Yes Means Yes

During my brief foray into the corporate world, I had an older colleague who shared the wisdom that it’s always easier to seek forgiveness than to get permission. I’ve been thinking all these years that was a clever bit of advice until I read about the passage of California SB 967 and now I’m thinking it’s always better to get permission than to go to jail for rape.

California SB 967, which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law last month, states that schools will be denied public funding unless they adopt policies regarding sexual assault to include the affirmative consent standard, and a bunch of other stuff (requiring prevention and outreach programs, detailed victim-centered protocols, comprehensive training of staff). Of course, the reactionaries on the right (are there any other kind?) have focused on the affirmative consent standard, and not the fact that the effect of the law is to withdraw public funding from universities that fail to establish these policies, not run around and arrest people who have sex with women who don’t respond like Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

But I want to know, what’s so wrong with affirmative consent? What’s so wrong with making sure we’re all on the same page before we whip out our dirty sexy bits?

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou. And a Dumpster.

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou. And a Dumpster.

Believe me, I know how blessed my life has been in that I have never been the victim of sexual assault, unless you count that guy who put his hand on my ass while we shared a cigarette near the Dumpster behind the Stop N Shop where we both worked that summer. Would it have killed him to ask, “Hey, can I put my hand on your ass?” Would that have ruined the “romance” of the moment?

I guess the idea of asking permission isn’t so foreign to me since I married a guy who asked, after a spirited make out session on his living room sofa, “Do you want to go upstairs?” before proceeding further.

In fact, maybe that’s why I married him, because he asked.

So what’s wrong with asking permission? Perhaps some folks are uncomfortable admitting they’re thinking about sex, or they want sex. Perhaps they’re afraid to put words to their desires.

Still, part of me can’t help but think that people who aren’t willing to ask for permission are the ones who know they won’t get it.

Royalty free images, including the one in this post, can be found at freeimages.com. 

 

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26 thoughts on “Yes Means Yes

  1. Dylan Hearn says:

    Damn! I wanted you to post something I could argue with but I’m fully with you on this one. There is nothing wrong with affirmative consent. How can asking “fancy going upstairs” kill the moment if the answer is “too bloody right I do”? That’s not a dampener, that’s an aphrodisiac!
    Affirmative consent also destroys the conquest myth, that women need to be persuaded to have sex. To me, this is a major cause of sexual assault because it isn’t such a great mental leap to go from persuading to insisting, then forcing, but the consequences are catastrophic.
    Good for California. I only wish we had the same policy here in England.

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    • Karen says:

      Yes, if a woman agreeing that she wants to have sex with you “kills the mood” than boy, oh, boy I wonder what it takes to get you into “the mood.”

      But I wonder if you’re onto something with this conquest thing, which is something I had not even considered. I wonder if for some guys that’s important, that it’s an ego boost when believe they were able to persuade a woman to do something that she did not really want to do because of the sheer force of their animal magnetism or, um, something. I’m not talking about rape here–just that the guy needs to think of himself as irresistible to the woman.

      And we have the whole madonna/whore complex that I think a lot of men suffer from.

      And don’t get me started on that comment thread on your blog yesterday–sheesh! Don’t you ever get sick of people agreeing with you all the time? What a bunch of sheep! 🙂 But it’s ok to agree with me on everything because I’m always right 🙂

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  2. El Guapo says:

    Mostly I’m for anything that forces people to treat people as people, and not property.
    On the other hand, in a lot of non-consent situations, it often sounds like it’s less about sex and more about power.

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    • Karen says:

      I think it’s complicated, but I think SB 967 is a good thing because it gets men and women talking, actually verbalizing, about consent. I can’t understand why anyone would oppose the law (other than to grab ratings for their radio show, or page views for their column–I’m talking about Rush Limbaugh and George Will here, who have both been critics of this law).

      And of course the statute is a great thing because it finally holds college administrations accountable for sexual assaults that occur on campus or involve students.

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  3. Joyce says:

    I think it’s a step in the right direction. I do understand the concerns of some who question the implications of the affirmative consent requirement – not that i wish to align myself with some members of the right, with their talk of “legitimate rape” and so forth.

