From time immemorial, men have urged women to have sex with them, or tried to force themselves on women, or even abducted women for sexual purposes. The Sabine women story of ancient Rome was a tale of a mass attack on another village in order to steal their women and force those women into prisoner-wifehood with their abductors. The Romans weren’t just in it for the sex. They needed women to make babies with them, live with them, and be their mates for life. According to the tale, the Sabine men were not cooperating, not allowing their sisters and daughters to marry Romans. Back in 750 B.C., a woman didn’t have the right to consent; her male relatives held that power. The Romans’ tactics to get wives were deplorable, though.
In our western world today, we have a different kind of predator, the man who does not want a relationship with a woman. He only wants the use of her body for a few hours, without her consent. I won’t try to understand the mind that can perpetrate such an act, but it sure ain’t romance. For romance, there must be consent.
Consent wasn’t a big issue in societies in which girls and women hardly had any freedom over themselves. Their parents arranged their lives in the micro and the macro. Very kindly parents might listen sympathetically to a girl’s wishes, but decisions were made based on land, money, and property, not romantic fantasies. Young women were kept strictly apart from young men, or watched and controlled at all times by older people. If courting activities were allowed, they were mostly public, and heavily chaperoned. We’re so used to acting on our own that the sentimental image we have of a courting couple on the front porch from 100 years ago is quite inaccurate. It should include a parent, aunt, or sibling sitting on the other side of the porch the whole time, keeping watch.
Once people owned cars, getting a woman alone on a date became common. Women were warned to carry “mad money,” or taxi money, so they could get home on their own if they had to ditch a pushy date. But after World War II, young women more and more moved out of their parents’ homes before marriage and set up apartments. Then the lack of chaperonage became an acute issue. Young, inexperienced women discovered they had to defend themselves against importuning men, usually without the timely interruption of a roommate or a family member. Society demanded that women hold out sexually in order to gain marriage, but meanwhile they were at risk from the persuasion or force of men if they went out on dates alone with them, or went somewhere private with them.
What were typical tactics? The man would pretend his car ran out of gas out in the countryside, or try to get her to go to his apartment, and then try everything he could to not let her leave. The popular 1949 song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” perfectly encapsulates an era when men were able to get women alone enough to pressure them to have sex.
Today, men drop veterinary sedatives into unsuspecting women’s drinks at parties and bars and even on dates, and then rape them while the women are unconscious. Not only is this crime contemptible, but it’s pitiful that the man does not bother to ask for consent in an era in which consensual sex is a norm in our society and many women are not holding out for marriage. These women might easily say yes–IF ASKED.
Ironically, these women might also say yes if nagged. An interesting statistic I ran into a while back claimed that 25% of all sexual acts were the result of the man nagging the woman into them. Whatever the man’s line, whether it is pleading or demanding, many women give in, because nagging works. In a romance novel, the woman wouldn’t do it. She’d either be on the same sexual wavelength as her lover, or she’d wait for the right man to show her devotion.
In real life, under pressure and threats, women have to prepare their own tactics. Some of the typical are: Never drinking from an open container, carrying a closed water bottle rather than letting a drink sit on a table, or abandoning a drink if it had to be left while dancing or whatever (“It went flat.” “The ice melted.” “I don’t want any more.”). If the woman is thirsty, but going and getting a fresh drink from the bar or a drinks table isn’t feasible, there’s always the cold water tap in the ladies’ room.
Worrying about being drugged is not a fun way to spend social time with anyone, whether in public or in private. It’s a huge layer of responsibility that today’s women have to assume in exchange for having the physical freedom they never had before to live alone and decide their daily lives as they choose. Needless to say, predators who drug and rape women are never romance heroes. Heroes make the effort to connect romantically with women. Heroes also ask explicitly for consent.