Saturday, March 27, 2010

Affirmative Sexual Consent: Will 99.99% of Sexually Active Het Men be ALL FOR THIS?

[image of poster is from here]

Normal run-of-the-mill het men declare and proclaim that 99.99% of het men are NOT rapists (and, boy, do they get spit'n pissy and nasty as hell if you note that given rape statistics, that ain't likely so--way more het men rape than .01%). So, do only .01% of men object to this significantly clearer standard of consent to engage in any sexual activity among adults. We ought to pay attention to which demographic most gripes and whines about the possibility of affirmative consent becoming the law of the land. My guess is this: those most against it will be sexually active het men... and more than .01% of them!

What follows is a cross post from abyss2hope blog *here*. (Thank you, for four years of great work, Marcella. And counting...)

What Is Affirmative Consent?

On the Yes Means Yes blog where affirmative consent was being discussed, several people in the comments argued against this standard by claiming this standard would criminalize most consensual sex and would be used as a tool of oppression.

This assumption seems based on the idea that affirmative consent is limited to a dry mechanical context when the actual concept of affirmative consent is much richer and not at all foreign to how we understand consent in most other contexts and how we live our lives and even how we enforce our non-sex crime criminal statutes.

We understand that when people are consenting they are indicating that they want something or are willing to have that something and that any expression of agreement is free of duress. If a stranger grabs you and says, "Gimme your wallet," we understand that tossing your wallet is not an expression of affirmative consent. We understand the threat nullifies affirmative actions even though the threat is not spoken. We also understand that duress is judged by the perception of the person who complies. If a mugger says, "I would have run off after another sucker if he said no," we understand that this doesn't turn the interaction into a consensual one even if this mugger is being truthful.

In short, there's nothing inherently oppressive about the concept of affirmative consent. If sex was truly consensual from the perspectives of all involved then nothing changes under an effective system of affirmative consent. However, when people approach sex the way that mugger approaches other people for money then this concept will not be one they will want to embrace or want to see used in the enforcement of sex crimes statutes.

When people who resist looking at consent from the perspective of the other person claim that determining what the other person wants or will freely agree to sexually is a hopeless mess, the response they often get is for them to stop guessing and to explicitly verify consent. This is often taken as meaning that the only way to determine affirmative consent is repeatedly make specific verbal requests and to get specific verbal agreements.This isn't true, and as the mugger example shows, asking a question and getting a verbal positive response doesn't always mean there was affirmative consent.

We understand why this is so in other contexts but in the context of sexual interaction this is often presented as proof that affirmative consent is unworkable. An easier set of terminology for how affirmative consent works to determine the dividing line between truly consensual sex and truly non-consensual sex and which doesn't confuse people with false positive responses are opt-in and opt-out.

Affirmative consent is a serial opt-in system that allows an opt-out at any time and which always returns to opt-out status whenever someone is not capable of opting in or of freely expressing the desire to opt out. Affirmative consent is non-transferable. If someone wants to opt-in to something which by default is opt-out they need to clearly negotiate their personal boundaries.

This is clearly different from the mere presence of the word yes. This is a standard which maintains a person's freedom and requires the unending respect of other people's freedom. Respecting other people's freedom at all times is more complex than continuing until a no or taking a yes as a blank check, but this complexity is not a valid excuse for failing to respect other people's basic human rights even during sexual activity.

No social status or label nullifies the need for genuine affirmative consent.

Opting in doesn't require a document as many opponents of affirmative consent claim but it does require a process of respectful learning. With an opt-in/opt-out system there is no guesswork or assumptions about consent existing in the absence of an obvious opt-out. Mixed signals always means the opt-in hasn't happened. In this system a document freely signed giving another person fixed rights will always be superseded by the right to opt-out and any document not freely signed is meaningless.

For anyone who has wanted sex but who has not wanted to opt-in, this system may mean being prompted for explicit feedback from someone who doesn't want to risk being on the wrong side of the law by reading too much into passivity or it may mean others will simply walk away. Those who cannot bring themselves to opt-in may not get the sex they want. This is a better alternative than allowing rape so that all those passive willing people get sex every time they want it.

