Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gatekeeper Sex: A Model For Sexual Assault

Many women speaking out against rape have talked about the dangers in the gatekeeper rape prevention model which puts the sole responsibility for stopping a non-stranger's sexual aggression onto the person who doesn't want sex or who doesn't want a particular interaction at a particular time.

This is a victim-blaming model of rape prevention. These rapes are often dismissed by the defenders of this model as nothing more than a misunderstanding. The announced solution under this model of rape prevention is for girls and women to be better at communicating their lack of consent. If we who didn't consent were competent gatekeepers and clearly communicated our non-consent the claim is that we would never be raped.

I've always known this rape prevention model was BS because my lack of consent was clear and never wavered yet my boyfriend still felt he had the right to force himself on me.

However, I have gained a new darker perspective on why this advice will protect nobody but rapists and new insights into the thinking used by my boyfriend which helped him commit rape and which helped him believe he had done nothing wrong.

There is a corollary model to the gatekeeper rape prevention model and that is the gatekeeper sex model.

My insight into this model which is allegedly a model for consensual sex was sparked by statements made in the comment section of a post advocating for an affirmative consent standard in sex crime prosecution, by Gregory A. Butler:
In gatekeeper sex, the man is supposed to keep asking until the woman stops saying no – so, if you are using the force of law to mandate that “If a guy’s not sure his partner is into it, he can ask.” then you ARE TRYING TO CHANGE HOW PEOPLE HAVE SEX.
A man being required to know for sure that what he's about to do isn't rape is apparently going to destroy all consensual sex between men and women.

He responded to 1 of my comments with:
“rape by coercion”?
So, being persistent is rape now?
That is a pretty extreme position – and by that standard, a huge portion of the heterosexual cisgendered male population of the United States are rapists.
Refusing to accept a girl or woman's lack of sexual consent is not merely being persistent.

I don't know what he considers a huge portion, but research into men's behavior which qualifies as sex crimes has found at the smallest 4.8% of the men surveyed admitted to having committed an act which meets the definition of rape. The highest percentage for rape, attempted rape and sexual assault is 14.9%.

In another comment he wrote:
I’m in favor of keeping the police out of the bedrooms of consenting adults and adolescents.

Bottom line folks should be able to fuck as they see fit, and if that includes the man making the first move every step of the way and the women passively giving in rather than actively saying yes (or even her getting drunk and passing out with him so he gets to “have his way” without her having to be unladylike and actually say yes), it’s THEIR PRIVATE BUSINESS and the courts should butt out.
Having sex with a woman who is passed out is not a consensual act and is a sex crime in most jurisdictions under current laws. To have consenting adults, all involved actually need to be consenting. I shouldn't have to explain this but it seems like I must keep doing so because of statement which reject this concept.

If passing out were consent then this is true even when men pass out and it must be consent to whatever those around him want to do to him unless he has explicitly made his lack of consent for that action perfectly clear.

The only way for sex with someone passed out to be consensual is for the person who passed out to have explicitly consented to that particular action. This consent needs to be absolutely clear and cannot be based on stereotypes about girls and women not wanting to be unladylike.

Butler explains why no woman who is consenting would make it clear that she wants a man to have sex with her while she is passed out.
The problem is, for somebody who thinks like that, the very act of giving that long drawn out legalistic explanation would itself be “unladylike” – not to mention a total buzzkill that would really kill the mood.
This is a circular argument which allows for the baseless assumption that every girl or woman who passes out in the presence of a boy or man, or where he can find her, is consenting to sex and refuses to identify herself as such beforehand because to to so is to admit that she is "unladylike."

In his description Butler has no way of knowing if he is with a woman who actually wants sex because those who would consent in this scenario are too ladylike to appear in any way different from girls and women who have no such ladylike reluctance to positively communicate their consent.

