Feminism: Consent 101

[Content Note: Rape, Love Spells, Non-Consensual Drugging]

Every so often, I forget that what seems perfectly obvious to me is not perfectly obvious to everyone else on the planet. So here are my feelings about consent. These feelings seems like pretty basic Feminism 101 to me, but here they are anyway.

  • Consent is something to be assumed in absence until given; consent is not a default position (i.e., not "no means no" but rather "yes means yes"). 
  • Consent can only be given by a person who is able to clearly evaluate their wants, needs, and the effects or consequences of the consent in question. 
  • Doing something potentially harmful or upsetting to someone without their consent (barring emergency issues like "life-or-death" situations) is unethical.

Consent is important in just about any situation. But it's particularly important in cases of sexual activity. I call sexual activity that occurs without the consent of one party, "rape". After years of deliberation and persistent Fail, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation basically does too:

"penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."

Emphasis mine. So consent would seem to be important, in as much as it makes the difference between a non-criminal act and a criminal one. And yet I keep running into people who keep acting like consent is something confusing and mystical and slippery, when in my mind it's . . . not. So here is your handy guide to consent concepts on this board. Keep in mind that this applies to consent in just about any situation (barring life-threatening, emergency, yada yada) but it's easiest to use rape as an example and also apparently this needs saying.

For these examples, to avoid pronoun confusion, we shall use two hypothetical characters, A and B, or as I like to call them, Aeron and Blythe. (Genders deliberately withheld.)

1. If "consent" is "given" when there is no alternative option, then consent was not given.

Aeron has a magical spell that forces Blythe to fall in love regardless of hir actual feelings?
Aeron has overridden Blythe's consent.

Aeron corners Blythe and give hir the "Have sex with me or I'll rape you" paradox ultimatum?
Aeron has overridden Blythe's consent.

Aeron drugs Blythe until zie doesn't have the option or ability to turn Aeron down?
Aeron has overridden Blythe's consent.

If an act being forced on a person was going to happen whether they consent or not, then that person cannot meaningfully consent because they were predestined -- according to someone else's decisions and actions -- to suffer the act regardless. Any "consent" overlaid onto the situation at that point is just a meaningless salve for the other person's conscience.

The logicians in the audience will have noticed a loophole to this, namely "what happens if Blythe consents to having hir consent overridden?" This would be the rare case of Blythe telling Aeron, "Hey, I want you to cast this love spell on me." The answer to this is that Blythe is giving consent freely in a situation where zie has alternate options, so consent is given. Pretending that this situation is the same as the other means conveniently forgetting how consent works.

2. If consent might have been given under different circumstances, but wasn't given under these circumstances, then consent was not given.

If Aeron casts a love spell on Blythe without Blythe's consent, it doesn't matter if Blythe might have fallen in love with Aeron naturally of hir own free will later. Aeron has overridden Blythe's consent in the here and now. If Aeron drugs Blythe or forces Blythe or tricks Blythe or otherwise manages to wrest consent from hir such that consent was not and could not have been given freely, then consent was not given.

Questions about what might have happened are irrelevant, and an attempt to distract the conversation away from the damning point that consent was not given. The fact that Blythe might have done something in the future is immaterial to the present. 

3. If consent has previously been given under different circumstances, but wasn't given under these circumstances, then consent was not given.

If Aeron casts a love spell on Blythe without Blythe's consent, it doesn't matter if Blythe was already in love with Aeron. Aeron has overridden Blythe's consent by forcing hir to remain in love for the future. If Aeron drugs Blythe or forces Blythe or tricks Blythe or otherwise manages to wrest control from hir such that consent was not and could not have been given freely, then consent was not given.

Questions about what Blythe consented to in the past are irrelevant, and an attempt to distract the conversation away from the damning point that consent was not given. The fact that Blythe consented to something else in the past -- such as sex with Aeron under different circumstances or sex with Chevryn under similar circumstances -- is immaterial to the present.

4. If [insert non-germane material here] was present in this situation, but consent was not given, then consent was not given.

Consent is very simple. It's either given or it's not.

Introducing irrelevancies about whether the victim was heterosexual, or on contraception, or incapable of acquiring STDs, or dressed a certain way, or in the wrong part of town, or wore red shoes, or was a Lakers fan or anything else not related to consent is immaterial, and will create the impression that the person introducing the irrelevancies into the conversation either does not understand the concept of consent or does not consider consent to be valuable.

