[Trigger Warning: Discussion of rape and the motivations/tactics of rapists.]
If you missed the Beyoncé Bowl (alternatively: The Super Knowles) it was perfect. Beyoncé used her extensive catalog of hits, her once-in-a-generation talent, and her staggering genius to put on a show none of us deserved. Her opening and closing act was a little bizarre and elaborate, with two groups of men adorned in ostentatious masculine costumes squabbling over scalar dominance, ultimately abandoning the struggle once time had run out, which I think symbolized the futility of all human endeavors in the face of death? I don’t know, I don’t have the strongest background in modern dance.
At some point during the evening, the German company Audi debuted a PSA arguing against bodily autonomy, with some pretty transparent product placement snuck in. You may view it below:
[Transcript: The commercial opens with a young man in a tuxedo having a boutonniere pinned on by his mother. She says “Look at you, so dashing.” He looks embarrassed and she says “Come on, nowadays lots of people go by themselves” eliciting a snarky “No they don’t” from his little sister, who is sitting at the table and coloring. “Yeah.” He says quietly, turning to walk out the door. “Hey son,” his father says, tossing him a set of keys and adding “have fun tonight.” The young man gets in the car and starts it as "Can't Win Em All" by Hanni El Khatib starts playing. He arrives at an stop light, where a girl to his right wearing a wrist corsage yells “Prooooom!” through the half-open, tinted window of a limousine. He arrives, parks in a spot labeled “Principal Only,” the rapscallion, and locks the car remotely. A sign reading Emmerson High School can be read in the background. Making his way through a crowded ballroom, he walks up to a young woman in a red dress and tiara; as she turns arounds, he kisses her and the music stops. Gasps followed by hooting can be heard from the crowd. A guy in white tuxedo wearing a sash reading Prom King fights his way through the crowd, visibly upset, yelling “Hey!” The next shot is the guy back in the car with a purple bruise around his eye, but smiling. A short shot of the girl with an ambiguous expression on her face is followed by one on the guy jubilantly whooping. The text “Bravery. It’s what defines us” is followed by the company logo, the text “Truth in Engineering” and #BraveryWins.]
The message of this commercial is: if you are driving a nice car, you are entitled to having your sexual/romantic desires met, in public. Because women, like nice cars and other luxury goods, are property you might incur negative repercussions, but you shouldn’t doubt for a second that you absolutely have a right to them. If the comments over at Jalopnik and the tweets to those the linked article highlighted are any indication, this interpretation is not universal. Some viewers felt that not enthusiastically endorsing their interpretation of the kiss as harmless was silly because it was just a commercial, because the girl “liked it,” because the only reason someone would have a problem with it is if they were jealous, because shut up, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, shut up.
Charming shit. I especially enjoy the logic of asserting that it doesn’t matter because the story is fictional, but despite that fact they are able to read the non-verbal consent of a complete stranger in the span of a few seconds. I am likewise overjoyed that people are still putting on productions of “It Wasn’t Sexual Assault Because She Liked It” — I was humming “Calling Everything Sexual Assault is an Insult to People Who Have Been Sexually Assaulted” all morning. But I have a few critical thinking questions for you.
How would your feelings have changed if the boy hadn’t been thin, white, and conventionally attractive? What if the commercial contained an epilogue where all the partygoers who ever felt attracted to the girl he kissed queued up behind him, waiting their turn? How would you feel if every single person who felt sexually attracted to you, regardless of your preferences or desire, felt entitled to spin you around and do whatever they pleased to you? How many times do you think this or similar “spontaneous” violations have happened to this particular girl? Does she have a history of being abused, perhaps one that has taught her that for her own survival she cannot, under any circumstances show displeasure when being abused or assaulted? Does she have any phobias related to human contact? If she said to her best friend earlier in the night “I don’t care if Harry Freaking Styles shows up to prom, I will not be kissing ANYONE tonight because I-“
- “Think kissing is gross and never wish to engage in it with anyone.”
- “Have a weird taste in my mouth and would die if anyone had to be subjected to it.”
- “Am having a severe case of body anxiety.”
