Does "No" Mean No?

Contains adult themes

Apropos this short discussion I had with pj at her blog, I thought I'd post something about the slogan "no means no!" In case you have been spending the last 30 years in a cave in the alps, living off rainwater and hand-killed rabbits and have now suddenly come across an internet connection, I should explain that this refers to rape, and date rape in particular. I have a problem with it. Let me explain.

There are two ways to interpret this slogan. The first is the obvious one, the second is the one probably intended by whoever coined the phrase:

1. Descriptive: No girl or woman who says "no" in a sexual situation ever means something else, such as "maybe" or "I'd like to, but I don't want to come across as a slut".

2. Prescriptive: If a girl or woman says "no" in a sexual situation, you had better behave as if that's what she meant; otherwise it's rape.

I believe point no. 1 is wrong. You don't even have to appeal to the "trust the stereotype" heuristic (cf. the post below) or engage in evopsych reasoning: People say funny stuff all of the time, and visceral and emotionally laden situations are unlikely to be an exception.

I believe point no. 2 is right. That's because there is a strong positive correlation between what a girl or woman says and what she means, and with respect to rape you certainly want to be on the safe side.

The problem I have with the slogan is that people may agree with me on point no. 1 and conclude that therefore point no. 2 is also invalid. That would be faulty reasoning, but people display faulty reasoning all of the time. Phrasing a prescription in descriptive terms is never a good idea.


pj said...

I think you're right here. In fact the point can be generalised further that what you really need to do is to get explicit or incontrovertible assent (which I believe is now the letter, but undoubtedly not the practice, of the law in the UK).

Previously being married to the rapist, or, essentially, having shown any interest at all in the perpetrator was taken as implicit consent, making acquaintance rape very difficult to prosecute - and leading to the sort of defence that trawls through the woman's past sexual partners to show that she's a 'slapper' and if she didn't consent he was still perfectly reasonable in assuming consent anyway, and even if she said 'no' she shouldn't have lead him on in the first place.

LemmusLemmus said...

"In fact the point can be generalised further that what you really need to do is to get explicit or incontrovertible assent"

I disagree. According to that logic, you'd have to ask

- May I kiss you?

- May I touch your shoulder?

- May I touch your breast?

- May I take your shirt off?

and so on and so forth. Communication in (potentially) sexual situations does not work like that, and it shouldn't. The best I can come up with as a rule is that it's not rape if assent can reasonably be assumed. That opens up all kinds of grey areas, but I can't think of anything better.

Of course, if a woman - or man, for that matter - says no, assent cannot be reasonably assumed.

pj said...

The problems with 'reasonably assumed' is that a large proportion of people (mainly men) apparently think that accepting a drink counts as consent, whatever is later said, which is why the law has been changed to put the onus on the man to be sure that consent was given.

Perhaps in an ideal world, where men are able to pick up on cues, it wouldn't be an issue - but unfortunately we don't live in that world.

In this post referring to male failure to understand indirect withdrawal of consent, this telling line is quoted:"I also find it hard to blame men for not correctly reading women’s indirect resistance; women are often expected to, in the very least, put on a halfhearted performance as the steadfast sexual gatekeeper — even if it’s clear that she ultimately intends to abandon her post for the night. Given that cultural script — first she resists, then she consents — how is it any surprise that a guy would misinterpret a woman’s subtle suggestions to slow down?"

LemmusLemmus said...

"Perhaps in an ideal world, where men are able to pick up on cues, it wouldn't be an issue"

This could be turned around to argue that women should be clearer - saying something like, "I don't want to go any further." Also, I don't think it's always a problem of miscommunication (as the quote suggests), but often a case of the man taking what he wants.

"The problems with 'reasonably assumed' is that a large proportion of people (mainly men) apparently think that accepting a drink counts as consent, whatever is later said"

Of course, accepting a drink should not count as a case in which consent to intercourse can be reasonably assumed.

Withdrawing consent should be possible at any time, including during intercourse.

J Thomas said...

If you are videotaping the encounter so that if necessary a court can later decide whether your assumptions were right or not, then you can go by reasonable assumption.

