Consent redux

By , December 28, 2010 5:05 pm

A recent post I wrote, Consent to be Touched, was linked to from the MensRights section with the title A example of how consent laws will turn everyone into rapists. Seriously, how long until a feminist claims rape because a guy touched her on the shoulder to tell her she dropped something? Since I don’t have a account, I figured I’d respond to some of their comments on my own blog. (At the admitted risk of engaging trolls.)

Let me first quote myself, from Consent to be Touched:

Because, ultimately, touch and consent exist on a continuum. Patting someone on the back is not the same as rape, I’m not saying the two are equivalent, and I’m not saying this guy last night was a rapist, or the girl was raped. But I do think, in general, assuming nonconsensual touch is acceptable is a bad thing, and can be one of the factors which – on a cultural level – leads to people thinking sex without explicit consent is OK. (Emphasis added)

I stand by both parts of that: the action I described in the post is not rape, and non-consensual touch can lead to a culture in which rape is considered acceptable. (To the credit of the reddit commenters, a few people point out that – contrary to the title of the link – I didn’t actually say patting someone on the back is rape.)

To dive into the reddit comments, I want to distinguish between what I think should be legally true, and what I believe to be morally right.

From reddit:

How long will it be until just looking at a woman is illegal?

Once you move into the territory of “making someone uncomfortable”, conceivably just existing could constitute assault.

I think sexual assault and rape should be illegal. At the barest level, they’re removing someone’s ability to make free choices about their actions. More broadly, they can have very serious physical and emotional impacts, causing life-long trauma. And, indeed, very few people argue that any of that should be legal. But I don’t think “making someone uncomfortable” should – in and of itself – be illegal, unless there’s a reasonable suspicion the action will escalate to violence.

If you’re consciously and intentionally making someone uncomfortable, I do think that’s immoral. Not “genocide” immoral, but somewhere closer to “cutting in line” immoral; every-day, run of the mill immorality. But I’d actually agree with the reddit poster that the  “making someone uncomfortable” being illegal – absent of any threatening behavior, or a pattern of verbal or physical confrontation – should not be illegal. Nor should simply looking at someone be illegal, even if you’re fucking creepy about it.

But doing it intentionally – or even if you don’t intend to be creepy but can reasonably suspect you will make the person uncomfortable – is immoral in my book.

Shouldn’t be illegal. Is immoral. Not the same thing.

<Edit> Someone at the reddit site said in response to the above “Ugly people are immoral!” Which actually raises a good point about what happens when your action unreasonably offend. And, of course, what the hell is the definition of “reasonable”?

To pick an easy example, I’m sure there are people who are made uncomfortable by public breastfeeding. I think they need to suck it up, but by the definition I put above breastfeed in public is immoral. Which isn’t what I was trying to say.

I guess, upon further thought, there’s a big difference between directing an action at someone – touching them, even staring at them if you think they’ll be uncomfortable – and performing an action someone else happens to oversee. (Breastfeeding, wearing a speedo, etc.) That seems to be a reasonable distinction, at least until someone else pokes a hole in it! 😉</Edit>

Without throwing stones at any of the reddit comments, I think there’s a larger issue here that people are trained to hear “I think XYZ is bad” to mean “I think there should be a law against XYZ.” Which is not what I intended to say, and I’m sorry if my original post came across that way.

The later (more recent) comments at reddit actually seem to be responding to what I wrote, but the first few really just seem to respond to the sensationalist link title, and not my actual post. For example:

I’m willing to be[sic] the person who wrote that would jump for joy if a law were passed asking consent for any form of touch, and then complain a year later that guys keep asking to touch her in any way instead of just “going for it”.

Well, you’d lose that bet. I would jump for joy, but A) I don’t like men (which probably just confirms the commenter’s views of me as a horrible, man-hating, feminist dyke) and B) I think asking for consent is super hot. Asking if I can be kissed – in the beginning of a relationship – really gets my motor going, and makes me know the other person is taking my consent seriously.

<Edit>I don’t like men sexually. I don’t want the above paragraph to be read as having my having a problem with men socially, personally, politically, or in any way other than not wanting to have sex with ’em. Likewise, I don’t think I’d actually jump for joy if all non-consensual touch – absent of any other factors – was illegal. I would jump for joy if there was a serious national discussion about what consent means, which I think would be a precursor to any such legislation.</Edit>

So there.

