Ezra Klein and California’s “Yes Means Yes” Legislation

It appears Ezra Klein has gone off the deep end.  You don’t solve serious problems by making innocent people fear their every move — that only exacerbates class dichotomies by permeating victimhood, not protecting victims.  The “MRA” reactionaries now possess a gold-mine of quotes from Klein to support the mistaken idea that, far from a war being fought on women, there is a “war on men.”  With Klein a rather prominent “General” in the struggle, it’s a shame to see him provide the status quo such an easy riposte. California’s “Yes means Yes” is not a terrible law, and one could perhaps have questions about its construction and implementation while admiring and supporting its cultural intent.  One should not, however, support it for the same reasons as Klein, who states, among other things, that its vague definition of consent is precisely where it derives value.  There is already enough confusion over myriad human interactions that imbuing them further for the purpose of cultivating fear strikes me as an extreme position.  Instead, our intent should mirror what Klein argues forcefully for elsewhere in the article:

“The Yes Means Yes law could also be called the You Better Be Pretty Damn Sure law. You Better Be Pretty Damn Sure she said yes. You Better Be Pretty Damn Sure she meant to say yes, and wasn’t consenting because she was scared, or high, or too tired of fighting. If you’re one half of a loving, committed relationship, then you probably can Be Pretty Damn Sure. If you’re not, then you better fucking ask.”

This paragraph is worthy of applause; it demands clarity in sexual interaction. Thus Klein foils himself when he elsewhere states the law will “[create] a haze of fear and confusion over what counts as consent.  This is the case against it, and also the case for it.” (emphasis mine). Klein does the same throughout the article, prompting first agreement, then doubt. His rather dialectical approach to the issue is logical and consistent: the law will create fear in men, and this fear will cause apprehension in their sexual behavior. Consideration and forethought in the behavior of all persons is to be desired, particularly among the powerful, and more so when potential victims are involved.  But why the need for fear as a means of achieving this?  I may sound too idealistic, but fear among the innocent should not be an instrument of policy or social change.  So while Klein makes sense when he claims that confusion and fear over whether consent has been given will create apprehension among men, where he goes too far is in his convictions that, one, the confusion should lie in the legal definition, or general conception, of consent, and, two, the fear should lie, not in the reality of male power, but in the ability of institutions to punish men in admittedly “unfair” circumstances, so that even the man who has nothing to fear will be afraid.  To quote Klein once more:

“Critics worry that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations. Sadly, that’s necessary for the law’s success. It’s those cases — particularly the ones that feel genuinely unclear and maybe even unfair (emphasis mine), the ones that become lore in frats and cautionary tales that fathers e-mail to their sons — that will convince men that they better Be Pretty Damn Sure.”

What should men be afraid of, then?  I humbly submit: Men should be afraid of their own immense power, at least until they can wield it responsibly.  Men should be afraid of the effects of drugs and alcohol, at least until they can use them responsibly.  Men who commit crimes should be afraid of the consequences.  And these fears should be spread to the hearts of every man until every woman is no longer afraid that a simple “No” will turn into a tragedy. But no man, and no woman, should have to fear a wrongful conviction, no matter the worthy cause its for.  And no man, and no woman, should have to enter a sexual situation confused and afraid: either of their partner, or of what “partnership” means. Freedom from fear for all people: this is the cry.  Christianity already dirtied sex enough, contaminating it with worry, regret, and doubt.  We are still struggling against this original sin.  Why now support a secular version of it?


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