October 24, 2014

Feminist Friday: A word about consent in a world of anti-rape apps

photo credit: Good2Go

There are days that I truly wonder what kind of world we live in.

I'm sure we've all seen it by now, because it broke a few days ago, but there is now an app for consenting to sexual activities. It essentially offers "Yes", "Yes but with Qualifications" and "No" options. No word yet on whether there will be an additional offering of "No, ew, gross, get away from me."

All jokes aside, Amanda Hess at Slate offered a good breakdown of how the app works:

Here’s how it works: After deciding that you would like to have sex with someone, launch the Good2Go app (free on iTunes and Google Play), hand the phone off to your potential partner, and allow him or her to navigate the process to determine if he or she is ready and willing. “Are We Good2Go?” the first screen asks, prompting the partner to answer “No, Thanks,” “Yes, but … we need to talk,” or “I’m Good2Go.” If the partner chooses door No. 1, a black screen pops up that reads “Remember! No means No! Only Yes means Yes, BUT can be changed to NO at anytime!” If he or she opts instead to have a conversation before deciding—imagine, verbally communicating with someone with whom you may imminently engage in sexual intercourse—the app pauses to allow both parties to discuss.

 It seems like consent should be a no-brainer. I mean, the best sex--really, folks, the absolute best sex--is between people that want to be there.

And yet we continue to have these "innovations".

But I digress. We are talking about consent, here. In a world of anti-rape apps, is it still important to talk about consent?

The answer is unequivocally yes.

Amanda Marcotte at the Raw Story makes the following point, the one that I would like to discuss, while talking about the app...I am cutting a LOT out of this quote, so please, see the link for the full context:

I have such mixed feelings about the “teach people about consent” approach to rape prevention. On the whole, I think it’s a good idea...But I worry that the idea of “teach the consent” is leading some people to believe there’s a problem of people who are “accidentally” assaulting someone.

On the whole, I agree with Marcotte in this piece. I too looked at the app and thought, What the ever loving fuck is this fuckery most foul? And I most certainly second this thought whole-heartedly:

So yes, I’m for teaching consent, in terms of telling people what consent looks like and what it does not look like. But only if you go into the lesson with the full understanding that people who have sex with the non-consenting know full well what they’re doing. The only people who are confused are people that a rapist might be making excuses to, and teaching consent helps put an end to that. But no one rapes by accident, and any discussion of teaching consent needs to start from that understanding.

But we walk a dangerous line when we question the emphasis on consent in our society. I know, because I was never taught about consent.

Don't get me wrong, we had sex talks. We had sex talks at school. I had them with my parents. Youth group at church covered the subject...over and over and over. But consent was never an aspect that we talked about, because sex was forbidden to the unmarried. I have never attended church as a married woman, but I doubt that they discussed it within the bounds of the marital contract either.

In fact, the messages we were sent about consent were convoluted. Kissing was a doorway to more insidious sexual acts...did that mean that if I kissed someone I had to go all the way? Had I said yes to everything?

There was no discussion of the ability to say "yes" to one act, but "no" to others. There was no discussion of my power (or my partner's, for that record, although I've never encountered an issue with this personally) to say "no" if things crossed a line. There was no discussion of my ability to define for my husband (or him for me) what I was and was not comfortable with in our marital bed. Consent simply wasn't part of the equation.

Instead, the answer was, "Don't have sex until you are married."

It could be argued that marriage was considered the consent, which leaves the door open for a wide variety of interpretations, including many that allow spousal rape.

When we look at consent in the wider context of our cultural, I would argue we are looking at a signifiant amount of patriarchal Christian cultural leakage.

For instance, we constantly reinforce the message that men are visual creatures, and women are emotional creatures, so men want sex when they see a hot woman. Thus it is her job to make sure that she is sending clear messages, and there can't be confusion. It's her job to stymie his lust. And yet, we know through objective research that this isn't true--women are just as visually stimulated as men.

We have this concept that men are constantly on the prowl. Women are portrayed as interchangeable parts in a machine. This is because men are sexual beings, and women are emotional beings. And yet, as I watched a family member lose his fiancee--the mother of his children--just this year, I saw a man utterly devastated not by the loss of another "hole", but by the loss of his life partner, someone that he cared about on all levels. This line of thought is used to justify men that stray. It's the reason we compare the "other" woman to his main partner. It's the reason we wonder to ourselves, "How often did they have sex?" But in addition to anecdotes like the one I shared, that illustrate that men have strong emotional connections to their mates too, we also have objective research showing that women are actually more likely to be bored by monogamy.

We have the concept that women should be pure, but should be ready to "flip the switch" and become a sex kitten at any time--the madonna/whore dichotomy, in a way. But this creates a confusion because the ability or inability to flip the switch isn't assured.

All of these concepts are purity culture--Christian sexual mores and norms--that bleed onto our larger culture. Consent too is an issue made murkier by these influences.

We operate from a position of male as predator, prowling, sniffing, searching, always ready, always willing, just looking for an opportunity; but female we see as vulnerable, pure, in need of protecting, the passive object of lust which she should actively try to combat. These are concepts that derive from purity doctrines.

In this scenario, everyone wants sex. Men are actively seeking it, and women need to be protected from it. If everyone wants it, then consent doesn't exist, and any "accidents" are just lapses of judgement. They fell in their walk. They stumbled. They didn't rely on Jesus enough.

The history of religious oppression can't be neglected in these circumstances, and as long as these values continue to leak onto our society at large, it's so important--so, so, so important--to continue to talk about consent.

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