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. 🙂
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…)