This means that his model of gatekeeper sex accepts rape as a tolerable outcome. Not surprisingly those who are willing to acknowledge this tolerable outcome put the blame for these rapes on women which is where the gatekeeper rape prevention model comes in handy.

The main argument Butler makes against a standard of affirmative consent when he bothers to address this standard at all rather then comparing his model to an undefined enthusiastic consent model is that it allegedly criminalizes consensual sex.

The problem with this argument is that an affirmative consent standard does no such thing since affirmative doesn't have to be words. Behavior can be affirmative. Giving in doesn't count as consent under the model of affirmative consent since "giving in" is not consent, it is surrender. Most of us understand this in nearly every other context. We even understand this in sex crimes when the rapist is holding a gun.

Butler wrote in response to a comment about why people in the BDSM community developed communication practices to ensure that all their interactions are consensual:
Indeed, the ethics voluntarily adopted by the BDSM community are admirable – but the key word is that your community VOLUNTARILY adopted those ethics, they weren’t imposed forcibly from outside.
This is positioned as much more liberating than it really is since it ignores all those who were falsely labeled as consenting. The conflict is forcing ethics vs. forcing sex by refusing to back off in the face of non-consent. Butler has effectively declared the first to be the greater evil.

Myself and many others who have been targeted by those without the sexual ethics to only have sex with those who are freely consenting disagree that sexual ethics should be completely voluntary. And for that we are frequently called radical and worse.

If the idea of ensuring that all sexual interactions are genuinely consensual is a radical idea that shows that radical change is needed immediately. If voluntary is a must according to Butler's worldview then ensuring that the other person is a volunteer is also a must. And yet Butler writes:
The cold hard reality is, we live in a country where the gatekeeper model is the default for the overwhelming majority of cisgendered straight folks. There are exceptions, of course, but those are the minority.

Because of that, straight men learn from hard experience that the only way to be successfully sexually active with women is to be the aggressor, who’s always ready to test a woman’s limits.
If a man is successful by continuing beyond a woman's limits then he is a successful sex criminal, and he is an utter failure at consensual sex. If he is surrounded by men who are also following this same model that doesn't indicate that the model is valid, only that it is common.

The distortion goes beyond girls and women's alleged need to avoid appearing to be unladylike:

What will help?

In part, increasing economic equality for women – because female economic dependence on males is the foundation of gatekeeper sex. A woman who needs a man to support her is, by necessity, going to have to ration out her sexuality to the highest bidder.
This explanation provides a handy way for a man using this model to explain away the absence of any enjoyment from a woman who did not affirmatively communicate her consent in word or action. If she is reacting badly it is just because of the economic reality of women and couldn't be because she is being raped.

This is also a handy way for a man to justify using economics as a form of sexual coercion. If women's inequality and subsequent economic vulnerability is the primary means of him getting sex from women then men who follow this model will likely resist women's economic equality.

The philosophy held by Gregory Butler and those who agree with him seems to be: "Don't tread on me, but let men tread on women."

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:29 PM   14 comments links to this post

14 Comments:

At March 23, 2010 2:56 PM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

Bottom line folks should be able to fuck as they see fit,

What he really means is that MEN should be able to fuck as they see fit. And yes, changing the traditional dynamic of pursuit-and-prey to one which truly reflects enthusiastic noncoercion is indeed "changing the dynamic" -- which is of course a terrible idea for rape apologists who want to keep their excuses.

Really honestly, I don't even like the term "consent" at all in that context, although I can see the need to distinguish from nonconsent. Wearing someone down through high pressure manipulation tactics until they give in, implies a completely different dynamic than enthusistic consent.

I comprehend no part of the "ladylike" argument, btw. Is he saying it's unladylike to express enthusistic consent or is he saying it's very ladylike to express enthusistic consent? Either way, opening one's mouth and saying "oh baby I like that" is a pretty simple statement to articulate... and what precisely does "being ladylike" or "being unladylike" have to do with enthusiatic consent? It's a value judgement: only sluts are eager for sex.

