Consent - is it a meaningful concept?

(324 Posts)
Beachcomber Sun 29-Sep-13 12:32:58

On the recent ‘Invisible Men’ thread, the concept of consent came up and was discussed. I posted referring to the following quote from Catharine MacKinnon in which she questions whether consent in male female sexual relations, within the context of a patriarchal society which is founded on dominance /submission is a meaningful concept; and she concludes that it is not. Which is quite a statement.

Quite a few posters expressed an interest in having a thread on the subject of consent and MacKinnon’s analysis of it. I have been meaning to start the thread for a while, so here it is.

Here is the quote from MacKinnon. It is from her book “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State”, specifically from the chapter ‘Rape: On Coercion and Consent’ which you can read Rape: On Coercion and Consent here (It does help to read the whole chapter which is a searing piece of feminist analysis from an utterly brilliant woman. )

"The deeper problem is that women are socialized to passive receptivity; may have or perceive no alternative to acquiescence; may prefer it to the escalated risk of injury and the humiliation of a lost fight; submit to survive. Also, force and desire are not mutually exclusive under male supremacy. So long as dominance is eroticized, they never will be. Some women eroticize dominance and submission; it beats feeling forced. Sexual intercourse may be deeply unwanted, the women would never have initiated it, yet no force may be present. So much force may have been used that the woman never risked saying no. Force may be used, yet the woman prefer the sex - to avoid more force or because she, too, eroticizes dominance. Women and men know this. Considering rape as violence not sex evades, at the moment it most seems to confront, the issue of who controls women's sexuality and the dominance/submission dynamic that has defined it. When sex is violent, women may have lost control over what is done to them, but absence of force does not ensure the presence of that control. Nor, under conditions of male dominance, does the presence of force make an interaction nonsexual. If sex is normally something men do to women, the issue is less whether there was force than whether consent is a meaningful concept."

Another text which was brought up in the discussion was the section on sexual intelligence by Andrea Dworkin in the chapter “The Politics of Intelligence” from her book “Right-Wing Women”.

Here is a link to a pdf of the book, I’m afraid the quality isn’t great. The relevant section starts on page 50 of the pdf (page 54 of the book).

I can’t select the text due to the format so have typed up a section from my copy of the book – please forgive any mistakes! The entire chapter and book is brilliant feminist analysis so I urge women to read it – it is one lightbulb moment after another and wonderfully written, Dworkin’s pace is incredible and her clarity of thought exceptional. (I have added some paragraphs in order to make it easier to read.)

“Sexual intelligence asserts itself through sexual integrity, a dimension of values and actions forbidden to women. Sexual intelligence would have to be rooted first and foremost in the honest possession of one’s own body, and women exist to be possessed by others, namely men. The possession of one’s own body would have to be absolute and entirely realised for the intelligence to thrive in the world of action. Sexual intelligence, like moral intelligence would have to confront the great issues of cruelty and tenderness; but where moral intelligence must tangle with questions of right and wrong, sexual intelligence would have to tangle with questions of dominance and submission.

One preordained to be fucked has no need to exercise sexual intelligence, no opportunity to exercise it, no argument that justifies exercising it. To keep the woman sexually acquiescent, the capacity for sexual intelligence must be prohibited to her; and it is. Her clitoris is denied; her capacity for pleasure is distorted and defamed; her erotic values are slandered and insulted; her desire to value her body as her own is paralyzed and maimed. She is turned into an occasion for male pleasure, an object of male desire, a thing to be used; and any wilful expression of her sexuality in the world unmediated by men or male values is punished. She is used as a slut or a lady; but sexual intelligence cannot manifest in a human being whose predestined purpose is to be exploited through sex.

Sexual intelligence constructs its own use: it begins with the whole body, not one that has already been cut into parts and fetishized; it begins with a self-respecting body, not one that is characterized by class as dirty, wanton and slavish; it acts in the world, a world it enters on its own, with freedom as well as with passion. Sexual intelligence cannot live behind locked doors, any more than any other kind of intelligence can. Sexual intelligence cannot exist defensively, keeping out rape. Sexual intelligence cannot be decorative or pretty or coy or timid, nor can it live on a diet of contempt and abuse and hatred of its human form. Sexual intelligence is not animal, it is human; it has values; it sets limits that are meaningful to the whole person and personality, which must live in history and in the world.

