Speaking as someone who qualifies as an “anti-rape activist,” I cannot begin to fathom what problems would necessitate an article about dating. My activism is not something that typically comes up when I first meet someone. Indeed, it rarely comes up at all. I find it best to keep the two separate because one is about preventing sexual violence and the other is about finding a partner.
However, I have a small character flaw: I do not form my entire perception of the world around my activism. If it were to do so, if I were to make my concern for preventing sexual violence the focus of my existence, then it is very possible that I might find it difficult to date.
Such is the case for several women interviewed by The Cut:
There several ways an undergraduate suitor can react when his anti-rape-activist date explains what she does. One of the most common is a sort of primal response — an instinctual, indignant protest: Not ALL men!
And, according to a number of women who have become campus leaders in the growing conversation around consent, that’s hardly the worst-case scenario.
These women have had their stories and their mission written up in student papers and in national ones; they’ve had bylines and quotes in the New York Times, interviews in the Huffington Post and on Dateline. They become poster children for sexual politics. And with their crusade often comes a weird social life: They’re out there fighting the good fight, but do they also get to hook up like normal college students?
In fairness, no. Once you decide to make your public image one of considering all men on college campuses potential rapists, it is not likely that most college men will want to have anything to do with you. You do not get to label men in such a negative way and then assume that you can gallivant around like the average college girl. You set the precedent and the rules and now you must abide by them. Granted, that can be unpleasant:
Meghan Warner, a senior at UC Berkeley, serves as the director of the university’s sexual-assault commission and is part of a federal complaint against the school for its mishandling of assault cases. She’s appeared in a Glamour issue honoring college women who are about to change the world. And she says there were men who wouldn’t approach her or date her after recognizing her, or learning of her work.
And why would they assume that? Could it be that Warner expressed views like:
Despite the success of the Clothesline Project, Warner still has many ideas and programs to implement. Her goal is to make consent education mandatory, and levy sanctions against students who do not attend.
“Nobody ever explicitly said, ‘Oh you’re a survivor, we can’t date,’” she told me. “But they’d assume that I was just doing this for attention, or more frequently they didn’t want to deal with it. It was too much. They assumed I’d have a lot of needs.”
That is not without reason either. Again from the above link:
Warner is herself a sexual assault survivor. She says she was sexually assaulted and raped by two men in a fraternity house during her freshman year after her sorority sisters left her in the house.
“I got a lot of blame from members of my sorority,” she explained. “After it happened, they called me in and said, ‘If you were raped, we’d lose the house,’ implying heavily that it would disappoint my chapter. I was so confused and betrayed. It was full of misinformation, it was full of victim-blaming, and it made me feel terrible.”
They claimed that if she were to report the rape, the sorority would lose its house and the chapter would be shut down. Warner’s trauma and further degradation by her sorority sisters sent her into denial. She finally read a book about sexual violence, and ran across a story identical to hers; it was then that she was pulled out of her denial.
This is not to say that Warner is damaged goods. However, she was clearly affected enough by their experiences that it motivated her into action. There are not many people who want to deal with the above. Normal interactions — dealing with friends and family, dating availability, mobility, etc. — are difficult enough. Adding on someone coping with sexual violence is something most people are not prepared to do, particularly when it comes with activism that frames all men as rapists.
Then there were those who were a little too eager to make it know that they would never, ever assault a woman. “Their first response is ‘I’m not one of those guys, I would never do that,’” she said. “I mean, what, should I be carrying gold stars now?”
The irony is that this is precisely the response Warner wants. She wants men to affirm they would never commit rape. She wants men to affirm that they will always ask for consent. Yet when presented with men who do that, she balks.
Warner is not the only one who misses the irony of her own behavior:
Chrissy Keenan, a UCLA senior, is the president of Bruin Consent Coalition, a campus group that works to raise awareness regarding sexual assault on campus. “When people know of me but they don’t really know the work, they hear the term ‘feminist’ or ‘sexual-violence prevention,’ they think, ‘super-extreme, bra-burning feminism,’” she explains, which often puts people on the defensive.
Keenan herself, though, sometimes finds it hard not to go on the offensive. She’s so used to laying down the nitty-gritty details of consent that she’s been known to open romantic interactions with a spiel that feels straight out of a student handbook.
And clearly the fault lies with the man. After all, who would not want to engage in raucous, enthusiastic, affirmative verbal consent-lead sex with someone who began the interaction with:
Consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual encounter and can be revoked at any time;
Consent can be communicated verbally or by action(s). In whatever way consent is communicated, it must be mutually understandable. Although consent does not need to be verbal, verbal communication is the most reliable form of asking for and gauging consent, and you are thus urged to seek consent in verbal form. Talking with sexual partners about desires and limits may seem awkward, but serves as the basis for positive sexual experiences shaped by mutual willingness and respect;
Consent to some sexual acts does not imply consent to others, nor does past consent to a given act imply present or future consent;
Silence alone (absent a non-verbal action clearly demonstrating consent) is not considered consent. Consent cannot be inferred from the absence of a “no”; a clear “yes,” verbal or otherwise, is necessary;
Affirmative consent can never be given by minors, mentally disabled individuals, or incapacitated persons. A person may be incapacitated as a result of alcohol or other drug use. Engaging in sexual activity with a person whom you know or reasonably should know to be incapacitated constitutes sexual assault;
Consent can only be accurately gauged through direct communication about the decision to engage in sexual activity. Presumptions based upon contextual factors (such as clothing, alcohol consumption, or dancing) are unwarranted, and should not be considered as evidence for consent.
