the “you’re wrong because you trust me” gambit

Saw this comic on sex & consent, had things to say, deleted the draft, then several months later, saw it again.  So here we go.  Take two.

The comic there expresses a nice idea, mostly, good examples and advice etc. etc. but the part that caught my attention was this: the green-haired person in the third panel who says, “Wait a minute!  I’ve been with my wife for 15 years.  There’s no way we cover all of this [checklist] every time we have sex!  We usually don’t even explicitly ask each other!  Are you saying that we’re not having consensual sex??” to which the blue-haired narrator says, “Of course not!”

At which point in my mind I hear the sound of screeching brakes.

I’ve seen this kind of objection play out before, sure, in contexts where someone has dared talk explicitly about consent — it’s happened often enough that I can’t even remember specifics of when or where.  What gets me is not the confusion over implicit communication, or even how readily someone jumps to assure them, “No, not at all!  You’ve merely misunderstood the message.  I wouldn’t dare impugn your honor, my 100% ethical friend who has never done anything wrong!”

What gets me is how consistently there’s always someone, even a complete stranger, ready to interject this way in the first place and essentially say, “You trust me, right?  You have faith in me, right?  You believe I’m not a rapist, right?”

And I’m like… the heck?  I don’t even know you.  I probably wouldn’t be rock-solid certain of those things even if I did know you.  Why are you expecting anyone, let alone strangers on the internet, to assure you how much they’re sure you’ve never raped?

Note that this is different from the anxious uncertainty of “oh man, I’m scared I may have hurt someone.”  This is something else.  This is “Excuse me, are you suggesting that I, Me, a Good Person, am somehow not flawless?  For I, Me, a Good Person, have in fact done the-things-that-I’m-interpreting-you-as-saying-are-unethical, so clearly you ought to be ashamed of yourself, or at least explain in a way that clears my name.”

I shouldn’t even have a dog in this hunt, since I don’t group communication and consent as the same thing anyway.  But geez, it bothers me, people thinking they’re entitled to automatic couldn’t-possibly-be-a-rapist trust, or even couldn’t-possibly-need-to-improve-on-the-communication-front trust.  I try to mentally give everyone a null value there.  And from the consistency with which I see “No I’m sure you’re fiiiiiine”-type answers, it almost sounds like not-automatically-placing-unwarranted-trust-in-people is some kind of taboo, if not simply unconsidered as an option.

I guess I just don’t understand going through life without a little paranoia.


8 responses to “the “you’re wrong because you trust me” gambit

  • Elizabeth

    or even how readily someone jumps to assure them, “No, not at all! You’ve merely misunderstood the message. I wouldn’t dare impugn your honor, my 100% ethical friend who has never done anything wrong!”

    Weeeell, I wouldn’t read the “Of course not!” as saying or implying something anywhere near that strong. Rather, I would read it as (a polite way to say) something more like, “No, of course I am not accusing YOU PERSONALLY AND SPECIFICALLY of anything of the sort.” With overtones of “How could I possibly know that?” Like, I wouldn’t interpret it as clearing that person’s name (and especially not as saying that the person has never done anything wrong), just a neutral/empty statement that lets the conversation about consent actually keep happening. Otherwise it’s a complete derail. So I guess I would view it as more of a dodge than anything else.

    But… yeah, I. I really don’t get this derail, and I raise an eyebrow when it happens to me. I have a seriously hard time trusting people who come into the comments and say stuff like what the green-haired person said. If it’s not about you, why make it about you, you know? In my experience, people who do this are usually NOT engaging in good faith and things do NOT proceed like they do in this comic. More often, they’re hostile to the idea of ANY communication about consent to begin with and are going to continue to straw-man everything I’m saying as if I’m telling them they need a lawyer to draw up legal consent forms for every interaction.

    I really, really strongly question how this comic shows someone presenting a checklist right away in a consent workshop. I think checklists work fine for some people, but most of the time people seem to be extremely put off by them, because most people don’t communicate that way. I think presenting them as an option among a wide range of communication styles would be a better educational practice than only showing someone a checklist. In the context of this comic, it seems like the green-haired character is reacting negatively to the checklist format, since they didn’t seem to have a problem when it was explained another way.

    But geez, it bothers me, people thinking they’re entitled to automatic couldn’t-possibly-be-a-rapist trust, or even couldn’t-possibly-need-to-improve-on-the-communication-front trust.

    Yeah, having been flooded with emails from strangers on the internet asking me to reassure them that they’ve never done anything wrong in their relationship with their asexual partner, I… REALLY don’t understand why they expect anyone, especially me specifically, to do or even be capable of doing that sort of emotional labor for them.

  • Mara

    I’ve seen this kind of thing a lot recently, since UK unis have started doing consent workshops and I really can’t stand it — especially since people seem to very quickly move from ‘but I’m not a rapist, right’ to ‘having consent workshops is calling us all rapists/they’re patronising because of course all of us here understand consent’. My college actually did a whole anti-harrassment workshop based on the idea that ‘of course you guys would never harass a woman, but if your friends do, here’s how you can help’ and I still cannot see the logic in it at all. Not only is it boosting men’s (because it was super gendered) confidence in their own behaviour, it’s also totally illogical unless you assume that harassment is done by the harassment fairies or that other college that no one likes.

    In retrospect this is probably more of a rant than a comment but yeah I really don’t understand the cognitive dissonance needed to acknowledge the really high sexual assault and harassment statistics and still believe that neither you or your friends could be perpetuating that.

  • code16

    [cw abuse reference by metaphor]

    Huh, you could actually totally extend their metaphor thing to this too! Like ‘well, I’ve/we’ve had this castle for 15 years so everything’s fine right’ – well, we don’t know! It could be fine, because you did do this building etc. Or it could be ‘schrodinger’s fine’, where you got lucky and no one got hurt even though you were throwing bricks around and not checking the rating of your beams and all because, well, as noted, got lucky. (which may or may not become a problem if you try, say, the building a new addition thing). Or, well, maybe your floor’s falling in or there’s rot behind all the walls or the stairs or the doorway heights suit you but not your partner. (Or maybe you keep your partner imprisoned in a dungeon you made look like a castle and throw bricks at them on purpose.)

  • Kasey Weird

    Hmm yeah, I see your reading. I think the intent is something more like “No of course I’m not saying that sex that doesn’t cover this whole checklist is inherently nonconsensual!” rather than “No, of course you’ve never done anything non-consensual with your wife!”, but it’s definitely ambiguous.

    • Coyote

      Well, I think one implies the other. And they’re both true statements each, but in their shoes, I’d want to investigate why the person is even asking that if I suspect the question was posed as a gotcha rather than out of genuine concern.

  • toafan

    This why I love your blog. You think about things, you consistently come at stuff I’m interested in from a slightly wonky angle that wouldn’t have occurred to me, and I have yet to encounter a single instance where you’ve been wrong. (my recent comment comment disagreeing with you about the name for something notwithstanding Xp )

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