IF WE EVER NEEDED PROOF that rape culture is real in the United States and is affecting a whole new generation of young men, a leaked video that came to digital light a few days ago depicting Vine “star” Carter Reynolds is it. In the video taken from his point of view, 19-year-old Reynolds is shown whipping out his erect penis and asking his then-girlfriend, 16-year-old Maggie Lindemann, to give him a blowjob. When she refuses, saying that the camera “makes [her] feel so uncomfortable,” Reynolds starts pressuring her to give him a blowjob anyway, saying things like: “do it,” “just pretend [the camera] isn’t there,” and “oh my gosh, Maggie, oh my gosh” when she finally says “I don’t think I can.” The video cuts out there.
There are a lot of pressing issues to be considered here, not the least of which are the legal ones. Can this be considered statutory rape? Does the video count as child pornography, even though no explicit sexual act occurs? Just as pressing, though, and deserving of consideration is what Reynolds’ reactions on Twitter’s reveal about the way consent is understood in our society. Reynolds posted the following to his Twitter account yesterday morning:
— Carter Reynolds (@carterreynolds) June 23, 2015
His “apology” isn’t really much of one — it comes off more as a thinly-veiled plea for the people taking him to task on social media to quit being mean to him and stop with “all of the hate and negativity.” What we need to pay attention to before we write his apology off is the beginning, where he says three important things: “First of all, Maggie and I were dating at the time,” “Couples do stuff like that all the time,” and “It was supposed to be a private video for no one to see.” Obviously, for Reynolds, once you’re in a relationship, you don’t have to take your partner’s word that they don’t want to have sex seriously. You can cajole and convince and even shame them into doing it, and that’s okay because, well, they’re in a relationship with you and part of being in a relationship means having sex whenever the other person wants it. That he says the video was supposed to be for his eyes only negates every attempt at apologizing or understanding what he did wrong that comes afterward; it implies that he believes that this kind of behavior is acceptable as long as no one else sees it, and that the real culprit and person to be blamed is the person who hacked into his iCloud account and leaked the video in the first place. What’s “wrong on so many levels” is that Reynolds believes this, and that there are probably thousands of other young men out there who believe it, too (a 2010 survey of young men aged 18-25 revealed that only 69 percent would stop trying to initiate sex if their partners said “no,” and 1 out of 20 would try to have sex with a sleeping partner). We already have proof that there are young women who believe that consent stops mattering once you start a relationship with someone (or can be convinced of that if the person doing the talking is cute enough). Just look at the tweets of support Reynolds has received tagged with #WeLoveYouCarter, which started trending today (Reynolds was the one who first tweeted the hashtag, incidentally, probably in an attempt at damage control/to soothe his shattered ego):
— ∞ℬℯℓiℯᏰℯᏒ∞ (@Jarbara_Swaggy) June 24, 2015
— TYSM JAMES ILΥSFM✨ (@janomagcult_) June 24, 2015
— ShariReynoldsFLife (@directioner20o0) June 24, 2015
— carter (@simranbiring12) June 24, 2015
Unless my sarcasm receptors are off today, those look like real expressions of support from real fans. People disgusted with Reynolds have hijacked the hashtag — with oftentimes hilarious results — and used it to make some very salient points on just how lacking many people’s understanding of sexual harassment and consent is. The fact that this kid believes that not respecting his partner’s feelings and agency is a natural way to interact as part of a couple — that everyone does it — proves that he has a warped view of what consensual sex in a healthy relationship looks like, and it’s frightening because it means that something is giving him that impression. And that something has to be society, because — let’s face it — from what else could you get that impression except from a society whose first action when someone comes forward after being raped is to ask: “Well, what were you wearing? Were you asking for it?” Where else could you get that impression except in a country where someone gets to walk away from a rape charge because he and his victim had engaged in consensual sexual activity in the past — and still gets to attend the same university as her?
People are taught to fear the men in hooded jackets following them home from work, or the strangers getting out of the elevator with them on the same floor of a deserted parking structure. “These are the people who will attack you,” society says. We’ve long known that this just isn’t the case; the majority of people who experience sexual assault experience it at the hands of someone they already know — and oftentimes even trust and love. Young people — especially teens Maggie Lindemann’s age — are already getting their worlds turned upside-down by the physical effects of puberty; add dating and relationships and the pressure to maintain the status quo into the mix, and we get the perfect circumstances for issues of consent to blur. Schools teach courses on “safe sex” — why shouldn’t they teach courses on safe dating? At least then we’d be able to teach both boys and girls that consent doesn’t magically disappear just because you decide to be someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend, that bullying your partner into having sex is not the same as initiating a genuine conversation to figure out why he or she isn’t in the mood, that when your partner looks inebriated and turns away from you and clearly says that they don’t feel comfortable going down on you, they mean it and you should respect that. There are still too many people — predictably old, like CeeLo Green, and depressingly young, like Carter Reynolds — whose conceptions of consent and rape and sex still exist in gray areas, when these issues are decidedly black and white.