About that Fifty Shades Meme that Proves Your Uncle Doesn’t Understand Consent

This is now on my computer. I could not be more pissed about that.

I don’t feel the need to bury the lede here, so we can get it out of the way immediately. You’ve probably seen this meme. This is a dumb meme. It’s just super dumb. It’s the, “The Sun rises in the west,” of arguments.

There’s an awful lot to unpack in the sentiment behind the meme.

Let’s start with the wording here. There are a bunch of variations on this but they all have wording similar to the one I’m using. I’m just gonna break this down clause by clause.

“If American women…”

First of all, this assumes that only Americans can be involved in this. Second, it assumes that it’s only an issue that impacts and is therefore cared about by women. Lots of non-Americans actually care deeply about stupid shit pulled by the potential President of the United States of America. I, as a man, also care deeply about this issue. And it’s not because I have a mother and a sister and a niece. It’s because I don’t think we should treat women like shit.

“…are so outraged…”

“Outrage” here is an interesting choice. It’s equally as interesting as “angered by,” I suppose, as it implies an emotional response. “Outrage,” however, has a zest of undeserved and unanalyzed emotion here. Also, as an added bonus, since we’ve already made it clear that only women care about this we get extra “women get so emotional” credits.

“…by Donald Trump’s naughty words…”

Emphasis on the “naughty words” there is mine. You’ll notice I used a couple of different methods of emphasis. This is pretty much bog-standard gaslighting in handy meme form. Trump wasn’t talking about any specific, actionable moment of sexual assault but the context of his conversation with Billy Bush was, “I can sexually assault women whenever I want.” But, no, only women are mad about it (so we can keep it in the boys’ club, natch) and all they’re talking about are some naughty words here. Aren’t those women just so emotional and wrong about everything?[1]

“…blah blah blah something about a book.”

Let’s be honest here. This last part could have basically been anything that’s perceived as a “woman” thing, from, “…when they’ll watch The Real Housewives of Missoula, Montana,” to, “…when they could be in the kitchen making me a sandwich.” Fifty Shades of Grey is the choice here because it’s a relatively extreme and female-audience-centric depiction of sex. It allows the person sharing the meme to continue the joke of, “Hur hur, women, amirite?” Because you’re all so mad about Donald Trump’s naughty words but not E.L. James’s naughty words.

And now the guys can go pat themselves on the back because they’ve artfully[2] dodged the question.

So that’s my analysis. It’s wrong on every level and insulting at the same time. It ends up being an instructively good example of gaslighting and derailment, so points, I guess?

Chris Hardwick is enthusiastic so you don’t have to be.

What’s more interesting to me is the underlying assumptions behind the wrongness of the whole thing. I put up an article on Monday about a moment in my life where I crossed a boundary I shouldn’t have crossed with a not-really-a-girlfriend-at-the-time-anymore. I used that story to explain how “locker room talk” is how guys teach themselves to ignore women’s assertions of their own bodily autonomy.

There were a bunch of other interesting underlying assumptions. The weird thing here is that I’m pretty sure I was aware of them at the time because this sort of thing was one of our regular topics of conversation. And, let me just say this right at the top so you’ll understand just how maximally stupid I can be at times, this next little bit is something we both agreed is a really dumb and unfair double standard.

Within American Christianity that falls underneath the general umbrella of “Evangelical” sex is a really weird topic. The conversation usually starts with, “Don’t have sex,” and ends with, “Before marriage.” This is where the push for abstinence-only sex ed comes from, as if you don’t teach anyone about sex they obviously won’t try it.[3]

Even the “no sex before marriage” absolutists understand that some kids will totally want to have sex. So they have come up with a perfect solution. They tell girls that it’s their job to keep boys from having sex with them. Yeah, that’s…that’s really it. Because, you see, boys cannot control their urges and girls don’t really want to have sex. So the girl is given the job of sexual gatekeeper. Boys getting a little handsy? Tell ’em to stop. Problem solved.

