Consent

The Great Sexual Predator Purge of 2017

I just happen to be writing this blog in the midst of a firestorm of sexual assault/misconduct allegations and scandals. It’s overwhelming to hear about each new report of some well-liked celebrity or public figure being forceful or sexually crude. It’s sparked a national discussion about consent. On topic you’d think could bring some unity, we’ve instead seen more judgment and division.

With this deluge of victims coming forward, I see some themes that give me cause for pause. One of the first thoughts that pops into my head is one I’ve been conditioned to have. The culture expects me to pick a side between the jingoes who loathe political correctness and gender blurring, and the progressives who detest traditional gender roles and the patriarchy. And the large media companies have gone on an all-out, zero tolerance rampage against the accused sexual deviants. I daresay it’s led to a Hollywood blacklist not seen since Joe McCarthy.

I Have Some Thoughts About This

I have some thoughts about this. The first observation is to switch gears from the normal narrative and tell a little anecdote about what it might be like for a Christian trying to wrestle this issue. Imagine for a second that you’re a conservative Christian who’s been told by the culture that your take on modesty and sexual purity is radical and archaic, and c’mon, loosen up and have some fun! Then when the free sex culture comes back around to be harmful to women, and it turns out that we should probably have some stricter rules around this topic to curtail mischief, now there’s absolutely no flirting at work, mister. You get one strike and you’re canned. And don’t you dare disagree with my rant on Facebook or I will damn you to deletion as a misogynistic heretic. The culture somehow becomes more black-and-white than the contemporary Christian ethic.

Now, this outlook isn’t perfect. There are some obvious counterpoints I’d have to such rhetoric, and there are systems in place in many conservative churches that tolerate and even protect sexual miscreants. It’s complicated; I get it. All I ask is that you consider the allowance of other viewpoints. What I see is the potential for “opposite sides” to agree on the fact that women and children being sexually assaulted is awful and destructive. Begin with agreement rather than geared up for a public Facebook spat and you’ve already changed the game. Then you can begin to understand why a discussion on modesty might not automatically equate to slut-shaming, but a possible step toward a solution. Or maybe you’re a Trump supporter but you can commiserate with someone feeling uncomfortable with a president who’s said he likes that women let him touch them. Listen first. Ask questions. Find your parallel values, even if you can see where they go horribly awry. The understanding that a person is trying their hardest to make a better world is important. Even if they’re so obviously wrong.

Some Thoughts On Consent – Government

When I listen to the TV or radio or Facebook, I don’t hear a lot of disagreement with how we’ve legislated the consent norm. I find some of our laws to be even elegant in their structure. Sexual acts without consent are illegal, to varying degrees. But the idea that there are people who cannot provide legal consent, like children or inmates, I find to be wisely instituted.

HOWEVER, there is certainly room for improvement with how these laws are executed or judged. It is difficult for women to report rape and be taken seriously. Even if they are, unless it just happened and they can gather evidence from the “crime scene” or the victim herself, much of the evidence just becomes unusable. Rape prosecutions from the past quickly disintegrate to hearsay and circumstantial evidence. It’s an incredibly difficult job, and there are almost certainly cognitive, social, and political biases that muddy the waters of justice.

I think the crux of the issue is that consent is incredibly complex – read: unclear. This doesn’t just apply to criminal investigations. It plays out in social interactions as well. Sex is intimacy and play. Allure is delicate, and if it’s an expectation in a sexual partner, there may not be much allowance given for demanding an outright statement of consent. It can even change in the middle of the act. To sum up, it is a whole fog of grey area. I’m confident that we’ll become more effective at executing and judging the law with fewer biases, but it is by nature a tangled web.

Some More Thoughts on Consent – Ethics + Culture

In my opinion, the morality of our culture is more or less in line regarding sexual assault. It is stigmatized and that taboo is further legislated by placing the convicted offenders on a list to protect the public. What I doubt more and more is the propriety of making judgments about high-profile accusations. In some cases, the offenses are so numerous and so well-documented that passing judgment makes sense. And in these examples, I certainly feel the disdain for the perpetrator. But I think it’s wise to know that I’m reacting to a story being told to me by the news outlets. In it, the heroes are the victims and there is generally one male antagonist. All the same, the story might effectively mimic the true incidents, but they are oversimplified. We may see only one or two variables and think the aggressor a beast, but lives are complicated enough for most of us to fail with only one. But with a lot of issues, we’re very quick to blast the accused online – I call it “Twitter Justice”. 280 characters of only the most profound opinions available less than five minutes after a story breaks hardly inspire me. But then I don’t know, do I? Maybe I could learn from some of these Tweeters.

You see what I did there? I turned it back around on myself for your sake, gentle reader! Think critically; question constantly.

From what I can tell, the primary conflicts regarding consent are peripheral. Perhaps we differ on topics of victim-blaming or gender roles or politics surrounding how men treat women and vice versa. Since they are apparent bones of contention, I’ll try to give them each their own posts. But as I said before, I think this is something we generally agree on. We want to protect people from sexual assault and punish those who deviate from the norm. But also that the fuzzy areas are many and varied and there’s some level of willingness to at least turn a blind eye to the more undefined stuff.

But let none of that seeming agreement downplay the triggering danger surrounding rape. You bring it up on social media and everyone has some sociopolitical “reason” that rape is so prevalent and they will tell you about it at length. Therein lies the true danger of having an honest conversation about it. Don’t get me wrong, the stakes are high. The emotional trauma of being raped can be devastating. But when all the anger at the injustice and the wickedness of the wrongdoers is then projected onto someone who has different political or religious views, then the crusades start. And it’s hard when you’re convinced that one policy or another contributes to the problem, and that problem has a face – or several faces – in your life, and then some cocky douchebag romps all over the issue and won’t see reason. It’s enraging. Yet, there are others who might have other, good reasons to disagree. And they might not show it, but they hate rape just as much as you do. Their disagreement can be misinformed, illogical, or just annoying, but treating them with the same hatred that you have for sexual assault would be a mistake. In any longstanding conflict, demonizing the opponent means that you can be justified. And every lie has roots in the truth. The true path to peace isn’t usually as easy or rewarding. It often means putting your moral high ground aside and showing kindness to your enemy – indeed, examining whether you need to be enemies at all.

3 thoughts on “Consent

  1. This is very well argued. I walk away chastised that my assumption that only a few of me have the right and best way through the morass of the evil perpetuated on innocents.

    Like

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