A recent post I wrote, Consent to be Touched, was linked to from the reddit.com 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 reddit.com 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.
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>