Friday, July 09, 2010

On the notion of consent and personal responsibility

Okay, this has come up a lot lately, all over the internets, and I've been leaving a lot of comments about it, so clearly it's time to write an entry about it.


First, go read this entry, so that you have the basic vocabulary you'll need to understand this post.  It's okay, I'll wait.  (For extra credit, read everything on this page.)

Done?  Good.

So let me break this down for you all.  The person at fault in a sexual assault, regardless of what that sexual assault is, is the person doing the assaulting.

Additionally:  If you do not have clear, explicit, enthusiastic consent from a person you're interacting with, you're assaulting them.

(Cue trolls regarding my tone, also cue trolls regarding taking personal responsibility.)

Here's the thing about taking personal responsibility.  Regardless of what personal responsibility I do or do not undertake, I am still not responsible for other people's actions.  If you want to do something to or with me, I should be consenting to that.  If I'm not, you're assaulting me and need to fuck off and leave me alone.

That goes regardless of what clothing I wear - since clothing can't give consent on my behalf for anything.  That goes regardless of what bars, clubs, restaurants, venues, or streets I visit - since the only consent I have clearly given is to be in that place.  That goes regardless of what activities I undertake - since the only consent I have clearly given is to be doing said activity and nothing else.

For example!  If I am riding the subway, here is the list of things I have explicitly consented to:
  1. Riding the subway.
Here is the list of things I have not explicitly consented to:
  1. Conversation.  With anyone.
  2. Being groped or otherwise sexually assaulted, including being flashed.
  3. Being punched or otherwise hit.
  4. Being hit on (see also:  conversation).
  5. Being stared at as if I were an object specifically put there for your amusement, entertainment, etc.
  6. Anything else that is not riding the subway.
See how that works?  Here, I'll do another one for you.  I'm a dancer.  I dance ballroom, I dance in clubs, I dance socially.  When I am out dancing, here is the list of things that I have consented to when I have walked in the door to the venue:

  1. Being at the venue.
  2. Probably being asked to dance.
Note how being at the venue does not mean I have consented to dance with you specifically.

If you do ask me to dance, and I accept, thereby giving my consent, here is what I have consented to:
  1. Dancing with you at this point in time.
See that?  Okay, now here is the list of things I have not consented to by being at the venue and consenting to dance with you:
  1. Talking while dancing.
  2. Being groped.
  3. Being humped.
  4. Going home with you.
  5. Having a drink with you.
  6. Being surrounded by your friends.
  7. Dancing with you the rest of the night.
  8. Having sex with you.
  9. Taking you home.
  10. Having sex with you on the dance floor.
  11. Being touched by you in any way that is not prescribed by the dance (in ballroom, you have to touch in certain places/ways)
  12. Anything else that is not dancing with you at this specific point in time.
Have I made myself clear?

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that gives us lessons like "if a girl's wearing a short skirt, she's a slut", and "sluts all want it, no matter what they say".  Please be assured, these lessons are wrong, so wrong, so wrong I can't even tell you.  I got the same lessons as everyone else.

But here's the thing.  Even though we all were taught these lessons, we are not obligated to follow them.  If anything, we're obligated to unlearn them and not follow them, because they're fucking wrong and lead directly to things like rape.

And because of those lessons we all got, I can take all the personal responsibility in the world - never going to a club, never going dancing, always wearing modest clothes - hell, wearing a burka - never walking alone at night, learning self-defense, all of those sorts of things - and it is still possible for me to be sexually assaulted.  As in that link I posted earlier, the only way I can ever truly prevent my self from being assaulted is to never be in a room with a rapist or person who commits sexual assault, which is kind of fucking difficult seeing as how they don't all have nice big signs on their foreheads alerting me to the fact that they are in fact the kind of person who would assault someone.  Because we teach people that it's okay to rape.  It's okay to assault.  That clothes can give consent, that sluts are out there and just asking for it, that you're more of a man the more sex you have.

(cue trolls about how well then obviously I want everyone to just never interact)

Here's the other thing.  None of this precludes my being asked.  None of this precludes you trying to strike up a conversation while we're dancing or riding the subway, none of this precludes your asking me if you can buy me a drink, none of this precludes you asking me if I'd be interested in going home with you, none of this precludes your asking me if I'm interested in making out, fucking, doing anything else.  Asking is not the problem.  The problem is either, you don't ask, you assume, or, you do ask, I don't consent, and you go ahead anyway.