21 Responses to “Consent redux”

  1. kloo2yoo says:

    I actually formed this opinion before reading the comments at reddit, and before reading your additional notes above:

    I agree that ‘just touching someone’ is annoying, and, though IANAL, I believe it could be illegal, especially of done repeatedly or with intent to annoy someone, or without regard of how it annoys someone. There’s a reason you say “excuse me” if you have to reach onto someone else’s personal space.

  2. G says:

    Do you ever listen to NPR? I do, they have some fantastic shows and amazing reporters, one of whom was recently fired for stating Muslims on airplanes made him nervous. The liberal inside me was appalled, here is a man who is judging followers of an entire religion based on the actions of a few people. How is the hypothetical woman in your post any different? Discrimination is discrimination, and it’s never pretty.

    That said, I heard a story on NPR (what a great lead-in it is!) about the east coast rap/hip-hop scene, where music is filtered through strip clubs to determine what is a hit and what isn’t. Personally I think the strip club/porn culture is a lot more harmful than the blind eye the world turns on rape victims.


    • Rebecca says:

      I do love me some NPR! Could you clarify for me how the woman in my post is judging a group of people based on the action of one, though? I guess I’m confused. Thanks!

      As for the impact of strip clubs on the Atlanta music scene, I think I heard the same story. Very interesting! I’m not of the opinion porn or stripping is inherently bad for women, but I do think it’s really easy for porn or strip clubs to become exploitative. I’m not sure how easy it’d be to draw the line, but I think there’s a huge difference between a group of people all consensually discussing and agreeing upon a porn shoot (for example) and a single person deciding what’s to be done and exerting economic, social, or personal pressure on others to participate. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion! 😉

      • Hamburglar says:

        You are starting from the viewpoint that we assume all touch is unwanted without consent. This is based on the actions of a minority of men towards women. How is this any different from assuming that all Muslims are terrorists? They may be flying to the US for legitimate reasons. They could intend to help poor people here. But since a few “Muslims” flew planes into our buildings and killed a lot of people we should suspect them all.

        P.S. thank you for engaging in the discussion on Reddit. There are plenty of idiots and assholes there (i could be one!) but for the most part you have overlooked your immediate assumptions about the community and jump-in. Well worth it, you even admitted you may have missed some good viewpoints. There is hope for us yet.

        • Rebecca says:

          Thanks – I understand now.

          I don’t think my view – that we should be more careful before assuming touch without explicit consent is ok – stems from women fearing rape, or is due to an indictment on men. As I said over at reddit, I think these expectations should be applied equally to men and women. Likewise, I think women should be fully educated on how consent works, just like men should be. And men should receive self-defense courses, just like women. How those discussions work may be slightly different with different genders, but I’m trying not to assume only men can be rapists, and I’m sorry if that’s how I came across.

          My concern is coming more from how someone feels being touched without their consent, period. I didn’t worry that the excessive hugger at my office would rape me, I just didn’t like his personality and was uncomfortable by his presumptions with my personal space.

  3. TanisNikana says:

    > I don’t like men

    Can you elaborate on that? Do you put up with the presence of half the planet existing, or do you go out of your way to shun men entirely? Do you converse with them, or ignore them?

    I can’t say I hate all men or that I hate all women. In fact, I quite like just about everybody. I’m not going to dislike a group of a few billion people based upon something they just can’t help but be.

  4. WildYams says:

    OK wait, first you say that non-consensual touching should not be illegal, then later you say that if it were to be made illegal you would jump for joy?

    • Rebecca says:

      That’s a fair complaint, and I went a little overboard. I don’t think non-consensual touching should – in and of itself – be illegal. I do think a world in which non-consensual touching was made illegal would be a sign of a more serious discussion on a national level of what ‘consent’ means, and that would make me jump for joy. I’ve edited the post to reflect that.

  5. Marc says:

    Hi there, redditor here. I would just like to say that I really appreciate the dialogue. I know it is hard to stand your ground when faced with a community that somewhat disagrees with you.

    “what the hell is the definition of “reasonable”?”