Women have found the development and exercise of sexual intelligence more difficult than any other kind: women have learned to read; women have acquired intellect; women have had so much creative intelligence that even despisal and isolation and punishment have not been able to squeeze it out of them; women have struggled for a moral intelligence that by its very existence repudiates moralism; but sexual intelligence is cut off at its roots, because the women’s body is not her own.

Okay. The OP is pretty huge so I will leave it at that and post my own thoughts in subsequent posts. This one is just meant to provide the material for discussion. I suppose this thread should really be in the feminist theory section of MN but I don’t really agree with the existence of that section so here it is in the regular feminist hang out!

ModeratelyObvious Sun 29-Sep-13 13:50:48

Thanks for starting the thread Beach.

WhentheRed Sun 29-Sep-13 16:07:44

Thanks for starting Beachcomber. I will give this some thought and start commenting.

YoniTime Sun 29-Sep-13 16:17:21

Thank you for starting this Beachcomber.
It was the Invisible men thread that really made me understand that "consent" is a pretty meaningless concept when it comes to sex. It's something that I have suspected before because of how it's used in rape trials. It's also the only real defence that men who use and abuse women via porn and prostitution have - "but she consented!"

CaptChaos Sun 29-Sep-13 16:19:14

Thanks for starting this Beachcomber, I'll read and digest while other, better minds than mine, discuss.

Beachcomber Sun 29-Sep-13 16:35:24

Oh good there are people here already. Excellent and thanks for posting. Was a bit concerned might be total tumbleweed thread due to earnest OP grin

I have put the texts in the OP in case anyone wants to read them. Please don't feel you have to in order to discuss consent as a concept from a female perspective though. I felt uncomfortable with consent for a long time because as YoniTime said, it mostly seemed to be used in order to justify porn, prostitution, pestering of women to have sex they would rather not, etc.

It seemed to me to be used as a 'get out of jail free' card and to invisibilze the actions of men in order to put the focus/responsibility for men's actions onto women.

I struggled for a while trying to get my head around my objections to the concept and then a great MNer (hi Proles) posted the MacKinnon quote on a thread and I had a lightbulb moment.

I know both texts are quite wordy and challenging (well I think they are anyway) so read and comment on them if you like or just post away on consent with reference to other stuff (such as lived experience) if you like. Whatever suits you. I think we women instinctively know about this stuff because we experience it. Reading books and texts helps to get your head around it but they are simply observations of female experience. The personal is the political and all that...

YoniTime Sun 29-Sep-13 16:36:14

And yes the quote about Sexual Intelligence is brilliant btw. I want to read the whole book now. The pdf was quite unreadable.

ReviewsOffers Sun 29-Sep-13 18:16:57

So in a female dominated society, men could consider us as objects to bused etc, but it wouldn't matter as much as we wouldn't be internalising that view.

TY Beach for this loads to think about

ReviewsOffers Sun 29-Sep-13 18:18:16

I'm just mulling ... what I am getting at is that there are two aspects to this. The view, and the imposition of that view.

Beachcomber Sun 29-Sep-13 18:22:35

Yes, I'm sorry for the quality of the pdf. A friend of mine printed it and apparently the quality was fine printed (lots of pages though!).

My copy is second hand and kind of dog eared. It is a phenomenal book and it is absolutely crazy that it is out of print. It should be on the book list for Women's Studies students (do they exist anymore or is it all gender studies nowadays?) and considered a classic iconic piece of political analysis. It is ground-breaking and absolutely blinding feminist analysis and yet most people haven't even heard of it. Dworkin has been successfully sidelined as an extremest because she homes right in on all manner of truths that are very inconvenient.

Even just the concept of 'sexual intelligence' is pretty revolutionary.

Beachcomber Sun 29-Sep-13 18:25:04

Hi ReviewsOffers. I'm not too sure what you are getting at - do you feel like expanding? Your posts are quite cryptic!

Beachcomber Sun 29-Sep-13 18:34:47

I love Dworkin being put in the same league as Orwell in this article.

It is so ironic and awful that she was a living example of her own arguments - women's intelligence is buried, hidden, marginalised, witch-hunted and exploited. Women's' intelligence is lost so much of the time in patriarchy. Purposefully.

MiniTheMinx Sun 29-Sep-13 19:26:24

Thank you Beach off to have a read. I have to print it off, I find it easier to read in paper format!

My first response to Dworkin's concept of sexual intelligence, or at least my understanding of it is, is that women are not able to have integrity or control over sex because they are subordinated not just in terms of having sex (with men) but in every situation.