If consent was not given, then consent was not given. There is no extra consideration that changes that fact. If Aeron really really deep down inside loves Blythe, that doesn't change the fact that consent was not given. If Aeron believes that what zie does to Blythe is for hir own good, that doesn't change the fact that consent was not given. If Aeron didn't want to control hirself and choose not to, that doesn't change the fact that consent was not given. Focusing on Aeron's motives and situation at all is problematic when the issue is the harm done to Blythe and the fact that Blythe did not give hir consent.

5. If Space Whales From Heaven, then you are an asshole.

If someone brings up consent and rape and rape culture, and you bring up time machines in a ludicrous attempt to come up with a rape situation that somehow isn't rape Because Time Machines, then you are an asshole.

I wouldn't have thought this rule needed to exist, but I've recently learned that it does. Fixed.   



I don't feel like this is complicated stuff. I feel kind of silly even writing this because, no doy! But... apparently this needs to be written, because I keep bumping into the most bizarre and strange rape apologia and consent hostility in all corners of the internet.

If consent is not given, then consent is not given.

Period. End of story.

Pointing out that there are cases where sometimes we override consent anyway? (Children! Emergencies! Etc!) Is not even remotely analogous, and is not the magic bullet that a lot of people seem to believe it is. (Yes, completely different situations and actions have completely different meanings. Congratulations on learning the meaning of "context".)

Pointing out that there are cases where the person whose consent is being overridden wasn't harmed as much as other persons whose consent has been overridden? (Violent triggery things for your comparison pleasure!) Is not even remotely germane to the issue, and is not the winning Pokemon hand that a lot of people seem to believe it is. (Yes, some people have it worse than others. Congratulations on learning that the world is not divided into binary Totally Good and Totally Bad options.)

Pointing out that the person overriding someone else's consent is maybe Not All Bad? (Nice Guyism! Not My Nigel! Zie Rapes Because Zie Loves!) Is so much not germane to the fucking issue that the people pointing this out need to take a moment and wonder why the fuck they care so much about the aggressor's feelings that they can't be arsed to spend time thinking about the feelings of the person whose consent was overridden. And if the answer to that is "because I identify with and/or care more about the aggressor than the victim", then for the love of fuck, re-evaluate your life now because fuck.

I don't feel like this is hard. But apparently some people do. So here is a post about it.

I also would like to see people take this beyond the obvious rape culture implications and understand that this applies to so much more. Like, for example, pranks played on people who have not consented to join a pranking culture. But I guess we have to take this shit one step at a time.

44 comments:

Nina said...

Great post, Ana. It really shouldn't be that complicated or confusing and yet...

redsixwing said...

*applauds*
Thanks. I'll be referring back to this one, I think.

Majromax said...

I'd like to add another one to this, which comes up on r/askfeminism on reddit every now and then:

If consent was violated accidentally or by a third party, then consent was not given.

With the love spell example, if Delta casts a love spell on Blythe without Blythe's consent, making hir fall in love with Aeron, then there's still no free pass. Even if Aeron is unaware of the spell, there is still no free consent given. (That doesn't necessarily put Aeron in the wrong, but it is incumbent of hir to stop as soon as the lack of consent is revealed.

Similar accidental violations of consent can happen in real life. Mistaken identity is an easy-enough example, (albeit one hard to construct sexually outside of a fictional plot): "Oh, I'm sorry for drinking from your coffee cup, I thought it was mine."

CN: Hypothetical rape reference from victim's perspective

More darkly, consent could be un-freely given because of a threat apparent only to the victim. "I said yes because I was afraid they'd threaten me if I said no," even if no such threat was intended by the perpetrator. The innocence doesn't make it consensual, it makes it tragic.

OckhamsSoulPatch said...

Great!

Typo note: missing "not" in first bullet point. Confused me for a bit.

Fenixmagic said...

Excellent post, and a great crash course on consent. However, the end was what struck me - I've never thought about pranking in terms of consent, but I think you hit the nail on the head there. It's always made me uncomfortable, I think this is the first time I've ever thought about why. Thank you!

VMink said...

It boggles my mind why this is still such a hard concept for certain Internet Intellectuals (almost always male) to get through to their grey matter, if I'm being charitable. If I'm not being charitable, then, well, it's because they're assholes who want to justify rape.

Thank you for this. I will be referring others to this post. Consent should not be that hard a concept to "get" (especially the "yes means yes" part) but it apparently is.

