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.