Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mother, May I?

Last week I talked about Cosby, Consent, and Cricket. There was more I wanted to say on the issue of consent, but I really wanted to keep the piece down to about 600 words; so I decided to break my thoughts up into two pieces.

This is the second piece.

Let me begin with two oft-cited statistics, which may or may not have any solid basis in fact. The first is one that is very pertinent to the discussion of consent:

1 in 5 women will be the victim of some sort of sexual assault.

Now one from my 19 years of teaching:

5% of the students cause 95% of the problems.

What does this mean? Far from meaning that 20% of all guys are assholes, it means the 5% who are, are causing all the problems, messing up the lives of millions of women, and giving the rest of us guys a bad name.

And let's examine that first statistic one more time. It's not saying that 20% of all sexual encounters a woman has is some sort of assault. That's something completely different. But maybe we'll talk about that math some other time.

Besides, that’s not what I want to talk about yet. I want to get back to talking about consent.

…and overreacting.

It used to be that the catchphrase was “No Means No.” That was enough for 95% of us. We got it. Of course, there were a few “maybes” in there that got people confused and caused a lot of trouble…a lot of what one friend once called “felony stupidity”, but for the most part, we got it.

But some people didn’t, and as a result, New York is the latest state to enact a “Yes Means Yes” law. This law means that “She didn’t say ‘no’,” isn’t enough. There has to be an active and enthusiastic “Yes!” “Well, OK” doesn’t cut it. Not even a “Well OK” with a twinkle in her eye that would seem to indicate that this was where she wanted things to end up in the first place. There has to be an active and enthusiastic “Yes” at each step of making out.

My response to this is twofold. The first is: You gotta be kidding me! Instead of two people making out and negotiating non-verbally what they want to do as they go along, this turns everything into the following rather unromantic game of “Mother May I?”

Pat: May I kiss you?

Chris: Yes.

Pat: May I kiss you again?

Chris: Yes.

Pat: May I put my hand on your butt?

Chris: Yes.

Pat: May I unbutton your shirt?

Chris: Yes.

Pat: May I undo your pants?

Chris: Yes.

You will notice that I didn’t state what sex either Pat or Chris were. Either one could be male…or female…or they could both be male…or female. It’s not always a case of the guy putting the moves on the girl.

This new rule puts what has traditionally been an improvised dance, with nonverbal cues being understood by most people, into a game of legal contract. 95% of the guys out there understand that if you try to unzip a girl’s pants and she gently moves your hand away, then you should stop. They also understand that if she responds by unzipping yours, then you can try to move further. And the key word here is “try.” If at any point she brushes your hand away, you know not to try again.

But because of the 5% of guys who wouldn’t understand “No” if they were hit over the head with an anvil with the words painted all over it, a new rule has been put in place that says that everyone has to play “Mother May I?”

As for my second response…well, since I’m running out of room again, you’ll just have to wait another week for that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Cosby, Consent, and Cricket

Well, it’s been quite the month in terms of the issues of consent, rape, how we view consent, and how our changing view of consent changes the way we view rape.

Let’s start with the huge elephant in the room…Bill Cosby. This month damning evidence came to light about his sexual activities with one woman, and this evidence gives credence to the accusations of countless others. There’s a lot of fallout from this, but one of the pieces of fallout I want to address here is that a lot of guys who didn’t want to believe that Cosby had done anything wrong unless they had video footage of it…and they were operating the camera at the time…now have to face up to the fact that these accusations are probably credible.

Why did it take them so long to believe the accusations? It wasn’t that they were insensitive, misogynistic pigs. It was fear, pure and simple. It was the fear of a false accusation against them. It only takes a moment for a false accusation to ruin a reputation, and years to gain it back…even after it’s been proven that the accusations were spurious. It’s not that these guys didn’t feel for any woman who had gone through what these women claimed to have, it’s that without any solid proof, they didn’t want to condemn the man, because they were afraid of someone doing that to them…and they all seemed to know someone who knew someone that that had happened to.

They didn’t understand why the women would keep quiet for so long…and yet many of these guys who gave Cosby the benefit of the doubt were the first to jump all over the Catholic Church for the actions of a few priests (and the resulting cover up) and the actions of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, even though the victims in these two cases came forth with their accusations years, and even decades later.