Also, 'Space whales from heaven' in the above context is why I stopped reading Dominic Deegan, Oracle for Hire.

Lonespark said...

The innocence doesn't make it consensual, it makes it tragic.

Yes, THIS.

Along with the "being in love with/wanting someone doesn't mean consent was given when you are rendered unable to consent by magic/weird scifi chemicals" idea, this comes up in fanfiction when authors try taking a series look at tropes like Sex Pollen, F*** or Die, Aliens Made Them Do It, etc.

Asha said...

I'm confused- are you saying you dislike those particular kink tropes or that consent issues need to be explored in a serious way when considering those tropes in a more serious work?

Asha said...

I had never thought of consent and how it applies to pranking culture. I hate being pranked and never do it. I dislike how a certain coworker of mine enjoys it. I wish he would stop, but other staff members seem to enjoy his antics. I often feel awkward in these situations, because the group tends to like his humor while I feel like it is disrupting work and frustrates me. He tends to avoid pranking me for this reason, but he had started trying to involve me. I don't like breaking the levity, because I fear it makes me seem stuck up or a kill joy. (My sense of humor is... quirky.) But I hate the feeling of being under attack, I really do. I've had people 'prank' me throughout high school and it brings back some bad memories.

Lonespark said...

I was saying those tropes (which I often like in their non-serious forms, too) can be explored in serious ways, and I've read a few m/m slash stories that did it very well. ("Series" in the above post was supposed to be "serious.") They tend to fit in the "dubious consent" category, even though it kind of seems more like "non-consent from the perspective that counts."

I don't recall seeing it done with other gender combinations. I think that could be trickier or harder for me to read.

Mime_Paradox said...

Ana Mardoll: Consent is something to be assumed in absence until given; consent is not a default position (i.e., not "no means no" but rather "yes means yes")

I'll have to admit I have trouble parsing "yes means yes" in this context, even as I understand the larger point. I'd understand if the sentence were "no means no" and "yes means yes", but on its own it just reads as a tautology and don't see what the expression is trying to say or why its any true than its counterpart. Am I missing something?

JarredH said...

Perhaps a slightly clearer version would be "Yes and only yes means yes. (Everything else means no.)"

Asha said...

Ah, I understand. On first reading I thought you meant you disliked those tropes period. Sorry.

I have seen the Sex Pollen trope written for f/f couples, but I have rarely ever seen it done with het. Seen it with a threeway, but not with vanilla het couples. I like to see an element of realism and a realization of the consent issues involved as well.

I find the Alpha/Beta/Omega trend to be similar. The gender and consent issues in a lot of them make me uncomfortable, but yeah, your kink is okay.

chris the cynic said...

A "no means no" attitude assumes a default position of yes. The person has to say, "No," for it to mean no.

A "yes means yes" attitude assumes a default position of no. If someone says nothing then that means no, and the only thing that means yes is, "Yes" itself.

Silver Adept said...

@Mme_Paradox - the underlying point there is that the default assumption should be "no" until given an explicit "yes", rather than the assumption being "yes" until given an explicit "no". Thus, "yes means yes" (otherwise no) rather than "no means no" (otherwise yes)

Bificommander said...

@Mime_Paradox: I think it's phrased the way it is because Ana wants to tackle the familiar 'no means no' phrase as an insufficiently strong rule. Ana's point is that not only 'no means no', but 'saying nothing means no' as far as consent goes, or even more strongly 'anything but yes means no'. So even when one party is somehow not able or willing to say 'no', no consent is implied unless that person explicitly said 'yes'. Correct me if I'm wrong.

There is one question I have, about the drugs part. Specifically, alcohol. To clarify, I do not and have never drunken alcohol. I don't like the taste of the stuff and the prospect of getting drunk does not appeal to me, certainly not enough to get over the fact that I don't like the taste. As such, I have no first-hand experience being drunk, nor do I know at what point which inhibitions or reasoning abilities clock out (of course, this is not the same for every person or every time, but I have pretty much no frame of reference instead of a rough estimate based on my personal drunkness-experience).

