August 23, 1991

NO is not enough

When a lady says no, she means perhaps; when she says perhaps, she means yes; and when she says "yes", she is not a lady.

Author unknown

William Kennedy Smith, Senator Ted Kennedy's nephew, is accused of rape by a woman he met at a bar. She went home with him; claims that she was too drunk to resist; that she said "no" and he raped her. She was so shaken up by the experience that she spent the night and they had breakfast together. I believe that this rape case probably wouldn't have existed if the man's middle name wasn't Kennedy.

Some people believe that a woman should be free to say "no" at any point in a relationship and that it should be respected. I agree; and in an honest relationship it usually is. On the other hand, relationships can be fundamentally deceitful, with the aim being to humiliate the partner. This potentially deadly game is played by both men and women; but mostly women. It's used as a means of getting back at all men or all women for real or perceived injustices. The victim is not the person who committed the injustice, but is a symbol. If you have ever been treated as a symbol, instead of as a person, you know that it feels rotten.

As any couple knows, there are often times when one person wants to and the other would just as soon not. How this conflict is settled is a function of the quality of the relationship. In a good one, each knows when to accede to the other's wishes and when not to. In a casual relationship, this doesn't exist. Neither knows what to expect of the other --as Mr. Smith and his partner both found out.

The sexual contract between a man and woman who are casually acquainted can be ambiguous and dishonest. There aren't many men who haven't been led to expect sex and been rejected at the last moment. Nor are there too many women who haven't been led to expect affection and ended up settling for sex alone. It's so common that a man may be profoundly surprised by an open and honest sexual transaction, sometimes so pleasantly that it ends in marriage.

When a man and woman go out for the evening, there is no reason to expect that they will end up in bed. The unspoken agreement is that they will spend the evening in each other's company. It is an open-ended social contract which can end in a handshake, or a kiss, or in bed. When a man picks a woman up in a bar and she agrees to go home with him, there is an implied agreement that they will end up in bed. Even if it is specified in advance that they will not, the expectations are still there. There really is no reason to go to someone's home for just more conversation. That can take place in the bar or in a restaurant. The old "do you want to see my etchings?" ploy fools no one.

When a stranger sexually attacks a woman, there is no doubt that he has committed a heinous crime. With so-called date rape, there is often room for doubt. There needn't be. A woman can be very specific about what she will or will not do. It behooves her date to take her seriously. On the other hand, there are some women who get their jollies out of tormenting a man sexually. He has no real recourse other than to walk away angrily and never see her again. Some men aren't that civilized, and insist on compelling the woman to fulfill the implied contract.

Most men spend a good part of their lives looking for sexual gratification and being turned down, while most women are inundated with sexual advances, most of which have to be turned down. This is the basis for our complex, and often ridiculous, sexual behavior patterns.

I believe that one-sided sex is less common when both people are honest about what can be expected of a date or a relationship than it is when one partner insists on calling all of the plays.

Most rapes are not prosecuted because it is an embarrassing experience for the woman. On the other hand, not every rape that is prosecuted is truly rape. A woman may cry rape when caught in a situation that could prove embarrassing to her. The southern belle who has been sleeping with a black man for some time and gets caught at it; or the married woman caught with her lover; or the woman who gets her kicks out of humiliating men, may cry rape.

In short, a jury trying a rape case may have a very difficult time making up its mind.

The William Kennedy Smith case will not be a matter of guilt or innocence, but a test of the skill of two attorneys. In short, it is likely to be a circus; one of those times when our system of jurisprudence fails so miserably that one can easily be ashamed to be an American.

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