“No” Means “Yes”: Rape Culture in the Free World

I saw a movie recently, about a young man who loses his brother. The plot centers around the protagonist overcoming his guilt and sense of responsibility surrounding his brother’s death. There is a subplot though, a love story (initially an unrequited love story, as his love interest has no desire to associate with him). He persists, of course, and ultimately wins her heart. I’m not sure why it happened during this film, but I was struck by a particular notion. Perhaps because the story itself was cliche and banal, my attention was drawn to the striking incongruity: “No” means “Yes”.

She refuses him several times until, through his wiles, he discovers where she works. At this point he proposes a bet and if he wins, she must accompany him on a date. He wins, of course. They go out to dinner. They kiss. She subsequently falls in love with him, breaks up with her current boyfriend, and defies her father’s wishes all because of this tenacious young man who professes to love her.

Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this?

A guy expresses interest. The girl rebuffs. The ever obstinate guy stalks relentlessly, waiting for her outside buildings, following her to her place of work, refusing to gracefully accept her choice to decline his courtship, until she relinquishes, realizing that she was wrong and he was right. Suddenly her world is a better place.

This is not a fluke though. Since watching that movie a month ago, I have seen several similar plots in other movies and TV shows. Like an afterthought. Like a given. Like a thread woven into the fabric of our culture, the message is clear: Women don’t know what’s good for them, and men will always get what they want as long as they don’t give up. Maybe this is what they mean when they talk about rape culture.

Over the summer I read Jon Krakauer’s book Missoula, about the sexual assaults and travesty of justice at the University in Montana. It was incomprehensible to me how the student athletes could be so secure in their sense of entitlement. This movie helped me understand why men think they are entitled to our bodies and how women have been conditioned to accept our lot as submissives. Things happen to us, men act upon us, even when we aren’t victims of physical violence, we are still stripped of our personhood and our rights to choose (be it motherhood or abortion, career or partnership). *Another pertinent read is The Nine by Jeffery Toobin, revealing the vicissitudes of the American justice system and how women’s rights have been addressed in the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, ladies, this forfeiture of self volition is partly our own fault. If I decide I don’t want to go out with someone then I should not go out with him. Period. I am not responsible for how he feels as a result of my rejection. Although I will do my best to stay classy as I decline the offer, I am not obligated to engage in bargaining with him. In fact, it would be counterproductive and undermine all my sense of authority. Because “No” means “No”. It does not mean, “keep trying because I will eventually cave and realize the error of my ways if only you continue to demonstrate your firm resolution to have me.” It does not mean that at all.

With love to all my sisters.


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