As such I'm not entirely sure how, if at all, I should judge whether someone who has drunk some alcohol is still able to consent. Now, obviously no consent can be given once a person is drunk enough that zir is incapable of voicing so. That's clear. But that leaves still quite a range between 'sober' and 'only just conscious and capable of slurring a 'yes'', and I am not entirly clear where the dividing line should be drawn. Once you get close to that latter catagory, a 'yes' should not be considered a valid consent anymore. But it seems patronizing to consider someone's ability to give consent completely null and void after zir has had a single sip of any alcoholic beverage within the past 10 hours.

So... that means there's a border there somewhere. And especially as a non-drinker, I'm not sure where that border is, or how to see if anyone has crossed it. (I am BTW assuming that the person in question is drinking of their own free will and initiative. Any attempt by anyone to get zir prospective parter to drink (more) for the purpose of more easily getting 'consent' is, as stated, a case where consent is absent.) I know that drinking a few drinks does not leave most people drunk nor prevent them from clearly speaking or reasoning but does put them in a state where, among other things, their inhibitions tend to be lowered. Should one assume that, due to this effect, someone's ability to consent is completely comprimised at this point, since there is the possibility that they're agreeing to something they would not have agreed to without the drinks? I guess you could take a 'better safe than sorry' approach, but that does leave the risk of offending the other by assuming zir is incapable of consenting when (they feel) they can.

BTW, not likely to ever put any of this in practice, I don't go to bars either. But I do know the 'picking up a partner in the bar'-trope is highly present in fiction and (I assume) at least not exteremly rare in real life. And I don't have enough understanding of the effects of alcohol to judge whether or not any consent can be given in such a circumstance.

chris the cynic said...

I don't like the taste of the stuff and the prospect of getting drunk does not appeal to me, certainly not enough to get over the fact that I don't like the taste.

I thought I was the only one.

Silver Adept said...

This is 101 material. It's well-laid out and easily comprehensible. What does it say about society/culture that the simple concepts here are apparently mystifying to a lot of people?

Consent issues apply not only to pranks but other things, too. F'rex, I'm very sensitive to certain comments or jokes that imply schadenfreude when I mess something up because I don't normally mess those things up. Mentioning that to someone, even SO, after they do it the first time is not giving them consent to continue doing it because Edward. (Substitute whichever jerkarse reason you like on a because Edward, fyi)

Or, on the topic: Complaining that a joke is sexist does not give consent for more sexist jokes to be made around you, because Edward. Telling someone to get their hands off your body is not giving consent for someone else to do the same because you need to "lighten up" or "be taught a lesson", "become a man", or any other reason.

If someone did not affirmatively, explicitly, and unmistakably say/indicate it was okay to do something, free of coercion, and there were alternatives to that course of action, then consent was not given.

CleverNamePending said...

So, firstly, I nearly just started slow-clapping at my laptop, which really confused The Boy sitting next to me who was all "Why are you applauding your computer?" so enjoy that.

Every time I try to have conversations with people who are, as far as I know, not rapists, and not rape-sympathetic, I seem to run into these stumbling blocks. "How can I explain something as basic as consent?" and then I get frustrated and they get confused as to why I'm upset. I may need to print this off so next time it happens I can just shove the post in their hands and be all "EDUCATE YOURSELF. PLEASE FOR THE SAKE OF MY POOR LIVER!"

Also totally unrelated but the more you talk about love spells/potions the more I want to play with them in my own writing/see other people exploring them as a tool for horror as to "Oh tee hee look at how harmless and cute this is!"

Lonespark said...

I applaud at the computer a lot. It's often for Ana. I also yell "Fuck yeah!" or laugh like a hyena, as the situation calls for. I'm usually alone, though, and if not, well, my kids are used to it.

Ana Mardoll said...

*I* get a "Fuck yeah!"? That's like MY DREAM. :D

Kirala said...

This is awesome and covers all real scenarios and most fictional scenarios I can imagine.

There's a fantasy (as in genre, not as in sexual fantasy) scenario that's been bugging me, though, involving mind control and third-party rape, and I'm not sure how it ought to be resolved. Not really covered above. (Possibly also uninteresting to most, so given that and fact that the topics are delicate, I'm rot-13ing.)

Gjb punenpgref ner va ybir naq oybbql fghcvqvgl vf xrrcvat gurz sebz orvat gbtrgure. Guveq cnegl, abauhzna gevpxfgre fbeg bs zvavzny fragvrapr, qrpvqrf gb (yvgrenyyl) zntvpnyyl trg gurz vagb orq gbtrgure, juvpu orpnhfr bs Ernfbaf sbe bar punenpgre zrnaf gurl fhqqrayl unir n irel fubeg gvzr senzr va juvpu gb qrpvqr jurgure gb zneel fbba be arire.