Another argument against an affirmative consent standard is that the ideas behind this model cannot be integrated with the law. But they already have been in some jurisdictions.

Minnesota's criminal statute uses this affirmative definition of sexual consent:
(a) “Consent” means words or overt actions by a person indicating a freely given present agreement to perform a particular sexual act with the actor. Consent does not mean the existence of a prior or current social relationship between the actor and the complainant or that the complainant failed to resist a particular sexual act.

(b) A person who is mentally incapacitated or physically helpless as defined by this section cannot consent to a sexual act.

(c) Corroboration of the victim’s testimony is not required to show lack of consent.
Without (c) most rapes would be treated as if they were legal and would give rapists a clear path to getting away with rape.

Since the complete working of the criminal justice system go far beyond what is written in the statutes this change in definition is just a beginning, but we need to start and keep moving forward with respect for the basic human right to have our sexual autonomy respected at all times.

So much of the history of how people and the law have looked at sexual consent have viewed a person's actual willingness as irrelevant. This must change if we are serious about preventing sexual violence.

13 comments:

JENNIFER DREW said...

Cutting through all the claims/misinformation/lies etc. affirmative sexual consent directly challenges heterosexual men's power and belief they alone are the ones who decide what is and is not 'affirmative sexual consent.' Women's and girls' right to have sexual autonomy is considered a non-issue because male sexual rights always supercede female sexual rights.

In essence 'affirmative sexual consent' would mean ALL males would have to respect and recognise that women and girls too have sexual autonomy - not just men.

But such a view directly challenges hetersexual men's power and heterosexual men's pseudo right to define what is and is not 'sexual consent.' That is why we hear claims rape is never rape but just 'males misunderstanding the woman's/girl's refusal.'

Strange is it not that evidence has consistently shown men are not obtuse when they hear/receive signals from either women and/or men that the individual does not want to engage in any activity/invitation which is not of a sexual nature, because these men immediately recognise and understand what is being indicated/said.

However, when the focus is on heterosexual men recognising/understanding the indirect signals/words a woman/girl is saying/indicating when she is attempting to say no to the male's demand for sexual access to her body - suddenly the male's rationality and understanding flies out of the window.

Why? The reason is because only heterosexual men have the right to sexual autonomy and ownership of their bodies - never women or girls. That is why rape becomes non-rape but just a 'misunderstanding' because men refuse to acknowledge or accept women too have the right of sexual autonomy and ownership of their bodies.

It is called male domination and control over women's and girls' sexuality and has existed for centuries, which is why so many women and girls do not recognise their sexual rights have been violated when a sexually aggressive heterosexual male asserts his right of pseudo unlimited sexual access to her body. Male supremacy teaches all boys and men they are not the ones responsible for their sexual behaviour - women and girls are. But contrary to claims women and girls do not have the same or even equal socio-economic power as men. Therefore it is ludicrous expecting women and girls to gatekeep men's sexuality, given men as a group continue to be ones accorded the greater socio-economic power and are the ones who define what is and is not rape.

Julian Real said...

Yes, Jennifer!

Routinely and normally, het men define "sexuality" as a power that presumed heterosexual women have over het men, even while these male bozos might acknowledge that men have power over women in every other way.

Somehow, THAT "female sexual power" seems to counterbalance and completely overwhelm all the other kinds of power men have over women, to dominate and control, to define and defame anyone associated with being female or feminine.

