Got Consent?

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Content Warning:  Discussion of sexual abuse, sexual predators, and consent.

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As Harvey Weinstein’s case continues in New York, the main argument from his legal team is that every encounter brought up in the trial was actually consensual. He says that he can’t be charged with rape because in each and every case, the other party agreed to have sex or wanted to. How was HE to know that she didn’t actually want to have sex? This is the argument you hear in most rape cases that make it to trial.

As this trial was beginning, I was also finishing up the novel Horns by Joe Hill. This fictional story surrounds the case of a young woman who was sexually assaulted and murdered. Throughout the novel, you get to hear the exact thoughts of the abuser leading up to the moment of the young woman’s murder. Very dark stuff. As I read the story, however, I couldn’t help but notice a similarity between the thoughts of the murderer and the excuses we’ve heard throughout the investigation and prosecution of Harvey Weinstein and countless others.

As I thought about this fictional account and this very real criminal case, I started to wonder, do these abusers actually believe it? Do they genuinely think that they had consent in those encounters? It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it does help us understand where we need to put more effort in our prevention work with young people. Too often we hear excuses from abusers like “it seemed like they were enjoying it,” “they didn’t say no,” or “they didn’t try to stop me.” If we aren’t teaching young people (and old people too) that consent MUST be a verbal, enthusiastic, and informed “yes”, then we’re opening the door for abusers to use these excuses in their lives and in court.

Again, this is no excuse for their behavior, but it does open a window into our culture and what we need to do better. Part of overcoming our current rape culture is making it crystal clear to abusers, to communities, and to juries and judges that any sexual activity without explicit, informed, and enthusiastic consent is sexual abuse.

A look is not consent.
“…she turned and gave Lee a frowning look, one eyebrow raised in a way that seemed to ask a question–or offer an invitation. Follow me.” (Horns, p 349)

How someone is dressed is not consent.
“She had thought about what to put on before she came here, had thought about how she wanted to be seen.” (Lee’s perspective, Horns, p 296)

Your interpretation of what someone means when things are unclear is not consent.
“Lee…wondered for a moment if she could mean what he thought she meant by that. But of course she did, of course she knew exactly how he’d take it. A lot of what Merrin said had double meanings, one for public consumption and the other just for him. She’d been sending him messages for years.” (Horns, p 301)

Your imagination is not consent.
“She had lured him down to Boston, led him to imagine they would be alone together, and then answered the door in her sweatpants, looking like warmed-over shit, her roommate wandering around…He was sick of being jerked around…” (Horns, p 314)

Nothing is consent aside from a clear, sober yes, free from manipulation, coercion, or force. The sooner we make that clear, the sooner we’ll live in a world where abusers are held accountable for their actions instead of a world where we make excuses for the violence done to others.

#MeToo, Madigan

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Timothy Mapes Harassment Scandal (LINK)

Does the #MeToo movement still matter?  Haven’t we talked about this enough?  Surely everyone knows and understands how unacceptable sexual harassment in the workplace is by now!

If you’re like many Americans, you’ve heard these questions.  Maybe you’ve even asked them yourselves!  Harvey Weinstein is facing charges for sexual harassment and assault.  Al Franken was forced to resign!  There’s only one, not two, US presidents facing allegations of sexual assault (Bye Kevin Spacey!).  Surely this means we’ve made progress!

Well, if you’re wondering if the #MeToo movement is still relevant, just look at the news coming out of Illinois.  Timothy Mapes, ex-chief of staff to IL political powerhouse Mike Madigan, is out of a job after a sexual harassment scandal and all he has left to his name is a $130,000 buy-out and a $134,000 lifetime pension.  Hard luck for him but you’ve got to pay the piper, friend-o. In fact, if the charges are proven in court (and when has a case of sexual harassment against a powerful politician ever failed?!), he could face a hefty $5,000 maximum fine. Talk about consequences!

No one could look at this case and think that they could get away with similar behavior.  It’s nice to know we are finally starting to hold these powerful abusers accountable.

Oh wait…

 

 

Bachelorette Background

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Our American obsession with reality TV says a lot about us as a culture.  Some people love reality TV.  Some people love to judge those people.  But with a reality TV star sitting in the Oval Office, we can’t deny the fact that this is a deeply ingrained part of our ethos.

I would argue, as [an embarrassed] reality-TV lover, that we can learn a lot about our selves and our society by looking at the plot lines, characters, and attitudes created by the producers of these TV shows.  In fact, if you want to learn about how Americans feel about gender, sex and sexuality, and relationships, you couldn’t find a better education than you’d get by watching a few episodes of the Bachelor or Bachelorette on ABC.

For those of you who are unfamiliar (have you been living under a rock or do you just have more exciting lives than me?), the Bachelor franchise on ABC is a series of reality shows about a chosen Bachelor or Bachelorette (cis-gendered, almost always white, heterosexual man or woman) who dates anywhere from 25-30 people, slowly eliminating these potential suitors until they arrive at week 10 and propose to their one true love in what is always “the most dramatic season finale yet.”

This show has given us some gems as far as Gender and Sexuality 101 material.  Bachelors sleep with multiple women and no one bats an eye.  Bachelorettes have sexual relationships with multiple contestants and you hear the usual: slut, whore, skank, easy.  Put 25 fitness trainers in a house together in a competitive environment and you quickly see how our society fails to promote deep emotional intelligence in our boys and men. Homophobia (“no homo”), toxic masculinity, racism, and problematic gender norms run rampant.

This season, however, the Bachelorette production team has outdone themselves.  A cast member, currently on the show though clearly not a final contender, was convicted of indecent assault just prior to the show airing. (LINK TO STORY). Had the producers done any sort of due diligence with their contestant background checks, they could not have failed to uncover two-year-old allegations of sexual assault and harassment.  In a #MeToo world where we’re finally discussing sexual harassment and assault, would producers really not be thinking of this?

It’s unfortunately likely that these charges were uncovered and dismissed as “allegations” that don’t need to be taken seriously or valued as a potential source of drama.  Even if they were unaware, that shows a willful ignorance to not be protecting the contestant from suitors with aggressive or violent histories.

Our reality TV reflects us.  It reflects our culture and it reflects our values. Whether we want to admit it or not, TV shows what we want to see and what we see in ourselves.  If these producers can ignore a convicted sexual aggressor, what are we tolerating or ignoring in our every day lives?  How do we go through our daily lives ignoring the abusers around us?  Who do we tolerate because “it happened so long ago” or “it really wasn’t that bad” or “she just couldn’t take a joke”?  Who escapes the consequences of their actions because their a beloved entertainer or a leader in the community? Who will go unpunished because the victims are not important enough to our society?

It’s just a TV show. I know that. But it’s also a reflection of us.  It is a mirror held up to our culture and we can’t turn away any longer.  #MeToo