Advanced Consent (1)

Seeing as I’m having a bit of writer’s block on the issue of gender essentialism at the moment, I thought I’d depart from my plan and do some advanced work on other types of consent, (ie. male and gay/lesbian consent) as was suggested in an earlier comment, because hey, it couldn’t hurt to sneak in one or two posts with advanced concepts about non-urgent concerns during my “warm-up period”. I have to confess I’m in a bit of a dilemma: I want to do more equal coverage of men’s issues, but they make the news even less than women’s issues, (and I’m not a good researcher) and they rely on an understanding of the basic concepts such as owning opinions, gendered thought, social constructivism, convergence, “overflow”, and a bunch of other pretty words.

So, Moz rightly criticises me for being simplistic and focusing on straight female consent because of this. Seeing I have no doubt you are all intelligent human beings, let’s dive a little deeper. Be warned though: IF complicated words and concepts make your eyes glaze over, this one is going to put you to sleep. πŸ™‚

Consent is an issue that dominantly, but not exclusively, applies to straight women. Why does it apply to women so dominently? Because of our assumptions about sexual agency– mainly, that it’s okay for men to have it, but if women make sexual choices of their own, they’re often condemned as sluts or frigid for daring to disagree with male opinion on how much sex she should be having.

But consent also applies to men, so let’s explore male consent for a bit. Like many gender issues with convergence between male and female concerns, men who deny sex that’s initiated by a women suffer social pressure from fellow men- about their sexuality, or about their manhood- or of course, the ever present, ever-mystifying phenomenom of being reclassed a “girl” for daring to disagree with hegemonistic attitudes and instead go it alone. In short, sexism and misogyny “overflow” onto the male side of the spectrum for men who dare to deny sex. There is a strange meme that men not just are, but ought to be ruled by our hormones on this matter, and that while self-control is useful, there is no reason to refuse sex.

I fundamentally disagree with this attitude. Sex is complicated and in some senses risky, like all good things in life. Let’s list some of the more obvious risks:

  • Transmission of a STI.
  • Potential risk of pregnancy.
  • Potential risk of contraceptive failure.
  • Inability to manage a casual, no-consequences encounter.
  • Lack of desire for a commited relationship.
  • Lack of time for a partner of any type.

If there’s any question that one of these risks will come up for you when you’ve got to make a decision, I don’t see why anyone has the right to question that the decision was right for you, let alone make misogynistic challenges to your manhood.

But there’s a more sinister consequence to this attitude than merely having your friends belittle you for making a cautious decision or not even wanting to have sex, and that’s the idea that men cannot refuse consent. I quickly mentioned “gatekeeper” theories of consent in my last post, and they’re worth going into more detail for this topic. A gatekeeper is an individual or institution that controls a commodity. In the context of sexuality, gatekeeping refers to systemic “consent”- for example, the notion that marriage implies consent between both partners. There also seems to be a misconception that arousal implies consent- particularly among straight women regarding straight men.

The fact is that arousal is very ambiguous. Women, for instance, are keyed to become aroused at the slightest hint of sex to avoid vaginal damage. Likewise, men can display arousal when they’re actually angry, a fact that has caused some frustration into research trying to link homophobia and homosexual attraction. These complications clearly blow the notion of arousal meaning attraction out of the water, even assuming that attraction equates to consent. (If it did, monogamous exclusivity would be almost impossible, instead of merely an exercise in self-control)

But this type of misconception still informs social attitudes about rape. Men, so the popular wisdom goes, cannot be raped- erections prove they want it, apparently. While men have a far smaller share of rape and abuse victims, they find it even harder than women do to be taken seriously, because women can count on each other for support, barring the occasional female patriarchist.

(I’ll be back later with more on homosexual consent, gatekeeper models of consent, rape within marriage, etc…)

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6 Responses

  1. Hmm, I’m glad I stumbled upon this post, it is most interesting.

    What you mention about arousal not eaqualing consent is actually something I’ve had some trouble putting into words myself, thank you for making it clearer for me.

    One other thing that I think a lot about is how it seems to me that many men engage in casual sex and one night stands as something that is expected of them as masculine rather than something they would’ve chosen if they we’re free from the judgement of their peers. This goes for women too, but more for men I think, because it seems to be so generally accepted that men are perfectly cabable of having sex without emotional attachment, actually the general view seems sometimes to believe that men from natures side does not make any connection between sex and love.

    I believe most of this is bull shit, and I wonder in what way men damage themselves when they must numb down their empaties to enjoy porn and neglect their emotions to engage in sex with stranger after stranger.