Granted, one would never expect to see this applied to the feminist spouting it. One rarely sees any of the “affirmative consent” activists mentioning male victims, let alone suggesting that women have the same obligation to ask for permission. Sure, when asked they will (ironically) enthusiastically agree that of course women must get consent. Yet it is never present in their literature or activism. They will make the language gender neutral, but the activism is all about women.
Nevertheless, one can see why the above spiel would be a turn-off. Unfortunately, Keenan missed this obvious fact, leading a rather hilarious interaction:
She animatedly tells a story about a recent Tinder rendezvous: “One time, I agreed to meet with this guy at 8 or 9 at night. Before we met, I said to him, ‘This is the work I do, I know the chief of police … so, don’t try and get creepy; I know all my rights.’ And five minutes later, he was like, ‘Actually, I’m really not OK with how you just assume I’m a bad guy. And I get very bad vibes from that, so we shouldn’t hang out anymore.’”
“I was in a rage. He was a total fuckboy about consent,” she said.
“Fuckboy” is the more modern word for “pussy.” So in context, Keenan wanted to date a man. She proceeds to tell him not to try to rape her because she knows the chief of police. The man then decides that it is best for him not to date, remain friends with, or even interact with Keenan. And therefore Keenan’s response was to insult the man for saying “no” to sex with her.
Is that not a violation of the “affirmative consent” position? True, she did not force the man into a sexual encounter, but clearly she did not respect his refusal.
Another young woman offered her experiences:
“Honestly, even if they’re supportive, even if they say all the right things, and really want to discuss my job, it makes me feel weird about hooking up with them,” says Sofie Karasek, a recent UC Berkeley graduate and co-founder of End Rape on Campus. (She’s also involved with the UC Berkeley lawsuit and has a large part in the campus rape-culture documentary The Hunting Ground.) “It’s like, ‘Oh, we were just talking about rape, and now we’re going to hook up.’ It’s just weird.”
It is weird. You do not know this person, you know nothing about their past experiences, and you know nothing about their concerns. The thing to do is not to scare them off with your extreme feminist views but to show them you are a person worthy of their attraction, compassion, and affection. Accusing them of being a rapist is not the way to do this.
That should be obvious, yet we have three examples of feminists failing to understand this. They likely are not the only ones. Articles like the one featured on The Cut abound. Feminists seem to ask these questions all too frequently, as if they do not understand why men would avoid dating people who appears to consider all males a potential threat.
Being confused about this is akin to men who constantly trash women wondering why no women want to date them. The shy guy sitting in the corner playing his 3DS has a better chance that than man mouthing off about women because he does not come across as a jerk.
Likewise, women who explicitly state that they think men need to be taught not to rape and begin potential sexual interactions warning their partners that they know the police chief will get less play than the most arrogant women because they come across as jerks.
Your bad experiences are not an excuse to treat everyone you meet as suspect. They certainly are no excuse to accuse people of being threats because of their sex. You cannot do that and then wonder why people do not want to date you. Who would want to date someone who has so little regard for them?
Of course, that never occurs to Warner or Keenan. They end the article stating:
Maybe most insidious is an expectation that their advocacy — and their own experiences — put them somehow outside the realm of a normal social life.
“Just because someone wants to socialize and date doesn’t mean we’re bad victims or that our experiences haven’t been that bad,” Warner says. “When we talk about sexual assault or prevention, there tends to be the perception of ‘oh, you’ve ruined someone’s life.’ My life was not ruined.” Warner says. “People heal at different rates. Some people can’t date and they aren’t ready and they might never be ready. But we’re not broken. What happened to me had a lasting impact on my life, but I still enjoy my life.”
Yet no one said that to her. She has presented no example of this at all. What she did present was an example of her brushing off men who tried to be compassionate and understanding. That is not their fault.
Still, Keenan can attest that sometimes — when she’s lucky — her advocacy and her dating life are perfectly compatible.
There was one time, one guy, knowing what I did and what I talked about, he made consent part of foreplay,” she reacalls. “You know, very intentionally asking, ‘Is this okay? Is this okay?’ It was cute. It was great.”
In context, assuming Keenan told this man the same thing she told the other, this man asked those questions because Keenan threatened to call the police chief if the man got “creepy.” He is not being cute or great; he is covering his ass.
Is that really the kind of sexual relationship you want?