I’m not the first to observe that a lot of modern feminism consists of loud sloganeering about women’s choice and empowerment, behind which a small subset of women looks down on other women and tells them they’re making the wrong choices. If you don’t believe me, try being a conservative woman (especially one who opposes abortion), or a stay-at-home mom, or someone who thinks the #MeToo campaign has become an out-of-control warlock hunt. We can also see this in the way feminists have taken a new step toward redefining sexual consent, the upshot of which is partly to tell other women that they are consenting to sex wrong.
Consent is the most basic and limited moral standard that you can apply to sex, but it has the virtue of being a clear and objective standard, and it is actually not controversial. You would also think that holding to consent as a standard would allow you to find enough male miscreants and female victims as it is. But I guess that doesn’t produce enough of them, or perhaps not of the right type.
So in the rush to find more victims—because every woman has got to be able to say #MeToo—and to find more perpetrators—because all men must be corrupted by the patriarchy—contemporary feminism has been slowly breaking down consent as a standard by trying to add extra conditions on top of it that are not clear and objective.
The first step was to change from consent to “affirmative consent.” It is not enough for a woman to show consent tacitly, by allowing a man to kiss her, to touch her, to remove her clothes, and so on. Under affirmative consent, she must explicitly and continuously say “yes” to every one of these actions or it becomes the equivalent of rape. That this is not the way lovers act in the real world, nor is it the way most women want their lover to act, does not deter the advocates of “affirmative consent.”
So now we get to the next stage. What is needed, we are told, is not consent and not merely affirmative consent, but “enthusiastic consent.” This is the lesson we are supposed to draw from the Aziz Ansari case. Just going by the woman’s account, she consented to most of what Ansari did on their lame, failed date.
In other words, they can’t find enough material in this story to make out Ansari as an outright rapist. Instead, they fall back on the idea that Ansari was guilty of assault because his date was not consenting enthusiastically. As one advocate puts it: “Enthusiasm as a standard of consent is meant to help clarify the places at which initiators unintentionally and sometimes unknowingly cross from sexual experience to sexual assault.”
How “clarifying” can it be, if you can still sexually assault someone without knowing it? If a woman says “Yes,” or “No,” you can objectively conclude whether she consents or not. But how can you tell if she is saying yes with sufficient enthusiasm? Of course it’s possible for a man to know when a woman wants him—especially for those of us who have made it easier on ourselves by choosing one woman and spending decades getting to know her intimately. But for those who have thrown themselves into the modern world of casual sex on the first date (or before the first date)? Or for those who are now asked to judge the details of these “hookups” after the fact, in the informal public tribunal of Twitter, to determine whether some famous creep can ever work again? It boggles the mind.
What this new non-standard amounts to in practice is an invitation to reinterpret the events after the fact. I mean “invitation” literally, because this is exactly what a New York Times blog just did, asking its readers: “If you are re-evaluating a complicated or uncomfortable sexual encounter in light of the Aziz Ansari story, [we] want to hear from you.” Consent now depends, not on what was said and done in the moment, but by how it is “re-evaluated” afterward. What could go wrong?
Yet notice how this is another way of telling those problematic women that they’re doing things wrong. What if a woman likes to be a bit coy or coquettish and expects the man to take the initiative? What if she just wants to have sex on terms decided between her and her lover, and not according to some feminist textbook? What if she is turned on by male self-assertiveness and wants a man who can take charge in the bedroom? What if she feels like this?
Well, she’s just going to have to sacrifice her own wishes and choices for the sake of social justice. That’s the upshot of an account by a feminist activist who describes herself as a “graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage.”
I was giving a presentation to a rather small audience, which I was grateful for as it allowed for discussion. Most of the experience was quite positive, and I got a lot of great feedback. And then we hit the enthusiastic consent barrier. Now, in a room full of feminists and feminist-allies, I was not expecting to get any argument on this. I was, to be honest, a little shocked, because I had not planned for debate on this topic. ‘But it kills the mood!’ and ‘I think that’s unnecessary’ comments filled the room. The thing is, I never said it was easy; I said it was necessary and important if we are going to move forward. I know I may get some disagreement on that, but I think it is very true. 93% of victims…are assaulted by someone they know. This means that there is a clear consent issue in this culture, and enthusiastic consent is one way to help fix some of that problem.
Hear that, ladies? It is necessary to adjust your love lives and your retrograde desires so you can have politically correct sex. The movement is counting on you, so I’m afraid you have no choice but to consent. Try to look enthusiastic about it.
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