So, here is a terrifying scenario: you go to visit a dude in his dorm room. He tries to have sex with you. You say “no,” repeatedly, throughout the process. He does not stop. You are pretty darn sure that this is rape! So you go to the police! And the courts! And they agree with you! Because your rapist, stunningly enough, admits that you said “no.”
Oh, and then the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturns the whole deal. Because, yeah, you said “no.” A lot. Everyone agrees on that part. But there’s no reason to believe that you meant it!
Ok, so, bad news: this is not just some ludicrously unjust case I have concocted to angry up your blood. This happened! In 1994! And a recent study by Dan Kahan of Yale University Law School will tell you why. Basically, people who have “egalitarian” worldviews (of the type that might lead you to believe the dudefolk and the womenfolk are both people, and like having sex) are likely to think that “no” means precisely that, and that having sex with a person who says “no” is, in fact, rape, and should be ruled as such in a court of law. People with “hierarchical” worldviews (of the type that will depress the hell out of you) do not. And the people least likely to believe that “no” means “no” are… older ladies?
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEE. Join us, as Amanda Hess of Washington City Paper’s The Sexist and I lose our minds and/or discuss!
ILLUSTRATION: How can this happen, given our nation’s educational t-shirt culture?
AMANDA: Hey, would you like to chat now? Remember: In this chat, “no” means “maybe.”
SADY: as it should! i, personally, like to SAY “no” so that my chat partner will not believe i am enthusiastic about the chat that i totally actually want to be chatting.
AMANDA: I generally restrict using “no” and variations on it, such as “stop,” with undergraduate rapists whom I have never met before, in order to ensure that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court nows that I truly maybe wanted it.
SADY: right? so, this case. around which this study is based. is actually like some terrifying cartoon of sexist assumptions. girl goes into dude’s room. girl has been friendly with dude. dude proceeds to initiate sex, to which girl says no. sex continues on apace. which is rape, right? but instead there are all these discussions of whether she tried to unlock the door or whether he shoved her onto the bed HARD enough to constitute “force” (did she bounce?) and the “no,” although admitted to by both parties, actually DOES NOT COUNT AT ALL.
AMANDA: Did she bounce. That’s the really, really weird thing about this case: All the assumptions about what makes a “real” rape are totally fucking insane! and the one sane assumption—that if she says no, it means she doesn’t want to have sex—is discredited
SADY: right. and at one point, they mention that it was determined that the “no” meant lack of CONSENT, but did not thereby qualify the act as RAPE, since rape requires force and also that you not be married to your rape victim. so the question is, then: why isn’t “no” enough? why is “no means no” a problem, and for whom? and the answer is… um, older ladies, apparently.
AMANDA: yeah: the answer is older, privileged ladies that i imagine to be stroking gigantic white cats while informing rape victims that they actually wanted it . . . in order to hold on to their social privilege, and the diamond-encrusted tiaras that go along with it, or whatever. these older ladies are really interesting to me, and i was trying to figure out what exactly about their cultural circumstances made them want to decide this case this way?
SADY: right. like, one SAYS no to the gentleman, dear, that he might not think you a harlot. whilst you have the sex that you said “no” to because you wanted it. oh, and also, if you say no AND MEAN IT there’s no way for the dude to know that! because you SHOULD be saying no ALL THE TIME!
AMANDA: And also, implied, I think, is that if any women actually say NO and mean NO, then the women who say NO and mean YES will be considered sluttier than the rape victims. WHICH IS FUCKED UP.
SADY: UH HUH. and, like, if you want to play an incredibly hot erotic sexy game of saying “no” to sex every time you want sex, whatever. for me that is like playing a game of Let’s See How Close I Can Stick My Face To This Chainsaw every weekend. but what are the odds that a woman who says no and means yes is going to then up and take her case to a rape court? for funsies? like, that is pretty time-consuming and awful, actually! i doubt anyone is THAT invested in maintaining her reputation as a non-sex-liker! so why should it affect the construction of the law? AT ALL?
AMANDA: beats me. the really scary thing is the assumption that because these jurors will decide based on their cultural attitudes and NOT the law, it doesn’t matter WHAT the law says rape is
SADY: right, which is what the study seems to confirm.
AMANDA: however, in this particular case, the jury did decide to convict the dude of rape, and then the penn. supreme court decided 7-0 to reverse it … based on the law. or … based on their weird cultural assumptions? perhaps there were some hidden Privileged Older Ladies on the bench?
SADY: it really strikes me that the basic assumption here (in people who assume that “no means no” is a bad thing) is that dudes go around accidentally raping ladies ALL THE TIME and shouldn’t be punished for it.
AMANDA: yeah. oops!
SADY: like, the idea is that dudes can’t interpret the word “no” correctly, because they are less smart than your dog, and therefore should they accidentally rape someone who is saying “no” a lot you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. like, better luck next time, timmy!
AMANDA: even though, chillingly, the accused and the victim got to know each other in a sexual assault awareness lecture titled “Does ‘No’ Sometimes Mean ‘Yes’?” you really have to wonder how the lecture resolved that question
SADY: Oh, GOD. “in conclusion, no means no except when that is inconvenient for you personally! hope this helps!”
AMANDA: like, if the lecture concluded, “No, No Doesn’t Sometimes Mean Yes,” the attendees could have said, well yes, but what if No actually means Yes in your conclusion that No Doesn’t Mean Yes?
SADY: ah, the timeless “but I WANT ice cream” logical maneuver.
AMANDA: it’s terrible, because “no means yes” has always struck me as some sick dirty joke that people tell, but now i see that it has affected the actual reasoning of juries. the main point to take away from this is that jurors need to stop taking their jury duty vacation as an oppportunity to punish women that they think are sluts. if i were a lawyer, i would start asking that question in jury selection.
SADY: ray of light here, though? younger, more sexually active folks of both genders were more likely to grasp the meaning and validity of “no.” like, apparently if you get that women CAN consent to sex, you’re more likely to not have sex with them until they DO!
AMANDA: yeah. totally.
SADY: which, you know. the slut-punishing vigilante squad aside, makes me feel hope for this new generation, and their ability to understand words you learned when you were two years old.
AMANDA: this study was extremely depressing. i at least thought that the “she wanted it” defense would at least concede that admitting that she actually said “no” would be bad for their case. you’d assume the rapist wouldn’t admit that! but when he does, the Old Privileged Ladies seems almost more likely to believe him
SADY: well, you know. he’s a poor young man! led astray by that permissive harlot! and so on, and so forth.
AMANDA: no bouncing, so what can you do
SADY: right. NOT ENOUGH PREMARITAL FORCE-BOUNCING, that’s what was wrong with this case. so, here’s my advice to the world: however you feel about “no,” can we hope, maybe, that you are MORE excited to get a “yes?” Because that, I think, is what you should be aiming for. “Yes, I would like to have sex with you.” That, I would assume, is a statement that we can all agree is a positive.
AMANDA: . . . Maybe!