I have puzzled over this for a long time. Women are seen as the gatekeepers of sex, the implication being that we are not sexual human beings in our own right. Women are socialised to be "good girls" which means that to want or enjoy sex we have to split with this socialised consciousness and adopt another. We are socialised to accept this split in our psyche, deeply rooted (probably from childhood) that sex is something men and only "bad girls" want or enjoy.

This leads me to what MacKinnon says here "force and desire are not mutually exclusive under male supremacy. So long as dominance is eroticized, they never will be. Some women eroticize dominance and submission" Women are denied agency through threat of rape, violence, subordination in all respects of daily life, silencing etc,... and we are socialised to accept that we shouldn't seek agency over our bodies (except to deny men access) either to pursue sex or to deny it. It's a double bind which leaves women having to deny it then relent and acquiesce whether they want sex or not. Of course men are socialised to think in a similar way, so that they hive women into two camps, good and bad and even to think of a woman in a way that denies her integrity. This leaves men thinking that rape rarely happens, that his coercion doesn't constitute rape and that because he got what he wanted she wasn't one of the "good girls" anyway.

Beachcomber Sun 29-Sep-13 19:46:02

Yes. Our agency is reduced to saying 'no' - and maybe being heard if we are lucky. And this is considered to be pretty glittery amazing for women.

And, it is (horribly) a big advance on what we had before and an advance on what many women have in the world today.

MiniTheMinx Sun 29-Sep-13 19:54:28

Yes I think our agency is reduced to saying no but then men are free to interpret this as yes or no. Complicating this whole thing is the fact that we are expected to say no even when we mean yes, which means men can always claim that no means yes because it suits their agenda.

JoTheHot Sun 29-Sep-13 20:01:42

That consent becomes meaningless, and all PIV is thus de facto rape is a banal extrapolation from the opening premiss of a patriarchal society founded on dominance /submission. Life in western Europe bears at most only a fleeting resemblance to such a society, so what is the point of this Gedankenexperiment?

grimbletart Sun 29-Sep-13 20:05:11

Great threat. Ta Beachcomber.

Two things occur to me.

a) what is different about those women who never internalise this destructive attitude? Their childhood, the way they were brought up, their self-confidence, self esteem..or just luck?

b) how misogynistic men manage to exclude themselves from the good/bad concept i.e. they divide women into the girls you fuck and the girls you marry yet don't seem to be able to divide themselves into the boys you fuck and the boys you marry. The classic double standard.

MiniTheMinx Sun 29-Sep-13 20:22:15

JoTheHot How exactly can women have equality when saying no might result in being raped, saying yes results in slut shaming and "saying no really means yes" is assumed by men to be all part of the transaction. If women are not equal in every respect then consent is a meaningless concept. If something is assumed to have no value then anything arising from it is also assumed to have no value. Would you accept the word of a liar? no because the liar has been found to be discredited and his word of no value. If you dehumanise someone do they still have value, do their words have any value? If someone isn't your equal, can you not just speak for them? think for them? If women are not deemed to be equal to men then how can their words have the same meanings and value to those spoken by men?

CaptChaos Sun 29-Sep-13 20:59:51

The PDF version of Right-Wing Women I've downloaded from here is very clear, if that helps anyone?

I'm reading it now, so, once again, will get back to it!

YoniBottsBumgina Sun 29-Sep-13 21:22:07

The concept of consent is problematic when men only seek consent - in healthy sexual relationships where open communication is key and men seek enthusiastic participation, and are ready to stop the minute they suspect this enthusiasm is lacking, it isn't a problem at all.

But we're not talking about healthy relationships here - are we? That isn't the point of the discussion. I think it's really important to separate these out. Remember the proportion of women who have experienced sexual assault, and I think it is, sadly, incredibly rare for women to experience only the kind of sexual relationship I described in my first paragraph from virginity to death. Most of us experience the kind of sexual relationship or encounter where consent comes into it at some point or other.

Bunnylion Sun 29-Sep-13 23:03:07

Thanks Beach. smile

Along with the problem if a dehumanised persons word having little value, is that concent is defined by the rapist, not the victim. Whether she wanted sex or not isn't relevant, it's whether he thought she did. So a man existing within a patriarchal society, where dominance is eroticised, is the person who's understanding of the situation defines the reality.

FloraFox Sun 29-Sep-13 23:22:16

Thanks for starting this thread Beach, I'm really looking forward to it.