 
At March 23, 2010 3:33 PM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

only sluts are eager for sex. And he doesn't want a woman like that...

One of the links in your last carnival mentioned a study, which was most excellent and I need to bookmark it. One of the many interesting points that study discovered was that the few men who rape have a pattern of raping quite a bit. Another point which (I think) didn't get much blog discussion was that these rapists tend to prefer victims who resist. In other words, they don't stalk, harrass, catcall, rape etc, those women who love men and think men are adorable and believe sexism is one great big misunderstanding as often as they prefer victims who want to be left the hell alone.

It's a self-selecting bias. Most feminists do not personally experience the actual amount of hatred which is routinely directed at non-heterosexual women like myself. It shouldn't be obvious that I go out of my way to avoid any contact with men, including the briefest of casual conversations. There's no actual rudeness or aggression on my part -- just immediate avoidance and withdrawal.

Yet they are so used to being fawned over that they do indeed notice the absence. I am used to men becoming extremely angry and snide rather quickly as I silently pick up my things and leave without so much as a glance in their direction.

 
At March 23, 2010 4:25 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

m Andrea, the unladylike argument is that there are women who want sex and refuse to communicate their consent in any way that looks different from women who don't want sex because to do so is unladylike.

Allegedly it is unfair to deny these women the sex they want (these women would rather die apparently than reveal they are willing to have sex) if affirmative consent is required. The only way for stealth consenting women to get the sex they want is for men to have sex with women who have not communicated consent in any way other than her physical proximity to a boy or man.

 
At March 23, 2010 5:03 PM, Blogger Georgia Girl said...

Sexual coersion, persistence, and testing the limits of a woman's boundaries can be summed up in the old phrase frat men use to use frequently:

"Let's work out a Yes"

 
At March 24, 2010 7:50 AM, Blogger Julian Morrison said...

I think feminism as a whole needs to push the "enthusiastic consent" model harder, and fight the idea it's a frustrating burden. Instead push the idea it's a sexy way of finding out what both of you want at the same time, with which you might as easily get an unexpected "yes" as an unexpected "no".

This is the answer to the parody that gatekeeper model proponents use of having to lawyer up and negotiate a contract before sex. You aren't binding one another to some non-rescind-able agreement. You're probing in realtime for the boundary of mutual fun.

 
At March 24, 2010 8:26 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Julian, the frustrating burden is real for those who don't care when the other person is unwilling and for those who actually dislike sexual interactions where the other person is enthusiastic.

We need to point out that if someone is always having fully consensual sex the change in verification is simple and not life changing in any way.

I've noticed that men who defend a system which guarantees some men will commit rape do so by passing the buck to women. "If women would be enthusiastic participants, men would use that as their standard." Of course this ignores that these unthusiastic women are nearly all unwilling women.

 
At March 24, 2010 8:45 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Over in the comments thread in response to my statement: The question which needs to be asked is: How to change society so everyone ensures that those they assume are consenting or claim are consenting really are consenting?

Gregory responded with:

"The problem is, you seem to have an almost Dworkinist definition of rape – basically, you seem to follow the method that any time a man has sex with a woman, we should assume it’s rape unless he can prove otherwise."

My model where people can't legally have sex with those who are not freely consenting is bad, but his model where men can legally have sex with women who aren't freely consenting (and don't even show any detectable signs of consenting) is good.

And people wonder why conservative estimates for the number of sexual assaults each year in the US is over 200,000?

 
At March 24, 2010 8:56 AM, Blogger Julian Morrison said...

"those who don't care when the other person is unwilling and for those who actually dislike sexual interactions where the other person is enthusiastic" - these people ought not to be having sex. They should see a therapist.