But if you don't have a videotape or even a witness, if it's he-said/she-said, if there's any possibility that a rape trial might result -- well, there is that possibility. If she chooses to she can accuse you of anything she wants and lie about what happened. She could do that.

There's a rule of thumb that can help a lot about this sort of thing. Don't ever have sex with anybody who's crazier than you are.

It isn't perfect, but it's a start. And if a woman is feigning reluctance, you can be all blase and back off some, it can be just as much fun to get her to beg as to get her to pretend you're overcoming her resistance.

If it seems too clumsy getting unequivocal assent at each step of the way, make sure you get it before each new form of penetration. Women will usually forgive a lot if you back off at those points.

Blunt: If you take a woman's shirt off and it later turns out there's some disagreement about just how much she agreed to it, she will probably not have you arrested. But get her explicit agreement before inserting *anything* into *any* of her orifices. And her explicit agreement will not help if she's a person whose memories change a lot. In that case you had better have videotaped the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

J Thomas,

You are right, a woman CAN say anything, but *so can the man*....

What are you trying to say?
People lie. Not just women.

Thousands of women tell the British Crime Survey that they have been raped, sometimes repeatedly but most of them have never gone and told the police because they won't be believed because "women can say anything".

Obviously being *falsely* accused is horrendous.

If you make a rape allegation, you have to be examined, you get told you are a slut, the police question you like a suspect, your friends abandon you, the defendent's friends villainise you and you can't go out of the house without people judging you....annonymity doesn't work because of course the defendent will tell his friends....clearly this is a walk in the park and not your life ruined like an allegation?

We will often never know what really happened in any given case.

However I have been raped by a stranger, while minding my own business, no "provocation", I hadn't even spoken to him, once he started I shouted "no" clearly and loudly, repeatedly. I even had witnesses there to corroborate my story. There was DNA.

My rapist even plead **guilty** to the crime of raping me and trying to rape 4 other women and grinned the whole way through the sentencing.

The perfect rape accusation really, you would think.

I was still judged on my past sexual history and the defence still pointed out that I had large breasts as if this somehow excused the man. I was still interrogated by the police, as if I was a liar.

He got 4 years in prison of which he served half because

"he wasn't very experienced with women and didn't understand that by crying and screaming and swearing and biting and kicking, I *really* meant "no"

Having experienced this I just don't believe this story that the criminal justice system is somehow weighted towards the complainant...

He confessed, showed no remorse and probably will do it again and what did he get-2 years.

What did I get? Years of pain and trauma and an inability to lead a normal life.

J Thomas said...

> J Thomas,

> What are you trying to say?

I am giving seduction advice to Lemuel and, by implication, to other men who might want to have mutually enjoyable sex with women who are interested in them.

I don't have advice for rapists. And I unfortunately don't have advice that's guaranteed to keep you from being raped. This is something that's hard to get good statistics on, but it's been claimed that in the USA something like 1/3 of the women get raped at some point, and something like 1% of the men do it. Neither percentage is at all reliable. It wouldn't bother me to kill off that 1% of the men if we could reliably find out who they were.

My advice to men in summary is:

1. Never have sex with somebody who is crazier than you are.

2. Get explicit consent at key ooints.

3. If you have any doubt about consent, stop. However, it can't hurt to make a video of the whole thing unless for some reason that's too inconvenient.

LemmusLemmus said...

Maybe we can agree that all of the following happen:

a) Rape

b) Unacceptable treatment of rape victims by the criminal justice system and parts of the public

c) False accusations of rape

Estimates of rape prevalence using victimization surveys depend very heavily on how the question is asked.

As for seduction advice, I'm always happy to listen to it, but in the case of taping sex, I think not. In the absence of consent by both parties it would be immoral and I wonder whether it would not be illegal. And anyway, not my kind of thing.

J Thomas said...

If you feel that recording your experience is immoral or illegal that would certainly count as inconvenient. Don't do it, or as a novelty you might try getting permission first and savor the awkwardness.

I find that the first suggestion is the most important. You will save yourself no end of trouble if you avoid having sex with crazy people.