Peter Eriksson lanserar Miljöpartiets förslag om skärpning av våldtäktslagen på SvD Brännpunkt idag. Jag känner stor sympati för förslaget - vad jag reagerar mot är något annat, nämligen beskrivningen av hur kvinnor beter sig i en våldtäktssituation (för det är ju alltid kvinnor det handlar om, trots att män faktiskt också kan våldtas). Eriksson:
"För att öka kunskapen om situationen för kvinnor som är utsatta för våldtäkt har experter intervjuats. De reaktioner som kvinnan uppvisar när hon inser att en man avser att utnyttja henne sexuellt beskrivs som 'frozen-fright pattern' – att gå ur sin kropp, bli helt passiv, frysa fast i rädsla och uppgivenhet. Våld och hot i nuvarande lags mening täcker inte in de verkliga reaktionerna hos en kvinna som är utsatt för vanmakt genom sexuellt utnyttjande."
Jag skulle vilja citera ett längre stycke ur Deborah Camerons The Myth of Mars and Venus vilket jag i min tur funnit i Guardian (jag har tidigare varit inne på Cameron här och här), eftersom det ger en slags motbild till "frozen-fright pattern". Cameron talar istället om ett rationellt riskbeteende, vilket också riskerar att, liksom "frozen-fright", missförstås i en kontext där bara "tydliga nej" och "tydligt motstånd" räknas som det offerbeteende som avgör huruvida en våldtäkt ägt rum eller inte. Hade egentligen tänkt översätta till svenska, men vid närmare eftertanke finns det gränser för hur ambitiös jag har lust att vara såhär på en fredagseftermiddag. Så here goes - läs och fundera:
The researchers Celia Kitzinger and Hannah Frith conducted focus-group interviews with 58 women and asked them how, in practice, they communicated to men that they did not wish to have sex. Despite being familiar with the standard rape-prevention advice, all but a tiny handful of the women said they would never "Just say no". They judged this to be an unacceptable way of doing things, and likely to make matters worse by giving men an additional reason to feel aggrieved.
The strategies the women actually reported using were designed to "soften the blow", as one put it, in various ways. One popular tactic was to provide a reason for refusing which made reference to a woman's inability, as opposed to her unwillingness, to have sex. Examples included the time-honoured "I've got a headache", "I'm really tired" and "I've got my period". As one woman explained, such excuses would prevent the man from "getting really upset" or "blaming you". Another softening tactic was to preface the refusal with something like "I'm incredibly flattered, but . . ." Women also reported telling men that they were not yet ready for sex, when they knew in reality that they would never be interested.
All this might seem like depressing evidence that psychologists are right about women lacking assertiveness, confidence, or self-esteem - except for one crucial fact. All the strategies the women reported using in this situation are also used, by both sexes, in every other situation where it is necessary to verbalise a refusal. Research on conversational patterns shows that in everyday contexts, refusing is never done by "just saying no". Most refusals do not even contain the word "No". Yet, in non-sexual situations, no one seems to have trouble understanding them.
If this sounds counter-intuitive, let us consider a concrete example. Suppose a colleague says to me casually as I pass her in the corridor: "A few of us are going to the pub after work, do you want to come?" This is an invitation, which calls for me to respond with either an acceptance or a refusal. If I am going to accept, I can simply say "Yes, I'd love to" or "Sure, see you there." If I am going to refuse, by contrast, I am unlikely to communicate that by just saying "No, I can't" (let alone "No, I don't want to").
Why the difference? Because refusing an invitation - even one that is much less sensitive than a sexual proposal - is a more delicate matter than accepting one. The act of inviting someone implies that you hope they will say yes: if they say no, there is a risk that you will be offended, upset, or just disappointed. To show that they are aware of this, and do not want you to feel bad, people generally design refusals to convey reluctance and regret.
Because this pattern is so consistent, and because it contrasts with the pattern for the alternative response, acceptance, refusals are immediately recognisable as such. In fact, the evidence suggests that people can tell a refusal is coming as soon as they register the initial hesitation. And when I say "people", I mean people of both sexes. No one has found any difference between men's and women's use of the system I have just described.
As Kitzinger and Frith comment, this evidence undermines the claim that men do not understand any refusal less direct than a firm "No". If "ordinary", non-sexual refusals do not generally take the form of saying "No", but are performed using conventional strategies such as hesitating, hedging and offering excuses, then sexual refusals which use exactly the same strategies should not present any special problem. "For men to claim that they do not understand such refusals to be refusals," Kitzinger and Frith say, "is to lay claim to an astounding and implausible ignorance."