Forever 21 pulled this t-shirt from their shelves this week after criticism on social media that the message supports rape culture:
Called “jaw-droppingly repulsive” by twitter user @Steph Dale and “very rapey” by Cosmopolitan, the shirt stirred up instant controversy. Forever 21 responded by pulling the shirt and deleting it from their website, apologizing to “anyone who was offended by the product”.
I read it differently. In many cultures, women and men are both socialized to say “maybe” or “later” when we mean “no”. Nice people don’t say no. Nice people let other people down easy, or do whatever they have to do to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, at least directly.
Yes, people engaging in sex absolutely have the responsibility to gain the consent of the other person/people involved. Yes, consent should be wholehearted and enthusiastic. Whether you’re asking someone if you can give them a hug or spank them while they’re wearing a duck suit, anything less than an enthusiastic “yes!” should not only give you pause, but should be a warning sign that maybe you don’t want to engage in behavior with this particular individual, because they are not clear on what they want or don’t want.
But as a sexually active individual, it is my responsibility to develop and make clear my boundaries. “Maybe” doesn’t cut it, unless I follow up with a list of conditions that would make it a yes. “Later?” isn’t enough of an answer. “I don’t know” isn’t clear enough.
“No.” “No thank you.” “I like you, but no.” “No, but you might approach so & so (who happens to love being spanked while wearing a duck suit)”. These should be the phrases and sentences we train ourselves to say. As a sexually active being, even as a submissive, even as a masochist, I don’t ever get the option of abdicating responsibility for my own safety AND enjoyment.
Frankly, I’d wear this t-shirt and welcome the dialogue that I might encounter.
Upshot: don’t ever take a maybe for a yes. And don’t say maybe when you mean no. And for all of us, let’s build a culture in which consent is clear and “no” is a socially acceptable and common answer.