Let me tell you a story. A true story.
Many years ago, when I was still young, I struck up a conversation with a charming, beautiful, sexy, intelligent woman. Let's call her "Irene". We seemed to dig each other, so I asked her out on a date.
We had a good date. Really good. Tons of eye contact, laughing, a lot of "accidental" touching, resting her hand on my thigh, not to mention really terrific conversation and considerable sympatico.
"Can I walk you home?"
We arrive at her doorstep. She opens the door. "Come on in."
I'm thinking, "Woo hoo!"
I step inside. Suddenly, the temperature drops to twenty below zero. She goes to the bedroom and turns on the TV. She won't look at me. I sit down next to her, and she scoots away. I barely open my mouth and she shush's me. I'm a card-carrying SNAG*, and damn proud of it, but I don't need to be Deborah Tannen to figure out I've suddenly pissed in her cornflakes.
After about five minutes of this, I make my excuses and leave. She doesn't even see me out. I'm not angry, but I sure am confused. Very confused.
I get home, and I just can't figure it out? What did I do?
I guess I could have just jerked off and gone to sleep, but instead, I picked up the phone.
"Hi, this is Larry."
"What do you want?"
"I'm just curious: What happened? Everything seemed to be going great and then suddenly, wham you're all, 'Who the fuck are you?' What gives?"
"Well, I want a man to be more aggressive."
"What was I supposed to do? Grab you when you started to freeze and rip your clothes off?"**
"That's exactly what you were supposed to do."
"This is still within the realm of possibility."
"The door's unlocked."
I will leave the rest of the evening to the reader's imagination.
This is, of course, merely an anecdote. But did I happen to stumble upon the only woman in the world who really wants a man to take charge? I doubt it. Does every such woman have both the ability to "step out of the game" and the willingness to step back into it without ruining its flavor? Probably not.
We had a brief affair of a few weeks. I really wasn't the sort of man she really wanted—I just wasn't aggressive enough. And she, frankly, wasn't the sort of woman I really wanted. We parted friends, though, and saw each other off and on until we lost contact a couple of years later.
Now, I'm easy: If women want to insist on written consent, signed and notarized, all right, that's what I'll do. You set the standards. I might complain, but I'll comply.
But I will ask this: What effect are you having on Irene's sexuality, and the sexuality of women like her? This is not about a game she wants to play, this is about what sort of man she wants, and how she wants him to act. She doesn't want to make every man explicitly negotiate consent. She wants a man who will rip her clothes off as a matter of course. I'm not saying she's "right", I'm not saying she's "wrong", but that's how she actually is.
Of course men should be clued into body language and nonverbal signals. But many men (and no small few women) aren't. Perhaps in a perfect world there wouldn't be any women with Irene's sexuality, perhaps not. But it's true that in this world, there certainly are.
When imperfect communication meets a very wide range of emotional and sexual attitudes, how vigorously do we want to actually criminalize every mistake? And all for the sake of those who don't have the self-possession to utter a single syllable under a bit of pressure, and who don't have enough situational awareness to stay away from pressure.
At what point do we stop treating people as victims by default?
*Sensitive New Age Guy
**Update: The exhortation that I should have "ripped [Irene's] clothes off" was metaphorical; she wanted me to aggressively initiate sex. At no point in that evening or our subsequent affair did she ever indicate that she wanted me to ignore an explicit "no" at all, much less without prior negotiation.