Yet, somehow, with an institutionally supported logistical slight of hand, these men want us to believe "they had no control" when they were:

a. having consensual sex with women
b. coercing women to have sex with them
c. raping women
d. raping girls
e. raping female infants
f. raping elderly women inside the homes where the women live alone
g. raping women in systems of prostitution, for whom the men must pay, willfully, willingly, with cash usually that they had to pre-arrange to have in hand
h. following women on the street, sometimes in cars, whistling, calling women misogynistic names whether or not the women respond, and, especially if the women do not respond
i. as you well note, utterly disregarding the cues that women don't want the sexual attention and violations men offer so willingly and callously

With all this (and more--let's not forget the forces of white supremacy, capitalism, and militarism) structurally in place; with systems of sexual exploitation designed to reinforce these ridiculous notions of men's powerless to women in the realm of sexuality; with institutions bolstering men's rights to have 24/7 access to women, one way or another--using the internet, physical force, supplied alcohol and covertly dispensed drugs; using many other methods of coercion, interruption, violation, and subjugation of women's lives, of women's bodies, of women's supposedly self-possessed sexuality; with all this, het men claim to be controlled by women sexually.

One has to wonder: what, in their devious and utterly self-serving little minds, would life look like for women if MEN controlled sexuality???

Julian Real said...

In other words--and this is more to the readers than to you, Jennifer:

Given that men rape with impunity most of the time (and are rarely socially identified as rapists for having committed rape); and given that much of what het men do that het men call sex is actually rape; and given that this is all accomplished with women, reportedly, having SEXUAL POWER OVER MEN; what would these het men's visions be for what sadistic or violating horrors would be visited upon women if MEN held this (as-yet undiscovered while vehemently argued) "female sexual power over males"?

We can note that this mysterious, elusive "female sexual power over males" has form, expression, and material existence in Western patriarchal societies. BUT these forms and expressions, curiously, bear a striking resemblance to what white het male corporate pimps mass produce, market, sell, and call "normal, healthy heterosexual sex".

With the marination of society in pimps' manufactured (and increasingly virulent) forms of racist, misogynistic pro-male dominance sexxxuality, along with the myth of "female sexual power over males", we are left with a kind of "white male logic" that has no grounding in or contact with social reality.

"Men rape women and girls because women and girls have sexual power over men", is the standard "logic" of pimps, het male rapists, and their apologists and supporters, including far too many frat boys and masculinist husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and father-figures.

So I have to ask: what would these men argue to us if they openly acknowledged women (let alone girls) have no such power to lure men towards them; to make het men drop pills in women's drinks; to, while unconscious, help men find a wall or floor space against which to rape them?

The answer is clear: men would have to simply be honest that women never possessed this male supremacist version of "sexuality" to begin with.

I await het men, collectively and responsibly, being this honest about what they know and what they do. And the clock keeps ticking, and women keep being raped by men who blame women for the assaults.

But with such structures, systems, institutions, and forms, practices, and graphic expressions of male supremacist sexxx firmly in place--not getting uprooted any time soon, we need not delude ourselves by accepting what is offered up as "reasoned" explanations--from the secular to the religious. It is neither the alcohol nor "the Devil" that makes him do it.

For as it currently stands, white het class-privileged men, collectively and globally, have far more power than the Devil ever dreamed of possessing.

SustainableFamilies said...

WOW. This is my first time reading your blog. I know that I only know you from reading four of your blog posts, but it actually makes me want to cry that there is at least one male (and I hope this means that there are others) who don't think that the sex industry is fun and empowering for women, women abuse themselves by voluntarily having abusive relationships, and women love being raped if they don't fight tooth and nail to physically escape (or even if they DO fight tooth and nail.)

I mean it! (Little twinkly tears)

I don't know enough about the laws, but I am reading more and realizing how complex it is to prove the R word. I have never reported anything and I'm still pretty confused about it, but I'm started to read some really kick-ass feminist blogs and it's been really wonderful for me.

I got one of those blame the victim counselors for two years so I'm trying to unbrainwash myself, but it's really hard. If I look at it as women "in general" I can easily advocate against things that have happened to me, but then when you look at yourself... well I'm sure you've faced that in some ways as well. It shouldn't be, but it is so often harder to love yourself.

I've been having this rambling comment problem, but it's just because I've been finding so many awesome blogs!! LOL.. sorry. Or maybe because I have too many thoughts in response to reading them! ...

And thank you, thank you, thank you thank you. Thank you.

