Promoting Assertiveness Is Rape Culture, Says Internet

On Forever 21's "rapey" new t-shirt

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A shirt for sale until recently on clothing store Forever 21's website is being blasted as "creepy," "offensive," "anti-consent," "rapey," and "pro-rape" by the media. Its message: "Don't Say Maybe If You Want To Say No."

Forever 21

The context in which I most frequently hear complaints about people saying "maybe" when they mean "no" is in the context of social gatherings. Most people have had this friend sometime, right? The one who always says they may swing by and never shows. The one who marks maybe (or, now, "interested") on Facebook events and always flakes. This sort of wishy-washiness or inability to state one's actual intentions in terms of social commitments is a complaint I've heard others make relatively often, and where my mind first goes reading the slogan on this Forever 21 shirt. 

But beyond that—i.e., even if you think mine is a naive interpretation and clearly the shirt is laden with sexual connotations—the interpretation of it as promoting rape or diminishing the importance of consent directly contradicts the words on the shirt. If anything, the shirt promotes good sexual consent etiquette and encourages assertiveness about one's sexual wishes. Read as a message about sex, it says, hey, if you're not into something, say so in a clear and unequivocal way

So how can that message possibly be construed to promote sexual violence? Because we live in era where not blaming rape victims for what happened to them—a worthy sentiment on its own—has morphed into a mandate never to suggest sexual-assault prevention behavior in any way. Nail polish that detects so-called date-rape drugsWomen shouldn't have to wear special cosmetics to keep rapists at bay! College administrators discussing locations and situations common in campus sexual assaults? Women shouldn't have to curtail their social lives to avoid being raped! Promote assertiveness in young people about their sexual intentions? Teach rapists not to rape, not victims to avoid being raped! We've gone from a world where the worst conservative parodies about liberal reactions of this sort are now routine across left-leaning social media and feminist blogs.

In response to the current outrage, Forever 21 issued an apology Monday. It also listed the controversial shirt as "sold out" on its website. 

When you read through stories about campus sexual assault cases routinely, one facet that sticks out is how often victims say they "froze," or "shut down," and either said nothing about their wishes or gave vague responses like "I don't know." The people they later accuse of assault, meanwhile, say they didn't know their actions were unwanted. A lack of clarity about sexual boundaries is certainly an issue for young people today (and probably always). An affirmative consent standard—the idea that only "yes means yes"—is supposed to help mitigate these misunderstandings, and as a social norm (rather than a legal standard) or launch point for discussion of sexual consent, I don't think it's a bad idea. But "unfortunately, no one else can bear the burden of deciding who we want to have sex with, and then articulating it forcefully," as Megan McArdle writes. "And a feminism that tries to compensate for this, rather than teach young women to be firm about their own sexual wishes, is counterproductive."

For our messages about sexual boundaries and consent to be the most effective (and at all feminist), they must also emphasize to young people the importance of expressing their own sexual desires clearly, be these desires affirmative, negative… or even maybe. Sometimes one really does mean "maybe," and that's okay, too—as long as people don't say maybe when they really mean no.

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  1. The context in which I most frequently hear complaints about people saying “maybe” when they mean “no” is in the context of social gatherings. Most people have had this friend sometime, right?

    Quit subtweeting me, ENB.

  2. sexual boundariesis

    I like it! A new venereal disease!

  3. Does anyone want to buy my shirt?

    “No means Yes, and Yes means Anal!”

    1. I’ll take 100, extra small

      (its for an elementary school function)

    2. I’ll stick with wife beaters if you please.

      1. You can always rip off the sleeves.

        1. If I’m going sleeveless I wear my “Obama can’t takes these guns” shirt.

          1. I saw a charming t-shirt this weekend (on the subject of guns). “Honk if you’ve never seen someone fire a gun from a motorcycle.”

            1. I would rather have read the blog post that goes with *that* shirt.

            2. That’s my new favorite biker shirt, knocking from 1st place the one with this on the back:

              “If you can read this…the bitch fell off.”