I find the extracts you've included in the OP to be enlightening. I too can't believe this work is out of print and not mandatory reading for every women's studies class (not post modern enough, I guess).

I have a tendency to jump right into thinking about what the law should be to address this or how does this thinking fit into the current legal structure. I don't want to do this (yet) because I want to think more deeply about the broader meaning of these ideas.

Yoni I'm not sure we are only talking about unhealthy relationships here. Or perhaps it is a challenge to our thinking about what is healthy and what is not, especially given the huge increase in porn culture.

I'm really intrigued by the phrase "whether consent is a meaningful concept". I need to read the whole chapter to see if I can get my head around that. Does anyone have a view on what MacKinnon means by this?

Grennie Mon 30-Sep-13 00:00:12

I have always seen this phrase as meaning in a patriarchial culture, all women are taught that to have sex with a man, means having penetrative sex. So if we want sex with a man, penetrative sex is part of the "deal". So how can we meaningfully consent, when we do not even think we have a choice to say we want a sexual relationship, without penetrative sex?

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 00:20:45

Yeah, even more people. Fab. You're welcome for the thread, thank you for being here. Now let's stop thanking each other!

MiniTheMinx - yes, I think we are in 'women as gatekeepers of sex' territory with your comment; an extension of the consent concept.

grimbletart - interesting questions. Do you think any women escape the internalization of 'this destructive attitude' ? Perhaps some lesbian women. I doubt there are many of us who are able to withstand our socialization. Your post has really got me thinking.

CaptChaos - good work on better quality copy. Thanks.

YoniBottsBumgina - I think healthy relationships are not excluded as it is so hard to know what is genuine desire and sexuality and what is prescribed/socialization. And that is the headfuck. I think of it more in terms of 'interactions' than 'relationships'.

Bunnylion - yes, in a nutshell. With the perpetrator of a crime/boundary crossing, being the one who gets to decide if another's boundary has been crossed or not depending on his perspective of events. Which is outrageous when you think about it.

"Madam were you raped?"
"Yes, I feel I was, but you better check with my attacker and he will let you know whether he thinks I was or not"

FloraFox - MacKinnon is asking whether the concept of consent has any real human merit or if it is an artefact of patriarchal society. Consent is often presented as being an infallible 'thing' that exists and that we all accept. MacKinnon is saying 'woah hold on a minute, who decided that this concept is of worth and under what circumstances'. She then suggests that the answers to these questions show the concept of consent to not be meaningful (other than perhaps as a patriarchal social construct). A bit like gender.

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 00:22:57

Grennie, Yes, that too, I think what you say is an intrinsic part of what MacKinnon is touching on.

DadWasHere Mon 30-Sep-13 06:48:57

FloraFox: "I'm really intrigued by the phrase "whether consent is a meaningful concept". I need to read the whole chapter to see if I can get my head around that. Does anyone have a view on what MacKinnon means by this?"

You have a choice unless it is taken from you (rape) or you choose to compromise your sexual/personal integrity by allowing 'consent' to a particular sexual activity you would prefer not happen. The 'why' of giving that consent can vary wildly, that’s the problem- necessity, convenience, money, fear, trade-off, maturity, intellectual capacity. The why of it defines the moral (and legal) validity of the 'consent'. 'Consent' means little IMO, enthusiasm and eagerness work better.

However even 'enthusiasm' for sex does not allow for instances of the very young, the abused or diminished capacity individuals who while they may be quite eager to give consent, may also not in be in a fair position to have that choice be positive for them.

The 'women exist to be possessed by others' stance... women as eternally submissive creatures... its rather old and tired IMO. Certainly some women, the insecure, the damaged- they defer who they are to others for control and reward but that need not be about sex or gender- like the daughter who bends over backward for her mother to her own detriment, becoming the weak incompetent her mother needs her to be.

Some confident women like a submissive role in sex by their own concious choice, and they are quite capable of flicking that switch off when they want, they don’t carry that submission into the wider world. Not every woman is a tigress who prefers to ride her man and orgasm in under 60 seconds but neither is a woman who enjoys being on the bottom or taken from behind somehow devaluing her sexuality simply through choice of position, as long as its her choice accompanied with enthusiasm.

