Grey Matters: The Sweeping Ambiguity Of Sexual Consent


I once read a quote that went something like this:

“Bad women take responsibility for nothing — good women blame everything on themselves.”

On the surface, the above quote seems wildly off-base and almost offensive. Once absorbed, can we honestly deny its validity?

Given the current state of obscure, yet omnipresent gender inequality, especially when applied to consensual sex, it doesn't seem far off-base.

As a whole, women are generally advised to assume accountability for circumstances, which may or may not be within their realm of individual control, as we've learned through the evolution and normalization of rape culture.

But, the truth is, our mere existence has deemed us easy targets. We are instilled with the innate responsibility to hold ourselves to a higher standard than our male counterparts.

From casual sex to alcohol consumption, traveling solo to our style of dress, we're constantly reminded by those bigger and stronger than us to never let ourselves forget:

“If you present yourself as easy prey, then expect to attract some wolves.”

The harsh reality is, being a woman puts you in a greater degree of danger, day in and day out. We're expected to behave as eternally self-aware, proper ladies, so as to avoid finding ourselves in undesirable situations.

Meanwhile, men are continually trivialized to some less-evolved model of our species, exempt to and capable of, well, everything.

This mutating double standard is palpable. A man who manipulates his way to the top is a trailblazer; a female who does the same is a devious whore who should be taught a lesson.

Now, in no way, shape or form do I sit here (on my feminist high horse, no less) disputing the sheer gravity of personal responsibility, regardless of one's gender.

But, whether we opt to make the sensible choice or not — from utilizing the buddy system to proactively clicking in that seatbelt every single time we get behind the wheel of a car —, it's safe to say the unanimous intention is seldom ever to play Russian roulette with our own well beings.

It's a well-known truth that numbers don't lie, but, apparently, women do.

Accordingly, controversies surrounding false reports of rape, most notably Rolling Stone's recent erroneous depiction of a UVA student being savagely raped by several fraternity members against her will, seem to overshadow the indication that approximately 92-98 percent of the time, accusations turn out to be, in fact, true.

That being said, recent strides being made to address and potentially calibrate this clear imbalance have, at least superficially, failed to accomplish much more than a redistribution of blame, broadening from the drunken damsels in distress to anyone guilty of accepting implicit consent as the norm.

It's a structure in which our society has not only built, but also perpetuated over time.

When I was 12, working as the receptionist at my grandparents' real estate agency on weekends, an agent of theirs called in one Saturday and said his wife was away, before disturbingly extending an invitation to me to join him at his nearby home.

Back in college, I made an incredible error in judgment by going shot-for-shot with a well-known womanizer, who eventually led me back to the dormitories and videotaped us, without my knowledgeable consent, engaging in sexual activities.

While my desire for attention or rose-colored glasses may have played a role in both occurrences, I will never accept the ideology that these unfortunate scenarios were, in any way, an effect of my actions.

I wasn't asking for it (whatever “it” is) when I was 12, and despite popular belief, I still wasn't asking for it when I was 19, sh*tfaced in a seedy, hole-in-the-wall college bar, wearing Daisy Dukes.

However, the notion of explicit consent and its ambiguity within our culture is the real issue on which we must maintain consistent.

"It's admittedly somewhat of a departure from the way our society often approaches sex; and there's a gender imbalance in whose pleasure is prioritized. But the emphasis on getting consent isn't an effort to turn everyone into rapists. It's just about encouraging better communication across the board." — Tara Culp-Ressler, "What 'Affirmative Consent' Really Means"

Perhaps, we'll never fully understand why women continue to face these challenges entirely unique to the double-X chromosome.

What I do know, however, is the answer is not pointing fingers of sexual assault at anyone accusable of misjudging implicit consent.

Rather, the answer starts with re-examining the lens through which we collectively assess sexual misconduct.

The scandals and debates will continue and extremists on both sides will remain cemented in their unrealistic visions of how people should behave in their worlds.

As colleges across the country promise nothing on the underlying issue, I can only hope the red tape will finally be slashed and belittlement abolished.

Hopefully, more instrumental and relatable policies will be put in place.

But, if being a good woman means assuming blame for situations that may or may not be my own doing, or for making the same mistakes as the men around me and being continuously and singularly scapegoated for them, well, sh*t, I'd rather be bad.

Citations: What Affirmative Consent Really Means (, Colleges Straddle Line Between Assault Prevention And Victim-Blaming (NPR), False Reports (The National Center for Prosecution of Violence Against Women), Elite Daily (The Normalization of Rape Culture), Elite Daily (What Feminists Got So Wrong About The UVA Rape Story Backlash)