Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Weak Cup Of Tea: Consent In Procrustes' Bed

I saw this piece the other day at The Loop and found it so perfectly silly that it needed a brief rebuttal. Consent is easy! claims the author of the original essay at Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess, whose blog name gives you a sense of the author's grasp of adult realities. As is frequently the case, she starts with a wholly unobjectionable premise that rapidly goes off the rails once it encounters a more complicated reality:
It seems a lot of people really, REALLY don’t get what ‘consent’  means. From the famous “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion” to the student that (allegedly) thought he’d surprise his partner with some non consensual BDSM to that fucking song to almost every damn comment on any article by anyone that suggests that yes means yes; it seems people really have a problem understanding that before you have sex with someone, and that’s every time you have sex with them, make sure they want to have sex with you. This goes for men, women, everyone. Whoever you are initiating sexytimes with, just make sure they are actually genuinely up for it. That’s it. It’s not hard. Really.

If you’re still struggling, 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.
So, wow, hey, this really is super easy! Except, well,
  1. Nonverbal consent? How do we know it?
  2. Consent where alcohol or drugs are involved?
She tries, bravely, to hit on the second point:
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.
Because of course the only outcome of alcohol consumption can be blackout drunk. And this is where determining consent gets hard — especially for outsiders tasked with determining whether an actual rape occurred — because there are a spectrum of such outcomes. Bill Cosby and his serial mickeys applied to a number of women over the years? Rape, especially given the volume of accusers and the similarity of their stories. But what of consent given under the influence at levels well below unconsciousness? As the anonymous author of "An Open Letter To OCR" makes plain (emboldening mine),
You do not know what I face every day in responding to a student culture of alcohol-infused hook-ups, where regrettable sex is a daily occurrence. The law has defined sexual misconduct as any activity that takes place with a person who is incapacitated by alcohol or other drugs. That makes sense, until you have to determine what "incapacitation" entails. I'm not much of a drinker myself, but I know that a couple of drinks loosen my tongue enough to say things I might never say without the alcohol. Am I incapacitated? No. But my judgment is impaired.  

In some situations, the student who is the accuser is clearly incapacitated -- practically (or actually) unconscious. In most cases, though, it's the impairment of her judgment -- agreeing to have sex with someone who, the next morning, she will regret having had sex with -- that causes her friends and supporters and other campus employees to tell her she's been sexually assaulted and needs to file a complaint. This process then begins the long journey down the rabbit hole of OCR-specified response that never ends well
In the Princess' telling, there is no gray area between blackout and sobriety. This is a strange assertion, because an immediate counterexample comes to mind, that of the DUI laws. In California, driving with blood alcohol levels under 0.08% is not considered drunk driving. So clearly, the law makes a distinction there, and yet she insists that consent "isn't complicated". Considering consent is the very basis for deciding whether a rape occurred — a felony which could put away an offender for years — this is a dangerous oversimplification. Moreover, it also reduces women to a state of overgrown children: one glass of wine is the same as six shots of tequila in an hour, with no distinction to be made between the two. In this telling, why should women ever be allowed access to alcohol? Moreover, the whole reductive analogy, one which demands consent at every turn, fails to comprehend how actual human sexual relations transpire. As one of the commenters put it,
The idea that ALL acts of sexual intimacy MUST start with verbal consent is not only ridiculous, it is destructive because it denies even the possibility of relationships being built on trust. Your rules ‘criminalise’ natural, spontaneous, loving behaviour and this obsession with verbal consent just one more example of how feminism is destroying healthy, grown up male/ female relationships and society in general.


Your rules are basically saying “I am not able to handle complex, subtle, nuanced adult relationships and interactions – so treat me like someone with special needs”.

And to be clear, I have no problem if that’s how YOU want to be treated. But it’s unfair for you to demand the rest of us to give up our spontaneous, thoughtful, fun, trusting and loving adult relationships and interactions just to accommodate you. And it’s ungracious to just insult other people for taking issue with your demands.
Amen. I find it interesting that, upon confrontation with specific locations where this Procrustean analogy falls down, the Princess immediately falls back to "I can see that you still don’t know what an analogy is", which is a sure sign of an intellectual handicap, the confusion of an analogy with the real world. Either you believe your argument is serious, and try to defend it, or confess its limitations. Consent isn't easy, especially, not from the outside, but like all fundamentalists, the author apparently cannot operate off her reservation.

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