Twenty-five years after I registered for college, we're still searching for an alternative to the stark simplicity of "No." And unfortunately, there's just no substitute. If you want to "teach men not to rape" -- a formulation that floated around the Internet a lot in the days after the Rolling Stone story was published -- then you need to give them a rule that can be clearly articulated, and followed even if you've had a few.For women, there is no substitute for the word no. To refuse, you must take responsibility for the refusal. One cannot act without acting, and without an actor there is no action. You cannot be a strong or independent woman without being able to both say no and accept the responsibility intrinsic in doing so.
That's why "no means no" worked so well, even if it wasn't perfect. It's a heuristic that even a guy who's been sucking at the end of a three-story beer funnel can remember and put into practice. The rule obviously needed some refinement, by adding other equally clear rules -- like "if she's stumbling drunk or vomiting, just pretend she said no, because she's not legally capable of consent." But the basic idea, of listening to what the woman is saying, not some super-secret countersignals you might think she is sending, is exactly the sort of rule that we need in the often-confusing, choose-your-own-adventure world of modern sexual mores.
Compare that with "we're in the red zone." What does that mean? It seems to me that a guy can take this one of two ways: either as "no," or as something less than "no," something which means that there's still hope and he should consider asking again in 15 minutes. If it means "less than no, but maybe more than yes," then we haven't fixed things; we've just added another layer of confusion.
But I don't think that's what Dominus is after. I think what she's actually seeking is a way to deliver a definite refusal without having to say the word "no." And being of that same generation of women, one that often goes to absurd lengths to avoid even mild refusals, such as declining to purchase goods or services we don't want, I certainly wish that there were a reliable way to deliver the message without saying the words.
But as millions of time-share owners can attest, there is no substitute for a clear "no." My generation has spent decades trying to make things sound less unpleasant by coining new words to replace the older, harsh-sounding ones. The result of this "euphemism treadmill," as Steven Pinker has dubbed it, is not that everyone moves to a new, higher plane, free of the old unpleasantness; it's that the new word takes on all the disagreeable connotations of the old one, and then people start looking for a new euphemism.
Remember, the only woman who doesn't need to say no from time to time is the woman who is unwanted and ignored.
And for men, there is no substitute for taking the risk that may lead to you hearing the word "no". It is nothing to be afraid of, and the faster you hear it, the faster you can proceed to other, more promising situations where you will hear "yes".