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 08:51:50

I think MacKinnon's analysis and questioning of consent goes deeper than that. She is questioning whether it is possible for a woman's consent (or even enthusiastic participation) to be meaningful when it occurs within a context of sexual inequality (sex based oppression if you prefer). In a context in which female sexuality is defined within a power dynamic and a political hierarchy. In which female sexuality is defined by men and in which female sexuality is considered to be an intrinsic element of a woman's worth.

It isn't only about allowing things that maybe you would prefer not to happen. It is about having never even thought freely about what you want to happen.

The 'women exist to be possessed by others' stance... women as eternally submissive creatures... its rather old and tired IMO.

Really? Why?

There hasn't been a feminist revolution since Dworkin wrote that. She is writing about women as a class. As long as women as a class are subjected to porn, prostitution, femininity, marriage, rape culture, rape myths, mandatory PIV, objectification of women and girls, sexual harassment, street abuse, domestic violence, a fight for reproductive rights, contraception as normalized, wifework, the feminization of poverty, the institution of motherhood, compulsory heterosexuality, etc; Dworkin's statement will remain true.

BDSM/submissive practices fetishize the domination/submission dynamic upon which patriarchy is founded. That some women enthusiastically participate in such practices does not change this. Who knows where the choice of any individual woman to participate comes from. No woman is an island however so I suspect patriarchal socialization and lived experience as the subjugated sex class.

Grennie Mon 30-Sep-13 09:00:39

Of course lots of women like sex. Although the standard definition of sex is penetrative sex. The reality is that sex encompasses a wide range of activity.

But the idea that "choice" is devoid of cultural influences is a false one. Consider what we eat. In theory any adult with money has a choice over what they eat. In practice, what most people eat varies widely country by country. Of course there are exceptions, but our environment and culture has a massive influence on what we eat.

Similarly with sex. We are taught what sex is i.e. penetration. We are taught normal sex involves the woman being more submissive. We are taught that couples have sex about 2 or 3 times a week. All of thsi has a massive influence on our sex lives. And that is not even considering the influence of pornography.

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 10:11:50

Excellent lecture by Catharine MacKinnon on prostitution, trafficking and the constructs of 'consent' and 'agency' within them.

DadWasHere Mon 30-Sep-13 13:00:09

Yes, Beachcomber, MacKinnons view certainly goes deeper, it goes as deep as effectively questioning the morality and legitimacy of an individual woman choosing and enjoying sexual intercourse with a man while women as a group remain collectively bound within constructs of male patriarchy. Why do I find it 'old and tired'? Because it was, IMO, such arrogant presumptions and intrusions about the personal sexualities of women, recast in a wider social context, that began the feminist porn wars.

As to BDSM its something I know virtually northing about so I cant comment on your observations. I am personally repulsed by it and therefore prejudiced to imagine the head-space of people who practice it, presumably of their own free will. I once knew someone who was into the BDSM scene and they said it was an ultimate commitment to trust bordering on love, but I cannot relate to that view.

As to the 'standard definition' of sex being penetration, Grennie, certainly that seems to be the case at least to me, but given its responsible for reproducing the human race I don’t think that will ever change. First-second-third base.. intercourse will always be the 'home run'. Only 25% of women achieve orgasm during intercourse (the vast bulk doing so in the female superior position) Men supposedly think their female partner reached orgasm but are wrong almost half the time. Quite woeful, I hope things improve for women.

But who in this day and age are telling women (at least in western society) that sex involves women being more 'submissive'? Sure, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that young men are being conditioned by porn to think that women commonly like to be ejaculated on as part of sex (sorry, don’t know how to put it delicately) but at the same time its clear that those same young men don’t want a 'submissive' woman, they clearly want one confident enough to take a more dominate role during intercourse.

As to a woman exploring her sexuality I think the days of having to hide her sex toys for fear of the male ego being bruised have now passed. If a man is going to be freaked out by a vibrator or the size of a boiled cucumber- if he cant be an enthusiastic participant in his partners sexuality- honestly I think in this day and age a woman should be telling the fool to flick off because there are plenty more fish in the sea.

DadWasHere Mon 30-Sep-13 13:14:28

Ahh sorry, got the names confused, it was Dworkins views from the PDF book I was talking about, not MacKinnon.

Thanks for interesting thread
(marking place)

YoniBottsBumgina Mon 30-Sep-13 13:41:49

OK, am struggling a bit with the theoretical/academic slant here. Think I will lurk rather than posting smile

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 13:59:25

Don't be put off by the academic stuff please!!!

Although lurking is fine too. smile

DadWasHere - don't you believe that human sexuality is socialized then?