This exact topic has been TOTALLY CONFUSING to me. So many situations were it is so hard to determine what is legal and what isn't. I had a problem of being a doormat for a long time and for a long time I felt that it was my own personal problem of being a doormat. It's hard to figure out where the law should step in, at what point. I am very pro-the law, and human beings in general stepping in.

I'm really new to all this so I'm going to go back to reading and maybe I can write more coherently at a late time. : )

PS---You don't need to post this LOL I feel like I'm not even making sense!

As a profeminist, I would be honored if you read some of my blog posts pertaining to adoption and reproductive choice. A lot is written on the choice of adoption, but very little is written by feminists about how relinquishment affects women and how "choice" is actually involved in something that is so painful most of us are totally destroyed afterward.

I'm not a great writer, so I'm hoping great writers will maybe make some sense out of my attempts... : )

AST said...

Excellent analysis as usual, Julian and Jennifer.

this standard would criminalize most consensual sex

Doesn't that just prove how screwed up our construction of sex is? Sexual politics and the consumerism of commercial sexuality have conditioned people to have "sex" AT each other rather than with each other.

Julian Real said...

Welcome SustainableFamilies!

Please make yourself right at home, and lemme know if ya want some tea. :)

I'm so pleased this blog, and the other feminist blogs you've found, have been encouraging and supportive to you. Comments like yours are why I started this blog, to be honest. To support women.

You've inspired me to do a post on Reproductive Rights. I've found a great book on the subject and will soon promote it.

Re:
don't know enough about the laws, but I am reading more and realizing how complex it is to prove the R word. I have never reported anything and I'm still pretty confused about it, but I'm started to read some really kick-ass feminist blogs and it's been really wonderful for me.

I was sexually assaulted when young, and sexually abused in other ways that weren't registered by me or by society as gross sexual abuse. Only later, with the help of feminist analysis, did the evidence of the harm begin to make sense to me: pieces fell into place; PTSD became identified as such; lack of self-care and lack of self-regard in some respects became understandable. My free-floating rage had places to settle and focus on: social institutions that support the sexual abuse of women, girls, boys, and trans people. And the men in power who actively maintain them. The work of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine A. MacKinnon has been especially helpful to me in understanding how patriarchal societies can construct sex and desire and power to appear "natural", when in fact it's constructed, sold, bought, and traded, over women's dead bodies.

Julian Real said...

I got one of those blame the victim counselors for two years so I'm trying to unbrainwash myself, but it's really hard.

I'm very sorry to hear that. I have been fortunate in my life, for the most part, to have feminist therapists. I wouldn't be able to endure anyone else, but earlier in my life, I did have a non-feminist therapist, and "surprise"--I never told him about being sexually abused. I must have intuited that he would be of no use. As it turns out, he shared with me a dream he had of us being puppies frolicking together on the beach. When, ten years later, I told a lesbian feminist therapist about this, she nearly hit the ceiling. Only from her response did I fully understand how inappropriate and vile him sharing that with me was.

I think the wrong therapist can do so much harm, and I hope you have since found someone whose views support the reduction of any possible residual shame and self-blame, rather that fueling either.

As part of the unbrainwashing process, I highly recommend visiting and reading Marcella's work at the blog called abyss2hope, which is centrally focused on rape and rape culture.
She is incredible smart, savvy, and well-versed in the issues that surround the social normalisation and maintenance of all forms of rape as normal activities, and how women are blamed for what MEN do.

Let's be clear: men are fully, 100% responsible for every action they do. Every one. With no exceptions. So if a man disrespected, disregarded, or ignored your verbal OR non-verbal cues that you were not willingly and welcomingly engaging in sexual activity, that's THEIR error, their harm to you, their abuse and use of you, not something "you did".

I remember being with someone who was also an abuse survivor, and during sexual contact my own alarms rang that "something wasn't right": the person I was with seemed muted and distant in a way that wasn't typically present between us. I stopped my own actions and checked in: and it turned out my partner was in a triggered state. We talked about what the memories were and what about the present was triggering.