If you strike up a conversation with me, and I don't immediately jump right in and participate?  I'm not consenting to the conversation.  If you ask me in the club if I want to go home with you, and I don't immediately enthusiastically agree that's a great idea?  It's because I don't think it's a great idea, and I'm not consenting.  If we're making out, getting all hot and heavy, and you put your hand in my pants and I don't immediately moan, start grinding, say "oh yes" or otherwise make it really, really fucking clear that I liked that, I'm not actually consenting to that.  If you continue to converse with me, or continue to try to convince me to go home with you, or keep your hand in my pants, fuck you, I haven't consented.

If we are dancing, and you figure it's okay to hump me?  If we're in the club and you assumed we're going home?  If you're sitting next to me at the subway and figure it's okay to just talk at me?  If we're making out and you figure that means clearly I want some piv sex?  Fuck you.  I haven't consented to any of the things you've figured on or assumed.   Don't give me this "grey area"  or "misunderstanding" bullshit that I see so often.  If you are paying a modicum of attention to the world, and are at all a decent person, it should be pretty fucking easy for you to figure out if the person you're doing things with is consenting.  And if it is at all not clear?  You can fucking ask, and in fact, are obligated to.

The person doing the initiating is obligated to make absolutely sure they have consent to continue before continuing.

See how that works now kids?

Here's the other thing about consent:  capitulation is not consent.  For example, if someone is attempting to rape me, and I figure I have better odds of surviving and being less physically injured if I just let them rape me, rather than try to fight them off, that does not mean that I have consented to sex with them.  It means they are raping me, and I have capitulated out of survival instinct.

And here's the last thing about personal responsibility:  the person who needs to take some fucking personal responsibility in an assault is the person doing the assaulting. 



Anonymous said...

You ruined a potentially great post with your condescending attitude and snarky undertones. Maybe not ruined but it certainly makes it more difficult to read. Try it from a non-condescending platform next time and just stick to posting the facts and your basic opinions. You're spot on but the undertones here ruin this and you come off as just another bitchy woman.

And don't bother replying. I won't be back to read your condescending, snarky reply.

french said...

Yay, it's my very first tone troll!!!

Elodie said...

Aw, congrats on your very first tone troll! Got any billy goats to feed it?

"And here's the last thing about personal responsibility: the person who needs to take some fucking personal responsibility in an assault is the person doing the assaulting."

My fiance and I had a conversation today about exactly this. It is so completely true, and yet one rarely sees people say it.

Epiphora said...


I don't really have anything else intelligent to say. You're just exactly right.

french said...

Thanks Elodie & Epiphora! Glad you liked it :)

alana said...

How dare you show any emotion about rape! Your uppity attitude is damn disrespectful I say. I shall now sulk off to my own corner and know that you are completely beneath my notice and you will miss me because I'm just so awesome. Maybe if you do exactly what I find appropriate I might, just maybe, deign to listen to you. Of course we can never forget your just a women so really what's the point?

Sorry. I just couldn't help myself lol. Great post. Snarky undertones are my favorite!

AlwaysArousedGirl said...

Love love love it.

And your tone could not have been any more perfect. Fuck the Tone Troll.

lovesickrobot said...

Right on. Here's an example that occurred to me after reading the statement "clothing cannot consent to anything on my behalf" (implying other things that require consent):

Okay, so you also need consent (informed consent, even) if you are a doctor and you are going to do a medical procedure or experimental medication on someone. The notion that a patient's clothing could give consent for this is completely absurd. Even if you're dressed like a patient and you're wearing a big cast or brace indicating a particular injury, and a doctor knows which surgery would remedy that particular injury, the doctor still needs the patient's consent to repair the injury.

Your clothing an actions make speak louder than words, but they also speak a hell of a lot more vaguely, and consent applies often to very specific situations. It's like trying to have a political debate with semaphores. Not the right form of communication for obtaining consent.

french said...

alana - I know! What can I say, I guess I am just one of those uppity women. My life is surely poorer for not having Anonymous up there in it ;)

AlwaysArousedGirl - Thanks :)

lovesickrobot - Oh I like that semaphore metaphor. And the doctor one as well. One, both speak to not making assumptions, and two, I think you've really touched on something important. Clothes and appearance can send messages. But those messages aren't consent.