Kavanaugh, Country Music and Consent

I’m not saying that Chris Janson is the Brett Kavanaugh of country music. But I am saying that non-consensual sex is NOT a rite of passage. Sexual violence is not an unavoidable symptom of puberty like acne or voice-cracking or those embarrassing middle school boners you couldn’t control. Non-consensual sex/sexual activity is a crime whether you remember committing it or not, whether the victim was drunk or not and whether it was thirty years or thirty minutes ago.

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Let me explain what some country song you’ve probably never heard of might have in common with a Supreme Court Justice nominee you can’t stop hearing about.

As we have for years I was talking with a friend of mine this summer about flirting, dating, relationships and sex over some blackberry cider and a lot of Tom Collins. He’s a good ol’ boy with much more socially conservative politics than mine but we discuss and explore a lot of contentious topics with respect. And some trepidation, but always respect.

Summer in Oregon is all backyard barbecues and river floating. Lake camping, sailing and cold drinks on the porch. The quiet magic of summer nights there is more sylvan than Southern balmy with fireflies at twilight or street parties in big cities where someone busts open fire hydrants and everyone dances in the water. I don’t know if they actually do this in big cities but I’ve seen a lot of movies and music videos that show these celebrations in the fever break of high summer. So it must be true.

But in small-city Oregon, very few of my friends like country music. My friend is one of my few fellow country music lovers so we take some shelter in each other and eagerly share music. After many drinks and many hours of conversation about #MeToo and how our culture is slowly catching up to the simple concept of consent, he offered up a new-to-me country song to demonstrate that #HeToo understood.

“Oh, I gotta play this song for you,” he says, scrolling through his phone. He turned it up and a voice I hadn’t heard before crooned a chorus that is dangerously counterproductive to the progress we’ve been making as a society.

Take a drunk girl home
Let her sleep all alone
Leave her keys on the counter
your number by her phone

Pick up her life she threw on the floor
Leave the hall lights on walk out and lock the door
That’s how she knows the difference between a boy and man
Take a drunk girl home

Wait, what?

Swing and a miss, my friend. Swing and a miss.

That it is not the difference between a boy and a man. That is the difference between a criminal and a law-abiding citizen. That’s it. Plain and simple. There is nothing sweet or romantic about not fucking an incapacitated person. As another friend of mine often says, you don’t get points for doing what you’re supposed to do. As “sweet” as this sugary country ballad longs to be it implies that boys have no impulse control but “real” men do. But patiently and understandingly waiting for boys to become men and tolerating criminal behavior while they come of age is not the solution. This is *precisely the problem*. All people, regardless of their age, gender or maturity level are accountable for their actions. Even disabled elderly Veterans. (That’s right, GB Sr.) They need to be held to the same non-criminal standards as everyone else in order to promote and protect the safety of everyone else. Boys don’t get to rape along the way nor do they get any points for not raping. Female bodies are not their learning curve.

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Here. I made an award for any non-rapists waiting for praise.

There’s a million things you could be doing,
but there’s one thing you’re damn sure glad you did
Take a drunk girl home
Let her sleep all alone

Yes. You could commit a “million” different kinds of crime if you wanted. It sounds like she wouldn’t be able to stop you. You could touch a blacked-out woman’s body or put parts of your body in her unconscious body. But you don’t get points for not doing that. If female revenge in media has taught us anything you can fill your ex’s BWM with all of his expensive clothes, soak it in gasoline and light it on fire. I personally don’t think vandalism is the solution to betrayal. But that’s just me.

Singers like Beyoncé, Shakira and Carrie Underwood might disagree with Good Samaritan Chris Janson and feel entitled to commit certain crimes. But whether you’re a righteously wronged chanteuse, whether you get caught or not, nobody gets points for not committing crimes — regardless of your motive, opportunity, or your privilege, as might be the case with keg-stand Kavanaugh.

But our country music Good Samaritan, probably unintentionally, resuscitating this anachronistic boys-will-be-boys rhetoric, especially to differentiate “real men” from “just boys”, perpetuates the danger of boys not being responsible for their actions. Branding yourself as a progressive (read: non-raping) romantic is a bare-minimum marketing tactic if I’ve ever seen one. And there are still residual dredges of entitlement in the lyrics: she’s singing AND dancing, her hair is a mess, she’s at a bar “falling out of that dress” and she’s the one who “threw her life on the floor”. Yet despite all of these, what? invitations? forfeitures of legal rights? this gentleman restrains himself. God bless you, good sir. You’re a gentleman and a scholar.

Listen. The hopeless romantic who takes the drunk girl home and doesn’t fuck her is not a folk hero. But this sap implies that he is a heroic exception, and probably a red-blooded patriot while we’re at it. Cue the hometown hero parade. We salute you.

But while we’re at it, if not taking advantage of a drunk girl is taking the heroic high road then my friend deserves high praise for only making half a pass at me the night we got drunk on Tom Collins and talked about sex and dating until 2 am.

Maybe he too should go play a grand piano in the middle of a city street somewhere and sing about what a good guy he is for not forcing anything between us.

Local hero advocates not raping incapacitated girls, regardless of their behavior.

I don’t think this Chris Janson intended to sound so self-congratulatory but in his attempt to be progressive he actually reveals just how regressively entrenched our attitudes about female bodily autonomy are if not committing a felony merits an entire ballad. The title of the song itself is also a shameless ploy to surprise listeners. Simplistic plays on words are common country music song titles. But there’s nothing dangerous about Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House. It’s a poker metaphor for monogamy and starting a family. Party on, Garth.

Since American pop country might be further convoluting the simplicity of consent maybe the Brits can elucidate the concept with their dry humor.

Not forcing unconscious people to do things while they’re unconscious seems pretty straightforward. But the lines somehow blur and get murky when the unconscious person is female and the conscious person is someone with an erection. But what if two people are just considering having tea? There is no more British way to explain the simplicity of consent than with tea. This public service short from the Thames Valley Police can help even the most willfully oblivious person admit that they actually do understand someone else’s free will. It’s a cheeky metaphor with rudimentary stick figures to help explain how not to commit a crime against someone, whether they’re conscious or not.

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“Unconscious people don’t want to wake up to you forcing tea down their throats.”

Now if a crime has already been committed against you maybe the best you can do is to learn from it in order to prevent another one from happening. Tracey Ullman is as British as they come. And this sketch makes the simplicity of consent painfully clear when we consider the possibility that a man might have provoked his own mugging. Two female detectives use the same rhetoric to interrogate him that too many rape victims endure after reporting. If the way this male victim is treated is bewildering to you see: #WhyIDidntReport. Every time an accusation is publicly made against a prominent figure victim blaming is the train that’s never late. And the spin is always right behind it with inflated alarmism about false accusations.

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“You look quite provocatively wealthy. A bit of an invitation, isn’t it?” “Had you been drinking?”

But we can shake this mortal coil of exonerating all males from any sexual wrongdoing as an incontrovertible and impugnable age of innocence. Pardoning boys for indulging their sexual impulses is as criminal as the offenses themselves. If only “real” men know not to rape it means that women and girls (and other boys) are still in danger from boys until they become men. Their Peter Pan years are not protected trial runs. And female bodies, drunk or not, are not boys' classrooms any more than they are their playgrounds.

So let’s not perpetuate a culture of violence by propagating this idea that boys are powerless against their own desires; that they only learn by making mistakes. Let’s not romanticize doing the right thing as a chivalrous exception. Sorry, Chris Janson. Not doing the wrong thing doesn’t make you a man. It just makes you not a criminal. But way to not rape a drunk girl! We’re all very proud of you.

Originally published at heathermedwards.com.

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