Regret: please enjoy responsibly

So the other day, I was called a “rape apologist.” This doesn’t happen all that often (in fact, this may be the first time), and I do not believe that the person saying it was being especially intelligent, but it’s something that made me think.

The reason this came about was due to a debate about what it means to pressure someone into sex, and what pressure itself means. My views on this are pretty much uncomplicated: no means no, and coercion makes consent meaningless. Now, all of this was happening in the context of a conversation about a girlfriend who pressured her boyfriend into sex, and whether or not that means that the boyfriend was raped, etc.

I think it’s safe to admit that in the case of a boyfriend pressuring the girlfriend into sex, we have an easier time accepting that something terribly wrong is happening. And yes, there was also a side-debate about what it means to pressure someone, of any gender or orientation, if, say, the two of you have been together for a while and the conversation that happens goes along the lines of: “Hey Baby.” “Not tonight.” “Can I try and change your mind?” “Mmmm. Sure.”

That’s all very interesting, but what I was, and am, more interested in at the moment, is the whole idea of seduction. I’ve written about it before, but this new round of conversation made me want to revisit the subject. Because according to this particular round, I am not just a “rape apologist,” I am also a “rapist.”

I believe that theory is one thing. Theorizing from the safety of your couch is all good and well. But when theory is head-butted by lived experience, whether your own or someone else’s, strange things tend to happen. You don’t want to expand your theory, so you twist around the lived experience presented to you.

While I think it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that, “hey, pressuring someone into sex is rape and assault,” is it not also reasonable to suggest that seduction is a form of pressure?

Consider this scenario:

Him: “Go away. You’ll ruin my life.”

Me: “But don’t you really want me to?”

Him: *acts in a manner that suggests that he does, in fact, want me to*

So what just happened? Assault?

Let me know what you think. And I will tell you what I think.

Enthusiastic consent can be expressed in different ways, but I feel we rarely acknowledge that. I’m a pretty leftie sort of person, but I disdain the earnest leftie implication that sex should always be this really uncomplicated phenomenon, or that your feelings about a particular situation involving it should always boil down to either “good” or “bad,” or that enthusiasm cannot be at odds with other issues in your life.

That level of intimacy between people can and does get weird from time to time. I don’t think that admitting this invalidates anything when it comes to our understanding of rape, of assault, of coercion, or different power dynamics, and so on. I think admitting this is merely acknowledging the reality of sexual contact. It’s the reason for why sexual violence is an especially heinous act, why having your body stolen like that is a tad worse than having your iPod swiped or something.

But people do play games with one another as well. Without giving too much away about the man who fed me the “you’ll ruin my life” line, I think even those few lines of dialogue make the situation fairly obvious. It was a game. Because desire itself is not particularly linear. What was he feeling when he said the initial words? I don’t know. Probably a host of different emotions. But the minute I fed him a clever little retort, he grabbed me and kissed me. I wasn’t in his head at the time, but it looked like he was waiting for me to say something like that. Is he a victim? Please. I didn’t even get around to ruining his life.

Seduction implies regret. It is implied, that if nothing untoward is happening, you have no reason to seduce anyone. It is implied that you only need to seduce someone who is clearly hesitating. But that in itself can be complicated, depending on where you’re standing. I once had a guy tell me, “so, the seduction went as planned,” and I said, “what? I seduced you!” and he said, “oh, really, you think?” Not only we were in conflict with each other, but the conflict itself was part-game.

Was it a game of two equals? I don’t think so. I was vulnerable in ways he was not, at the time. I ended up with some regrets, which later went away, as I realized that he had come into my life for a reason (pun not intended, stop laughing). Was I a victim? Only of my own precarious emotional state.

But nevertheless, I still had a friend tell me that this particular dude in question was “no better than a rapist,” and this was not a throwaway line. My friend genuinely believed that I had been raped, on some level or another. When I questioned that belief, I was told that I was trying to save face. Needless to say, we didn’t speak to each other for quite some time, after that.

To me, sex is complicated. Sexual violence, on the other hand, is not, even when it doesn’t leave bruises (in this day and age, we must still argue that victims may not necessarily be visibly battered). I also believe in the very uncomplicated phenomenon of people being assholes to one another, pretty much most of the time. But a person who sleeps with you and treats you badly is not automatically a perpetrator of sexual violence.

Sometimes, sexual chemistry between people just happens. Other times, it takes a little work and persuasion. In both cases, the results can be disastrous. But the line between rape apologia and “it’s a hard-knock life” is not very fine at all.

Or so this evil rapist-slut believes, anyway.

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6 thoughts on “Regret: please enjoy responsibly

  1. This is fascinating. I’m reading about rape for my criminal law class right now, and I’m finding it more difficult and upsetting than I expected–and I haven’t even been a victim of sexual violence, assault, coercion, what have you. It’s a complicated, emotionally charged topic. There’s a new article out on the history of rape law reform in the United States that uses one of the pivotal cases, State v. Rusk, to illustrate how reforms happened. It touches upon the seduction/rape dichotomy or lack thereof, which is why I thought of it when reading your post. This link goes to the abstract, and on that page the “one-click download” button will take you to the pdf of the full article. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1546602

    It’s a fast read, much better than standard legal academic writing.

  2. As usual, you plumb the complexities of human intercourse with provocative elegance, Natalia. I’ll be sharing this. Thank you.

  3. @Natalia — ” … seduction is a form of pressure …”

    Seduction, whether it achieves its end or not, is a form of manipulation rather than a form of pressure. The difference is more than semantic.

    Seduction/manipulation is the means by which seducers/manipulators induce the ‘object’ to actually forget that he/she does not want to do what the seducer wants. Usually this is done by inducing the object to consciously or unconsciously identify with the seducer/manipulator.

    The point of pressure is to induce the ‘object’ to believe that he/she must choose between either (1) putting up with unwanted attention or physical discomfort or (2) doing whatever it is the seducer wants. Often this is done by convincing the ‘object’ that he/she does not have the power to endure further unwanted attention/discomfort.

    It works similarly in interrogation and in sales.

    Sorry to get all pedantic here, but I just read Natalia’s link to her January 2009 post about seduction and especially the final comments in July 2009 (including Natalia’s final response). Natalia’s final response in 7/2009 dispelled the myths about “seduction rape” that her final commenter was promoting.

  4. You’ve been seduced when: you think you shouldn’t want to but you do really want to so you do it anyway.

    You’ve been pressured when: you don’t really want to but you think you should want to so you do it anyway.

    So very different.

  5. That’s a very good way of putting it, but I think that seduction is also when you begin to find out that “hey, wait, I actually do want this,” wherein you didn’t before. Well, I guess that goes back to my idea of desire as not being linear.

    If that makes sense.

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