Saying that it is, is not 'arrogant presumptions and intrusions' - it is just statement of fact.

It doesn't mean that feminists think women don't know their own minds or cannot make their own decisions. It means that we are pointing out that choices and decisions are not made within a vacuum.

For instance in MacKinnon's lecture - at one point she talks about choice. She observes that humans do not choose the colour of their skin, the socio-economic class they are born into, etc and we also do not choose the sex we are born into. And within capitalist white supremacist patriarchal society, all of those factors affect our degree of agency; with women as a class having less sexual agency than men.

And that doesn't make women ninnies/submissive creatures/people who don't know their own minds. It makes women oppressed.

Women's choices are already not completely their own simply by the fact of them being women, and living in a society which accords status according to sex, with women being awarded lower status than men.

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 14:12:37

it goes as deep as effectively questioning the morality and legitimacy of an individual woman choosing and enjoying sexual intercourse with a man while women as a group remain collectively bound within constructs of male patriarchy.

This is neither MacKinnon's nor Dworkin's view.

This is your interpretation.

Both of them are talking about women as a class, not judging individual women - and they are most definitely not moralising. Neither are they questioning the morals or the legitimacy of individual women's sexual choices. They are questioning the politico-socio context within which those choices are made and how that context affects agency and freedom - they are questioning the legitimacy of the context, not the legitimacy of individual women's behaviour.

They are doing class analysis not slut shaming.

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 14:23:01

And I think you may be missing an aspect of how radical feminists use the word 'submissive' in political analysis.

It is meant to encompass women as 'subordinate'.

sub·or·di·nate (s-bôrdn-t)
1. Belonging to a lower or inferior class or rank; secondary.
2. Subject to the authority or control of another.
One that is subordinate.
tr.v. (s-bôrdn-t) sub·or·di·nat·ed, sub·or·di·nat·ing, sub·or·di·nates
1. To put in a lower or inferior rank or class.
2. To make subservient; subdue.
[Middle English subordinat, from Medieval Latin subrdintus, past participle of subrdinre, to put in a lower rank : Latin sub-, sub- + Latin rdinre, to set in order (from rd, rdin-, order; see ar- in Indo-European roots).]

YoniBottsBumgina Mon 30-Sep-13 14:30:13

I'm just finding it hard to follow and comment, it is interesting though, I am reading.

I am much more of a "how does this translate into actual real life interactions" kind of person I think. I struggle with how some of the stuff discussed here does actually translate. Like DadIsHere says, it feels so far removed from Western society.

However I don't think it is as simplistic as it just being wrong. I can see that this kind of thing plays a part and perhaps is underlying everything, but I find it really hard to layer it onto, for example, the relationship I have with my own DH. It's easier to layer it onto "sexual interactions I have had with men in general" because they tend to fit the pattern more, and perhaps this is me trying to make it all about me(!) but what I like about feminism is that so often it does reflect my own experience or the experience of others who I have interacted with at some point, or I can see that although it isn't within my realms of experience, for example, issues about prostitution or which happen in other countries, it makes sense based on my knowledge and experience of people in general. That's what makes it relevant to me.

I find it hard to conflate that with concepts such as "All PIV is fetishised rape" for example.

But, if I have learned anything from the feminist section it's that just because I find it removed it doesn't mean somebody's just made it up, it comes from somewhere and if you follow it long enough it ends up making sense (and I might agree or not, but I need to understand the point first). So I think I will keep reading until that understanding comes. I also kind of wanted to offer/explain this both for those who might look at the premise and think "But that's bonkers and not based in reality at all - feminism is crazy" and for those who are much more familiar with this kind of narrative but forget how far removed it seems when you first come across it.

Surely we're bound to think of how it applies in our own life and relationships too Yoni - sex is a very personal thing after all?
I think the idea that consent isn't really enough and ongoing enthusiastic participation throughout is a more helpful thing to look for/expect is something I hope to share with both dd and ds (currently teenagers/pre-teens)

YoniBottsBumgina Mon 30-Sep-13 14:43:59

YY I definitely agree smile I'm already teaching DS that a game isn't fun unless everyone is enjoying it and encouraging him to look for signs in the other person's body language, facial expressions etc that they are having fun. He is four. It's never too early IMO.

Thanks Yoni, I think practical feminism is important too !