          2. +1 Chokey Papelbon

      2. The shirt that says, “I didn’t stutter and if I did, that means you heard it twice.” without saying a word.

  4. According to the internet, is there anything that *isn’t* rape culture?

    1. misogynistic rap
      ISIS

      because #marginalized

      1. Not just ISIS, but any Middle Eastern culture

    2. Doubting the stories of Bill Clinton’s accusers doesn’t qualify as “rape culture,” apparently.

      It’s also not “rape culture” to shrug your shoulders at Bernie Sanders’ old essay that mentions a woman fantasizing about being gang-raped. Dude, it was the 1970s, he was probably high when he wrote it LOL!!!

  5. one really does mean “maybe,” and that’s okay

    “‘Maybe’ means ‘okay’!”

  6. So how can that message possibly be construed to promote sexual violence?

    Liz, what did you expect? Honesty? These people are simple people. The clay of the land. You know? Morons.

    1. Women shouldn’t have to say “NO” to avoid being raped!

    2. The silt of the earth.

    3. These people are simple people. The clay of the land. You know? Morons.

      So you’re saying that the sheriff is near?

  7. (bangs “Give A Shit-Meter” on side, shakes, listens to it, changes battery, jiggles buttons, gives up)

  8. I see STEVE SMITH’s fashion line is forcibly taking off.

    1. Nah, he doesn’t give a fuck what you say or mean.

  9. I wonder whether “please don’t stick your finger there” would work better on a t-shirt or on the back of a pair of boxers.

  10. Good thing Forever 21 didn’t offer a shirt with “Relax”.

    1. “Lie back and think of England”.

  11. Wow, that is stupid. If people are having a hard time being clear about consent, then that’s exactly what people need to be told. If the intended message is about sexual consent, then isn’t it saying that the wearer does want to make sure consent is clearly articulated?

    1. They don’t want to make consent clearer. They want to shift the burden of articulating their own consent onto their partner. It’s the old you should know why I’m angry at you thing. There is a non-insignificant part of the population that wants other people to just know what they want without them having to say it, and they get extremely upset when the world doesn’t work out that way.

        1. I’m not paraplegic OMWC. My left leg is partially paralyzed (I wear a WalkAide (actual name of the device if you want to look it up) to compensate), but about half to a quarter of the muscles in that leg still work. All the muscles in my right leg still work.

          Here is the medicalese definition of what I have (when I was young I thought the last half of that term was pronounced sewered, as in a sewer).

          http://emedicine.medscape.com/…..2-overview

          1. I’m not paraplegic OMWC.

            So Tulpa is a fully mobile sock.

          2. Does this make you girl House? Can you misdiagnose me 47 times over a three day period before saving my life, thus keeping your reputation as an incorrigible and misunderstood genius intact?

            1. House understood systems thinking.

            2. That would be awesome if I was, but sadly no, I’m not. No misunderstood genius for me.

  12. also =

    Who the hell is going to wear this….and where do they wear it…. where people don’t go, “Oh please get the fuck over yourself already”

    1. Teenage boys at social gatherings of their friends for the same original reason the author wrote about. The maybe flake is an endless source of frustration if you are the even organizer.

    2. I often wear mine with my ‘party with sluts’ hat.

  13. Nice to see that the outrage machine is still capable of spinning up another notch.

    1. That’s because it’s fed by stupidity.

      1. The ultimate renewable energy source.

  14. On a very “feminist” blog, I once compared sexual-assault prevention behavior with lane splitting. It’s fine if you do it. It’s totally legal. But don’t be surprised if some asshole stuck in rush-hour traffic sees you coming in his rearview mirror and opens his car door on you. You can do it, but it’s wiser not to.

    Person A: You’re saying that all car drivers can be assholes.

    Person B: Well, they kind of are.

    1. I don’t get it.

      1. *not sure whether trolling or serious but…*

        “Lane splitting” is when a motorcycle drives on the lines between lanes of traffic. You’d do this if you were going faster than the speed-monitor cars in front of you, or if there was bumper-to-bumper traffic.

        In Missouri, it’s not illegal. However, there are *a few* car drivers who will see you coming in their rearview mirror and open their car door to make you slam into it.

        So in the interest of not running into this situation, you might want to not split lanes or you might want to look everything over and assess your risk before you do it.

