21 May 2011

Abuse and Taking Advantage

I don't normally wade in on thieving Tory gobshite-in-residence Nadine Dorries, but this quote reminded me of something even worser.
A lot of girls, when sex abuse takes place, don’t realise until later that that was a wrong thing to do … Society is so over-sexualised that I don’t think people realise that if we did empower this message into girls, imbued this message in schools, we’d probably have less sex abuse.
Why us boys don't need to be "empowered" a bit too also confuses me - we're also under a wee bit of pressure to get laid whether we want to or not, and we don't even have the crippling terror of being called a slut to balance that out. I for one would have liked to be told I wasn't a failure for not having all the exciting teenage sex I imagined my peers were having. But what could be worse than Nadine Dorries, you wonder. Why, Westlife of course. And what could be worse than that? The one with the annoying face going solo.
I like you just the way you are
Drunk as shit dancing at the bar.
I like it,
and I can't wait to get you home,
so I can do some damage.
I like you just the way you are.
Jump in the back seat of my car,
cos I like it
and I can't wait to get you home
so I can take advantage.

Cath Elliot was quick to call this a "date-rape ditty". Obviously "do some damage" is, at best, a pretty fucked-up way to describe sex. But "take advantage" is ambiguous. Even if we assume it's taking advantage of the woman and not the situation, is he taking advantage of her because she's too drunk to consent, or because she's drunk enough to consent? He says "your imagination takes full flight" and "even if you go too far", and she quite specifically "jumps" into the back of his car, so the woman (meant to be his wife I think) seems to be an active and enthusiastic participant. At what point is your mental capacity reduced, by alcohol or anything else, that you forfeit your ability to consent? This is why "taking advantage" is such a sticky concept. It could be raping someone in a vulnerable state, or it could be in the more rakish, Victorian sense of persuading a woman to have sex when her cross-legged, Angel-in-the-House decorum is somehow lowered. Either makes sense, as long as there is advantage to be had.

In the same way, Nadine Dorries is fairly cagey about what "abuse" actually is. Stavvers' raises an important point:
On Planet Dorries, sex abuse is caused by girls not saying no.

There is a curious logical somersault here, the idea that rape can be prevented entirely by saying “no”, although it plays in perfect harmony with the popular notion that rape is only rape when the victim (always a woman, apparently) says “no”. No no, no rape. Dorries has taken this to its logical extreme: that uttering the n-word will magically vanquish all rape.
I'd take this further and say that anyone even vaguely feminist should stop saying "you can say no" and start saying "you don't have to say yes", what with rape being based on consent not refusal and all. But Nadine Dorries isn't particularly interested in rape here. Her "abuse" still has this strange implication of getting girls to consent to sex. Yes, two people fucking too young because they think that's what they are meant to do is a bad thing, but it's rather condescending to pretend that a 15-year-old boy isn't going to be just as confused about what he wants as his girlfriend.

Both the concept of "taking advantage" of an inebriated or enamoured woman and Nadine Dorries' idea of "sex abuse" are based on the assumption that there is sex women and girls shouldn't be having, regardless of whether they want it. Fierce moralisation over women's sexuality, policing their bodies, and the hangovers these leave in our language confuse the issue of consent. Not only does this mean soft-headed religious conservatives can pull off the deft backflip of invoking rape so as to tell girls not to consent, it makes it possible for predatory fratboy shitehawks like McFadden to bypass the distinction between horny-drunk and non-consenting. These concepts don't draw a line between willing and unwilling participants, but between good girls and sluts, between women who are fucked and women who aren't. Consent is sort of irrelevant.


  1. Spot on.

    Except it was Bryan McFadden (the fat one who left Westlife) who did the rape song, not Westlife.

  2. Did that not come through? I'll edit.

    Not that either of us knew that fact, of course.

  3. They also don't leave much room for women who fuck, in the active sense.