I know I only knew how to do that because I was hypersensitive to the feelings and emotion states of people around me. I had learned, also, by being abused, to be selfless, rather than selfish, during sex.

I learned that there are many people who will be selfish and reckless when sexually active, and may use substances to ensure some level of "checked-outness".

I had to stop being sexually active, to get way from old patterns of being dissociated in some situations, and overly attentive to my partner in other situations. In neither of those scenarios, was sex something that was a sharing of intimacy and care. Sex became a way I had to try and please people, to show people I had something to offer.

Stopping being sexually active was the best decision I ever made. It's not something I "recommend" exactly, because everyone's life circumstances are different, and I live a very privileged life, and can make that choice without suffering because of it. No pimp is going to beat me for making that choice. No husband is going to either shame me or whine to me about my alleged responsibility to keep him happy and satisfied.

I share this to support you making whatever decisions you need to make to find some deep knowing of yourself and how the past impacts your present. And to say that sometimes those decisions will not be supported by society, and will be seen as "too extreme" by some therapists.

Julian Real said...

If I look at it as women "in general" I can easily advocate against things that have happened to me, but then when you look at yourself... well I'm sure you've faced that in some ways as well. It shouldn't be, but it is so often harder to love yourself.

I can completely relate to what you are saying here. I see so much going on around me that I will readily name as "not okay" or as "oppressive" or as "harm", but can get murky when assessing what other people do to me.

I've been having this rambling comment problem, but it's just because I've been finding so many awesome blogs!! LOL.. sorry. Or maybe because I have too many thoughts in response to reading them! ...

I don't find you to be rambling at all, just so you know, and welcome all you have shared here. And I'm glad you are coming into a lot of realisations about yourself and your past and present.

And thank you, thank you, thank you thank you. Thank you.

You are most certainly welcome. Very welcome.


This exact topic has been TOTALLY CONFUSING to me.

I can appreciate that reality--how utterly confusing it is to make sense of experience when society, law, and therapy all name it one thing, but a few stubborn feminists insist it might be something else, and the feminists are right.

So many situations were it is so hard to determine what is legal and what isn't.

I can only say I'm sorry that you've experienced anything that was so confusing, and called you to even have to consider "Was what he did lawful?"

I had a problem of being a doormat for a long time and for a long time I felt that it was my own personal problem of being a doormat.

I don't think anyone's experience, disposition, sense of empowerment or lack thereof, is ever "only personal". I think our most intimate lives are tied so deeply to political systems, misogynist and racist ones.

I recommend reading the first two sections of Woman Hating, by Andrea Dworkin. One on Fairy Tales, and one on Pornography. She has a critique of some of the latter parts of the book, and I think those first two parts are the most relevant to this discussion of what we are taught to believe, that can become "who we are". Dworkin speaks with great clarity and candor, and if you haven't read those sections, I think they will be supportive of your clarity and strength.

Julian Real said...

It's hard to figure out where the law should step in, at what point. I am very pro-the law, and human beings in general stepping in.

I have come to the conclusion that so much of what is, experientially, sexual abuse, doesn't meet the criteria of what the law considers to be sexual abuse. To say that's a problem, well, is an understatement.

I'm really new to all this so I'm going to go back to reading and maybe I can write more coherently at a late time. : )

There's nothing you've written here that is, in any way to me, incoherent. Just so you know. :)

As a profeminist, I would be honored if you read some of my blog posts pertaining to adoption and reproductive choice. A lot is written on the choice of adoption, but very little is written by feminists about how relinquishment affects women and how "choice" is actually involved in something that is so painful most of us are totally destroyed afterward.

I think I have found the blog you are referring to, and when I can, I'll take a look, read some posts, and respond if I find something to say in response to what I read that I think will be useful to the discussions. But there's no reason to be honored by me doing so. I am honored by you speaking out.

I'm not a great writer, so I'm hoping great writers will maybe make some sense out of my attempts... : )

I think that being a quester of truth is more important, in writing, than being "a great writer". Most of the white men who are considered great writers have been so woefully ignorant about the experiences of the majority of people on Earth: women.