        In the interest of not getting raped, you might not want to walk alone late at night, leave your drink unattended, or say “maybe” if you mean “no” because of *a* dude who *might* rape you.

        My point was that why would you urge someone to take reasonable precautions against anything else that can harm you, but scream foul when women are advised to take precautions when she goes out? No, most car drivers aren’t going to open their doors on you. No, most men are not rapists. There is no harm in giving people pointers for how to protect themselves when doing X activity.

        Or, as I was taught: “The first rule of karate: Don’t be stupid.”

        1. “The first rule of karate: Don’t be stupid.”

          I thought the first rule of karate was, “Don’t talk about karate.”

  15. Damn, shame the shirt got taken off the market. I’ve often wanted to make gender studies majors go through a class with that shirts basic message. If you want to do something or don’t want to do something say so. No one is responsible for verbalizing your desires but yourself.

    1. No one is responsible for verbalizing your desires but yourself.

      GAH!!! NO WAY!! TEACH MEN NOT TO RAPE!!11!!!!! SHITLORD!

      1. ‘Teach men not to rape’ always strikes me as so freaking weird. Unless you’re dealing with immigrants from the middle east or some other backwards culture, men already know it’s wrong to rape. A lot of men even are openly disgusted by the concept in America (as opposed to just being against the consequences). We don’t say teach thieves not to steal or teach murders not to murder, when giving safety tips for avoiding those crimes. The whole idea just makes no sense.

        1. You know how we teach men not to rape? By making it a felony. That doesn’t mean a person shouldn’t take reasonable measures to protect themselves from miscreants who disregard the law.

          See also: door, locking at night; money, not waiving around in public.

          1. Tsk, promoting burglary culture.

      1. Alright, that’s pretty cute. Unfortunately, I do not have a significant other to give it to.

        1. Awww, poor lonely Tulpa, can’t find the other sock.

          1. Do you think that interview llocust posted a few weeks ago was all part of the Tulpa conspiracy?

            1. Yes. I can grab any clip off the news I like and claim someone in it is me. This character changes voices in exactly the same way Tulpa’s socks (e.g., Bo) were run.

              1. Tulpa hasn’t used the Bo handle in a while. I miss that one.

              2. Wait, so you’re serious? I thought you were just screwing around trying to get a reaction.

              3. I don’t buy it, I think you sound kind of paranoid.

                1. Personally I have been the target of false troll conspiracy theories (not here but another forum) so I am skeptical of people who think they can perfectly identify hidden trolls just by “voice”. I’m sure you’ve been right before but people make mistakes and you are going off subjective evidence.

                  1. Personally I have been the target of false troll conspiracy theories (not here but another forum) so I am skeptical of people who think they can perfectly identify hidden trolls just by “voice”. I’m sure you’ve been right before but people make mistakes and you are going off subjective evidence.

                    SHUT UP, TULPA!!!!

          2. I’m pretty sure Illocust isn’t Tulpa. She’s been a regular here for a number of years and I’ve never seen her engaged in retarded tirades in support of might makes right or over basic semantics.

            1. might makes right

              now I’m getting tulpa and tony confused.

    1. That there is a true entrepreneur.

    2. I feel Unisex clothing unfairly constrains my gender identities.

  16. For our messages about sexual boundaries and consent to be the most effective (and at all feminist), they must also emphasize to young people the importance of expressing their own sexual desires clearly, be these desires affirmative, negative… or even maybe.

    I think this is how it started with the Pandas

  17. Am I the only one tired of “Hey, look at the crazy person on the Internet!” journalism?

    1. Do you care nothing for Millenial employment?

      1. They were told to do what they loved for a job and what they love is making an ass out of themselves.

        1. They were told to do what they loved for a job

          I was given the same advice, but Consolidated Young Girls Diddling Corporation wasn’t hiring the year I graduated.

        1. I share your concern.

          However…. i hesitate to grant ‘hipster-porn’ any special millenial-cred. They were a thing in the early 2000s. and those girls were all over my neighborhood. This one was my neighbor. I consider them a ‘late gen-x’ phenom, carried over.

