Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason weighs in on Forever 21's "rapey" t-shirt:
But beyond that—i.e., even if you think mine is a naive interpretation and clearly the shirt is laden with sexual connotations—the interpretation of it as promoting rape or diminishing the importance of consent directly contradicts the words on the shirt. If anything, the shirt promotes good sexual consent etiquette and encourages assertiveness about one's sexual wishes. Read as a message about sex, it says, hey, if you're not into something, say so in a clear and unequivocal way.
So how can that message possibly be construed to promote sexual violence? Because we live in era where not blaming rape victims for what happened to them—a worthy sentiment on its own—has morphed into a mandate never to suggest sexual-assault prevention behavior in any way. Nail polish that detects so-called date-rape drugs? Women shouldn't have to wear special cosmetics to keep rapists at bay! College administrators discussing locations and situations common in campus sexual assaults? Women shouldn't have to curtail their social lives to avoid being raped! Promote assertiveness in young people about their sexual intentions? Teach rapists not to rape, not victims to avoid being raped! We've gone from a world where the worst conservative parodies about liberal reactions of this sort are now routine across left-leaning social media and feminist blogs.
Forever 21 has yanked the "offending" t-shirts and apologized for them.
I frequently encourage callers to the Savage Lovecast not to say "maybe" when what they really want to say is "no." It's mostly women I give this advice to but not always—it is, however, almost always people who sleep with men who need to hear it.
So, yeah, it seems to me that encouraging people to be assertive, and thereby empowering people to advocate for their own wants and needs in clear and unambiguous terms, is anti-rape, not pro-rape. And as someone who has sex with men and often gives sex advice to people who have sex with men—and as someone who himself had a hard time saying "no" when he made his sexual debut (that's actually what they call it!)—urging people who date, fuck, live with and/or marry men to be assertive seems critically important. And women in particular need to hear it because women are socialized to defer to men and to prioritize men's feelings over their own. Not all women succumb to this socialization, of course, but far too many do—and that fact doesn't make women responsible for their own victimization, of course. Deprogramming someone for their own safety doesn't absolve the programmer. But refusing to counter dangerous cultural messages because they shouldn't have been sent in the first place helps no one.
So, yeah, women shouldn't say "maybe" when what they want to say is "no." And men shouldn't hear "yes" when someone said "maybe." But maybe t-shirts aren't the best venues for these conversations.
Back to Brown:
When you read through stories about campus sexual assault cases routinely, one facet that sticks out is how often victims say they "froze," or "shut down," and either said nothing about their wishes or gave vague responses like "I don't know." The people they later accuse of assault, meanwhile, say they didn't know their actions were unwanted. A lack of clarity about sexual boundaries is certainly an issue for young people today (and probably always). An affirmative consent standard—the idea that only "yes means yes"—is supposed to help mitigate these misunderstandings, and as a social norm (rather than a legal standard) or launch point for discussion of sexual consent, I don't think it's a bad idea. But "unfortunately, no one else can bear the burden of deciding who we want to have sex with, and then articulating it forcefully," as Megan McArdle writes. "And a feminism that tries to compensate for this, rather than teach young women to be firm about their own sexual wishes, is counterproductive."