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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shadow of the slut.

Gender roles and attitudes towards sexuality are interesting things. On the one hand, most of us are prepared to accept the claim that men and women are equal and should have equal protection under the law.* On the other hand, our culture carries a heavy freight of preconceptions about men, women, and the proper comportment thereof that can impact our reasoning. I've been thinking about this because of the recent law suit filed by a woman who was filmed for one of those Girls Gone Wild videos that you often see advertised on late night t.v. Specifically, she sued the company for damages because she did not consent to be filmed and, subsequently, has been embarrassed by the video:

The woman, identified in court files as Jane Doe, was 20 when she went to the former Rum Jungle bar in May 2004 and was filmed by a "Girls Gone Wild" video photographer. Now married, the mother of two girls and living in the St. Charles area, Doe sued in 2008 after a friend of her husband's reported that she was in one of the videos.


Okay, so that would be a pretty awkward conversation for damned near everyone. How do you even broach that subject? "Hey Bob, did I mention I saw your wife's boobies on the t.v. last night?" Now, the interesting thing about this case is exactly how consent enters into things:

Stephen Evans of St. Louis, her lawyer, argued Thursday that Doe never gave consent — and even could be heard in original footage saying "no" when asked to show her breasts shortly before another woman suddenly pulled Doe's top down. Evans said the company usually gets women to sign consent forms or give verbal consent with cameras rolling.

"Other girls said it was OK. Not one other one said, 'No, no,'" Evans said. "She is entitled to go out with friends and have a good time and not have her top pulled down and get that in a video."


So, not only did she not give positive consent, but she apparently indicated that she was expressly not giving consent to be filmed. And clearly another party yanking her top down did not constitute the plaintiff consenting. Granted, I might have been prepared to argue that since the event occurred in a public setting, most privacy restrictions do not apply.** And yet, Girls Gone Wild normally obtains consent that does not rely on such a shaky interpretation of the law. Thus, in this case, it seems to be a fairly clear-cut case of Girls Gone Wild being dishonest.***

The jury, however, disagreed:

A St. Louis Circuit Court jury deliberated 90 minutes before ruling against the woman, 26, on the third day of the trial. Lawyers on both sides argued the key issue was consent, with her side saying she absolutely refused to give it and the defense claiming she silently approved by taking part in the party.

...

But Patrick O'Brien, the jury foreman, told a reporter later that an 11-member majority decided that Doe had in effect consented by being in the bar and dancing for the photographer. In a trial such as this one, agreement by nine of 12 jurors is enough for a verdict.

"Through her actions, she gave implied consent," O'Brien said. "She was really playing to the camera. She knew what she was doing."


Now, I haven't seen the video, and don't know what aspects the jury found most compelling. Maybe there is something not described in the above story that tilts the balance of evidence the other way. But as it stands it sounds like a lack of explicit consent, and even an explicit indication that consent has expressly not been given, can be overruled by a subjective judgment that she was "playing to the camera".

And this is why I wonder about how gender roles and attitudes towards sexuality influence us. That she was dancing- clothed- in a bar does not mean she has less right to give, or withhold, consent. Hell, if she were dancing unclothed in a bar, her right to give or withhold consent would likewise remain intact. But perhaps, just a little, the fact that she was dancing at all makes her seem just a little less worthy. And maybe because her breasts did end up on film, it's just a little easier to see her as some kind of slut who deserves her humiliation, instead of a fellow citizen who has been taken advantage of.

It seems that however far we've come, the notion of the slut still casts a long shadow.


* Of course, there are dissenting opinions.

** Which, of course, does not mean that basic principles of common decency also do not apply, but then again the Girls Gone Wild folks have never seemed to be in possession of those, anyway.

*** Par for the course for them, really.

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