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  • Carrick Ryan

Has 'slut shaming' confused the rules of consent?


With the current scandal surround Aziz Ansari assuming the headlines it is clear we have progressed to more complex conversations about consent in sexual activity. Whilst it is not as unanimous in its condemnation as obvious cases of rape and harassment, there have been some well communicated arguments from females articulating the manner in which the absence of a clear verbal rejection of a man’s sexual advances does not automatically imply consent.

It has been argued that persistent advances and pressuring leads almost to a state of consent by exhausted duress. Whilst to many men there appears a number of ways this issue could be easily negated by women (such as simply leaving) the sheer number of women that have spoken out in empathy on this topic suggests that like many issues in this field, things aren’t always that simple.

Without debating the merits of Ansari's case in particular, it is sufficient to say that women should feel safe to go to a man’s home, even their bedroom, and not be subject to persistent harassment. However, exactly what harassment is at this point becomes increasingly ambiguous.

One of the major contributions to this ambiguity is the manner in which social pressure in the form of “slut shaming” has trained many women to obfuscate their true sexual desires. It is almost frowned upon for a woman to seek out sexual interaction in the same manner as men so many are forced to engage in a traditional game of courtship in which the man should be made to “work for it”. The eternal fear of being presumed to be “easy” induces a charade for many women who imply that any inevitable sexual endeavour is the result of a momentary loss of normal behaviour, all due to the irresistible seduction of the man. It is a theme romanticised in movies and music and perpetuates the notion of male conquest. Think of how many leading ladies in movies dutifully reject the initial advances of their eventual love interest before honourably succumbing to the undeniable love the male was certain about at the start.

The problem with this is at this point, the girl who is playing games and the girl who sincerely wishes to abstain from any sexual interaction can look concerningly similar. A girl who wants to preserve a veneer of modesty by rejecting a man’s initial advances (but with the intention of “succumbing” to his later ones) is often indistinguishable from the girl who wishes to politely reject all sexual advances.

None of this absolves a man from his responsibility to recognise if his female companion is uncomfortable or upset by the situation, none of this removes the onus on men to ensure any consent is sincere. However if we are to teach men that consent needs to be clearly articulated from females then we need to accept standard gender roles need to change in the complex interactions leading up to sex.

Women should feel that the only time they need offer resistance to a man’s advances is when it stems from her sincere desire to reject those advances, not due to a social protocol.

If it then becomes the norm that women feel confident to act upon their sexual desires when and where they choose then it eliminates the possibility that men could conflate rejection with “playing hard to get”.

I don’t believe this necessarily requires and end to courtship to work and it doesn’t mean that all sexual encounters need to be preceded by a less than romantic candid conversation regarding consent. Men will still need to win over the hearts of their female partners or at the very least earn sufficient desirability to have them sleep with them. But that step towards physical intimacy needs to be as free as possible from the possibility of misinterpretation.

I’m merely advocating a society where women feel no social pressure to obfuscate their desires so that when a man meets any resistance to his advances he cannot plausibly suggest that it was mistaken for playful gamesmanship.

For this to be effective it needs to be a broad social change and not just an isolated demographic, I certainly understand this will take time and possibly not welcomed by all. But so long as women feel socially compelled to “play the game” there is an unavoidable prospect that they will come out as the loser


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