Confessions of a pushy guy

Why we actually do need consent workshops, and why we need them to be good.

cambridge tab Feminism Luke Heppenstall-West

Readers should be aware this article contains a description of sexual assault.

My college ran sexual consent workshops for the first time at the beginning of term.

“Wait, so you’re saying it’s important people want to have sex with you? Shit, I hadn’t realised” drawled my inner-monologue as I rolled my eyes and discussed the relative merits of intersectionality in our post-structuralist society, placing my cup of chai tea carefully ‘pon my Mary Wollenscroft compendium.

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So damn progressive

I probably made a joke about it being a workshop “to teach you how to get people to want to have sex with you,” cos one, I’m a funny guy; and two, we’re all grown-ups here: we know this stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Consent Workshops are a brilliant idea. But my cynicism was well founded: if it had been a test, we’d all have passed with flying colours, as the strata of misogynistic rapists I had assumed were the target audience failed to materialise. Everyone appeared progressive, self-aware and sympathetic, knights in shining amour (wordplay right there) if you will.

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Such chivalry

Leaving the workshop – and as a recent article in The Warwick Tab would have us believe – you’d think Feminism was well on the way to achieving its goals, “rape culture” would disappear along with all the other patriarchal baggage of the previous generation and we could all stop worrying about it.

Unfortunately, one of my best friends was sexually assaulted.

It was a stereotypical club hook up: she had gone out “on the pull”, pulled, and invited her pullee back to hers. However, for various reasons, she changed her mind, making it very clear she had done so (like saying “I don’t want to have sex”, for example).

Her short-term lover did not stop, saying instead in his experience, most girls had a moment of hesitation before sex but enjoyed it in the end. He was against “slut shaming” and the reason she didn’t want to have sex with him was because the patriarchy insisted women be prudish: she should just let herself go and enjoy the moment.

When she asked him to leave, he refused. Twice. Instead, he continued with his attempts at seduction with increased energy.

Eventually he got the idea and left, but not after saying she was wrong, and this was not a nice way to treat guys. My friend has not been legally raped*, and to this day he fails to see how he was in the wrong (I asked).

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*She did, however, experience sexual assault

And, biased as I am, his perspective was disconcertingly familiar. Look at the story this way: you are drunk in a club, a girl invites you back to hers. She’s clearly into you, at least at the beginning. Are you so wrong to try to persuade her to have sex with you?

Yes.

Because he didn’t have to spend the night in the room of someone who’s in tears because they knew, had they not been so strong and assertive, they would certainly have been raped – someone who actually feels guilty because the pseudo-feminist shite he came out with really got under her skin.

Bastard.

Yes, women should be encouraged to be strong and assertive. But why should they have to be? It seems backward to assume the default answer to sex is a “yes” unless the other person says “no” loudly enough, especially if we then don’t respect their judgement in saying “no”.

Actually, new legislation is going to make this illegal anyway.

I’d like to believe I can say all of this from a smug podium as a re-constructed man, but I have definitely been a pushy guy in my time. I could excuse myself by saying I was farcically drunk, sweetly inexperienced, adorably keen in a boyish kind of way, whatever – but there have been occasions when someone has had to say no multiple times – when I thought I could “seduce”, someone who’d made it clear they weren’t keen.

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And we are encouraged. Guys need to be confident and make the first move. We’ve all seen films where the “cute” nerd (probably Michael Cera) essentially stalks a girl until she likes him: ‘pushiness’ is normalised.

I say all this as someone who has experienced consensual sex (I’m not showing off, give me a second) and it’s great. When someone really does want to have sex with you, you don’t need to persuade them. You can lie awake afterwards and talk about the relative merits of intersectionality in our post-structuralist society with a clear conscience.

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Artist missed out the Chai Tea

So my worry with the sexual consent workshops wasn’t that they were unnecessary, but that they didn’t quite go far enough. Personally, I came away feeling like I was in the clear – rape and sexual assault are done by “someone else” and, as long as I looked out for them, I wouldn’t need to worry.

The workshop did have two very interesting facts which could have received more attention: firstly only 5% of rapists are psychotic at the time, secondly the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.

To me, they challenge the assumption that rape is committed by horrible men in dark alleys: instead, a great deal of what happens is done by average guys who have normalised sexual harassment to the extent they don’t realise it exists.

So it’s great we all know what to say to sound like feminists, but just spouting the terminology doesn’t help anyone.

We need to be willing and keen to be challenged and assess our own actions, to actually understand institutional and normalised sexism, to get  consent is an enthusiastic yes.