The holidays have been busy! We were not in the path of the California fires, but our schools closed due to the smoky air. We had lots of extra family time (and proportionally less work time) on top of the regularly scheduled holiday. With all that drama, plus the interview series, I didn’t send you anything about the Irish #ThisIsNotConsent movement. Let’s catch up.
A17 year old girl accuses a 27 year old man of raping her. It goes to trial. His defense attorney argues that the sex was consensual. He was acquitted.
Had this happened here in California, there would have been a very different outcome. The age of consent here is 18. Legally, she couldn’t have consented. Different places have different ages of consent, however, so this case and this outcome could certainly happened “here,” maybe not in California, but close by.
What people, especially Irish women, are riled up about is that the defense attorney used the victim’s lacy underwear to suggest that the girl was open to sex. The defense attorney went out of her way to slut-shame the victim as “evidence” that the sex was consensual.
Women have taken to social media, posting pictures of their underwear and the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent.
Regardless of whether she was a virgin or not (she claims she was), regardless of what she was wearing (lacy underwear or bloomers), regardless of whether he’s convicted or acquitted, if she didn’t eagerly consent, best done verbally and out loud, it was rape.
This is where our understanding of right behavior and our ability to enforce it with the legal system come to an impasse. Her virginity and her underwear should not be admissible in court as evidence of anything.
This outcry, this social media movement, can help policies change. Currently, there’s no guideline in Irish courts, so the attorneys can present a wide range of facts and leave it up to the jury to weigh their importance. If jury members believes it’s a woman’s role to curb male sexual attention, they may be swayed by lacy underwear.
Let’s be clear
It’s not a woman’s role to curb male sexual attention. It’s everyone’s job to ensure that the touch we want to give (sexual or otherwise) is wanted by the other person.
If it isn’t, it’s our responsibility to restrain ourselves.
An assistant of mine, in a more conservative part of the United States, was following the hashtag as it unfolded. She discussed it with others, including people with different beliefs, who argued that what a woman wears could or does connote permission. She found herself spelling it out to her elders, kindly but firmly, saying “Don’t touch what’s not yours. Including bodies.”
While this is too dark and complex for our little ones, it’s a great discussion for our teens. Your 17 year old daughter will have a lot of thoughts to share. What does she think of age-of-consent laws? About slut shaming in general and evidentiary guidelines for rape cases? What about how social media can be used for good or for ill?
And consider joining the #ThisIsNotConsent movement. Whether you post a picture of your undies or not, simply using the hashtag and joining the conversation keeps the energy up. The news reports on the biggest stories, so keep this drama large. Keep the pressure on the Irish legal system to change, and find out what your own community’s policies are. They might benefit from some updating too.
I welcome your comments! What feels right? What do you disagree with? What would help you have this conversation with your teen?
In support of you,
P.S. Have you registered for the 2018 interview series? We’re focusing on Preventing the Next Generation’s #MeToo Stories. Listen in as 22 experts explain what we can do to prevent sexual abuse, raise empathetic and assertive kids, teach boundaries and consent and more.
Anya, thank you for sharing this. You put it so clearly: consent is not about what a person wears. It is about eagerly saying yes. The belief that women should somehow be responsible for curbing a man’s desires is based on an ingrained but offensive assumption that men can’t control their sexual urges. Personally, I know many men who disprove this assumption.
Hi Anya! This is such a difficult conversation to have, and necessary. I continue to have what seems to be a somewhat heretical point of view. I absolutely agree that what we wear or do not wear does not equal consent. Underwear, no underwear, tiny bikinis, or oversize shirts–none of it allows anyone ever anywhere under any circumstances to touch us without our express consent! Male or female or anyone else for that matter. That is absolute and unassailable. At the same time I feel it is undermining and disempowering of women (and men and everyone else) to propose that what we wear or do not wear has no effect on others. I realize that is not what people MEAN to be emphasizing. Yet when my step-daughter was 14 and wanted to buy a string bikini (like all her friends had), the phrase that came to my mind to express was that “Everything you wear is a conversation.” You are permitted to say anything you want at any time, but your words have power and your clothing does too. You can decide what to say, or not say, and when, based on knowing that your voice, your expression is worthy of being heard, received, seen. I believe very much that the crisis in women’s empowerment circulates around this difficult distinction–that women actually DO have power, sexually, emotionally, and otherwise, and yet that power is sublimated and coopted by social, economic, and oppressive systems. This is a disservice to all people, all genders. I feel that to have this conversation with our young women is essential, in order to avoid a victim/persecutor mentality that simply circulates in various forms. Yes, absolutely, tiny lacy underwear does NOT equal consent, and it is CRIMINAL to allow such a subject to enter into the courtroom as evidence or otherwise. But in order to gain leverage regarding consent, women need to own and establish skill in the sexual domain, which is a domain that operates, for better or worse, at all times. It simply is there. Power is there, sex is there, in everyone. It is natural and fabulous and unstoppable. It creates life itself, for goodness sake. Yet to even broach the subject in this way sounds as though I am a spokesperson for conservatives, or for patriarchy, which I definitely am not. I spent seven years in a band with friends of mine (men and women), touring bars and stages, singing and performing theater with another female friend of mine–we wore tiny things, huge boots, crazy make-up and wigs, we lunged and gyrated, crooned and swayed, danced and shouted, and stood powerfully in our female sexuality. I stepped over the line a lot of times and was grateful I had a safe space in which to do that, to get a sense of my fabulousness, and a chance to decide on what the flavors of power and sex were in my own experience. Having fulfilled that need I became able to wield my voice, my appearance, as I choose to. I became very confident and able to stand up to anyone who had the gall to step over the line or be inappropriate with me–no matter what I was wearing. This was the kind of clarity and power I wanted to offer my step-daughter as well. To say, hey–you are powerful, beautiful, worthy of respect AND adoration. You can be a valuable contribution to those around you by knowing that.