This, I shouldn’t have to explain, is an open invitation to sexual assault. It’s also an open invitation for victim blaming. Did a boy touch a girl in an inappropriate place? It’s obviously her fault because she should have stopped him. However if a boy touched a girl and she took umbrage and then he gaslighted her about it, as men and boys all have permission to do in these cases because “boys will be boys,” then telling the girl that it’s her job to stop the boys just doesn’t work, does it?

Also, there’s that minor issue that girls aren’t actually sexless robot creatures from the planet Automia 4 and some of them actually want to have sex. I’d say most or almost all of them want to have sex. And some of them really, really want to have sex. Like, a lot.

This brings me back around to the main point at the top. The person who wrote and the people who share that meme up there do not understand sex or consent. If they actually understood consensual sex as a contradiction to non-consensual sexual assault they would realize just how dumb and completely off topic that meme is.

Reading Fifty Shades of Grey is not a crime (well, maybe a crime against literature or the English language, but not a crime crime). Sex is not a crime. Hell, booking a BDSM dungeon for you, fifty of your closest friends, and a couple of tubs of industrial sex lube isn’t a crime.

Grabbing a woman’s pussy?[4] That’s a crime. And that’s something that men and women can and should be outraged about equally.

It also shouldn’t matter if the woman in question is married or has a boyfriend. It doesn’t matter that she has a father or a brother. She could be a woman who just magically appeared one day and who has no past, no relations, and has not yet begun her quest to understand this thing called sex. You have no more right to touch her than a woman who is standing in a room with her father and her seven brothers.

[1]Oddly enough, I have a couple of stories about women getting mad at me specifically for using “naughty words.” This is because I grew up in the land of Evangelical self-repression. I’m the grandson of a Teamster and I went to public school, so I learned all of the key swears by the fourth grade and was inventing my own by the fifth grade. So there were definitely times when I let loose with the cussing in the presence of good Christian girls who were taken aback by such a display of language. To this day I maintain that they were being pretty uptight about such things. Also, in none of those cases were the words in question directed at them specifically in a sexual way.

I did once, in a fit of extreme annoyance, introduce a girlfriend to the phrase “fuck me in the goat ass.” It was the first time I’d ever used that phrase. I learned it from a girl in high school on whom I had had a crush at the time. I think that was also the first time I was introduced to the concept of the confusing boner. Also, the phrase wasn’t actually directed at her. As I recall it was a, “Holy shit, this thing that I didn’t think could get any worse just got worse,” sort of thing. She (the girlfriend, not the high school crush) got sooooo mad at me for my choice of words. Which is odd, because that’s definitely not the first time she’d heard me use any of those words.

[2]”Artfully” in this case used to literally mean, “Using a thing that’s kinda-sorta a art.”

[3]I went to public school where we had comprehensive sex ed in fifth and sixth grade and possibly later. There’s no doubt in my mind that the program was actually pretty good but I only really took one thing away from it: if you have sex you’ll probably get herpes. For whatever reason the idea of getting herpes terrified me. Herpes still terrifies me, some two decades later. My theory, then, is that instead of abstinence-only sex ed the program should be changed to all herpes all the time sex ed. The human race will be extinct in two generations.

[4]Also, as a side note, is it weird how quickly this normalized the word “pussy?” I don’t remember ever using the term before this weekend, when I used it in front of my mom. What just happened here?

And, as always, thank you for taking the time to read my stuff. If you enjoyed this piece please like and share. I think over the last week or so I’ve managed to put together a pretty good snapshot of the stuff I write about: history, politics, how history creates our politics, religion, and cool stuff I’ve learned about writing. These things all intersect and I’m much more interested in writing about where those intersections exist and what we can learn from them than just picking a single topic and being the guy who writes about [this one thing]. Hopefully you will find enough enjoyment to keep coming back and maybe learn a thing or two in the process.

I’m also bringing back random footnoting. I used to footnote all kinds of random crap when I was the proprietor of my own low circulation blogs. I’ve avoided using them here so far while I get used to the system, but they’re fun and hopefully other people will agree with me.