The Importance of Consent

24Nov10

It’s been a while since I’ve written, in part because I am participating in that most frenzied of literary pursuits this year, NaNoWriMo, and I have been directing most of my words and my mind to that.  But then I saw something that I couldn’t set aside.

Jezebel is not one of my favorite feminist resources, I’ll be honest.  I too often find myself thinking that they’ve just slightly missed the point, even if an article holds a promising idea.  So I can’t say I was entirely surprised when I saw this article.  In it, a man discusses his time in Paris and the interactions he saw there, finally coming to the conclusion that the idea of consent is holding American women back.

The final passage sums up his ideas very well, and I think shows how much he seems to be missing.

It would be asinine and anti-feminist to argue that consent doesn’t exist, or that the complete disregard of consent has no repercussions (because it most certainly does). But our language reflects and enables our sexual repression, and that in turn causes us to do damaging, disempowering things (like perpetuate a double standard on promiscuity), and it may be inadvertently enforced by how we refer to sexual choices. I’m not suggesting that a woman have sex with someone she doesn’t want to, but I’m hoping we can start having more guilt-free sex by any means necessary. If we turn the volume down on consent, perhaps we’ll get closer to this kind of liberation.

The assumption is that it is the idea of consent that enables sexual repression, perpetuates double standards on promiscuity, and causes us to feel guilty about our sexual interactions.  The fatal flaw in this logic, of course, is that every single one of these things was an issue in the days when the idea of needing a woman’s consent for sexual interaction was not really a concern.  Needing her father’s consent, perhaps, but not hers.  It is my opinion that the disregard of consent contributes to these problems, not the requirement of it.

Consent is a powerful thing, an empowering thing, and it in no way means that one has to agonize over every sexual encounter.  Making consent a standard increases the ability of women to step outside the roles that have been chosen for them and pursue their own desires.  Perhaps for the men of which the author speaks — the men who don’t respect the boundaries of the women around them, who don’t value the knowledge that the women they have sex with actually want to have sex with them — an environment in which consent is not required or wanted is preferable.  However, for the women who are left to fend off the unwanted advances of these men, I cannot see it being so.

The Yes Means Yes philosophy of consent (which is the one that I prefer) does not require you to constantly receive reassurances from your partner that they are still consenting.  It doesn’t require you to get a verbal confirmation at all.  It tends to be pretty obvious when someone is actively engaging and when they are not.   The boundaries that each person sets up are incredibly important, but it is easy to work within those boundaries.

The idea of consent is not by nature weighty; it is only the disregard for the idea that consistently harms women.

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2 Responses to “The Importance of Consent”

  1. 1 NameBack

    I think the article was posted on Jezebel as a joke/for ridicule?

    A lot of the readerbase seemed to interpret it that way anyway. I mean, your post is otherwise spot-on, but just wanted to let you know that it might have been ironic/sarcastic on the part of Jezebel. The title of the post gave me that impression, and it seems like the sort of thing they usually ridicule.

  2. It is possible, but I know that Sady of TBD and Melissa of Shakesville both interpreted it the way I did. Which doesn’t mean we aren’t wrong, of course (I know Jezebel did later add a disclaimer at the end).


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