‘Don’t Be That Girl’ Posters Prove We Need to Talk About Coercion and Consent

don't be that girl posterA University of Alberta professor photographed a poster on her campus (left) that reads, “Just because you regret a one night stand doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual. Lying about sexual assault = crime. Don’t be that girl.” The poster was presumably placed around campus by a men’s rights group that has yet to publicly take responsibility, according to Dr. Cristina Stasia, who first tweeted a photo of the poster. The message inverts a public service campaign by Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE) with the central message “Don’t be that guy,” meant to draw awareness to the need for consent.

If you look at the posters for the “that guy” campaign, they really address the issue of coercion and consent head on, saying things like, “Just because you help her home doesn’t mean you get to help yourself,” “Just because she isn’t saying no doesn’t mean she’s saying yes,” “It’s not sex when she’s wasted,” and “It’s not sex when he changes his mind,” the last example depicting a gay male couple with one of the men nudging the other man away.

SAVE’s campaign is doing what we all need to do with our children and with each other: talk openly about sex, coercion and consent. I’ve quoted it before, but Ask Moxie’s “A Letter To My Sons About Stopping Rape” says everything that needs to be said to boys and men about acquiring consent before having sex with a woman:

This is what I want you to wait for. I want you to wait to have sex until the person you’re with asks you for it. Tells you they need you now, and that they can’t wait, and they want it. Calls you by your name and asks for it.

If you’re ever in a situation in which someone is asking you for it and you don’t want to have sex with that person, don’t do it. And if you’re ever in a situation in which you want to have sex but the other person doesn’t ask you for it, don’t do it. It’s only good if you both want it, and can tell each other you want it, and are sure you both want it.

I like, too, how Moxie wants her sons to want to have sex – not just in general – but with a specific person that they’re really sure they want to be intimate with. This is the key to stopping rape, and grey-area situations that are rape-y or rape-ish. We must teach each other, remind each other, encourage each other to know that one should never have sex just because they feel like they should because well, sex is good and fun, right, and it’s been a long time since I’ve had sex so I probably should because I’m a loser if I don’t have sex because hot people and cool people are having sex all the time and sex will solve my problems and make me feel less lonely, right?

No. Sex will not solve your problems. If you have sex to solve your problems, you will likely cause yourself more problems.

I’m not trying to vilify casual sex. But I think we all need to be honest about what casual sex really is, what it really feels like, and if we’re going to encourage it as part of being liberated and empowered, we need to encourage it in a way that is going to be totally positive and not the sometimes negative, usually messy thing that it is. And the only way sex of any kind can be totally positive is if we totally come clean about it.

And that’s the thing. Because we (still) don’t talk openly enough about sex, and especially not woman to woman, girlfriend to girlfriend, mother to daughter, about what our rights are in the bedroom (or on the kitchen table or the bathroom floor or wherever), but yet we encourage each other to have sex because we’re all sexually empowered now and stuff – because we don’t talk to each other the way Moxie has talked to her sons, women end up in situations ALL THE TIME that are rape-y and rape-ish but that we don’t consider rape or sexual assault because we know better. We know making false accusations of rape is bad news, which is why most actual rape victims don’t report actual rapes. We end up in situations where we are having sex with someone we don’t really want to be having sex with because well, we thought we wanted to have sex with this person but then we realized we didn’t, but we were almost there at the insertion part and so isn’t that kind of too late to stop? Might as well get it over with and just chalk it up to learning experience.

Is a woman raped if she just doesn’t feel confident enough to say no? I don’t know. But Moxie’s point is, what prevents rape and rape-y and rape-ish scenarios is not waiting to hear a “no” that may never come, but rather being sure you’ve heard “yes.” What prevents that grey area from ever coming into question is 1) empowering women and girls to say no or stop when they want to at any point during an intimate encounter, even if they might otherwise feel guilt or shame about it, and 2) empowering men and boys to acquire a clear “yes” (which, when it comes to sex is most clearly expressed as, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”). We need to teach our children and remind each other that responsible sex partners (and good lovers) check in with each other during sex to make sure everything is still going swimmingly and that both partners are still into what’s happening. We need to communicate more about sex and during sex and after sex.

We have to take the shame out of sex before we can end rape, and all these fratty posters in Alberta are doing is making women feel ashamed of themselves. Their aim is to gaslight sexual assault victims into thinking they’re crazy, into questioning whether or not what they believe happened actually happened. Do you know how hard it is for sexual assault victims to come forward? And how few false allegations are actually made? In the U.S. it’s estimated to be that about 5% of assault allegations are false. But trumped up talk like this of false allegations is damaging for victims. As the Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse noted in a June 27th blog post, “Posters like this are so damaging to the cause of ending sexual violence. To take a campaign that only seeks to educate community members on the laws of consent and the crime of sexual assault with the goal of ending this horrific and degrading crime and to mock it is not only unprofessional but inhumane.”

Inhumane is a perfect word to describe this cavalier attitude toward women as lying, trifling sex objects. Talk to your boys from the time they are young. Teach them compassion and respect. Show them humanity so that they can grow up to model it. Your girls will thank you.

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