It’s very popular to suppose that rape is often the result of miscommunication. There are at least two versions of this, with different emphases– those who are less sympathetic to the victims say that rapes result from women giving unclear signals; some anti-porn feminists (e.g. Langton) suggest that porn may have so warped men’s thinking about sex that they don’t recognise women’s attempts to refuse sex.
C has pointed me to some fascinating empirical research involving interviews with men. These interviews make it clear that the men are sensitive to subtle and non-direct refusals from women, which they also indicate would be their own preferred method of refusing sex. But then once the word ‘rape’ is introduced the men start playing up the potential for miscommunication, insisting that even ‘no’ isn’t really an unambiguous refusal.
This is where things fall off the rails. Suddenly, men don’t deal with “subtleties,” even though the men have previously reported that they would turn down sex in the same way they’d expect women to—subtly. Suddenly, a person misinterpreting lack of consent is completely understandable if “she fails to say ‘no’ clearly,” even though the men had previously never invoked direct refusal as a way they know if women don’t want to have sex with them. Suddenly, a woman is required to engage in a very specific behavior—looking her sex partner in the eye and saying “no”—in order to not be responsible for her own rape.
(Actually, there may be some interesting connections between this and the cognitive dissonance post below.)