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Weblog From Nowhere-Land

Non-Consensual

Can you describe a non-consensual encounter in 50 words or less?

I removed salon.com as my homepage a year ago, when I began to notice a devolution from cutting edge cultural journalism to "My Teen Pregnancy Nightmare" scandal sheet. But I kept reading Tracy Clark-Flory, Salon's bracingly fresh sexual morés commentator. She's an insightful, sex-positive "equity feminist" who writes from a woman's perspective in a way that makes men want to read and understand. But I'm puzzled by her current column.

Unless I'm mistaken, this is her first take on the Bill Cosby accusations. She uses the term "rape culture" the magical three times, and asserts that, "It’s increasingly hard to ignore misogyny or rape culture — or to argue that either term is an overstatement or embellishment." And in alluding to the Jian Ghomeshi story, she says he kept up his "non-consensual encounters" for a decade without getting busted. I suppose we pretty much know (or think we do) what those encounters consisted of, and it wasn't pretty. I have neither the stomach nor the heart for men who brutalize women. I lean way left on most things, but I'm not far from advocating castration (chemical or otherwise) for proven rapists. The aftertaste of Clark-Flory's column, however, is a sense that rape is bustin' out all over, from the dormitory to the corner office to your own bedroom. Are we... #YesAllMen...rapists?

As far as I know, I've never engaged in non-consensual sex. That is to say: my partner was always equally engaged. But that's by my definition, which I'm fairly sure was close to the commonly held definition up to around 1998. Whatever it was we were doing felt like the consequence of a desire we were both allowing ourselves to succumb to. It felt that way to me, anyway, and if it didn't for her, she never said so. Would she say it now?

I'd love to see a really sharp screenwriter, preferably but not necessarily a woman, write a great two-page scene (even a great one-page scene) dramatizing the current definition of non-consensual sex, and since Clark-Flory and many others maintain it occurs most often between people who know each another, it should take place in a familiar setting (removed from the view of witnesses) that allows for sex to happen, consensual or not. The perpetrator, i.e., the one who violates the consent boundary, can be a celebrity or a college boy. Doesn't matter. What matters is that we see the instant when consent is denied, and that we understand the language of that denial. No: let me make this trickier. We need to see the absence of affirmative consent at the critical juncture, since that's what is now required. We'll presume the perpetrator is male, because not only is that statistically right, but California's affirmative consent law plainly differentiates males as the ones capable of overcoming non-consent. Strength + Penis = Assault. Some level of "violence" needs to occur--even if subtly--because we're talking about assault, not shared passion.

I want to understand what women mean by non-consensual. I'm sorry if that means that I'm asking them to verbalize the unintelligible. But they do want men to get this, right? This is fast becoming a matter of law, and good law happens only when we're agreed on what "liberty" we're giving up. Things they do on "Mad Men" can get you on the sexual predators list now: at the least, ruin your reputation; at the worst, send you upriver.

There's no question that the burden is on men to grok this. The power in this negotiation is on the feminine side of the table. And there's actually quite a lot at stake. But I have yet to see a scene of non-consensual sex (of the type that's now being discussed, i.e.. college dorms and Cosby) convincingly portrayed in film or fiction. Even if you're not a professional writer, give it a shot. A paragraph. A poem. A haiku. Even a videogame made with Twine.

This is, as they say, a "teachable moment."
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