- “Am feeling nauseous/sick/tired.”
- “Do not want anyone near my mouth or my body, for mysterious reasons that are my own and not anybody else’s business.”
WHAT THEN? Does his desire to “make a grand gesture” override her desire to not be kissed by anyone, for any reason? Will you grant her one fucking day, a dance, an hour, a minute away from being open to having her personal space breached? This might seem like hyperbole, but answering “no” to that reprieve indicates you think like a rapist. If you won’t get consent before touching someone, if you feel entitled to someone’s body, for whatever reason, you think like a rapist. Whether or not he’d be convicted for assault for kissing her is immaterial. The fact that car commercials aren’t documentaries is immaterial. Your interpretation of her body language is immaterial. This next part is the important bit, I’m going to bold it for the newcomers.
Rapists do not act alone. Rapists believe that all men (and yes, anyone of any gender can rape or be raped but the majority of rapists are men) prefer rape to consensual sex. They seek out friends, organizations, and media that confirm their belief that rape is normal and acceptable, that victims of rape do not deserve justice, and that consent does not matter. They seek out survivors online to harass, threaten and intimidate them. And even if every sex act you perform on this earth is Yes Means Yes consensual, if you think like a rapist there is a very good chance you will attract rapists who want you to confirm that the next person they rape has it coming/will enjoy it/does not matter. If you think like a rapist you may encourage and enable rapists. You may be doing all of this already.
Read the top post in this Reddit thread. Ignore his rationalizations; rapists rationalize. Notice the way he dehumanizes the women he raped? The fact that he raped women he might have had consensual sex with? That nowhere does he pretend he “lost control” or was confused about what he was doing? That he thinks consensual sex is boring? That he allied himself with powerful institutions to protect himself? This is how a rapist thinks and operates. And you can do something about it.
If you have the stomach for gore and violence, watch the horror anthology V/H/S currently streaming on Netflix, specifically the first short “Amateur Night.” Near the end you can see a guy stopping a rape in progress. The woman being raped has passed out and the man she was making out with continues to undress her. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY RAPE, CONSENT REQUIRES CONSCIOUSNESS. One of the rapist’s friends stops him. He’s not even very confrontational about it, he just chides him gently and the man is shamed into stopping.
You won’t always be in the room to intervene. That’s why when a friend of yours tells you he is intending to trick, drug, and/or coerce a sexual partner you tell him, in language he understands, that he is planning to rape someone. If a friend of yours rapes someone, recognize that attacking, intimidating, or silencing the person they raped is enabling rape. Recognize that powerful and powerless people commit rape and are raped, that consent is not a single event but a continuous process, and that thinking like a rapist is very common because of the society we live in, but it is your responsible to educate yourself and others.
If you cannot see what any of this has to do with the commercial at the top of this page, it is probably because you’ve been trained to sympathize totally with the shy wallflower dude pining for the girl and simultaneously trained to ignore the feelings of the girl he pines for. The idea that a woman may want veto power over the passing whims of every person who finds her desirable is dangerous and subversive, because, as the paternalistic maxims of rape culture teach us, as long as the guy in question is a “solid bro” she shouldn’t have the desire/need/right to complain or be upset when he demands access to her body, because that is what’s good for her. “What if this is sexual assault?” always takes a back seat to “What if this is love?”
People pushing back against the idea of the pervasiveness of rape culture often complain that Feminism is killing sexual spontaneity, that Feminists are trying to bring “contracts into the bedroom.” But a hardline stance on consent is much simpler and less likely to result in assault than simply assuming you are a finely tuned barometer of another person’s sexual interest. You being willing to take that risk is immaterial — it is not your discomfort, sense of safety, health, or autonomy at stake. I’m more than willing to shake as many dollars as I can out of you and slap it all down on black, it isn’t my money and therefore means nothing to me if I lose. The measure of your bravery or decency is not how cavalierly you disregard other people’s needs and desires for your own benefit.
You want to be a hero? You want to be brave? Think critically about how media representations of consent enable rape. Fight against rape in your community. That takes a whole hell of a lot more courage than driving a goddamn car.
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