I think it's more complicated than that. Inside my theory of the "no-sex" class paradigm, where men are indoctrinated believe normal, compromised women never just *naturally* want sex and, therefore, that sex must be obtained through some sort of leverage, the difference between from rape to exploitation of economic disadvantage to aphrodisiacs to dinner with roses are only a matter of degree and legitimacy**. That's the way Hays appears to look at it: from inside that dominant paradigm.I think it's absolutely true that there's a continuum of coercion when it comes to sex. In fact, a dismaying amount of sex takes place between the polar extremes of rape and enthusiastic consent. I would have generally agreed with Maggie Hays' post that set off this discussion, had she simply categorized as "exploitative" or "coercive" many of the phenomena that she's decrying: For instance, "duty sex" and "sexual payments" (i.e., some men's expectation that if they pay for a date, the woman owes them sex) both involve an element of coercion.
(More from figleaf here.)
She didn't do that. Coercion is ethically wrong. But I react allergically against such coercive situations being classified as rape, which is a crime, after all, and not just a breach of ethics. If a guy buys me dinner and I choose to end the evening with a handshake or less, he might call me a pricktease. That's not rape, that's mere assholery. If I drink so much that I can no longer say no, then it's rape, all right. Ditto for any situation where we start to make out and he then ignores a clear no.
I'm not arguing that force or violence is present in every rape. Not at all. I'm just saying that to call an act rape, there has to be a clear absence of consent, whether because one person has said or signaled no, or because they're incapable of consenting due to drunkenness or unconsciousness.
I'm troubled by this inflationary expansion of "rape" because Maggie Hays is not the only person who's trying to broaden the definition. I once heard something similar from a sexual assault educator. For instance, this educator said that if a woman has had anything to drink at all, she's presumptively incapable of consent. Moreover, she claimed something similar for women over age 55! Now, I haven't been able to confirm that anyone else is using this same criterion. I did press her on this point, and she clarified that she wasn't claiming that all sex with women over 55 is rape or abuse; rather, she was saying that mental competency has to be demonstrated rather than presumed.
Besides trivializing actual rape, the inflationary labeling of all coercion as "rape" drains women of agency. We remain free to say no - even when we're afraid of being called a prude or a tease, even when our partner is a manipulative bastard, even when a guy has footed the bill for haute cuisine and roses. As Natalia said, we are not children.
The losses are incalculable if we start presuming that women are incapable of saying no. In fact, that presumption plays right into male sexual entitlement. The notion that women lack agency is a precondition for masculine sexual entitlement. Those pickup artists and just regular Nice Guys(TM) that figleaf rightly criticizes for thinking they need to apply leverage? They're driven by entitlement. They're motivated by the notion that a woman's no only means that their leverage needs to be stronger, subtler, cleverer, more expensive - or just possibly, more forceful. Most such men won't actually rape a woman. But this mindset does make date rape more likely to occur.
What might masculine sexual entitlement look like in a less virulent - but still troubling - form? In a follow-up post, Maggie Hays describes her experiences with an ex-boyfriend that spurred her to regard seduction as a form of sexual exploitation (and/or rape - it's no longer quite so clear, in this post, whether she's continuing to conflate the two terms). I'm not going to quote from her description of that relationship because I don't want to oversimplify or take anything out of context; better to read it yourself. At one point, though, she adds some nuance to her original statement that seduction equals rape:
To elaborate, I meant seduction as: 'When a man persuades a woman to have sex with him, often subtly, through being kind, polite, chivalrous, while playing on her feelings, possible vulnerability, or sometimes getting her consent by deceiving her, distracting her, and sometimes intoxicating her (with alcohol or drugs) so that he can use her for his own sexual gratification and purpose.'This is, of course, much more coercive than simply being kind or polite, as she suggested in her initial post. On top of that, it sounds like her ex was a liar. I do empathize; most of us who've lived for a while have experiences with exes where we felt lied-to and manipulated. I'm sorry she was treated like crap.
Based on how she describes her ex, my guess is she sums him up fairly when she calls him an "asshole." In fact, it's sort of libelous to the actual anatomical part to apply its name to truly vile human beings. This guy comes across as a major-league manipulator. But a rapist he's not.
Plenty of embittered men tell tales of lying, scheming, manipulative women, too. I've never heard a man complain that an ex lied to get him into bed. While I'm sure it happens, there aren't many men who'd admit it, since it goes against the assumption that men are horny little everready rabbits. Men do complain about women manipulating them for love and money, just for instance. Neither gender holds a monopoly on rotten manipulative behavior.
I absolutely do think it's fair to say that the kind of seduction Maggie Hays describes with her ex is unethical. That doesn't mean it ought to be illegal, but it ought to be socially sanctioned, not celebrated as studly.
Historically, Hays' definition of seduction was the most prevalent one. Seduction was often assumed to an expression of class privilege. In my research, I've come across innumerable tales of a servant girl seduced by older, richer men - often her employer or his son - then abandoned once they fell pregnant. Even back then, circa 1910, the German feminists I've studied were split on how to respond to these stories. Some publicized them in sensationalized form in order to gain public sympathy for the plight of unmarried mothers; portraying them as victims was one way to counter slut-shaming (which was pretty nasty back then, too). Other feminists objected to the distortion of truth and to the idea that women had no agency (though they would've used different terminology).
The raw data I've seen indicate pretty clearly that the rich man and poor servant girl narrative wasn't fictionalized; such cases occurred regularly in early twentieth-century Germany. The far more common scenario, though, for one servant to pair up with another. If pregnancy did occur, the two servants would often marry (this was less true in the countryside). Cross-class liaisons rarely resulted in marriage, and so they were more visible in both statistics and public perceptions.
No, sexual coercion hasn't disappeared from women's lives, but most American women are no longer as constrained as a poor servant girl a hundred years ago. It's time, as figleaf says, to redefine seduction:
[W]hereas for most anti-feminists, "Pick-up Artists" in the "seduction community," possibly Scott Adams, and a subset of feminists that include Hays' school of thought, seduction is a unilateral act undertaken by men to extract sex from women who would otherwise "know better," for people who *aren't* into that mindset seduction can be something entirely different. Like the persuasive interaction between individuals who are sexually interested but haven't finalized a decision... or who *have* decided and are mutually enjoying a form of extended arousal.That second definition is what I've always considered seduction to be. Of course, that delicious sort of seduction relies on the knowledge that one can say no at any point - that both parties have agency, and that neither is entitled. It rests on the mutual recognition that enthusiastic consent is essential not just to law and ethics but to good sex.
I've always felt free to say no, even in situations where the guy acted entitled. Maybe that's because I called myself a feminist before I even hit puberty. Or maybe because I always balked at trading sex for prime rib - but then again, I only consider one of those things delicious. (Hint: I did try moose meat a couple years back, but I've been a near-vegetarian for decades.)