And, I should add, stepping into our power allows us to then have compassion, and to listen to others and their concerns, even if they seem to clash with ours. We can be much more powerful advocates and effect greater change by looking at all sides of the situation and addressing the good as well as the bad in any given situation.
Vahni, I agree with you 100%. I think we have tons of power, and we need to build the skill of confronting inappropriate behavior. I love your phrase that “Everything you wear is a conversation.” That’s brilliant! I’m all for self-expression, and not so fond of women being blamed for other’s reactions to their self-expression.
Thanks for your reply Anya,
And this is the phrase that troubles me: “Blamed for other’s reactions to our self-expression.” I agree that no one should be blamed for other people’s reaction to our expressions. We have a right to express whatever we do, and others have a right to whatever they feel in response. A reaction is a feeling about something someone has said or done that causes us discomfort such that we might say or do something back. Lets use a simple example of an expression a child might use when they are angry that someone has taken their toy: “You are a fart face!” Ok, that was self-expression. The child they spoke to very likely will simply get angry back, not actually hearing what the child wanted them to hear in the first place. The child could also have said, “I feel angry that you took my toy! Its not ok. I want it back!” Those are two different forms of expression. And they do, honestly, tend to generate different responses. Now, without blaming the young child for the other person’s reaction, most parents do feel it is important to explain to children how different ways of expressing ourselves can generate very different things, and we have power over that. We don’t have power over other people’s reactions. But we do have power over our own actions and communications. This is the sticky issue for me right now in the cultural conversation. Because to say that women HAVE POWER over how they choose to express themselves through clothing or through physical expression, and so on, sounds like they are RESPONSIBLE for the way others react. And further, that therefore others have permission to say or do whatever they want out of that reaction. But it doesn’t mean that at all. The others have power too. They have power and responsibility over their words and actions too. And they do have every right to their own reaction, to how they feel in response. They have every right to feel turned on, to be attracted, to be confused, to wonder what is happening, to wonder what their own response is supposed to be, to feel manipulated, or teased, and so on. They have a right to their feelings and experiences too. So, as a grown woman, I choose to be careful how I assert my sexuality, whether through clothing or how I speak or act with people (of any gender), because I know it has power. And I want to use it consciously and choose my moments. That makes those moments and the subtle nuances between people even more precious and enjoyable. I like to know for myself how to turn on and off. I like to be able to be invisible when I want to, and when to shine out radiantly, speak powerfully, act seductively–the whole gamut. I want to chose for myself. I want to be ready for what comes my way, and capable of shifting according to the need of the moment. And I want the right to do so, in a world in which all people are held to that level of responsibility, power, and personal choice, men and women alike. This is hard right now because we seem to still be peeling ourselves out from the objectification of our humanity, our bodies and all. So women should not be blamed for the hatred and violence, oppression and shame, perpetrated against them no matter how they dress or behave. But should men be blamed for having feelings, instincts, drives, sensations that are naturally attuned to the way women look and behave? (Keeping it to the heterosexual here, but it applies in any situation). Don’t we want to celebrate those feelings and sensations, those drives and and instincts–the ones that can bring so much intimacy and affection, and accord? If so, should we not respect those feelings in all genders? And consider them? It may be very risky to suggest, but sometimes dress codes are helpful in different settings. They clarify the mood of a given space. I may be unnecessarily complicating the conversation–I know why it is kept simple. Because it should not be confusing. But the fact is that it still is. Thanks for letting me pour out my thoughts. They are not meant to be contradictory at all, and I appreciate your educated correction of anything I am saying. I am grateful for all the bravery and work that goes into the advocacy you and others do. It’s what inspires me to toss this in the ring to see how it might be of benefit.
I should add, again, of course that in the original post, the event referred to was so far gone awry as to virtually nihilate any of my considerations. The culture we live in is still so confused about what sex is and isn’t. That is why #This Is Not Consent is so important. It is a collective crime that such a misunderstanding can occur. That anyone could justify such a thing. I’m purchasing some of your products to better understand how to talk to my younger son now about online pornography and how media portrays sex, and how to inoculate him against the influence of those things he will eventually encounter. Thanks for more conversation! So needed!