    I think that is the big question. The problem is, everybody applies different standards themselves, and while I may greet men in my country with a kiss on the cheek (normal where I am from) this would not be a good idea to do if I am in America.(from what I know) Everybody has different boundaries.

    There are some boundaries which are universal, (like boobs, butt, vagina, or penis) and there are some which are highly variable (breastfeeding, or kissing on the cheek)

    The best you can do is communicate with the other person effectively. You don’t like hugs? Tell the other person you aren’t a hug person. Is kissing on the cheek something reserved for girls? Tell me please. The problem is when people expect others to know what their boundaries are before you tell them.

    • Rebecca says:

      The best you can do is communicate with the other person effectively. You don’t like hugs? Tell the other person you aren’t a hug person. Is kissing on the cheek something reserved for girls? Tell me please. The problem is when people expect others to know what their boundaries are before you tell them.

      Well said! And I’ve been pleasantly surprised at (for the most part) a sane dialogue, both here and on reddit. So Thanks to y’all, too. 🙂

    • Brie says:

      I would add that the burden should not just be on the “receiver” to communicate whether or not they like/want the touch but also on the “doer” as to if the other person even wants the touch in the first place.

  6. Marc says:

    Forgot to mention something and since I can’t edit it in, here it is; I am not trying to compare breastfeeding with kisses on the cheeks, since people not accepting breastfeeding is an actual issue whereas kisses on the cheek aren’t. I also think breastfeeding in public should be one of those things which everybody accepts, but lets be honest here, some people hate it.

  7. joe says:

    Another post from me.

    1.) Who cares what you like sexually? It has ZERO to do with this post and just shows you have an agenda.

    2.) You are 20-something, and you have obvious issues, being trans, as this creates a non-standard situation (yes, it does) and as such, I view you as not very mature and this posting is a young person trying to figure out WHAT they think. This means it is not a well-formed piece of thought, but somewhat childlike, sophomoric and as such, not very worthwhile of all the attention it is getting.

    3.) “B) I think asking for consent is super hot. Asking if I can be kissed – in the beginning of a relationship – really gets my motor going, and makes me know the other person is taking my consent seriously.” – again, this just shows your bias. Why do I care that asking for consent gets you hot? We’re not really discussing what you like sexually, so this further degrades the discussion.

    • Rebecca says:

      1) I brought it up because a comment on reddit implied that I’m straight, which isn’t true.

      2) I’m absolutely still trying to figure out WHAT I think. No argument here. I don’t think the piece is sophomoric but I readily admit I don’t know everything. (And, in fact, have admitted I’m wrong at a few places in this discussion.) As for the post not being worthwhile of the attention it’s getting, I completely agree…

      3) Again, someone at reddit said…

      I’m willing to be[sic] the person who wrote that would jump for joy if a law were passed asking consent for any form of touch, and then complain a year later that guys keep asking to touch her in any way instead of just “going for it”.

      Now, maybe I shouldn’t have responded to that comment, but I did. And the comment makes an assumption that my politics don’t match my personal behavior, something I try to avoid having happen. If I think I believe something politically (again, agreeing with you I’m still forming my opinions) I want to make sure I also am OK with that political idea being applied to me.

      • violet says:

        Wow, way to be chill towards someone who pretty clearly just has derailments and ad hominiem attacks for you.

        Perhaps you can do some good by engaging; the world would be better off if fewer people were affronted just because someone else doesn’t want casual touch.

        • Rebecca says:

          Thanks, violet. I’m trying to give folks the benefit of the doubt, since some of the points being raised are pretty good. But yeah, that comment wasn’t worth the time I gave it.

    • GallingGalla says:

      Regarding #2 above: dude,this is blatantly transphobic. Your implication is that somehow being trans makes us “immature”, that somehow the fact that we’re trans makes us unable to think (whatever that means). Your subtle implication being trans is a mental illness is very offensive.

      #1 and #3 are pretty run-of-the-mill sexism and homophobia.

  8. nix says:

    Hi Rebecca, I’m glad that some/most of the comments you’re dealing with aren’t completely idiotic, and I hope this isn’t sucking too much of your energy/time (I know I tend to get sucked in when these things happen to me).

  9. […] back in December, when a post of mine on consent was linked to by a mens rights site, I linked to a post called Schrodinger’s Rapist. Very briefly: When you approach me in […]

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