Svefg ceboyrz: Bs gur pbhcyr, bar vf znyr naq bar vf srznyr. Gur znyr'f fghcvqvgl jnf gur terngre snpgbe va xrrcvat gurz ncneg naq ur srryf ur pbhyq unir nibvqrq gur zntvp gevpx vs ur'q orra cnlvat cebcre nggragvba (dhrfgvbanoyr), fb ur gevrf gb svther bhg ubj gb pbairl gung 1) fur vf serr gb qb jung vf orfg sbe ure, cyrnfr cvpx jung'f orfg sbe ure, naq 2) jryy, vs lbh jnag gb xabj, V ernyyl unir jnagrq gb zneel lbh sbe fbzr gvzr naq jbhyq or guevyyrq vs gung'f jung lbh jnag. Gb jung rkgrag vf ur erfcbafvoyr sbe xrrcvat gur cerffher bss bs ure, tvira gung fur'f qrnyvat jvgu gur qbhoyr fubpx bs gur vapvqrag naq gur frpergf ur'f orra xrrcvat? Gb jung rkgrag qbrf ur bjr ure oyhag ubarfgl?

Frpbaq ceboyrz: jung vf gur nccebcevngr chavfuzrag sbe gur zvavznyyl-fragvrag gevpxfgre jub gubhtug vg jnf qbvat gurz n snibe? Gur pbhcyr unf uhzna-rdhvinyrag zntvpny sevraqf jub pna oevat iratrnapr va nyzbfg nal sbepr vzntvanoyr. Gur punenpgref unir qrongrq gur erfcbafvovyvgl rkgrafviryl. V'ir nyzbfg tvira hc gelvat gb jevgr guvf fgbel, tvira zl vanovyvgl gb jrvtu vg bhg gb zl fngvfsnpgvba.

Ana Mardoll said...

I guess you could take a 'better safe than sorry' approach, but that does leave the risk of offending the other by assuming zir is incapable of consenting when (they feel) they can.

My philosophy? Better safe than sorry may offend someone, sure. But it will also prevent you from being a rapist, which I think many (most?) people will appreciate the logic of that when sober. I think a major key to avoiding offense is to not be condescending about it -- you're not not-having-sex-with-zie because zie is is drunk and may not know hir own mind; you're not-having-sex-with-zie because zie is drunk and YOU do not know hir own mind. Basically, all my advice to Edward Cullen applies here: make this legitimately about your needs, and not some kind of condescending protection of hir from hir own sexuality.

I also think that this situation comes up much less often in Real Life than it does in conversations about Rape Culture. And it usually UTTERLY CONSUMES THE CONVERSATION when it does. :/

Ana Mardoll said...

And while what everyone else has said here about no-means-no/yes-means-yes is valid and on point, there's another benefit to that framing in that it makes the Yeser an active and enthusiastic participant instead of someone on whom sex is practiced unless an objection is made.

So it's a double dose of better for everyone.

Silver Adept said...

@chris the cynic and Bificommander - not as rare as you think. I can taste the alcohol in just about anything, no matter how smoothly it is supposed to be mixed in. It makes drinks that would otherwise be pleasant have a very nasty aftertaste. I don't drink a lot.

@Kirala - I have experienced a situation that I feel is analogous, although with no assault involved -

N tbbq srznyr sevraq bs zvar jnf tbvat guebhtu n ebhtu oernxhc jvgu ure oblsevraq, naq fur naq V jrer gnyxvat nobhg inevbhf bgure guvatf, naq fur fjber bss qngvat sbe n juvyr juvyr fur urnyrq. V unir bayl zl bja fghcvqvgl gb oynzr sbe jung sbyybjrq. Va n yngre pbairefngvba, jura fur unq zraqrq fbzr, ohg fur frrzrq gb or univat frys-rfgrrz vffhrf, V gbyq ure gung juvyr V jnf tbvat gb erfcrpg ure zbengbevhz ba qngvat, V sbhaq ure nggenpgvir naq gubhtug fur jnf qngrnoyr zngrevny. (Gunaxshyyl, V pna fnl guvf jnf abg Avpr Thlvfz ng jbex. Jr jrer trahvar sevraqf, naq V unq ab rkcrpgngvbaf bs nalguvat.) Guhf, ubarfgl ba gur gnoyr sbe ure, ohg jvgu ab rkcrpgngvbaf be cerffher, whfg sbe ure vasbezngvba, naq nf n zvfthvqrq nggrzcg ng ohblvat ure fcvevgf.

