I wasn’t ready for what I read this morning. The Root.com writer Ida Harris did everything right. When her date became physical without her permission, she gave non-verbal cues, when that didn’t work she said explicitly said “no,” when that didn’t work, she physically fled. None of that kept her safe. Discussions of consent are too often reduced to a woman’s ability to say no. That if she experiences unwanted sexual attention or touching, that it’s her fault. This means by default that a man is entitled to her body. Even if and when she says no, it means that there is still another chance. And if he doesn’t take no for an answer, well, it’s her fault for putting herself in that situation.
I had a family friend who said no to a man’s advances in a crowded bar where her boyfriend worked. She wasn’t “coy” or ambiguous about her no. She clearly wasn’t interested. She walked away. She was shot dead in the street. Saying no does not keep you safe. There is never a guarantee that a man will honor your resistance. There is no cultural expectation for them to do so.
There were still people in comments sections who asked why she was out at that time. It is never a woman’s fault for going out, spending time with friends, or on a date that by all indications appears safe. After immeasurable accounts of stories like this, too many people still blame women. Among the many truths and ultimately disturbing information Ms. Harris shares is this:
“We must also ask why we continue to court a tradition where boys will be boys and men will be men, no matter their indiscretions; while women are held to a five-star standard of awareness, action and responsibility. We are centuries invested in men’s entitlement and audacity, and their retarded understanding and disrespect for women’s bodily rights. We live in a society where patriarchy is well-established and chronically practiced.”
Think about the way we talk about sexuality. Men are taught to “score,” have “game” with the ultimate goal of “getting some pussy.” Her body parts are labeled as if they exist outside of her. She has to play defense. And if she loses, it’s her problem. A woman’s failure to scream and flee, even at her own peril, does not excuse what happens to her.
There are no new rules to consent. No has always meant no. The only difference now is that people are listening to our stories and violators are facing real consequences. We have to place the onus of ending sexual and violent assault squarely on the people who perpetrate these crimes.
Read Ida Harris’ essay here.