I always thought of metaphors as literary devices, and also as very important things to be able to identify (according to every standardized test). Then I read Metaphors We Live By George Lakoff and it blew my mind. Turns out we all use hundreds of metaphors a day, without even trying. It goes deep, people.
Metaphors are a powerful way of mapping a familiar situation onto an unfamiliar situation, and then presto – we just get it.
For example, I’ve been thinking about my “Got Consent?” shirt lately. Whenever I wear it, I mentally prepare myself for random people to ask me questions about consent… and then they almost never do. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons for that, but the one that sticks in my mind is that the word “consent” just doesn’t evoke much. Maybe people are pretty sure it’s about not raping people, but what else?
It actually represents a huge big deal. A total shift in thinking.
Old: No means No
New: Yes means Yes
The difference is VAST. And it can take a lot of words to explain fully.
But lucky us, we have metaphors to use as a shortcut! Here are two that I love:
Metaphor #1: Sex as a Cup of Tea
Recommended Use: When someone says “but it seems like a gray area”
This metaphor, created by rockstar dinosaur pirate princess in March, is so good. It gets even better the more it expands, so even though it’s kind of long, I’m just going to paste it here and let it speak for itself:
…just imagine instead of initiating sex, you’re making them a cup of tea.
You say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they go “omg fuck yes, I would fucking LOVE a cup of tea! Thank you!” then you know they want a cup of tea.
If you say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they um and ahh and say, “I’m not really sure…” then you can make them a cup of tea or not, but be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then – this is the important bit – don’t make them drink it. You can’t blame them for you going to the effort of making the tea on the off-chance they wanted it; you just have to deal with them not drinking it. Just because you made it doesn’t mean you are entitled to watch them drink it.
If they say “No thank you” then don’t make them tea. At all. Don’t make them tea, don’t make them drink tea, don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting tea. They just don’t want tea, ok?
They might say “Yes please, that’s kind of you” and then when the tea arrives they actually don’t want the tea at all. Sure, that’s kind of annoying as you’ve gone to the effort of making the tea, but they remain under no obligation to drink the tea. They did want tea, now they don’t. Sometimes people change their mind in the time it takes to boil that kettle, brew the tea and add the milk. And it’s ok for people to change their mind, and you are still not entitled to watch them drink it even though you went to the trouble of making it.
If they are unconscious, don’t make them tea. Unconscious people don’t want tea and can’t answer the question “do you want tea” because they are unconscious.
Ok, maybe they were conscious when you asked them if they wanted tea, and they said yes, but in the time it took you to boil that kettle, brew the tea and add the milk they are now unconscious. You should just put the tea down, make sure the unconscious person is safe, and – this is the important bit – don’t make them drink the tea. They said yes then, sure, but unconscious people don’t want tea.
If someone said yes to tea, started drinking it, and then passed out before they’d finished it, don’t keep on pouring it down their throat. Take the tea away and make sure they are safe. Because unconscious people don’t want tea. Trust me on this.
If someone said “yes” to tea around your house last saturday, that doesn’t mean that they want you to make them tea all the time. They don’t want you to come around unexpectedly to their place and make them tea and force them to drink it going “BUT YOU WANTED TEA LAST WEEK”, or to wake up to find you pouring tea down their throat going “BUT YOU WANTED TEA LAST NIGHT”.
Do you think this is a stupid analogy? Yes, you all know this already – of course you wouldn’t force feed someone tea because they said yes to a cup last week. Of COURSE you wouldn’t pour tea down the throat of an unconscious person because they said yes to tea 5 minutes ago when they were conscious. But if you can understand how completely ludicrous it is to force people to have tea when they don’t want tea, and you are able to understand when people don’t want tea, then how hard is it to understand when it comes to sex?
My favorite thing about this metaphor is that it puts sex into the same category as every other human interaction. Sex is not a magical, passion-ruled, anything-goes, gray-area thing. It’s a regular thing. Like tea.
Metaphor #2: Sex as a Jam Session
Recommended Use: Sex Ed 101
I read this really great book of essays edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, called Yes Means Yes (additional proof that it is great: Margaret Cho wrote the foreword) and my favorite chapter was “Toward a Performance Model of Sex” by Thomas Macaulay Millar.
Millar explains that it’s totally normalized to talk about sex as a transaction:
She “gives it up”
He “gets some”
Super familiar, right? Millar goes on to say:
“sex is like a ticket; women have it, and men try to get it. Women may give it away, or trade it for something valuable, but either way it’s a transaction”
Heteronormative? Check. Phallocentric? Check.
Rape apologists adopt this “commodity model” language frequently when trying to cast doubt on rape by calling it “buyer’s remorse” (also known as “regretful sex”).
Think about how the tea model says “if someone said they wanted tea, and then they changed their mind, don’t give them tea.” The transactional model *really* frowns on this kind of “dealbreaking” after a transaction has been initiated.
But what if we talked about sex as a performance?
Miller uses the metaphor of a “jam session.” Pretty similar to the tea metaphor – if the other person doesn’t want to sing or play an instrument, then the jam session isn’t gonna happen. And a jam session is creative, it’s collaborative, pretty exciting all the way around.
Here’s my favorite way that the performance model smashes the commodity model. The commodity model assumes that when a woman has sex, she loses something of value. So if she has too much sex, she basically becomes worthless. Here’s how the performance model contradicts that:
“a musician’s first halting notes at age 13 in the basement are not something of particular value. She gets better by learning, by playing a lot, by playing with different people who are better than she is. She reaches the height of her powers in the prime of her life, as an experienced musician, confident in her style and conversant in her material.”
It’s time to smash the commodity model, don’t you think?
I definitely recommend getting the book and reading the full chapter, because it is so much more complicated and interesting than what I’m able to get into here.
Questions? Comments? Amazing metaphors to share? Feel free to comment or drop me a line!