Can We Stop Punishing Women For Having Sex?

The Internet has proven this week that women just can’t win when it comes to sex.

Boy am I pissed.

So pissed that I just shoved tomorrow’s lesson planning to the side, and flung my pen and highlighter behind some pillows on the sofa. Here I sit with a cup of warm decaf vanilla chai and a splash of milk, which would probably be doing its job of relaxing me if it weren’t for the vortex of sexist crap consuming my newsfeeds today. I can see why Patton Oswalt quit social media for the summer.

Barring the [clothed] pictures of Jennifer Lawrence posted in response to the one sad hacker who tried to bring her and many other lovely ladies down, the Internet is currently a sad place—no, an infuriating place to be. I had every intention this week of making steady progress on one of the too many half-formed columns currently marinating on my hard drive, but some stories call for immediate attention. Like a dog that lifts its leg on your favorite coffee table, demanding that you sop up its mess before the smell sets in.

The Internet reeks this week of blame and body-policing of victims, curtailed penalties, and widespread support of perpetrators, and euphemisms like “non-consensual sex” invented by those too weak and self-serving to call rape what it is. It reeks of the continuously misplaced punishment of women for being sexual creatures with sexual interests and desires, and for regulating those interests and desires with anything from private photos to a “no.”

I’ve had a lot of things explained to me in the past few days. I’ve gotten quite the education. Apparently, women like Jennifer Lawrence—really, all women who enjoy “sexy selfies”—should “know better” than to take nude photos of themselves because they should anticipate someone stealing and circulating them. The crime of leaking private material and the subsequent violations that occur with every click and share are simply reminders of what happens to girls who don’t play by respectable rules, and thank God for Johnny 4chan and the morality he dispenses from his mother’s basement. To borrow from Lena Dunham, “the ‘don’t take naked pics if you don’t want them online’ argument is the ‘she was wearing a short skirt’ of the web.”

Speaking of rape apologism, Cee-Lo Green has proven that while he may be great at identifying “The Voice” of a songbird in the making, he’s a little rusty when it comes to what constitutes assault. After admitting that he slipped ecstasy into his date’s drink last October, Cee-Lo tweeted a series of remarks claiming that rape victims must be conscious, including “People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!” Unless, of course, you drug them and invade their bodies for your own sick thrill, but maybe I should just shut up and absorb the knowledge imparted by the latest guest speaker in Todd Aiken’s section of Rape 101.

Another “legitimate rape” loophole comes from an incident at the University of Kansas, one of the institutions currently under Title IX investigation. Last fall, after drinking at a frat party, a male student took a female student back to his dorm room and later told campus police that he had sex with her despite her resistant cries of “no” and “stop.” The male student was made to write a four-page “reflection” paper. The female student was made to suffer repeated panic attacks from seeing him walking freely around campus.

Michael J. Fischer, the male student’s attorney, wrote in his statement that the female student’s “decision to bring and subsequently take her birth control pill provides at least some indication that she intended to have consensual sex that night.” In other words, according to this hack of a lawyer, my decision to pop an oral contraceptive every day in order to exercise control over my body implies that I…relinquish the right to exercise control over my body? I’m confused. Is this what they mean by “Women Don’t Need Feminism”?

Here are some facts.

A lot of women have sex. Some are married. Some are not. Some have sex with men, some have sex with women, and some have sex with both. Some take pictures of or film the sex for their own private enjoyment, or to circulate among as few or as many others as they’d like. Some celebrate their bodies by photographing them. Some take contraceptives to regulate their sexual and reproductive health which, like taking Tylenol for the headache all this misogynistic news is giving me, is their prerogative.

There are times when women are excited to get groovy in the sheets with a partner, and consent to him or her with an exuberant “yes!” There are other times when women are absolutely not interested in having sex, and decline, as human beings are free to do. And unfortunately, there are times when women are not coherent enough to give their consent, which in no way means that they have temporarily ceased to be human beings.

Women are never asking to be “taught a lesson” for loving, sharing, and placing limitations on their sexual selves.

Before I left school today, intending to curl up with my pajamas and tea, I asked my students to prepare an autobiographical speech encompassing their pasts, presents, and futures. Streamline all the stories of your life, tailor them around a common theme, I said. If your life were a best-selling book or a box-office smash, what would the message be?

In this week’s amalgamation of bullshit, the message seems to be that whether embracing sex, refusing it, or being too unconscious to do either, women just can’t win.

Chelsea Cristene is a community college professor of English and communications in Maryland. She runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen and also writes Gender on the Rocks, a blog about gender, relationships, culture, and the mediaFind her on Twitter.

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