April 16, 2014

Can Women Ever Really Say Yes…?

Sex educators encourage people to get consent before engaging in sex. The implication is that men and women are free to consent to sex...but is it that simple?

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We’ve heard the mantra “No Means No” and most people agree (at least conversationally) that if a woman says, “no,” that “no” should be respected. But what about women who want to say, “yes?” Does that “yes” actually get respected? Unfortunately we have names for women who say “yes” too often, too soon, too enthusiastically, or with too many people, and those names are hurtful and demeaning. Men call women those names, women call women those names; and for what reason? Because women desire sex and want to have it.

Keeping Score

My parents grew up with the slogan, “a man will not buy the cow when he can get the milk for free” as a warning to women—avoid sex or you will not be marriage material (assuming all women are heterosexual and actually want to get married too). As Thomas Macaulay Millar points out in Friedman and Valenti’s Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape, contemporary American society has come to view women’s sex as a commodity, as a product— for example we say, “she gave it up,” or “he got some.” And in fact sex with the freshest, newest, least experienced woman is of a higher value; as we all know “fresh milk” is better than “stale milk.” So ladies, if you are heterosexual and want your milk to go at a higher bidding price, the moral here is to close your legs.

Is there a corresponding slogan for men? Not really, because that would seem odd, right? A man’s worth is not diminished by the increasing number of sexual partners he has had. More often than not, more partners make his worth increase, especially among other men. Is that sexual standard fair for men?

Why do we even view sex in this way – why is less more for women and more more for men? Is that fair to anyone? And if men don’t want to have sex and women do want to have sex, why should they be chastised for these wants and desires?

A Catch-22?

Women are held to an odd expectation. In some ways they are told it is okay to desire sex, and in fact sometimes wanting sex and lots of it is endorsed, especially by the media – music videos, TV, movies . Yet, when women act on desire for sex, their reputation is at stake and they are at risk of being labeled a slut. Now some women claim that they own that label, that they don’t care what others think and they will express themselves sexually however they chose. Men on the other hand are usually told a consistent message-have sex, have lots of it and have it as often as possible with as many partners as possible. The options are limited for both men and women in the heterosexual college culture. And the stakes are high for everyone who does not follow these rules.

Can women really say yes?

When women say no, it’s often not taken seriously or somehow not good enough-you know the common lines, well she was asking for it, she should have known better, what did she expect would happen etc. So interestingly, when women say no, it is often not really respected. And when women agree to sex, we think they are bad or slutty. Therefore, the question I am posing is, if women are not respected when they say no, and they are not respected when they say yes, what options do they have? And what about men, what are their options? I look forward to exploring these ideas and questions through this blog and I hope to get feedback to these interesting, but complicated questions.