Tuesday, 12 June 2012

You Can Say No!

I just finished watching the third season of HBO's True Blood for the second time, and there's one incident I completely missed on the first run through that really struck me the second time around. If you're not familiar with the series try looking here http://www.tv.com/shows/true-blood/, but basically it revolves around mortal woman Sookie Stackhouse, who becomes involved (romantically, sexually and otherwise) with a series of vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beings. In typical HBO style, the series involves lots of sex and violence, fairly frequently combining these two aspects. As is typical of vampire texts, blood-drinking is eroticised, and part of any sex scene between mortal and vampire.

All this fascination with combining sex and violence raises some important issues that relate to sexual violence and consent, which I'll return to in a later post. But the incident that struck me is refreshingly unproblematic in its treatment of sexual consent. It's exciting because it implicitly sanctions a person's right to say 'no' to sex, no matter what point a couple has reached in a potentially romantic or lustful encounter. Sookie's brother Jason meets Crystal, a woman he wants to pursue a relationship with. One night, he asks her to go for a walk with him, and they start kissing. When they are lying on the ground, and it seems like they will have sex, Crystal stops, and tells him to wait. Instantly, Jason also stops, and asks if she is OK. He does not try to pressure her, or imply that she has 'led him on', but appears genuinely concerned that she might be upset.

This might seem like a small thing, but it's actually not all that common in the media these days - instead, western culture is saturated with the idea that if you do certain things (go home with someone, kiss them, ask them in to your house for 'milo'), this means that you want to have sex with them. The worst thing about these assumptions is that they are often used to deny a person's right to say 'no', which they ethically and legally can at ANY point. You might remember when Collingwood footballers were accused of raping a woman after the 2010 AFL Grand Final, fellow footballer 'Spida' Everitt tweeted 'Girls!!... if you decide to go home with a guy ITS [sic] NOT FOR A CUP OF MILO!' As if the act of 'going home' with someone means that you cannot therefore say 'no' to sex. Jason's response implicitly refutes this, and instead endorses the importance of all parties engaging willingly.

Jason's concern that the women he sleeps with do actually want to sleep with him might not turn this tide, and True Blood does some other really problematic things in terms of sexual violence. But at least it's at least a step in the right direction.

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