In February, I gave a talk at the Pledge Class of the Fraternity. I called it “Sex in Good Taste.” My presentation was supplanting a lecture on manners and etiquette, and so I tried to frame my anti-rape talk in a similar vein. I wanted to keep the presentation conversational, while at the same time giving people practical advice on how to approach sex as true gentlemen.
I was nervous about placing myself as an authority. After all, I was potentially the only woman in a room full of men — and there wouldn’t be another woman to validate what I was saying. Luckily there were a couple of Fraternity Girlfriends who were willing to stick around.
I broke the ice by telling everyone that I wanted to talk about having good sex. “I want everyone to have good sex. I want you to have good sex with yourself. I want you to have good sex with a partner. With multiple partners. With multiple partners at the same time. I want you to have good sex with one-night stands, I want you to have good sex with long-term partners. I want you to have good sex.” Everyone laughed when I said that I wanted them to have good sex with themselves.
The outline of the presentation looked like this:
- Seek out enthusiastic affirmative consent.
- It’s sexy to state your desires.
- You want your partner to scream “Yes! Yes! YES!”
- If your partner is no longer having fun, you have to stop.
- Barriers to consent include: the expectation of sex (just because you’ve had sex with her before, or you bought her dinner, doesn’t mean you’re entitled to sex), alcohol and other chemicals (Everyone retains their rational decision-making skills), lack of communication (ask directly for your desires), and lack of respect of boundaries (learning to read body language and listen to verbal communication).
- Sexual assault and rape are not sex in good taste.
- Active v. passive verbs (The difference between “Jane was raped” and “Jay raped Jane.”)
- Rape Culture 101
- Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Always Guaranteed to Work
- How to have sexual relationships in good taste in a rape culture world
- Preventing Sexual Assault and/or murder is part of a woman’s daily routine.
- Schroedinger’s Rapist
- The imagined right to intrude
- How to be a good guy:
- Learn to understand and respect a woman’s communications to you.
- If you fail to respect the communication a woman is making (body language, verbal, etc) then you label yourself a problem. You will have to convince them that you are not a rapist, after you exhibited a behavior that rapists have.
- Don’t rape. Don’t have sexual contact with anyone who does not enthusiastically consent to that contact.
- Don’t let others rape.
I started out by talking about the most basic of sexual etiquette and rape prevention phrases: that “no means no.” As I was explaining that women do not often feel empowered to give a strong “no,” but sometimes instead give weaker response (like “I guess,” or “I don’t know…”) a spontaneous role play broke out.
Jeremy said, “Hey, Tim, want to have sex?”
My partner Tim said, “Oh, I don’t know, I’m not really sure…”
“Oh, come on,” said Jeremy. “You know you want to have sex.”
“I don’t know,” Tim continued.
It was perfect, because I was going to want to do a similar role play, but wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable doing it. From there, I talked about the fact that silence doesn’t mean yes, it in fact means no. And that our legal system, sadly, often treats the lack of an explicit no as an implied yes.
I told them why this presentation was important to me: “I went to Michigan State University. When Tim invited me to come to the house for the first time, I was skeptical. The rumors I had heard about your fraternity at MSU included date rape, crack cocaine, and a stripper pole in their dormer bedroom. I was so surprised and pleased that the your fraternity liked and respected women, and I that I felt safe here. I want your house to continue to be a safe place for women. I want it to be a place where women can come and know that they’ll be listened to, that they won’t be raped, and that their choices will be respected.”
When I talked about Active v. Passive Verbs I read this:
Passive verb: Jane was raped. The subject of a passive sentence is the main character of the sentence, but someone else performs the action.
Active verb: Jay raped Jane. The subject of an active sentence performs the action of the verb.
The security officer, a member of the executive board, asked: “Do you think that we use the passive voice to talk about rapes because of the anonymity of the rapist?”
One of the Pledges piped up: “Actually, most rapes aren’t by strangers, right? The victim usually knows the rapist?”
“Exactly,” I said. (I was surprised and pleased that he knew that.) “I think that it has less to do with the anonymity of the rapist and more to do with the way that our society constructs sex as something that men deserve, and that we talk about sex as if men cannot control themselves.”
The Security Officer said, “Really?”
One of the women said, “No, seriously. I heard this in church, that there’s a switch inside men, and if you turn that switch by showing skin or acting promiscuously, they cannot help themselves but rape you.”
That same Pledge said, “I’m really sorry that you heard that in church. I apologize.”
It was a really great discussion. I’m glad that I had the confidence to do this, and that there were some young women who were willing to stand with me. I’m not expecting magic to happen, but hopefully I challenged some thinking.
This post is fourth in a series.