    Humans are social amnimals after all, touch means something to us all, not just to one half of the population.

    And I often wonder if it feels cold, lonely or painfull to be concieved as someone with no agenda but to scratch that itch?

  2. Good post! I like it as well as agreeing with it πŸ™‚ But you did avoid that men might say no for reasons other than risk… maybe he just doesn’t feel like sex.

    While men have a far smaller share of rape and abuse victims, they find it even harder than women do to be taken seriously

    Isn’t that contradictory? Men find it hard to be taken seriously, so gauging how many are affected will be very difficult. Look at how 30 years of domestic violence campaigns aimed at getting women to reveal abuse are still struggling, and still keep hitting the “the more we look, the more we find” effect. So saying up front that men can’t easily report the problem and therefore the problem is very small is… odd.

    I find it interesting that many women will go “well duh” when you discuss male consent on a personal level – “does your boyfriend ever say no to sex”, but react exactly the same way with opposite sense when you ask whether men can be raped (as you point out). At times that discussion can get quite heated. Especially when I object to women who “just know” exactly how all men feel at all times… there’s quite deep essentialism from both sides, but by and large men have been more exposed to the idea that they can’t know how women feel, they can only listen.

  3. Martine- Welcome. πŸ™‚ I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

    As for some men cutting themselves off from more serious relationships due to peer pressure- this is on my list of topics to write about! πŸ™‚ I’m glad that people are extrapolating so well from what I’m writing with their own thoughts- makes it all seem productive. I also intend to write about the reverse. (ie. that there’s pressure towards finding a romantically ideal “Mr. Right” and marrying him for women)

    Moz- I didn’t avoid men saying no without a justification, I’m just covering it in part 2 πŸ™‚ I just ran out of space. πŸ™‚ My brother distracted me today so I posted something else that’s in my draft queue.

    As for reported abuses- it’s not contradictory, but it’s certainly ignoring the possibility of underreporting, and quite deliberately, too. Keep in mind that I’m covering these things one at a time in order that my posts don’t wander places, and one of the consequences of speeding this post up the queue of issues is that I haven’t yet talked about under-reporting of abuse. If I had introduced it in this post, it would’ve probably taken three or four parts- perhaps I’ll shunt it in after I finish.

    As for women “just knowing”- yeah, that’s something that bugs me as well. While I accept women can be just as smart or smarter than men, I also accept that they’re not necessarily any smarter just because they’re women, and feeling that men can’t be victims is a big claim that needs a big justification, and until I hear such a justification I’ll continue to be skeptical of it as a sexist kneejerk. πŸ™‚

  4. Thank you for these posts on consent. I mentioned to my wife your distinction between arousal and sexual interest and she responded that early in our relationship she had felt like she was letting the side down when she saw that I was aroused but she wasn’t interested. Now she knows me better she realises that I’m not necessarily interested either at those times, and she has also become more confident in her own agency.

    I would also like to comment that today’s topic offers two opportunities for engaging men who are not already interested in gender issues but do find this question troublesome to a moderate degree. (If they face real pressure then they have more important priorities than what I’m about to comment on, and presumably if they don’t see the problem then they won’t be interested either.)

    Directly, to understand the issue they need to start using terms and analyses that may lead to wider understanding. Building on that, this is a classic example of where the system which net and on average favours men still rebounds in their faces. As such it provides an incentive to question and reshape the system. As a man seeking to be an ally to feminist women, I find it easier that I can offer some meaningful personal benefits to prop up nobler sentiments or to provide at least a beachhead.

    Finally, and referring to the next couple of posts, don’t let yourself be ground down by hegemonic norms about posting frequency and link whoring. πŸ™‚

  5. Martin- I’m glad your wife is confident in not feeling like she owes you sex every time the old fellow is feeling stiff. That would be kind of awkward. πŸ™‚ You’re right that consent is an excellent topic to point out things like overflow issues. I feel like I’m being a bit simplistic on this though because male drawbacks to some of these hegemonistic norms keep coming back to overflow. Maybe that’s because overflow is kinda the default male gender issue on most things. *shrug* There are some more complicated issues though that I’m looking forward to getting to.

    As for posting frequency- I’m more worried that I won’t get through all the things I want to say than about posting often enough for people to read. I just felt mildly guilty for watching DvDs all evening with my brother and not bothering to grab something from the draft queue before 10pm πŸ˜‰

    The references to link-whoring are more of that wonder self-deprecating sense of humour. πŸ™‚ Look at all the blue text! It’s so shiny!

  6. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation πŸ™‚ Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Yonkers!

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