man is somehow unpleasant, something that a person should be compensated for in some way.
This is false. Men are beautiful, and being sexually intimate with one is an incredible gift. Full stop.
So thanks anyways, ‘cheerful dancing vagina’, or as I like to think of you, ‘inexplicably mascara wearing vulva’. I’m not interested in a model of consent based on antagonistic relations between the genders. Consent isn’t a one-way street, and sex is never a transaction.
Sex is a gift that we give to each other, regardless of our gender. It must be given freely, and enthusiastically; which is the only thing that these videos got right.
Photo credit: Getty Images