Sexual Consent and Paradigm Shifts

Like a lot of young people, I liked going south for spring break. Florida was the destination of choice in my day: Fort Lauderdale and Daytona Beach were affordable and promised a good party.

One of my last trips was memorable, but not for the usual reasons.

Four of us were having fun at one of Fort Lauderdale’s main bars when we were invited to a party. All of us had been drinking, but as was my habit, I abstained from smoking pot. It just didn’t do anything for me.

So we were standing at the bar one minute and squeezing into a huge station wagon the next. Some young men convinced us the party would be a great time.

It seemed awfully far away. Because I was the most sober of my friends—the rest had conked out early in the drive—I took notice of where we were going. When I saw the cityscape being replaced by suburbs and then not much at all, I started worrying. In those days cabs didn’t take credit cards and, even collectively, I didn’t think we had enough fare to get back to our hotel.

It got worse when I heard the two young men, sitting in the front seats, talking very quietly. They were planning on ditching one of us–likely me because I wasn’t drunk–and taking the others to a secluded beach.

When I leaned forward to hear more, one of them nudged the other and said, “She’s listening.” Then they went silent.

So imagine you are your 20 year-old self and you find yourself in this predicament. What do you do?

I’m older now so the answer is obvious. You demand to be taken back to your hotel, or at least to the bar you left from, right?

I remember looking at my sleeping friends and then out the window. There were even fewer signs of life and a gut-wrenching dread rose in me. I was young; I was on holiday; I was supposed to be having fun.

So I did something my older self would approve of: when we hit a series of traffic lights, I told the young men that if they didn’t take us back I was going to get out at a light, flag down a motorist and ask for help. In a way that struck me as even more sinister, they turned around without saying one word. I was expecting them to laugh and cajole me out of it.

My friends didn’t notice. However, when we arrived back at Fort Lauderdale’s main strip and weren’t at a party, they got angry with me. Even a full explanation didn’t help.

That’s what drunken young women in party-mode are like.

Paradigm Shifts

Sexual consent and Paradigm Shifts
Spring Break in Daytona Beach

There’s been a lot in the news lately about sexual assault and we’re being told, ad nauseam, that we live in a rape culture. What we’re not hearing is that when it comes to young people, mixing alcohol, sex and drugs isn’t a good idea. We’re not hearing that that trifecta of dis-inhibitors can end up getting both genders into trouble at parties, frat, spring-break and otherwise. We’re not hearing that it might be wise to appoint a designated sober friend—just like a designated driver—to watch over others to make sure everyone gets home safely.

We’re not having these conversations because we’re too focused on the blame game and not focused enough on the mixture that creates the context for it. Instead a tide of feminist outrage is obscuring an easy and practical solution.

More recent experiences I’ve had with women friends—when they were intoxicated and refused to do the wise thing—tells me this situation is far more complex than most conventional feminists accept. So while the fury around certain celebrity “rapists” rages in Canada, and squeaky wheels take credit for creating #Ibelieveher campaigns, most mothers I know are quietly cautioning their daughters to do differently than the “victims” in the headlines. It seems there are a lot of secrets when it comes to rape: the fact that some of us are skeptical of the current  media focus on celebrity rape cases is yet another one. Political correctness, and the punishments that come with it, prevent us from saying what we think.

I have nothing against alcohol or pot. But my experience tells me that a lot of what looks and sounds like sexual assault might be the product of poor planning by both genders. In other words, I don’t like blaming men for every sexual transgression when I know that women like my friends are out there. And the numbers that purport to reflect the reality of rape need over-hauling too. According to widely quoted statistics, 1 in 12 male university undergrads will commit that crime. In Montreal alone, that means that 3,100 rapists can be found within a few city blocks, those between Concordia and McGill universities.

Note to feminists: We need to stop using exaggerated statistics. And we need to get real in assessing how we create our own realities. Amy Poehler, and other women actors, agitating for feminist reforms in Hollywood, started a recent trend on social media: she wants reporters to ask women walking down red carpets questions about their work instead of what they’re wearing.

What does this have to do with rape?

The same incoherency exists in Poehler and her friends’ wishes for a more egalitarian red carpet: we all know that most of them wear designer dresses they haven’t paid for. Designers send out samples in the hopes that their work will be showcased for free. In that sense, the actors’ pleas for better questions are nonsensical. If they want smarter questions, they should stop volunteering to be walking billboards. They earn enough to pay for their own dresses.

As a young woman sitting in a Women’s Studies class, I often asked myself what feminists had against common sense. Thirty years later, I’m still wondering.

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