Does Miscommunication Lead to Rape?

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.)

4 thoughts on “Does Miscommunication Lead to Rape?

  1. There is a strong shift there. But a charitable way to interpret _some_ of what’s in the interview excerpts is that the ‘subtle’ ways such as saying “i don’t think this is a good idea” or asking about a taxi are what you try first in a way similar to euphemisms, and that if they don’t get it you then have to be explicit. In other words, a person can be reasonably expected to understand from the ‘subtle’ ones, but if they don’t then you have a responsibility to be blunt. At any rate, I used scare quotes on subtle, because most of these are not subtle at all. Body language is a bit trickier for some people.

  2. I’m not siding with rape apologizers by any stretch. No means no, rape is rape, and I enjoy giving good hard kicks wherever and whenever they’re deserved to demonstrate my position. (Again, I have been in that position–and there is nothing sweeter than putting that type of lowlife in the hospital–I’m not just kicking one wouldabeen rapist’s teeth in, I’m sticking it to the whole ugly history of misogyny and every dickwad that’s ever pulled that crap.) Many women are not in a position to take down their attackers, unfortunately, and laws that protect rapists and the rapists themselves thoroughly disgust me.

    But I am sincerely baffled, here. Unless these men are admitting to holding a gun to a woman’s head, how did they ever manage to get past all those teeth and take a blow job by force? Even most types of coercion involving threats of whatever type of professional humiliation just aren’t believable when I think about how they’d sound coming from a man who’s had his THANG chewed off by a vicious hellcat like myself.

    I did my doubletake, too. This is an American study. Am I correct in taking this study as evidence that recent reports of increased female vigilanteism in the US may be exaggerated?

  3. My comment #3 was referring to Kathryn’s link. On the study in Jender’s post, my personal biases are screaming THOSE GUYS ARE LYING!!! When a guy doesn’t want sex, whether he’s assumed correctly about the woman’s intentions or not, he dismisses her. If she’s lucky, he just walks away. If she’s not, he’ll tell her in no uncertain terms that he thinks she’s a ditchpig. There’s no winking or subtle body language or euphemisms. He just removes her from his line of sight like any other opponent in his world.

    #3 is also my version of “what’s good for the gander is good for the goose”. Men rarely give us those little courtesies like “you’re really nice, but my dick got shot off in Iraq”. Why should we hm and haw about the word no?

    Go ahead (anybody and nobody in particular) and tell me my dissonance levels are Milli Vanilli-esque. I won’t believe you ;-)

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