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Reprogramming The Status Quo: Limbaugh, Consent And Rape

Corinne Osnos |
September 21, 2014 | 9:57 p.m. PDT


Rush Limbaugh Caricature (Neon Tommy/Flickr)
Rush Limbaugh Caricature (Neon Tommy/Flickr)
In a day and age where more relationships are starting on Tinder instead of in person, dating is practically obsolete and hook-up culture prevails. It is no surprise that more of the nation’s population is single than ever before. Romance has indeed gone by the wayside. 

As Shani Silver, a social media and blog manager in Philadelphia, describes, dating culture has evolved to the point where “it’s one step below a date, and one step above a high-five." To put it simply: expectations are low. 

According to radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, however, the problem with modern day romance has little to do with any of the above. Instead, the problem is the evolving and increasingly stringent definition of consent. Limbaugh says that when a girl says “no,” she might actually mean “yes.” Apparently, it all hinges on being able to spot the difference. 

Arguing that consent “takes the romance out of everything,” Limbaugh is effectively justifying sexual assault and rape by equating it with seduction: once an art form, now it's “brutish and it’s predatory and it’s bad.” 

Although I find it hard to imagine being seduced by someone as obnoxious and misogynistic as Limbaugh, I am even more troubled by his apparent inability to distinguish between two distinct concepts: that of seduction and and that of rape. 

The changing definition of seduction isn’t the problem. Rape is the problem - and so are people like Limbaugh who can’t tell the difference.

Rape is defined by the element of choice; or rather, the lack thereof, which demoralizes the action. Seduction, on the other hand, may temporarily cloud a person’s judgment; we may say things or behave in ways that we later regret. This holds true for all sexes. The kind of morning-after where you purposefully sneak out sans goodbye. However, it is implied that the resulting action was desired, at least in the moment. And this is the distinction. With rape, the act is not desired, during or after the fact. 

I would like to know exactly where Limbaugh believes the line should be drawn. What exactly does it mean to know how to spot when "no" means "yes?" 

Is it a bat of mascara-laden eyes, a suggestive body gesture or does the presence of fuck-me-pumps alone suffice?

A woman may send a signal, intentionally or not, through her conduct or what she wears or implies with words. This, however, is both her right and prerogative.

Put frankly, Limbaugh’s comment is a blanketed attempt to slut-shame. 

READ MORE: Phasing Out The "Slut"

It is precisely these kinds of presupposing beliefs, ones that suggest that a male can and should take control of a female’s body because he knows what she wants or receives a "signal," that perpetuate rape culture and undermine feminine sexuality. 

The problem stems from the norms we are teaching, both indirectly and directly.

Limbaugh unintentionally makes one good point: being able to tell when “no” means “yes” “used to be a cliché, part of the advice young boys were given… we have got to reprogram the way we raise men.” 

Yes, we do. But not in the way that Limbaugh supposes. 

Instead, we must teach young boys to respect women: their bodies, their choices and their words. We need to reform the manner in which sex education is taught in our homes, schools and through the media. 

A surge in rape cases across college campuses in recent years makes this issue particularly salient. Limbaugh's comment was prompted by Ohio State's new standard of affirmative consent, which holds that “the absence of ‘no’ does not mean ‘yes,’” and that “it cannot be implied or assumed even in the context of a relationship."

According to a 2008 study, "many college men interpret 'no' as 'yes' during their casual sexual encounters with women, partly because they ascribe their own attitudes about sex onto what their female partners attempt to communicate to them."

Sex culture has for most of history been about females feeling indebted. The basic idea is that if a male puts in the littlest bit of effort, what Limbaugh might consider “seduction,” buying a girl a drink, flattering her, then his part is done; the female is now expected to put out. It’s all about gratitude.

This holds true on our campus. In the institutions of Greek life, for example, which are infused with masculine dominance, one aspect that I find particularly troubling is that it is not the females who host the parties, but instead, the males. If you show up as a female at a fraternity party, the idea is that you have come for the males, likely with some sort of agenda, and somehow this gets convoluted to count as consent to whatever happens once you step foot through the door.

READ MORE: College Rape Culture: The Other Side Of The Story

Although female sexuality has become much less taboo in recent decades, the dominant sex culture continues to be on the male’s terms. 

A new direction is necessary, one that puts all sexes on equal footing. One female USC Junior sums it up point-blank for all the males out there: “how many times have you been having sex and thought, 'if you were just like a little bit more to the right this would be so much better.'’’

Modern-Day Feminism (Neon Tommy/Flickr)
Modern-Day Feminism (Neon Tommy/Flickr)

What we need is more transparency in sex, not less as Limbaugh’s comment implies. Teaching females to speak up: to affirm what they enjoy and speak out when they no longer feel comfortable. Teaching that consent is sexy, aside from being wholly necessary. Rather than abstinence and silence, teaching protective techniques and supporting notions that sexuality is a natural human desire. To reiterate, sex is a human desire, not a male desire that women exist to fulfill. Maybe even reforming sex education to address how to achieve this satisfaction on both ends. 

In response to Limbaugh’s final inflammatory question, “permission every step of the way; clearly spelling out the why; is all of this not just lawsuits waiting to happen?” 

Yes. And that is precisely the point. These are the very lawsuits that wouldn’t have been brought forth in the past because of victim’s fear that they wouldn’t have a winning shot in court due to loose interpretations of consent. What is disturbing is that Limbaugh’s statement does not reflect a radically conservative viewpoint on gender, consent and sex. Unfortunately, his perspective mirrors the status quo to many individuals. 

READ MORE: Rush Limbaugh Isn't Alone in Thinking 'No' Means 'Yes' When Women Say It

If the powerful, influential and visible figures of society publicly undermine the changes in law, it will continue to fail on a de facto basis and the old norms will persist. The two must run hand in hand for progress to occur.

Contact Contributor Corinne Osnos here.



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