"verification is simple and not life changing" - disagreed with both. Not simple, because you have to figure out the right amount of asking (any touch? any sexual touch? etc), you have to build up the ability to say and take "no" without taking it personally and without permitting what you don't really want, and you have to work hard making sure you always ask when it isn't a habit yet. And yes, likely to be life changing, by altering the tone of sex or even playful touch (altering for the better, since now everything you give and receive is something that's wanted, and you can ask for what you previously would never have dared just do without asking).

"If women would be enthusiastic participants" - they can't find a woman that wants them, and so they reckon it's OK to pressure one that doesn't? What an ugly narcissist attitude.

 
At March 24, 2010 9:26 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Julian M,

If verification is not simple and/or is life changing then the person hasn't learned how to have only fully consensual sexual interactions.

We all have to figure out everything. This is a normal part of being human. If someone learned a model of sex which allows them to rape while believing they aren't committing rape it will be life changing to learn a rape-free model of sexual interaction. But this is a good life change if they don't want to inflict the harm of rape on others.

And you are right to point out the positive transformation which comes from respecting the other person and learning how to communicate desires and limits.

 
At March 24, 2010 10:49 AM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

Thanks for your clarifiation, Marcella. The argument itself makes absolutely zero sense, (more precisely, the requisite premise) so I couldn't figure out what anybody was trying to conclude.

And to clarify my own comment, while "enthusiastic _______" implies an eagerness to engage in sex, that eagerness is nullified by the term which even feminists usually insert after it -- "consent" only implies that someone agreed to submit to an unpleasant chore.

I consented to do the dishes, I consented to take out the garbage. No one ever "consents" to something that they actively enjoy. I would never say that I "consented to eating that delicious chocolate mint cake".

Just imagine the difference in a jury who hears the defendent say "she submitted to sex with me". The term "consent" lacks precision. Legally, that term only requires submission, not agreement, and certainly not enthusiastic eagerness.

If the minimun legal standard to avoid a rape conviction is "submission", then the justice system should acknowledge their minimum standards by using using the correct term.

 
At March 24, 2010 11:11 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

m Andrea,

I'm glad my clarification helped you understand the "ladylike" argument which as you point out helps men commit rape.

Legally if someone is truly and freely willing and able to give legal consent then they don't need to be enthusiastic.

Submission is different than unethusiastic freely given consent. The structure of submission is often one of dominance and surrender. There is no freedom in this structure. Those who don't understand this in rape cases rarely have trouble understanding it when the crime is mugging.

What many people call consent is not actual consent such as the rapist who asked a woman after she'd been raped by his friend if she would consent to have sex with him or if he would have to rape her. When she selected the less violent alternative this was not genuine freely given consent and any law which allows this to be legal consent is a dangerous law.

 
At March 24, 2010 6:30 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

Spot-on Marcella. Strange is not how men are supposedly rational and logical and yet when it concerns the issue of whether or not a woman is 'consenting' suddenly many men's rationality flies out of the window. Truth is we all learn how to communicate with other human beings and we all know when another person does not want to accept, say an invitation to a party, but rarely does the person making the invitation insist/demand the other individual acquiese.

But the 'gatekeeper myth' neatly absolves men of any accountability or responsibility because that supposedly lies with women. Convenient then given women do not have equal or even similar socio-economic power as men and yet when it concerns men's pseudo right of unlimited sexual access to women, suddenly women are deemed to have equal or even greater power than men.

What many men refuse to accept is that women too must be accorded sexual autonomy and ownership of their bodies - just as men have been accorded this right for centuries. News flash - women were not put on this earth to sexually service any man, but all too often that view continues to be held. Also, women like men are human and are not sexually attracted to any man just because he happens to be male. But even this is disregarded by many men because 'women's sole reason for existence is to be men's sexual service stations.'

 
At March 25, 2010 2:09 PM, Anonymous Cara said...

Marcella, I just wanted to say thanks for writing this post, and thanks generally for what you do.

 
At March 26, 2010 9:12 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Cara, I appreciate your kind words.

 

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