Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is consent a furfy?

I've been trying to stay right out of the Mathew Johns melee, but this article just got up my nose enough to make me post.

The ABC news article discusses how 14-19 year old girls are not taught how to say "No".
She found that while the girls were well informed on topics like pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, their education did not adequately prepare them to cope with sexual relationships and negotiation skills.
I have been bothered by both sides of the "group sex incident" argument.

Firstly, this is a "he said, she said" situation. The number of he's isn't relevant - they will all say the same thing, that's what years of team sports can offer. So we can't assume that either side's story is right. I strongly object to the "she said she was raped, so she was raped" line of reasoning. Equally do I object to the "he's a good bloke, so he wouldn't have done that" line. The only things we know for sure are what they all agree on. And even that is possibly questionable.

This all goes to the heart of what sex is, what it means to whom and who is allowed to do what.

This comment from PinkPixie
, on Blue Milk's post, for some reason, really got under my skin.
There is no way in hell I will ever believe that she consented to all these big burly blokes having sex with her , degrading her and deaming her not just as a woman but as a human being – willingly.
Who says she couldn't? Who says that choosing to have sex with a big group of "big burly blokes" is by definition degrading? By looking at the list of acts, you can't determine that. Granted, my ability to believe that a bunch of pissed footballers were treating a 19 year old with respect in an act that, while unusual, was genuinely what she wanted is severely limited. However, I have a visceral reaction to the suggestion that she couldn't possibly have wanted to participate.

I should point out that PinkPixie's comment was made in the context of this particular incident, and may well not have intended what I read into her comment. It just drew my attention to this underlying attitude in much of what has been discussed.

The power dynamic in sexual encounters is:
  • Men want sex
  • Women are allowed to want sex too, under society approved circumstances
  • Women are charged with making the decision about whether this is socially approved circumstances
  • Women are then expected to enforce their decision, despite the possibility of physical intimidation, and the lack of experience noted in the article above
  • Men are required only to stop themselves if they actually notice she said no.
So men are apparently incapable of making the judgment call about whether this sexual encounter is a good idea. This is very apparent in the GSI, where no-one has criticised Johns for not recognising that this was not an appropriate sexual encounter. There has been some flack for his infidelity, but none for just failing to recognise that sex with this girl and all his mates was a bad idea, irrespective of his marital status.

The girl in question, however, is constantly criticised for getting herself into the situation. For failing to use good judgement. Even the article only discussing helping girls to make and enforce their decisions. Not a single mention of boys being expected to do the same.

The question is not about consent, in my mind. Consent just perpetuates the "woman as gatekeeper" mentality. The question is about respect. Both sides showed a lack of it in bucketloads.

The girl had insufficient self respect to steer well clear of men who are pretty much defined as mysoginistic.

She also possibly had insufficient respect for the guys to consider them as human beings rather football heroes. I don't know if this is true or not, but it is a possibility.

The men had insufficient self respect to recognise their own agency in this. To take responsibility for their own moral decisions. The "but she wanted to" defence essentially denies a man's ability to not have sex unless explicitly told not to by someone else.

They definitely had insufficient respect for her as a human being. While I recognise both sides' responsibility to see that this was a bad plan, they were older, and in a position of greater power, thus making their lapse more significant than hers, in my mind.

All of this analysis leaves out the social conditioning that makes her a slut if she really did want this, which then in turn justifies the men disregarding her right to respect and care. That's the vicious cycle, because we don't hold men responsible, only women can be sluts, so men never have to be responsible (only sluts engage in dodgy sexual behaviours) and so on.

I don't want to see Mathew Johns crucified, I want to see someone ask him why it matters whether or not she consented* (in his mind). Ask him whether there is a possible state of mind that this girl could have had that would justify his behaviour. And then in response to the "these girls throw themselves at us all the time" nonsense, ask him why men are less capable than women of saying no to unwanted sexual advances. I'd like to see him understand, or at least invoke some understanding in other people.

Oh, and one last pet peeve - I don't care what his wife did or didn't say or what she does or doesn't believe. She has a number of things to consider in her response, it isn't reasonable to hold her accountable to all womankind, and she might just be making a huge mistake. But cut her some slack, no-one wants the media watching them while they deal with something like this.

*Clearly, if there was explicit non-consent, this becomes a legal issue and consent matters. However, in a situation so murky, morals are what matter, and I don't think consent need come into it.


  1. Maybe I'm too old but what I don't get is why these guys think group sex is preferable. If women are constantly throwing themselves at them why do they feel it is preferable to share when they could clearly have their own. Is the team spirit so brain washed into them that they can no longer function as an individual. It seems to me this is not about sex but about showing off (who can piss the highest) and maybe someone should point out to them they're not 10 anymore.

  2. Well, you answered your own question, because they are in fact, 10.

    But the point is, they should be required to execute a slightly more sophisticated level of judgement than "do I want to wait til I get to the pub to tell my mates, or should I just let them in on the action now?"

    Men should be required to consider whether sex is a good idea just as much as women, not just which kind they like best.