Again, I think and hope those two sections of Dworkin's book Woman Hating, and the blog "abyss2hope" will be useful and supportive.

Julian Real said...

Hi AST,

Thank you for your kind words.

re: "this standard would criminalize most consensual sex"

Doesn't that just prove how screwed up our construction of sex is? Sexual politics and the consumerism of commercial sexuality have conditioned people to have "sex" AT each other rather than with each other.

What alarms me is that the sex men have "AT" other people is considered by many to be "fortunate" or "lucky" relative to the sex that is had "over and against" women by men.

It's all so disheartening and upsetting. And harmful.

JENNIFER DREW said...

SUSTAINABLE FAMILIES - You are far from being alone in finding 'this exact topic has been totally confusing to me.'

I myself and I know many, many women who have also found the WHM's definition of what is and is not male sexual violence to be utterly confusing. Primarily because women and here I'm including women of all colours living in western societies, learn as girls WHM's beliefs concerning what is and is not 'consent and rape.'

However, when girls become older and WHM view them as sexualised commodities then reality kicks in and it is not the reality WHM claim concerning 'consent and rape.' It is WHM's double speak, which is why it is so difficult disentangling the lies and myths WHM tell each other as well as women of all colours that women not men are responsible for causing male sexual violence to be committed against them. The lies and excuses are legion - all designed to ensure accountability and responsibility is never, ever focused on these male rapists and their male supporters/apologists.

Not surprising then that some perhaps many therapists continue to 'blame the victim' rather than the male perpetrator(s). Furthermore many, many women believe that if they conform to WHM's definitions of what supposedly passes for appropriate female sexual behaviour and never talk to strange white men, they will never be subjected to male sexual violence. I wish!! See the focus is always on women's behaviour - men and male sexuality is always excused/justified because men supposedly cannot help themselves. Such lies are insulting to those men who do not believe WHM's misogynistic lies and who believe women are not men's sexual service stations but have sexual autonomy and rights too.

Still those stubbon radical feminists of all colours and ethnicities refuse to be silenced and continue to call men's sexual violence - men's sexual violence - not 'a misunderstanding,' not 'grey rape,' not 'she was asking for it' etc. etc. Telling reality as it is doesn't fit with WHM's reality or their belief system, which is why this issue is so very confusing.

Not forgetting the laws were made and created by WHM for WHM NOT WOMEN and this is why 'consent' is never the issue but rather the rape survivor(s) must prove 110% they did not 'consent' to the male'(s) demands.

Sarah said...

The most common objection I hear to the idea of affirmative consent is that taking time out from the heavy petting to ask for consent will "kill the mood" -- the same excuse people give for not wearing condoms. But the truth is that if taking time out to ask for consent (or put on a condom) will kill the mood, then you're either not mature enough to be having sex, or the mood wasn't there in the first place.

Julian Real said...

Thanks for that comment, Sarah.

I completely agree with you.

And, truth be told, I think "the mood" many men are thinking will be killed, is the one that some men have that makes having sex without consent "hot". That makes sex without checking in with one's partner, "sexy". That makes aggressive and forceful or only careless and selfish behavior "sex".

If that's "the mood" men need to be in to maintain an erection, or if men think "sex" requires an erection, well, they've been watching way too much pornography.

Men need to learn to enjoy sex without an erection during the entirety of the experience, and to enjoy non-penetrative sex, that allows for mutual checking in and finding out how the other person is feeling.

Why isn't THAT considered "erotic"? I think mutuality, sharing, intimacy, and playfulness are all pleasurable.

That some men fear losing arousal and pleasure and connection by engaging in those specific activities: being respectful, sharing, being caring, interested, "sensitive", compassionate... well, if a man doesn't value that as part of what it means to have sex, then that man ought to only be having sex alone.

What I hear those men you are referring to saying is this: "I need to kill the probability of consent in order to even be 'in the mood' to have sex."

Thanks again for making your points and sending them here. :)