Popular songs like Da Muzicianz' 'Hush' suggests that it's not only okay, but romantic and positive to assume to know what a woman wants, and to act in her best interests, while she may not say otherwise.
I try not to pay too much attention to the Ying Yang Twins. But I've this self-titled album from Da Muzicianz (featuring Twin D-Roc and his real-life brothers) on my desk, and imagine, to my surprise, that there's actually a romantic track on there. The last time I noticed what either Twin was up to, he was beating up a woman's body part in a hit single, an act that briefly riled up the rockcrit/blog world. I've also got a single from the Twins next to me called "1st Booty on Duty" (you know, the first stripper out) so I'm not really expecting such romance from these guys, but there it is. Right?
Well, no. Da Muzicianz' "Hush" makes an effort, but it does so in a way that epitomizes a form of acquaintance rape, and in an especially insidious, subtle, way. The narrator says, perhaps honestly, that his lust is combined with true feeling and he's even afraid of being hurt: "Here are the keys, they go to my heart / I just hope you don't tease me and tear it apart." The openness sets the tone for a mature, equal sexual encounter, but then traditional male privilege takes over:
"You don't have to say a word
I want to get sexual with you
You don't have to say a word
Your body is talkin' to me."
The idea seems romantic, that the man knows what his partner wants and is taking the lead. However, it actually serves to limit her voice, remove her option for consent, and reduce her to a body. The second-person pronoun in that chorus either disempowers the woman or removes anything except the superficial. The man may not be trying to get away with anything, but he is choosing for the two of them. When one sexual partner is denied explicit consent or the conditions to sincerely give consent, then the resulting sex is rape.
People, male and female, don't understand this idea. Nothing short of explicit expression of a desire to proceed counts as consent, and even a "yes" can be revoked at any time. Guys: if a woman is naked on your bed, it still doesn't mean she's consented. If you're between her legs and moving forward, just about to penetrate, she still has every right to say no.
Here's the line that might get me strung up, so keep reading: not all rapists are evil people. This idea intensifies the already scary idea of acquaintance rape. Not all rapists even know they're rapists. Our culture has such confused ideas about consent that some guys don't even know what to look or ask for, or when they've got the green light (note: this problem doesn't absolve them of guilt or make it any less troubling, and it doesn't mean that some guys won't make sure they find what they're looking for, but more on that later). Popular media like "Hush" suggests that it's not only okay, but romantic and positive to assume to know what a woman wants, and to act in her, ahem, best interests for her. For this reason, it's important not only to reach individual people, but also to reform the culture.
Da Muzicianz (TVT) demonstrates the way date-rape culture works. While "Hush" alone removes female subjectivity, the tracks around it show how a broader worldview informs this idea of romanticism that's ultimately misogynist. "Camera Phone" appears next on the album, with its repeated insistence, "Shake something for the camera, ho!" The track demands that a woman objectify herself. With femininity positioned as purely physical, the conditions are unlikely to be met in which, still denied a vocal response, a woman in the bedroom can freely consent.
The preceding track, "The Girls I Know", describes "do-whatever-I-ask girls" and a woman praised solely for being ready to "cook me some dinner". The women Da Muzicianz know keep a number of guys on the side, take you for your money, and "aint got no rules". The sexual climate in this world is a free-for-all. Given that idea (and similar ones expressed throughout the album), the possibilities for sincere consent remain severely limited, and the need for verbal acknowledgement becomes even more important.
Instead, gestures of sexist chivalry become elevated as a form of true romanticism. You can tell I'm serious and I understand you because you don't even have to tell me what you feel. I'm so sure of this relationship that I'm removing your right to choose and I'm going to make sure I find a way to fuck you. It's very endearing, indeed. By blocking a woman's right to speak, a man ends her ability to consent, no matter his intentions. It doesn't matter if, as in this case, the man does so gently. Even the sound of "Hush" implies an inherent romance. The track comes out almost as a lullaby, with soft production and inviting synths. The track's mood suggests a beautiful night in satin sheets, which only serves to hide the undercover aggression penetrating the evening's activities.
None of this understanding of culture, of course, excuses an individual. Each person is responsible for his own actions, no matter what ideas media or other people have put into his head. If you commit rape, it's your fault. It's that simple. At the same time we need to change and resist the culture that promotes these attitudes. As much anger as I have in my heart over this issue, I'm more interested in preventing rape than in assigning blame.
Alan Berkowitz efficiently gets to some of the major ideas concerning consent in his article "Guidelines for Consent in Intimate Relationships". He describes four key ingredients: "1. Both parties are fully conscious; 2. Both participants are equally free to act; 3. Both parties have clearly communicated their willingness/permission; and 4. Both parties are positive and sincere in their desires." I strongly recommend reading his whole article, and I'll avoid summary here, but I want to stress one key point. Each of these points (including the continuum implied by the first) speaks not to what we typically speak of as force, but to a context in which the possibility for consent is disabled. While people have taken these concerns too far (including those who have misread Andrea Dworkin as saying that all heterosexual sex is rape), it is necessary to understand that power dynamics are not even. That unevenness, unspoken coercion, impaired decision-making skills, etc., can all contribute to an atmosphere in which honest consent is impossible. At that moment, sex must not happen.
Culture not only encourages misunderstandings of sexual relationships, it also contributes to this unbalanced context. Da Muzicianz' "Hush" is no more or less problematic than any number of popular songs -- including Akon's "Smack That", a recent chart-topper -- but it does exemplify the way in which rape culture builds on seemingly innocuous material. It's soft, it's romantic, it appeals to the heart, it's vulnerable. And it's rape.
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Songs discussed can be heard on Da Muzicianz My Space