The Cosby case is a part of our recent redefining of what rape is by making it an issue of consent and not necessarily violence. It’s no longer a matter of having a knife to your throat or a gun to your head, if you did not consent…or were not in a position or condition to consent…it’s rape. Period.

And based on this new and improved definition, Bill Cosby could very easily be charged with rape if any of the incidents happened before the statute of limitations expired.

Based on this new and improved definition, many things that we previously considered simply “not cricket”, not quite right, not the way a gentleman would behave, but not wrong, now are; and now count as rape. What was once seen as simply unethical is now illegal. And this is as it should be. Any use of alcohol or drugs to get the other person into a condition where they’re incapable of saying “no”, isn’t just “taking advantage of them”, it’s rape. Of course, there is a difference between intentionally getting someone stinking drunk so that they can’t say “no” and everyone having a drink or two so that they’re more comfortable saying “yes.” At least there is to me…and Jimmy Buffett.

Next week I’ll talk about how New York’s new “Yes Means Yes” law fits into this.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Mawage and the State

Mawage. Mawage is wot brings us togeder today. Mawage, that bwessed awangement, that dweam wifin a dweam…

I can’t tell you how many times I saw that line from The Princess Bride quoted after the recent Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v Hodges…you know…the marriage equality case. But I’m not here today to talk about marriage equality, even though I believe strongly in it. As one of millions who have benefitted from the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v Virginia, I feel that I have no honest choice but to support it. But that’s another issue for another time.

No…today I come to talk about the state’s legitimate interest in marriage.

I emphasize “legitimate” because just as I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard that quote from The Princess Bride, I also can’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard some cretin complain that they don’t see why the government has to get involved in what is essentially a private decision between them and their beloved. They don’t see why the government has any business getting mixed up in what is a religious arrangement between them and their beloved. And I have known people, straight people, who rather than spend the $40 to just get married already, spent hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to have lawyers draw up contracts that would give them the same rights and protections as married people…all because they didn’t think the government had any place in their personal business.

I’ve joked that I’ve replied to this complaint so many times on Facebook that I might as well just save my response as boilerplate that I could paste in whenever someone said it; so that I didn’t have to write it from scratch every time. This is my boilerplate, and from now on, I’ll just be able to paste in the link to this blog entry and be done with it.

Before I say what I have to say, I’m going to recommend that anyone with an opinion on marriage, what it is, what it’s been, and what it should be, should immediately get a copy of the book Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, by Stephanie Coontz. If you are able to have your mind changed by facts, you’ll find that this book is full of facts that will change your mind about what a “traditional” marriage is and was, how “tradition” has changed over the centuries, and how “tradition” is not the same all over the world. I know that I learned a few things from it. But more germane to my boilerplate here, is the fact that you’ll find out that marriage has always been the concern of the community.

Let me state that again: Marriage has always been the concern of the community.

Whether it be the tribe, the village, the province, the religious group, or the country, marriage has always been the concern of the community, and hence the state or the government. Why? Because it’s how things like inheritances are sorted out, and how property is divided and custody is decided in the event of a divorce. When you get right down to it, a marriage is a legal contract between two people, giving each of them certain rights and protections, and outlining certain expectations.

I’ll admit that in an era when we’re so accustomed to seeing church weddings that we can hardly imagine anything else, it’s easy to think that religion “owns” weddings, but despite what the Catholic Church may say, it doesn’t. The community does, and religion has the option to put its own seal of approval on what the state has formalized.

There are places in Europe where you have two weddings. The first is the one in the city clerk’s office, that gets all the official recordkeeping done. The second is the one at the church or synagogue or mosque, that adds the religious veneer to it. But you can’t have the second without the first.

Here in the States, the religious and civil communities often overlap, and this is why you only need to get married once here. Clergy are but one group of people…along with mayors, judges, and justices of the peace…who are authorized under the various state laws to marry people. In fact, I know of a pastor who says that when he performs a wedding, he is acting as an agent of the State of New York, which gives him the legal authorization to marry people.

So now that I’m done with my boilerplate on the issue, I expect to use it often…and much more easily.