We discussed consent issues around a single example last night, example follows:
"Mary and Bob know each other from class, and they decide to go out together one evening. They go to a bar, and each consumes several drinks. Mary goes to the bathroom, and when she comes out she has her shirt untucked and her bra is off. She suggests they go back to her room and order dinner in. They eat dinner and lie next to each other on the floor. Bob caresses her face and kisses her. Mary enjoys it and kisses him back. Bob then carries Mary to the bed and kisses her again. Mary realizes what is happening and says, “No, I don’t want to do this.” Bob removes all of her clothes. Mary mumbles, “No,” very softly and then realizes that she will probably have to give in."
Now to me, this incident is fairly straightforward... Mary was interested in SOME sexual play, however, no conditions for boundaries had been established prior so they are in what I like to refer to the "Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals" zone (it's a nautical flag, for those who wonder where that phrase came from). IE: don't assume you know where this is going, and pay attention to what your partner is doing/saying. Mary pretty clearly backs the fuck up to NO once it becomes obvious Bob wants sex. Mary never said one way or the other whether she did, but her NO removes any implicit consent there might have been. From here on out it is straight up rape.
Several interesting things came out of discussion of this scenario. Firstly it seems like people are willing to see her initial actions OVER her later words. There's a lot of 'the implicit consent in removing her bra' (if that's consent for something then I dare a man to wear an underwire all night without getting bored with it and stuffing it in his manbag).
A lot came back to she lead him on (variously, drinking with him in the first place, removing the bra, going back to her place... all of which don't actually involve consent at any point) setting aside what may and may not be consent.... who gives a shit, when things got heavier than she wanted SHE SAID NO. The end. Consent can be withdrawn at any time.
Honestly the conversation we were having felt a little like beating my head against a wall. Because *side b* kept bringing the debate back to metaphors to try to clear things up from his perspective, but without understanding that apples are not oranges. A driving situation will literally NEVER correlate to a sexual assault situation. Rather than discussing things that were already on the table, metaphor after metaphor was presented to show why the Mary and Bob story was unreasonable.
My personal unfavourite of these involved removing cake consent from a 5-year-old and expecting said 5-year-old not to chuck a fit.
Five-year-olds are not grown-ups, the expectations on their ability to control themselves is a bar FAR lower than that of an adult. And most importantly HUMAN SEXUAL BOUNDARIES ARE NOT CAKE GODAMMIT.
Consent should be an easy issue. When you have consent you may proceed. When you don't you may not. If you had consent but it is then removed you no longer have consent and need to stop (by all means feel free to discuss this at this point IF YOUR PARTNER IS COMFORTABLE TO, but remember that they have every right to change their mind about this and pleading, coercing and threatening ARE NOT THE SAME AS DISCUSSING. Anything that attempts to bend the will of the other person should be OFF THE TABLE RIGHT NOW.)
The TEA consent guide remains my favourite for establishing just how OBVIOUS consent rules should be. Here is the TEA consent guide
I understand that a lot of people are very confused by the consent subject, probably not aided by the heavier end of the scale, which even to my eye feels rather like turning sexy fun times into a depressing checklist.
There's literally NOTHING wrong with this checklist but it still feels more like going through the cleanup process after accidental radioactive contamination that a date. On the whole, I'd rather people learn about consent before consent ever becomes an issue, and then not be in a position to need a checklist because checking in with their partner has become second nature. This next one, however, is very important.
The subject of alcohol also came up... as an excuse for Bob's behaviour AND as a reason why Mary should have taken more care. Ask yourself... HOW DRUNK WOULD I HAVE TO BE TO NOT UNDERSTAND NO?
This argument always seems like willful ignorance to me. I didn't want to hear no so I was too drunk to hear no. "Drinking lowered my ability to see I was doing something wrong". It's the same ridiculous reasoning for people getting behind the wheel of a car drunk - and nobody thinks that makes any sense, so why should it with sexual assault? If I can be expected to remember not to drive a car because I'm too drunk why am I not similarly considered capable of keeping it in my pants? And when I get caught drunk driving I suffer the consequences, but when I'm caught drunk fucking suddenly it's all "how short was her skirt" & "how much had she had to drink". Does anyone ask if the car was too sexy to resist? Does anyone take seriously the "I needed to drive home because [insert reason of choice]" arguments?
Sexual assault is far too often treated like a grey area, and the wrong things are being looked at. If sex was had and consent wasn't... rape happened. The grey area discussion can come AFTER that decision, because there are some things that may mitigate, but - and this may be the biggest but in the history of legal arguments - they don't mitigate the rape bit, they may mitigate the sentencing decision afterwards, but sex without consent should absolutely always be considered rape.
The last thing I want to deal with is the end of the example:
"...Bob then carries Mary to the bed and kisses her again. Mary realizes what is happening and says, “No, I don’t want to do this.” Bob removes all of her clothes. Mary mumbles, “No,” very softly and then realizes that she will probably have to give in."
Some people see this as implied consent. It is NOT consent on any level. Mary has said no. Twice. She has had her clothing removed without her consent and is about to be raped against her consent. Her resignation to the fact of this is NOT IN ANY WAY CONSENT. Not fighting back is not an argument for "she probably wanted it anyway" or "she didn't not want it *enough* to fight him off" or whatever bullshit. These situations turn aggressive really quickly. Maybe Mary felt that continuing to say no in the face of his obviously not taking it for an answer was going to lead to a beating, or worse. Women don't "give in" in these situations because we've changed our minds, we just know the futility of trying to stop you once you've stopped listening.
Maybe think about this if you don't grasp the where the line is. If you're having sex purely for your benefit, with no regard for what the other person wants, or what enjoyment they are getting out of the experience, maybe reconsider your behaviour. Because I absolutely do not ever want to be having sex with someone who doesn't care whether I'm enjoying myself or not. And WTF is wrong with you if you're happy with getting your rocks off at someone else's expense?
Just a thought.
*old joke for people who remember the "Unclear on the concept" cartoons