When I read Emily Heist Moss’ brilliant letter to her college aged brother “You Can Get Laid Without Being A Jerk”, I could not help but to think back to my days at Howard University. Specifically, some of the encounters I had and observed that were less rooted in mutual respect than they were instances of a boy trying to use whatever trick he had in his toolbox to get a girl to say (or imply) ‘yes’. Or, worse, for her simply not to say ‘no’. Peep a few excerpts:
There are strategies to get laid that are violent and criminal, and there are methodologies that are just mean-spirited and misogynistic. You can find the drunkest girl in the bar and hand her another shot. You can physically back a girl into a corner at a party until the only way out is through you. You can cut a girl down to size with backhanded “compliments,” belittle her until she thinks the only way to feel good again is to win your attention. You can taunt her with insults about prudishness, until she thinks she needs to prove something. You can taunt her with insults about sluttiness, until she thinks she might as well confirm what you already think of her. You already know that these dick moves are beneath you.
There are milder forms of deception and coercion, though, tactics that are dangerous because of their efficacy and subtlety… You can lie about your feelings for her. You can promise things you can’t deliver. You can agree to commitments you know you’ll break. You can hear hesitation or uncertainty in her voice, and ignore it. You can play with her emotions, knowing full well that if you were honest about your lack of intentions, you’d lose your shot at a hook-up. You can know that if she were sober, she wouldn’t be doing this, and you can go for it anyway. A court might not convict you, but I hope you know that these are dick moves, too.
The pronouns in this essay thus far would suggest that I think only men can be coercive when it comes to sex, and we all know that’s patently untrue. We know male rape is a real issue, and that the stigma against victims can be excruciating. We know that women can lie and scheme their way into sex just as well as men. We know that insults to masculinity, epithets like “pussy,” or accusations of homosexuality can compel guys to do things they don’t want to do, just to prove a point. The toolbox may look different, but we know that girls can wield emotional manipulation and social coercion with expert dexterity.
..the fact that those manipulative moves might work doesn’t mean you should use them. These are tools for weak people, people for whom sex is a contest and winning matters. Sex can, and should, be fun…Whether enacted by men or women, these bullshit strategies are not sexy, they are not cool, and-quaint as it may be-they are not very nice. There’s nothing wrong with a little push-pull, a little back-and-forth banter with a prospective partner, but assigning a winner and a loser to a sexual encounter sets us all back a couple decades.
You should never feel like you’ve been convinced to have sex, and you should never feel like you’re doing the convincing. You want partners-one-night-stands or long-term relationships-who want to have sex with you as much as you want to have sex with them. The culturally established “no means no” is too low a bar. Only yes means yes. And I’m not talking about an “I guess we could…” or an “I don’t really care….” or an “Only if you really want to….” or a “Might as well…” I’m talking about an enthusiastic, excited, sustained “Yes!”…Alcohol clouds everyone’s decision-making abilities, but it doesn’t make us deaf. Even at frat row, bar crawls, or crowded house parties, you need to listen for that “Yes!” And you need to be saying it too! If you’re a “Yes!” and your partner is a “Yes!”, then I revert to my original advice: be safe, have fun. Consent is not a traditionally sexy concept, but I absolutely guarantee you that two enthusiastic, excited, sustained “yesses” is what it’s all about.
This letter saddened me because I don’t think most people truly understand what coersion looks like when it comes to sexuality and why it is a low, low way to get yourself some sex. Reading this, I’d wager that many of you can think back to some of your own experiences, either having someone try to game you up or even attempting to bait someone yourself. It’s important that we recognize the difference between saying “yes” because we want to and saying it because we want to gain someone’s approval (“I’m not like the other freshmen girls! I’m down!”). The more we own our right to want it when we want it and to walk away when we do not, the better we all will be.