Sunday, January 29, 2006

Most Idaho Huckleberries are Sweet...

...but there appear to be rotten ones, as well. A local columnist and blogger, Dave Oliviera of the Idaho Spokesman-Review has stirred up some controversy in his questioning of what constitutes consent (and thus what makes rape rape). Russ Lipton takes up Oliviera's cause, and asks:
Is the offense a suggestion that women entice men into sex and then sometimes accuse them of rape or violence? That is a known sociological and legal phenomenon. I have a daughter; I am extremely sensitive to the possibility of her ever being raped or violently assaulted. I have sons (and friends with sons) who are stunned by the way that young women on campus nearly beg for sex. All? By no means. A surprising number? They say so.
I'd like to say that I'm going to say this for the last time, but I'm sure I'll be repeating it for the rest of my life: consent is needed for every sexual encounter.
During my freshman year of college, I met a guy at a dance who I seemed to hit it off with. We started hanging out, and would spend a lot of time sitting around talking. It turned out he had a budding romantic interest in me, but I was typically clueless, and would sometimes tell him about men I was seeing and some of the gorier details of my love life. When this potential suitor eventually got around to cluing me in on his romantic intentions, I did my best to let him down easy, and figured we would still hang out and be friendly with each other. Unfortunately for both of us, he wasn't ready to give up after the first rejection. He kept in with the lovey-dovey talk, and eventually it turned rather ugly. He would come by my dorm room for a visit, and get on the subject of why I wasn't dating him, and eventually move on to discussion of other men in my life. The juxtaposition made his point obvious: you're a slut, so you might as well sleep with me. It didn't take me long to wise up, and he was the first person I have told outright that I didn't want to speak to them again. Ever.

I had the good fortune of being fished out of the dating pool soon after, but this attitude toward women who are at all open with their sexuality is something other friends have run into during their dating misadventures. I've even had ex-boyfriends try to hit me up for sex when I had moved on another relationship. There seem to be many that figure a broken hymen is shorthand for consent, and it belies a scary view of female autonomy.

Even more frightening is the way it connects so easily to the virgin-fetishizing abstinence-only "education" (that is federally funded). I vomit a little in my mouth every time I hear someone encouraged to "save herself" for marriage. Oneself is more than their virginity, and it cannot be diminished by sex or any other act. Nothing gets used up or taken away by having romantic relationships or sexual relationships. At most, a healthy person can share themself emotionally and physically with another. Expecting anything more sets up a dynamic between people that necessarily facilitates rape, because consent is impossible when you're not empowered to give it.

Further in the blog conversation on the subject of what constitutes rape, Lipton says,
Of course, life goes on and the courts must act. Inevitably, they will (and do) reflect the vast societal confusion that accompanies a breakdown in social consensus.
My response:
Most rape is of the non-violent, date rape sort, and very difficult to prosecute in our legal system. A victim's reduced capacity to consent or a victim's prior sexual history does not mitigate the fact that sex without consent is rape. Perhaps in the bad old days, women weren't allowed control over consent once dinner was bought for them or a ring put on their finger, but I for one am glad to have seen the "breakdown" of that particular social consensus. Let's all do our best to obliterate it, instead of propping it up with slut-shaming and misogyny.

Note: The first iteration of this post wasn't accurate in the who-said-what department, so I've edited it to reflect my understanding of what's gone down. I actually caught wind of the whole conversation by way of a third IS-R columnist in the paper on Sunday, so I am coming in late to party. Thanks to Serephin of 43rd State Blues for the pointer.
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