V qvq abg urne sebz ure sebz gung cbvag sbejneq nobhg nalguvat. V qvqa'g gel gb cerff nalguvat be sbepr nal shegure pbzzhavpngvba. Fb, gung'f bar cbffvoyr erfhyg.

Naq V furyyrq hc ba qngvat sbe n ovg nsgrejneq. Juvpu zvtug or n tbbq jnl bs unaqyvat gur pngnylfg sbe lbhe fpranevb, nf jryy - phg gurz bss sbe n ovg va na nggrzcg gb vaqhpr fbzr qnatre be jneavat erfcbafr vs gurl rapbhagre fbzrguvat fvzvyne va gur shgher.

swanblood said...

Just a note, on the enthusiastic consent topic...

I think one thing important when we talk about "enthusiastic consent", is to ask your partner BEFORE you do anything, "when you are consenting to something, what signs will you show?"

Enthusiastic consent can be a problem for autistic people particularly. Some people are non-verbal (at times of strong emotion, or all the time) and can't consent with a "yes". Some people freeze up in times of strong emotion and can't even nod their head, or communicate with the outside world in any way, but they want you to continue. Some people don't show emotion strongly or at all, but they want to have sex anyway, and if they are getting turned down because their partner thinks they are not enthusiastic enough, or they are being mistaken for "reluctant yes" because of their tone of voice, then that can be a problem.

So, I don't think it's as much about "enthusiastic consent", as "find out how your partner shows consent, and treat THAT as consent."

Lonespark said...

In reference to life decisions generally, I am working up to a blog post to be titled something like: "Living on Purpose: 'Fuck yeah!' Means Yes." There's a lack of enthusiastic, or at least fully owned, consent around a disturbing number of major life things for a lot of people, I think. (...or it could just be me. There's been a lot of it in my life...) and a lot of it comes from putting other people's needs first and/or not Using Your Words. IMO.

Lonespark said...

Not-drinking people: I don't think that's particularly rare, although I and a few people I know used to be of that opinion and gradually became of a somewhat different opinion. But others are still right there.

In the cultural context I was in in Arizona, if you weren't interested in drinking people often assumed you were LDS. In other contexts sometimes people assume you're Muslim, or in recovery or... The assumptions aren't necessarily good, but it's kind of nice when people assume you have a good reason and therefore don't hassle you. The fact that, in the absence of that cultural context, way too many people will assume you owe them a reason is Ugh, see Can't, Shouldn't, Won't post Gaaaaah.

Jenna Moran said...

> someone on whom sex is practiced unless an objection is made.

:/

That is a well-phrased highlighting of the issue with traditional thinking on the matter.

Makhno said...

> The logicians in the audience will have noticed a loophole to this, namely "what happens if Blythe consents to having hir consent overridden?" This would be the rare case of Blythe telling Aeron, "Hey, I want you to cast this love spell on me." The answer to this is that Blythe is giving consent freely in a situation where zie has alternate options, so consent is given.

The only problem is that this conflicts with the principle that consent can be retracted at any time. Once Blythe is under the love spell, zie cannot retract hir consent, which strikes me as problematic.

Mime_Paradox said...

Just chiming in to thank everyone for clarifying regarding "yes means yes".

muscipula said...

Content note: rape of an unconscious person

You have put your finger on it, exactly. I remember a UK case where a woman "consented" for her partner to have sex with her while asleep - but with certain limits, which it turned out that he exceeded. This was argued to be rape because she had not consented to the specific act in question. But in fact it was ruled that even if he had stayed within the limits she wanted, it would still have been rape: consent was not present because it must be continually expressed in order to count, and she was in a state where she could not maintain consent, let alone explicitly withdraw it.

anonymous said...

Thank you -- I so needed to read this post today. I'm in the midst of a massive editing project, a story where I explore two different kinds of rape, and I've already had one disturbing reaction from a beta reader. It's difficult to write seriously about rape in fiction--as a victim of childhood abuse, people's dismissive/minimizing reactions to rape really disturb me, to the point of being triggering when I realize some of my readers, a few of them friends, don't get it, especially when they identify with the perpertrators rather than the victims in movies and books. I don't understand how it can be 2012 and people still don't grasp the idea of consent, which is why posts like yours are so important. Your post reminds me why I strive to write the truth as I see it and try not to worry about people's reactions so much.

