Consent is a legal requirement. It is first and foremost about relieving someone of responsibility. The legal status is reflective of society. For example, it was 1994 before all states and territories in Australia criminalised marital rape. There was opposition to this, as ‘I Do’ was all that was required. In the sexual world, in the 90s, “No means No” was all the rage…and effectively this meant an absence of no was good enough consent.
As it became apparent that no was often impossible to say, making it difficult to prove rape, this became “Yes means yes”, soon followed by ‘enthusiastic ‘ yes as it became apparent that yes can be coerced.
As the sexual revolution extolled its sex positive culture with ‘compulsory sexuality’, devoid of morals and responsibility, all we need is a yes and anything – anything- goes. Choking, and other violent acts of violation are becoming normalised as the pornification of society screams yes…even when they want to say no.
But consent is consent. So all is well…if we ignore all the shades of gray.
But there can be no meaningful yes, if no is not an option.
There is so much pressure on young people to consent, to identify and be sexual, but not be ‘vanilla ‘ that casual, violent and extreme sexual behaviours are standardised. They are obsessed with who and what they are or should be.
Take a look at our classification rating system for films and computer games. The System grooms us to progressively violent and sexual content.This is designed so that we can consent to (or avoid) viewing certain content. It is guided by public acceptance of content; what was once considered R rated and behind the black curtin, is now M15+. R rated content is now shown on streaming services. It is very readily accessible.
Yet it is still illegal to stream m15+ and above in public. These restricted categories carry fines if convicted.
In 2020 I witnessed just such a crime in Harvey Norman Fyshwick, and yet my complaint was scoffed at and a non apology issued. When I escalated this it was blamed on a junior with a “whoops won’t happen again”. No fine.
I was distraught by what I witnessed and so angry at the casual acceptance that such content is no big deal…and that I am considered a prude or -the worst insult- a conservative! The rating system means that if I choose not to watch R rated content, I must be immature.
I had no opportunity to not consent.
Repeatedly I see this. The con of consent….consent is not about choice. It is about relieving someone of responsibility. It means if something goes differently to expectation…you consented. It means if a discussion about consent did not occur, the offender can say ‘whoops, my bad’ without fear of repercussion. Protected by a society that feels it is no big deal. We can see this evidenced in Pride Parades, where various sexual fetishes are on full display during the ‘family event’. We see it in explicit advertising, in full display in shopping malls. We see it in the content considered suitable for ‘Parental guidance’, and we see it in the copious amounts of sexual innuendo ‘cleverly disguised’ in children’s movies. Is this grooming? Grooming towards sexual behaviours and violent behaviours, often hand in hand.
Consent is not just an issue on sexual matters, but is critical in medical interventions. In maternity, we see similar problems with consent, probably because maternity is a continuation of the sexual act. Maternity is an intimate and uniquely female state of being. It is not a medical condition, and yet it we treat it as one. The medicalisation of birth is marching fast towards complete dehumanisation. We can do anything, so we now redefine normal and slip all too willingly into a capitalist approach to reproduction. No longer about birth and transformation, women or mothers; babies are a product of an industry so focussed on yes, they have forgotten that no is an option. Just as the sexual revolution made sexuality compulsory, modern maternity has made medicalisation compulsory.
If an outcome becomes a legal issue, we do not ask “how was the consent obtained?”
Instead we ask: was there consent?
Why is consenting to sexual violence considered ok? and how do we know it was actually consensual?
With the rapidly increasing obsession in maternity towards interventions, from vaginal exams and interventions that tie women to beds, and drugs to dull her senses, it is not surprising that women are referring to their birth experiences as obstetric rape.
By focusing on consent, we avoid intimacy or relationship building, compassion and care. In both maternity and sexual encounters this means a dehumanised society – not a liberated one.
Both sex and maternity often involve power differentials were saying no is impossible. We may be saying yes, we may even try to tell ourselves it is what we want, but deep down we know we what we are experiencing is disrespectful at best and abusive at worst.
Instead of a focus on consent, and ‘what’s in it for me’, imagine if we were focused on seeking a positive outcome. If we stopped a moment to ask…how will my actions impact this person?
This pause asks us to see the individual. To see their humanity and support their dignity.
Sometimes this means we must show restraint and do nothing.
It is not about rejection or dissent.