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    • Karen says:

      The implications being that eventually rape will be defined in the criminal code as failure to receive affirmative consent? The definition of rape has evolved in the last forty years (approximately), so I won’t say I can’t see this happening, but the immediate problem we face (and I think you’re a college administrator, so I’d be interested in your opinion on this) is the half-assed way universities adjudicate sexual assaults on/near campus. I’m not saying students should be expelled when they are accused, nor am I suggesting that students should be compelled to give evidence in criminal prosecutions, but there’s got to be a better way than sweeping this stuff under the rug (I’d advocate for something similar to civilian protection orders).

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      • Joyce says:

        Oh, no. No, no, no. I’m not speaking to the criminality of the act. I’m saying that I have to wonder if some of those who questioned affirmative consent requirement were not doing so from a position of wishing to protect rapists or shame victims, but rather from a place of trying to understand how such a requirement would be enforced since a great many sex acts do not necessarily involve a specific conversation on the granting of consent. I saw that there was a further list of non-verbal cues were also included, which is a start.

        I’m not an administrator, just a lowly advisor. But I can tell you that on my campus for the last several years, any report of sexual assault is immediately reported to the campus community along with guidelines on consent and the push for people to not be bystanders when witnessing a situation in which a someone is being taken advantage of.

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        • Karen says:

          Eh, I’m thinking you’re giving the critics too much credit. I’m thinking their criticism owes more to their discomfort with talking about sex (gulp!) with a real live girl (gulp!) than the fact that their moves are so smooth they never have to say a word.

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  4. pinklightsabre says:

    Great topic for discussion, like the image about the stop & shop and can’t help imagine that guy was sleazy…interesting. Any post featuring Joyce quotes is golden in my book. You may have inspired me to whip out my copy of Portrait.

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    • Karen says:

      Yeah, I feel that bit I quoted from Ulysses is possibly the sexiest paragraph ever written in the English language.

      Not surprised you’re a fan of Joyce–I have to tell you that when I first started following your blog, I thought all your posts were fiction and you’ve got that stream of consciousness thing down. I really liked the post (I’ll have to go look for it now) “Quoting Depressed Comedians”–you really nailed the oppressive corporate atmosphere. I think it’s a very, very good bit of writing.

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        Wonderful! Thank you Karen, you made my day. I should go back to Ulysses now; I don’t think I could have gotten through it without the aid of others holding my hand. “Standing on the shoulders of giants”–enjoy the rest of your weekend and thanks for the kind words.

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        OK – sorry, but because it’s easier than editing now I’m going to transcribe a favorite passage from Portrait. Probably won’t do it again, but because you’re from Philadelphia, a writer, and like Joyce, here’s a treat:

        –A day of dappled seaborne clouds.
        The phrase and the day and the scene harmonised in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the grey-fringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language many-coloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?

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  5. moi says:

    Permission should indeed be asked, but is situations like where the guys pout his hand on your arse would you have said yes? I can picture the situation, you both pop outside for a smoke and go to the smokers area, he lights one up and offers to light your smoke which you accept.

    “What you up to this weekend” he says
    “not much” you reply “what about you”
    “oh I am going to the ball game with giddy mcfee and her brother angus” he says
    “oh cool” you reply
    “hey, would you be ok if I just groped your arse, it’s a great arse and I’d really like the grab some”
    “errr sure, go for it”

    I cannot see conversations going down like that, so in which case you don’t just then do it, but you just imagine what the end result would be like and the question is asked, but only in your head.

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    • Karen says:

      Hmmm. If the right guy asked me, in the right way, I’d probably say, “Err, sure, go for it.”

      I think these convos happen a lot more than we realize and if you go back and examine your own dating history, you’ve probably had a few yourself. Are they formal requests? Probably not. But I don’t think most people silently grope one another until they get slapped (or worse) or climax.

      I have to ask–why would you be uncomfortable posing the question? If you’re not comfortable enough with the person to ask, you probably shouldn’t put your hand on his/her ass.

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      • moi says:

        I was just thinking of scenarios, years ago ive been out places with people I like them we seem to be getting on well, making a little chemistry, I think she may be thinkign the same (or it could just be my imagination). But I just wouldnt have the bottle to ask the question. you never know really what the reaction will be no matter how well you seem to be getting along.

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