Mary Kaye said...

Two more that I would add.

Arousal is not consent. Enjoyment is not consent. It doesn't matter if you are convinced the other person will enjoy whatever-it-is. It doesn't matter even if you turn out to be correct. It's still not consensual.

And closely related to it: Fantasy is not consent. Roleplaying is not consent. There are things I enjoy pretending with my trusted-to-the-bone SO. That doesn't mean I would consent to having those things done to me for real. It also doesn't mean that I consent to explore those fantasies with anyone else.

Makabit said...

In terms of fiction/fanfic/slash/etc...As a writer, what baffles me with these arguments (when they come from people who are talking about fictional matters) is the need to have both non-consensual stuff happen, and also have it be really OK. This is what is called having your cake, but then squirting Dijon mustard all over it.

Non-consensual sexual encounters can drive plots. They can illustrate and develop character. They can illuminate cultural and personal beliefs and ideas.

Strong stuff, with enormous emotional impact if done well. (Often not done well, but the same could be said for almost any chewy material.) So why pull out the stuffing of it and create a situation where it's not really rape because...

If it's not really rape, then it's something else, and you should write about that, instead.

My only two theories:

1. The writer/reader likes the character committing the rape, and does not want this character to be a bad person. A way out for this character to both behave egregiously badly and still be morally justified must be found. Once again, this strikes me as silly. What sort of a character can you get out of such a muddle, aside from one who has been taught that the author will go to incredible lengths to allow them not to have to develop a conscience? (Note: just because the character believes hirself to be moral, and people around hir believe hir to be moral, and their culture agrees on this matter does not mean that you, the author, have to buy in. Especially if this means that you're going to hang the victim, who is also your character, out to dry.)

1.5. We want these two people to end up together, and we vaguely realize that one of them raping the other might tend to prejudice against this outcome, so we find a way to make it All OK, Really. Even if both characters buy into this, it's still gruesomely awful.

2. This is just a sexual fantasy, which, to pack punch for the author, must have both the nonconsensual edge and the 'it's all really OK' comfort aspect. Which is OK, because--fantasies do not conform to the rules of reality, or good writing, or anything of the sort. But I wish people would make it clear that that's what they're doing, instead of passionately arguing that their cockamamie incorporation of both these elements works on any level except that of effective-for-them smut.

storiteller said...

Similar accidental violations of consent can happen in real life. Mistaken identity is an easy-enough example, (albeit one hard to construct sexually outside of a fictional plot): "Oh, I'm sorry for drinking from your coffee cup, I thought it was mine." <.i>

I thought of that as well and remembered two things that came from completely opposite sides of the spectrum. Revenge of the Nerds does this trope really disturbingly, because it basically celebrates the nerd raping the cheerleader who thinks the nerd is her boyfriend. The X-Files does it right (albeit still rape culture-y by the very nature of the plot) by having it about a shapeshifter who pretends to be various women's husbands to sleep with them.

Dragoness Eclectic said...

Sbe "zvavznyyl-fragvrag gevpxfgre", rdhngr "puvyq". Nccneragyl, "puvyq gelvat gb or urycshy", onfrq ba zl ernqvat bs jung lbh jebgr. Ubj jbhyq lbh 'chavfu' n puvyq jub zrnag jryy, ohg qvq fbzrguvat jvgu hasbeghangr pbafrdhraprf?

Ryven said...

I can only imagine how weird it must feel to have to explain consent, but let me assure you there are many well-meaning gentlemen out there such as myself that just really have a hard time working this all out.

My personal solution was to remain abstinent until marriage, which cuts out a TON of possible scenarios but doesn't solve the problem completely. For example -

Assume you have a couple where the two partners have markedly different libidos. The one with the lower drive ("A") will sometimes accept a sexual advance when (s)he doesn't really want to - maybe out of a sense of marital duty or just a desire to keep the higher-drive partner ("B") happy. Is that actually consent?

If "A" was accepting an unwanted advance out of fear, the answer would pretty clearly be 'no,' but duty or even love - how do you determine that? Where's the line between enthusiasm and consent?

