„But women lie about rape, mostly,“ says a friend of mine.
„Not mostly,“ I say tactfully. „Just sometimes. Not very often, actually.“
„They lie about rape all the time! Afterwards, if they feel bad, or maybe they just want money from the man.“
„Erm no?“ I say.
„What about that man in France?“
„What man in France?“
„That man in France. A black woman said he raped her, then a judge said no, she lied, she’s a liar.“
„I don’t know the case you’re talking about.“
„The judge said: this woman is a liar.“
„In America, in a hotel.“
I don’t speak, just look at my friend, silently. Please, please, please don’t be talking about DSK, for fuck’s sake, I beg silently.
„A French politician, in an American hotel, with a black woman.“
„Dominique Strauss-Kahn?“ I say, wearily.
My friend grins triumphantly. „That’s it!“
„But no judge ever said she lied,“ I say. „He was found not guilty in the criminal court and he settled with her in the civil case. Nobody has ever said she was lying, ever. Well. Not any judges.“
This is the funny (and not funny-ha, ha) thing about rape and sexual assault: they’re both crimes which are often almost impossible to prove happened. Whatever takes place, takes place in a private room, between two people, often one man and one woman. After it has happened, there’s not much physical evidence you can use to prove that it was rape and not consensual sex – the vaginal damage caused by hard or even violent consensual sex is the same as the damage done by rape. So there will be many times when whatever has happened isn’t legally rape or even sexual assault, but it is still something, that, morally speaking at least, should not have happened.
For what it’s worth: I don’t think we will ever live in a world with no rape in it. I think the new consent laws in Sweden are a step in the right direction, but for all the sneering about contracts, they definitely don’t mean that rape can never happen. This case in the UK shows how „written consent“ can actually just be used to discredit a rape victim and basically function as a carte blanche for gang-rape. I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of rape. But I do think that things can get a lot better than they are right now.
Let’s talk about consent, baby. Everyone’s talking about consent at the moment, it’s the hot topic of the day. The words „enthusiastic consent“ are being bandied about a lot – words that make my stomach wrench with embarrassment. I can’t help it: I imagine a woman consenting enthusiastically to sex as being like a dog wanting a bone: slightly ridiculous. This is how deeply entrenched in me the idea of the man as seducer (actively pursuing sex) and the woman as seducee (passively receiving sex) is. When I read the Aziz Ansari text, I literally had three totally different reactions to it at the same time. A huge part of me was angry. A huge, very loud part of me thought „THIS IS NOTHING THIS IS LITERALLY NOTHING WHAT SHE IS DESCRIBING IS NOT JUST NORMAL IT JUST IS SEX THIS IS THE DEFINITION OF PIPPIFAX IF THAT IS SEXUAL ASSAULT THEN ALMOST EVERYTHING SEXUAL THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO ME IS ALSO SEXUAL ASSAULT COME ON THIS IS NORMAL THIS IS WHAT SEX IS IT’S A NEGOTIATION AND ALONG THE WAY YOU MIGHT GET AN ORGASM OUT OF IT“. And part of me was sadder and softer and just thinking: „This is sexual assault. She says no, she says slow down, she loves away, he doesn’t listen, he doesn’t care. And it is normal. It’s just normal. This is normal. This must’ve happened a thousand times, this must’ve happened a million times.“ And then part of me was just really, really, really fucking sad. I just felt so sad. Sad for Grace, and also, perversely enough, sad for Aziz Ansari. I felt sad. I felt sad that this is normal, and I also felt sad about the fact that it shouldn’t be, and that we were only just now getting it.
A comment I read on an article about Aziz Ansari said – alongside a million comments about the fact that she just wanted to be his girlfriend, was just after money, etc – „she was just upset he treated her like a piece of meat.“ Na ja. It isn’t nice, treating people like meat. And maybe it’s not a crime. But maybe, just maybe, if you treat women like meat you are more likely to end up committing a crime?
People are angry – not just men, women are angry too – about the #metoo hashtag and about girls like Grace telling their stories and it’s hard to get to the bottom of their resentment. Because don’t forget, in Grace’s story she never uses the words sexual assault. I think it’s because people think that rape or sexual assault which isn’t legally defined as a rape or sexual assault should not be spoken about. Never, ever. It’s a taboo subject. The woman should be grateful someone wanted to fuck her, and if she didn’t really want to fuck them back, she should’ve run away, she should’ve kicked him in the nuts, she should’ve lain back and thought of England. And then afterwards: years and years of silence. And yet these same people also think that when a man is found not guilty of rape, this means that the woman must’ve lied. The idea that the woman could be telling the truth – and yet there isn’t enough evidence to warrant a rape conviction – this idea makes people angry. And yet, strangely enough, these same people also sneer at the idea of consent! The idea of people (men but also could be women) checking to see whether the person (a woman but also could be a man) they’re fucking really wants to be fucked.
It just doesn’t make sense. Surely, if women lie about rape so much, checking for enthusiastic consent before sex would be the best way for a man to protect himself against a false rape accusation?
I think when we get to the basic kern of these three different ideas you can see that what people really want is for women to always be available for men to fuck. To never say yes OR no, but to silently open their legs. To always give in. To not speak about it afterwards. I think that’s what’s happening now is just this: young women are speaking about it afterwards, they’re speaking up, they’re speaking out. They’re telling their stories – not to the police, but to each other and to us. Now, maybe I don’t think we will ever live in a world where the police and the courts can stop all rape or all sexual assault. But I think if we let women tell their stories, and if people listen, really hard, really carefully, things can get a lot better. I think things can get a lot better than they are now. And to be honest, I think we all have a lot of work to do. Myself included.