  18. Teddy: So, Bobby, I can’t wait to see you and Linda at my Halloween party tonight.
    Teddy: I went all out this year.
    Bob: Uh, actually, I’m taking the kids trick or treating tonight, Teddy.
    Bob: So, I probably can’t make it.
    Teddy: Oh.
    Teddy: I noticed here that you, uh, RSVP’d online and you clicked “maybe.”
    Bob: Right.
    Bob: Uh, that was kind of a soft maybe.
    Teddy: Maybe means maybe, Bob.
    Teddy: It doesn’t mean “I’m too scared to say no.”
    Teddy: Uh, uh I got 42 maybes, Bob! Who can plan for that?

  19. When I was growing up the oldest sexual cliche was that no means yes. Women didn’t want to feel like sluts so they put up token resistance even though they didn’t mean it. “Don’t” “Stop” soon became “don’t stop, I’m about to cum”. Nowadays that’s enough to get you arrested.

    1. A little still she strove, and much repented,
      And whispering ‘I will ne’er consent’–consented.

    2. Still a common theory (called “blame avoidance theory”). Another is that women want to be desired, more so than men, and consequently that a man’s violating social norms to get them turns them on. A third is “openness to sexual experience”, which is remarkably vague. Apparently, its main purpose is to catch “likes being overpowered” and “likes powerful men” (being able to get away with a crime is a sign of power). Consider hybristophilia, too.

  20. ‘Women shouldn’t have to curtail their social lives to avoid being raped!’

    Unless you are in the Progressive’s wet-dream of a country Sweden where the official response has been to tell women to curtail their social lives by not going out after dark to avoid being assaulted by men.

  21. I remember reactions that paralleled this when debating school choice when I lived in NYC. The general talking point was “You can’t guarantee that your reform will work out well for every kid, and I can’t accept that world in my mind, so let’s keep the crap system that we have and not improve anything.”

  22. In response to the current outrage, Forever 21 issued an apology Monday. It also listed the controversial shirt as “sold out” on its website.

    Oh, for fuck’s sake.

    An affirmative consent standard?the idea that only “yes means yes”?is supposed to help mitigate these misunderstandings, and as a social norm (rather than a legal standard) or launch point for discussion of sexual consent, I don’t think it’s a bad idea.

    Removing ambiguity, seduction, the implicit, the unspoken, and the challenging from sex and romance pretty much ruins them. Those who want “affirmative consent” as a standard should opt in. Go wear buttons, and prepare forms.

  23. Teach rapists not to rape, not victims to avoid being raped!

    You can’t teach rapists not to rape. Rapists are evil people and most of them know that it’s wrong (if they know what “wrong” means at all).

    You don’t try to teach people not to be evil. You defend yourself with force of arms. Then either the rapists change their minds about the evil they want to do or they die in the attempt. Either way, problem solved.

    1. Exactly. As I stated upthread, we teach rapists not to rape by making it a felony. With that in mind, it remains wise to take reasonable measures to protect oneself from those who disregard the law. That’s why doors have locks.

      1. The felony thing is good, no, but I really think that the threat of a terrified woman holding a .38 with her finger on the trigger would be worse.

        In the case the the system gets you, you spend 20 years or so in an institution. In the other you face a good chance of a painful death, and no jury in the word would convict her for shooting you. I can’t see why the evil man wouldn’t take the institution every time.

        I mean, if we’re talking about the Scandinavian countries, look at what happened to that child-murderer whats-his-face. They put him in an apartment and hired people to hang out with him! Or you could just let people arm themselves and put the guy in the ground…

    2. Like telling pigeons not to shit.

      1. ….as an approach to keeping your car clean.

  24. Fems hate any sort anti friend-zone messages.

  25. Saying no can get you attacked or killed. In the past few months TWO woman said no and the askers shot and killed them both.

    There may be more now that I have not seen yet…

    A woman is at a bar with her fiancee’ she refuses this guys attentions politely stating she is there with her fiancee. He picks up a bottle and breaks it over her head. True story.

    And sometimes maybe is a maybe. I may like the guy but have not decided yet maybe I want to get to know more about him….or I am interested but not right now too tired or whatever. Maybe is a VALID answer.

    ONLY yes means yes.

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