Saturday, September 22, 2012
The slogan "No means no" is a strategic mistake
I would think that the inability to tell whether a potential sexual partner is willing or not is a symptom of a severe cognitive deficit. If the slogan 'No' means no succeeded in getting this point across more often than it started discussions about whether no can sometimes mean yes, I'd be all for it, but unfortunately the stake people put in the latter discussion suggests they have mistaken it for the one that matters. Most people will happily acknowledge that no can mean yes when used sarcastically for instance, and really, the idea that this word is unique in the lexicon in being inflexibly bound to its literal meaning is implausible. I wouldn't want to hitch the fate of my cause to that kind of assertion. But we don't need to. The underlying message is perfectly sound: It is implausible that any mentally competent individual could fail to realize that their partner is an unwilling participant in a sexual act. That is true regardless of whether the participants are using words literally or not. Even if non-literal could be equated with ambiguous (and it certainly can't), it's very unlikely that a misunderstanding could endure for long under those circumstances without being corrected. Indeed, to defend a rape charge on the grounds that there was ambiguity over consent is tantamount to arguing that the defendant is incompetent to stand trial.