Language around sex matters. Here’s why.
If you’ve been active on Nigerian Twitter over the previous two weeks, you may have seen #COZA trending and noted the heated discussion around the topics of church, sex, power and religious fanaticism. If not, this article on Quartz Africa will provide you a pretty comprehensive overview.
While we each do our part in the fight for safer, more pleasurable and egalitarian sex and intimate relationships, the grim reality is that it will take many, many years to demolish power differentials and structures that disproportionally favor men. It pains me to say it, but I know that I will not see true, large scale equality in this context in my lifetime. Nevertheless, we press on.
There are many barriers to this peculiar goal. Repressive culture, religions established on the notions of patriarchy and male supremacy and economic disenfranchisement just to name a few. These are the big dragons that movements tend to focus on. But to pick one of my favorite quotes from the bible, “It’s the small foxes that spoil the vine.” It’s the little, irksome things that we tend to ignore because we view then as an annoyance, rather than a problem, that we allow to go unchecked that often cause the most devastating damage over time. You may have identified your own small foxes. Language is mine.
Language, and how we use it, is important. Our words provide a conduit into our deepest feelings and project our conclusions back out to the world. Most people would be shocked by the power of their unconsciously chosen words. They act as an unfiltered channel between what you think you’re saying and what you’re actually thinking.
Let’s consider the word “convince” and how it is often used in the African context in our approach to heterosexual sex.
Circling back to the COZA case and the brave women who have come forward to name the abuser, there has been a notable increase in male voices (at least online) attempting to show their support for rape victims and while shaming men who force themselves on women. For me, this is heartening. What I found disheartening was the language being deployed in their attempt to defend women, as it STILL robs women of their sexual agency.
I have been unsuccessful in securing the particular tweet I saw last week that set me ruminating on the issue, but I found these samples that go back a few years written in the same spirit. I’ll have to paraphrase the original tweet, which was written by a man. It said any man who rapes a woman is a beast. A real man can convince a lady to have sex with you!
By definition, the act of convincing involves one person persuading another to do something that they were not previously inclined to do. You know going in that you are asking a person to engage in acts that they really have no wish to, and are attempting to bend them to your will. There is a razor thin line between convincing and coercion, and most men do not know where that line ends. They cross it regularly, thinking if they buy one more drink, drop a few more honey-tinged words, take you to the movies or SMS ‘wyd’ at 9:48 pm enough times, they will be rewarded with sex. It makes the sex transactional, which is not necessarily a bad thing if those are the terms that both partners have agreed on at the onset; but a man feeling as though he has to convince a woman to have sex with him disrupts the balance of power. She ought to be able to refuse and that be in the end of the discussion. For a man to keep sniffing around with what he hopes will be better bait is to ignore her wishes, to dismiss her decision and can come off as predatory.
And to be honest, way too many women are falling victim to predatory sex these days, mistaking it for romance.
While I applaud these men and others like them for recognizing that forced sex is wrong, I think it’s imperative that we demand better. What I am hoping is that men –especially those who consider themselves allies with women – will reflect on their truest motives and find language that matches it accordingly. Because simply put, if you’re outchea trying to “convince” women to have sex with you, you’re a creep.
What say you? Are you okay with the language centered on men persuading women to participate in sexual encounters with them, or should consent be verbal and enthusiastic from the word go? (Many thanks to Drama Queens for introducing me to the idea of enthusiastic consent!)