When I first started reading up on consent more thoroughly, I was becoming convinced that I had been raping my wife from time to time for six years without either of us realizing it. I was horrified! Since then I've had enough conversations with people that I'm not concerned about it anymore. I guess my point is that I'm sorry you have to explain this so explicitly, but I know at least some of us are grateful for it. :)

Makabit said...

Assume you have a couple where the two partners have markedly different libidos. The one with the lower drive ("A") will sometimes accept a sexual advance when (s)he doesn't really want to - maybe out of a sense of marital duty or just a desire to keep the higher-drive partner ("B") happy. Is that actually consent?

Interesting issue. I'd say that, for myself, in a committed relationship especially, wanting to make your partner happy is a perfectly valid reason to give consent. It's not fake consent if you aren't particularly interested in sex, but want to make sure someone you care for is sexually satisfied, and to my mind it's just as genuine consent, and just as valid, as giving consent because you personally want to have sex.

But if one partner always wants to have sex, and the other really doesn't, and it's a drudgery for them, or upsetting, or taking away from their valuable gaming time, I might say they should consider their reasons for giving consent, and if it's really working for them. Is this the right relationship for these two? Should the more libidinous partner seek sex elsewhere? Is there a fear on the less-libidinous partner's part that saying "No, I don't wanna right now," will lead to a chilling of the relationship, or make the other one feel sad, and they feel guilty? Would they be happy to continue to sometimes give consent when they're not in the mood, but not as often?

In those cases, some soul-searching and serious conversation is called for. But it's not a situation that would immediately make me think 'rape'. My mind goes more to 'time for a good talk about boundaries, and relationships, and the difference between making your partner happy and making yourself unhappy'.

But I would say that you're allowed to have sex for all kinds of reasons, and an adult is allowed to give consent with another adult for whatever reasons seem suitable to him or her. Masters and Johnson are not allowed to check your tissues and fluids and decide for you if you're really into it.

Will Wildman said...

So, here is a useful thing to consider: sometimes asexual people have sex.

Asexual people, by their own definition/identification, do not feel sexual attraction. However, some still want to have a romantic relationship, and sometimes that romantic relationship is with a sexual person, and sometimes they agree that for the sexual person's benefit, they will have sex, even though it doesn't appeal to the asexual person at all. I'm guessing this takes a looooot of open and honest communication to get right, but it happens.

A few posts up, Mary Kaye made the important observation that arousal/enjoyment can't make rape magically become not-rape. By the same token, a lack of arousal/enjoyment can't make not-rape into rape. Arousal/enjoyment have no causal relationship with consent.

The key questions are always: 1) did all participants say 'yes'? 2) Did all participants mean 'yes'? 3) Did anyone say 'yes' because they were afraid of the consequences of saying 'no'?

Makabit listed some fo the reasons that (3) can be complicated, and that's the key bit in the scenario described, but it can still go either way. I think it'd be unfortunate if anyone involved felt like sex was a chore to be taken care of rather than Awesome Fun Times, but we can still consent (or not) to doing chores.

Ygorbla said...

There is one thing that's missing from the list: When someone is being coerced but still has theoretically valid options -- the mustache-twirling "marry me or I'll foreclose on the orphanage!" gambit. This is tricky because the coercion in this case sometimes isn't that obvious, and can sometimes extend to social pressures that we take for granted -- eg. it's easy for people to miss how coercive a big expensive public marriage proposal can be if they've been acculturated to see it as romantic, and to conveniently miss how sharply you're suddenly limiting the other person's options by presenting it like that.

Any deliberate attempts to reduce or restrict someone's options like that are problematic, of course. But even saying that isn't enough, because it's still problematic even when it's not deliberate.

I think that realization is what causes a lot of the confusion and defensive reactions in people, because this realization requires that you actually stop and think about your own actions and their implications -- it's possible to be blithely coercive without thinking about it, as the public-marriage-proposal example shows.

Ryven said...

"...Even though there's a lot of very clear-cut bright lines, I don't think it's hard to see why some people could be uncomfortable with examining the broader concept of consent too closely."

I think that's an excellent point. Any of us could derail this thread pretty quickly debating whether humans actually have free will, whether people with mental disorders can be truly held responsible for their actions, where the lines of conscious desire vs. instinct are - any number of things. The further you get away from the "humanness" of it - the emotional impact, agency, choice, safety, social implications, so on and so forth - the more convoluted it can seem. i know I for one try to abandon or transcend my humanity in preference for pure concept at the drop of a hat and it's totally the wrong frame of mind here.

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