What do you think of when you hear the term “pro choice?” Most people think of abortion. Advocates often say that, to be “pro-choice,” you are arguing not simply for the right of a woman to obtain an abortion, but that the stance is about the larger picture of demanding the right to total and unimpeded bodily autonomy. “My body, my choice” is the mantra most commonly heard, with proponents stating that any woman should have the final say on what she chooses to do with her own body. No man, they argue, should have the right to make any decisions about a woman’s body, because it is hers. We should trust each woman to know what is best for her. Some “progressive” advocates believe that abortion should be legal and accessible for every woman right up until she is due to give birth.
Why, then, are so many pro-choice advocates simultaneously demanding that men assume responsibility for determining when, and how, a woman can use her body?
Let’s set the mood.
In September of 2013, two Occidental College students became drunk and engaged in consensual sex. The woman, “Jane Doe,” participated in a text message exchange with the man, “John Doe,” at one point asking him if he had a condom. She also texted a friend, stating that she was “wasted” and bragging about how she was about to have sex, before making her way to the man’s room. According to one of Jane’s friends, she was having difficulty walking and at one point said “I have to act normal.” According to one of John’s neighbors, he was “slurring his words, stumbling over the others when he got up.” They were both clearly and visibly drunk, yet planned and engaged in consensual sex. Despite these facts, the woman revoked her consent one week later, after seeking counsel from the college’s assistant Professor of Sociology, Danielle Dirks, who told Jane Doe that the man she slept with “fit the profile of other rapists on campus in that he had a high GPA in high school, was his class valedictorian, was on [a sports team], and he was ‘from a good family.’” Despite being cleared by police, Occidental administrators expelled John three months later – for rape.
There is an expectation of men to evaluate women and make determinations about how they can, and should, use their bodies. This is not a matter of one sober party and a second barely conscious party. Drunk sex, and even regrettable sex, are not rape. And yet young men are being held responsible not only for decisions about their own bodies, but decisions about women’s bodies as well. A man is required, through his own haze of alcohol, to assess the state of the woman as he would if he were sober, and make an informed, clear-headed decision about how to proceed. This, too, is an overwhelmingly “progressive” stance.
“But Liz,” some of you may think. “That case is from 2013. Why are you even talking about this? Is the news really that slow?” I bring this case back to light because this is reportedly what is being taught in a mandatory online course at at least one U.S. University.
Students at the University of Southern California are being forced to complete mandatory – as in required, non-negotiable, obligatory – online courses that explicitly detail their recent sexual history, and participate in an extensive “consent” course, before they are permitted to register for classes in Spring 2016. According to a report from Campus Reform, the online course requires students to disclose the number of sexual encounters they’d had in the prior three months. In addition, the course teaches students how to ask for consent.
“This course is mandatory, and you must complete it by February 9, 2016. If you do not complete the training by this date you will receive a registration hold until the training is complete,” an email obtained by Campus Reform reads. Screenshots of the questionnaire were provided to Campus Reform by USC student Jacob Ellenhorn, along with details of the second portion of the course. Arguably more troubling than requiring students to disclose how many encounters they’ve had without a condom is the post-survey lesson, which states that drunk people cannot consent to sex. This alone is fine, however the lesson goes on to show a video where two drunk people are engaging in sexual activity, and yet the man is portrayed as a predator.
“It kept on saying that drunk people cannot give consent. In one scenario both the man and the woman were drunk but the video still blames the male for the assault. I found that a little confusing,” Ellenhorn said.
This is hardly an isolated situation. In 2008, the Campus Assault Resource Education Support Coalition at Coastal Carolina University created, published, and circulated posters depicting two students, Jake and Josie. The poster reads “Jake was drunk. Josie was drunk. Jake and Josie hooked up. Josie could NOT consent. The next day Jake was charged with rape.” At the bottom, it reads: “A woman who is intoxicated cannot give her legal consent for sex, so proceeding under these circumstances is a crime. It only takes a single day to ruin your life. Think about it! Be Responsible.” The campus’ new poster, provided to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), is not much better. It states that consent is “Enthusiastic, Sober, Mutual, Voluntary, and Communicated clearly before any sexual activity.” It then states that “Sex without consent is sexual assault.” This clearly indicates than anyone who has consumed any alcohol is incapable of sex – and that if they have sex, no matter how voluntarily or mutually or enthusiastically, they are a victim.
Some feminists may enjoy pointing to the amount of time spent fighting for women to be viewed equally to men – socially and legally – and yet when the matter of drunk sex arises, men are held to higher standards of behavior than women. Treating women as though they are incapable of making meaningful decisions, and expecting men to telepathically know what is best for a woman, seems pretty antithetical to the stance of “pro-choice.”
This is an almost expected consequence of the adaptations of “yes means yes” policies, which aim to dictate the ways in which people should behave during sexual encounters. The yes means yes standard defines consent as affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement between two parties to engage in sexual activities. An explicit “yes” is required at every stage of sexual activity as it progresses – because apparently, women are so irresponsible that they can’t even handle saying “no” anymore.
The single most troubling issue with “yes means yes” instead of “no means no” stems from what I outlined at the start of the article: men are held to higher standards than women. Consent is taught as something a man must actively and regularly request, and it is something that women may give. It is a woman’s right, and a man’s responsibility. And, as has been proven time and time again, consent can be revoked after the fact.
Photo by g-stockstudio/Getty Images
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