Marianne of xojane. Gray-rape and HBO’s “Girls”
We talk about rape a lot on xoJane. And the rape we talk about is often pretty clear cut. But we also try to talk about the experiences that are more nebulous. Julieanne wrote about it, but most of us have experienced it, too. It’s more than just wishing you’d said no — it’s feeling like you were not able to. That inability might come from a variety of sources: not wanting to cause a scene, not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, not being conscious enough of what is happening.
Gray rape can be a problematic term — some people use it as a label for rape that they don’t consider “real” or “as bad as real” rape. That is totally bogus. I use the term here to mean the kind of encounter that people sometimes have where consent is not given but it is assumed; it’s a term used to describe “nonstandard” sexual assault and, in some ways, it is a weasel term to cover the conflict we feel about consent.
Because that is the kind of thing that happens all the time in our culture. Our rape culture. And it’s the kind of thing that leaves women (not just women) uncomfortable and unsure, both about their own experiences and when they are watching something like the scene between Adam and Natalia.
It seems like no one wants to call gray rape just plain rape because then it’s really serious. We’d have to talk about why it is so damn common for women to wind up in sexual situations they don’t really want to participate in but feel they cannot refuse. We’d much rather just call it bad sex and move on.
That’s one way that rape culture perpetuates itself. In rape culture, the default status for a woman’s consent is yes. When the assumed state of women is set to “receptive,” you wind up with these grey situations.
"She should have just said no," people say, placing the responsibility firmly on the woman involved — but why? Why is the responsibility on her to say no instead of on the initiating partner to secure a yes?
We tell people that no means no, that you shouldn’t have sex with someone who is protesting. This is a pretty effing low bar. There is, in fact, a world of difference between not saying no and actively saying yes.
That “saying” can be metaphorical, too — enthusiastic consent does not have to be the kind of explicit verbal consent demonstrated in Adam and Natalia’s first sexual encounter. A lot of long-term partners go with nonverbal cues and it can be pretty obvious even with new partners that everyone is engaged. I don’t think that’s a problem. The idea behind enthusiastic consent is, most simply, that you want someone who is an active and engaged participant, not simply someone who is willing to let you stick it in, dude.
Thank you, Jezebel, for introducing me to Retta’s (Donna on Parks & Rec) live reactions to TV shows. She is great.
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