I talk about rape a lot. Much more than I would like to. Not just with my feminist friends, at Queer Student Union meetings or while serving on the new Rape and Sexual Assault Task Force; it comes up a lot in general conversation. Unfortunately, writing for the Record means I can’t talk about my experience, my friends’ experiences or the various problematic statements and gut-wrenching confessions I’ve heard in conversation and in class. Believe me, I would love to address those issues, but most of them are protected by confidentiality agreements and I don’t want to turn this into a personal attack on anyone.
That being said, I’m going to start by bringing up the WSO post arguing that the “Get Consent” posters from the Rape and Sexual Assault Network (RASAN) are “anti-feminist” because they play into the binary of the male aggressor and the female victim. My opinion, along with that of other posters on WSO, is that RASAN did a good job of showing a sex-positive message that did not implicate any gender but encouraged both partners to own their sexuality.
The way I see it, consent isn’t just a sexual assault issue. It’s a having-the-sex-you-want-to-have issue, which is related but not the same. Like the t-shirts say, “Tonight is going to be a good night,” but that’s not just because both partners give consent; it’s because in giving consent, both partners can have an opportunity to say what, to them, is a good hookup. When sex blogger Dan Savage was here last year, he said the main difference between two guys hooking up and a guy and a gal hooking up was that the first thing guys ask each other is “What are you into?” The ensuing conversation leads not only to consent but also an opportunity to ask for the hookup you want.
I don’t think the LGBTQ community is free of sexual assault. But I do think Dan Savage and the RASAN campaigns are on to something. How are we going to start productively talking about the sexual encounters that have led to serious emotional trauma if we can’t even articulate what gives us pleasure? The biggest reason people are afraid to say exactly what they like is the fear that their partner may say “No,” which could cause awkwardness. I am not saying that asking for what you like means you’re entitled to it. But most likely, you’re not going to get exactly what you want unless you request it. Your other options are just going for it and assuming your partner will tell you if it’s not okay (which is problematic) or settling for little chance of getting what you want (which is sad). Personally, I would rather start talking about sex positivity and encouraging both partners to state their desires than sit through another conversation in which “getting consent” is gendered as an attack on horny men.
Which brings us back to feminism. Sexual assault is perceived as a gendered issue. Despite the fact that RASAN’s campaign says nothing specific about men, the posters are read that way. Viewed through a gendered lens, we think men need to get consent from women to avoid committing an assault. My feminist perspective takes that into account. In many instances, instead of actually doing something as basic as starting a discussion about what consent really means, we perpetuate a culture of silence that lets women continue to be assaulted because talking about it makes men uncomfortable. You know what’s uncomfortable? Getting raped. But acknowledging that most sexual assaults do fit the gendered script does not mean that all men are rapists. If I say some guy came up behind me at Goodrich and grabbed my crotch without asking, I’m not saying I think all men are capable of such actions. In fact, I think that most men, even when drunk, could at least approach me from the front so I know who is attempting to grab my crotch. I do not accept that anonymous groping is just the way it is and neither should anyone else. Oh, and yes, nonconsensual groping is sexual harassment. Especially if you’re targeting the drunkest people you can find and approaching the person in a way that provides no avenue to give consent. Don’t ask me, ask the deans’ office or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
As Williams students, we can do better. We can be comfortable enough with sex that we can approach someone before our blood alcohol content makes basic motor functions near impossible. We can choose partners who are enthusiastic about being with us – not just so we avoid sexual assault but because enthusiastic partners are more fun to play with. We’re some of the brightest students in the country, and we’re so scared of saying “I like it when you do _ with your _.” We settle for second-rate hookups. The cool thing is, by talking about what we do with our partners, we can have better sex and cut down on sexual assault. So if you take nothing else from this piece, remember this: The next time you try to bring someone home from Goodrich, just take two seconds to ask, “So, what are you into tonight?” Listen to the response, and if you’re on the same page, have a good night!
Rhianna Alyxander ’13 is a psychology and women’s, gender and sexuality studies double major from Windsor, Calif. She lives in Garfield.