by Linda Riedmann (2nd year BA Film Studies and KCL iFemSoc International Officer)
BruinFems for Equality at UCLA on Consent!
Voilà! Here comes the first overseas report from your International Officer. After getting my car towed the week before for wrong parking before the meeting, this Wednesday I finally made it to the two-hour discussion session of the BruinFems for Equality at UCLA. The mood was very friendly and welcoming when my friend and I entered the room in which a couple of people were already seated at a round table. After some introductions the manifesto was read:
We ARE: a feminist collective, united against the system of oppression that has bound the freedom and expression of gender, sexuality, race and class.
We ARE: a community of love that endeavors to be globally conscious and active.
We: support each other’s understanding and progress, and encourage our creativity and passion to fight for a better world.
The day’s topic? Consent.
What is consent? – “Consent is the foundation of sex and the element that is missing in sexual violence.” (http://www.consented.ca/consent/what-is-consent/)
Now, I believe that everyone who calls him or herself a feminist would agree that consent plays a big role in any feminist agenda (or at least should). Thus, I went into the meeting with an admittedly uncritically positive mindset towards consent, wondering how much there is to say on it to fill two hours; and I was totally taken aback when the first speaker started his presentation with “Consent is problematic.” Don’t panic (as I did for a second)! No one denies the importance of consent. All he was saying is that it’s problematic and after a couple minutes I got to understand what he meant.
The reason he decided to speak on the topic of consent was because of his roommate who, as a woman who likes to have a lot of sex, feels that she is denied her sexuality by constantly having to explain that she is “down”. For him, consent is problematic because of hegemony, its one-sidedness: consent is usually seen as between a man and a woman with the woman having to give consent to the man and is thus strongly gender biased. Men are often assumed to always be down to have sex and asking them for consent seems redundant under this attitude. On the reverse, it is assumed in comparison to men, women are asexual. Men are thus often denied the right to give consent and women are denied identification with their sexuality. This gender bias builds upon the assumption that men are the active sexual force while women are passive one. According to this, it will be the man who approaches a woman actively and he will thus be the one who needs to ask for consent. The woman, who is not assumed to make an active move on a man, will thus never even find herself in the position of having to ask for consent.
During our interactive discussion, one girl then brought the focus strongly onto the heteronormativity often implied by the concept of consent between a man and a woman. What couples that are a lot more complicated, couples that involved Trans* or genderqueer people, or gay or lesbian couples for example? From her experience, she said, consent never even appears as a necessary concept within the lesbian community while she hears from her male gay friends that it certainly is within the gay community. This makes her think that consent appears like a concept related to the male as the dangerous force. Complementary, this blogger makes a great point of consent being just as important to queer women: http://www.autostraddle.com/how-i-learned-to-talk-in-bed-why-this-queer-woman-cares-about-consent-99541/
In an attempt to work towards a solution, one girl then mentioned a TED talk she had seen in which an apparently common metaphor for sex, that it is like baseball, was substituted with a metaphor of pizza. Instead of two teams playing against each other on unequal ground, sex should be like a shared pizza (you choose what you want on it together and eat it together). Mentality: Yes to sex, but let’s talk about it together.
Throughout the evening several other interesting points related to consent were discussed such as the influence of alcohol which complicates the fact that consent is considered to have to be given in a sober, conscious state. One member brought the example of his sister’s boyfriend who would not even touch her when she had a drink, concerned that she isn’t in a state to give consent any more. The virgin/whore complex, the fact that a woman is “damned if she does (have sex), damned if she don’t (prude)”, living in a culture in which a woman’s worth is measured by her “innocence”, and rape were as well central to conversation.
Towards the end we discussed several real life incidents to which consent is central. For those interested, here are related links to the cases:
- Chris Brown lost his virginity as an 8-year old: http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/10/chris_brown_2.html
- Hunter Moore “King of Revenge Porn” provides a website to which contemptuous lovers can submit pornographic material of their exes:
http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-most-hated-man-on-the-internet-20121113 and http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/12/05/hunter_moore_s_revenge_porn_cheerleader_is_anyone_up_s_biggest_fan_is_not.html
- World of Geeks and Gaming: Cos Play does not mean Consent! http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2013/04/04/costumes-are-not-consent-combatting-cosplayer-harassment/
In the end we agreed that consent is a great concept, but it needs to be for everyone! Furthermore, it should not be something requiring a rigid question and answer that happens once, but should become a matter of listening to each other and respecting physical gestures just as much as verbal statements. In consented.ca’s words:
“What consent really means is a voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. In other words, it means communicating yes on your own terms […] – not a consent that’s implied on the basis of silence, previous sexual history, or what the person is wearing.”
I greatly enjoyed these two hours spent with the BruinFems. The nature of the discussion was impressively constructive and respectful despite the variety of opinions, approaches and backgrounds. I felt no inhibition to express myself and gained the ability to approach the crucial concept of consent from a fresh and more rounded perspective. More from me after this Wednesday!