Getting to yes

One of the most provocative pieces of writing I have come across in the last few years is Twisty Faster’s zany consent scheme. This is the sort of post where you start out thinking, “What?! No.” and then end up realizing that no only does it make perfect sense but also that you should probably try working towards creating a world where it is the norm. Twisty’s argument, basically, is that the current framework around consent and sex is backwards — sex is consensual until someone says “no.” In her opening paragraph, she points out the problem with this:

Although this condition does not obtain with regard to any other crime you can think of, when it comes to rape, women are currently considered to exist in a state of perpetual “yes!”. This is because “yes!” is consistent with global accords governing fair use of women. Victims of robbery or attempted murder don’t have to prove that they said no to being robbed or murdered; the presumption is that not even women would consent to being killed. But because penetration by males is what women are for, if we are raped we have to prove not just that we didn’t say yes, which is impossible to prove, but that we specifically and emphatically said no, which is also impossible to prove.

Her “wacky” solution is to spin this around:

According to my scheme, women would abide in a persistent legal condition of not having given consent to sex. Conversely, men, who after all are constantly declaiming that their lack of impulse control is a product of evolution and there’s not a thing they can do about it, would abide in a persistent legal state of pre-rape. Women can still have all the hetero-sex they want; if they adjudge that their dude hasn’t raped them, all they have to do is not call the cops.

This is the point where you can usually hear all the men screaming about how unfair it is they might end up getting tagged as a rapist after the fact. To which my reply is, “Then maybe you shouldn’t engage in dodgy sex with women who might have some reason to feel they didn’t consent to it.” Hey now — it turns out the way to not be a rapist is to not rape women, and the way to ensure you never get accused of being a rapist is to never put yourself in the position of maybe kinda sorta possibly being one. The murk that exists out there on this point is not an unavoidable consequence of human interaction; it’s there because a certain kind of guy wants his actions to be obscured (or at least deniable). Twisty says that her scheme would force men to align their boinking habits appropriately, and I suspect she’s probably right.

The logic here is undeniable. After you think about this for a while, it actually becomes infuriating that the world doesn’t already work this way. So it was really exciting to see that California has enacted a law that does exactly this. “The new law seeks both to improve how universities handle rape and sexual assault accusations and to clarify the standards, requiring an “affirmative consent” and stating that consent can’t be given if someone is asleep or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. “Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent,” the law states, “nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.”” Well hey! How about that? OK, it applies to educational institutions in California, but it’s a start.

The usual suspects — and by that, I mean the brigades of men who need to comment on these kinds of stories — are making a huge fuss about how this is the death of romance and it’s deeply unsexy and it requires all kinds of notarized depositions about cons– you know what, shut up. Free advice: If you’re having sex with someone and there’s any inclination that the other person isn’t into it, STOP AND ASK QUESTIONS. That’s all there is to it. Be a person, have a soul, treat the other person as a person and not as a masturbatory aide, and you won’t be accused of being a rapist under these guidelines. It’s real simple.

This isn’t perfect. It applies only to California’s public universities, for one, and it relates to administrative proceedings, not criminal law. But what you’re seeing here is a wholesale change in rape culture — it’s the first step in recognizing that consent for sex, like consent for most things, is an affirmative process and acknowledges that the bodily autonomy for women is no longer negotiable (or subject to the whims of horny dudes). It’s a huge step in the right direction, and California should be applauded for it.