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 15:16:08

But, if I have learned anything from the feminist section it's that just because I find it removed it doesn't mean somebody's just made it up, it comes from somewhere and if you follow it long enough it ends up making sense (and I might agree or not, but I need to understand the point first). So I think I will keep reading until that understanding comes. I also kind of wanted to offer/explain this both for those who might look at the premise and think "But that's bonkers and not based in reality at all - feminism is crazy" and for those who are much more familiar with this kind of narrative but forget how far removed it seems when you first come across it.

I totally get you on this. A lot of feminist analysis/observation, especially if it is radical, challenges things we have grown up to consider as normal/natural/just the way things are/inevitable/true/etc; and feminist thought challenges them as not being the whole truth.

Often feminism is pointing out that those things are only the truth of the current status quo not universal truths or realities of a free humnaity - we are allowed to question the 'truths' of the status quo and find them wanting, we are allowed to point out their flaws; generally the inadequacies are because they are 'truths' dominated by male perspective and which neglect the female perspective.

And often when we first encounter this, it does sound like a bit bonkers because it is questioning things we have been socialized to accept as unquestionable.

Such as PIV. I have never heard or read a feminist say "All PIV is fetishised rape", but I have heard feminists question PIV and its place within human sexuality. When you first hear this it sounds a bit odd but then when you hear feminist arguments about PIV being risky behaviour for women in a way it is not for men, suddenly the feminist stance on PIV makes a whole lot of sense and seems obvious.

I'm not keen on the expression, but a lot of feminist thought is 'thinking outside the box'.

ModeratelyObvious Mon 30-Sep-13 15:20:56

The person who is underneath is not necessarily the person who is submissive (or subordinate which is a better way of putting it as Beach said), DadWasHere

Grennie Mon 30-Sep-13 16:00:06

One of the real life applications is to recognise that to meaningfully consent to any form of sex, you have to be able to say no. So I have had penetrative sex in the pastbecause I wanted sex, and that was just part of it. IfI had not aagreed to penetrative sex, would my paryner have left me? And if he would have, am I really meaningfully consenting?

FloraFox Mon 30-Sep-13 16:37:31

grennie, beach thanks for your responses.

The point about consent having no human merit makes sense to me. It's a useful stepping off point to think about the dynamics of consent. The word itself implies another person making a request. Although the word is often used as if it is an active choice which should be "empowered", the reality is that consent more akin to acquiescence and passivity. An acceptance of an action carried out by someone else.

rosabud Mon 30-Sep-13 19:12:07

I have been lurking and find this subject fascinating but, like Yoni, think what I have to say may not be academicenough. However, ploughing gamely on, one thing that this thread has made me think of is how the concept of consent being meaningless helps to explain another unequal stereotype - the idea that women are emotional and intuitive and men are unemtional decision-makers. If you remove the concept of consent, then you also remove the concept of women as gatekeepers of sex because then the responisibility of emotional understanding is placed on men as well as on women. Men are more than capable of reading an emotional situation correctly (eg, they know, when their teenage child sulkily agrees to do their homework in exchange for being allowed to go out at the weekned, that this is not "meaningful consent" ie they realise their teenager still does not want to do the homework and that, in fact, some kind of bargain has been struck which results in "consent") but, when it comes to sex (and many other decisions that are made within a relationship) men are allowed to ignore the emotional signals of reluctance and are to content themselves with consent.

So, in that sense, the shimera of consent, is shoring up the inequality that exists when women are often socialised to be more emotionally aware than men.

Hope that makes sense.

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 19:51:47

Rosabud, I love it. That makes such sense. You are so right that the questioning can be extended to other situations. Your teenager analogy is very perceptive.

As a general comment, there is no not academic enough for feminism. Because feminism belongs to all women.

There are texts and women like MacKinnon who is a pretty formidable - let's face it (I'm glad she's batting for the sisters. Same goes for Dworkin); but they are so not meant to be inaccessible. They are just trying to make their point in a watertight way. And in a way that makes change happen, so they needed to be tight with the language.

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 19:57:01

the reality is that consent more akin to acquiescence and passivity. An acceptance of an action carried out by someone else.

Yes to this. And with consent there is an underlying implication of 'letting something be done to one'.

For example we use consent WRT medical interventions.

You consent to a medical intervention. That the same word should be used for sexual interaction, is surely fucked up? Let's face it, when you consent to a medical intervention, it is generally because you have few avenues left to you. So you let something happen that you would probably otherwise prefer not to experience. Non?

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 20:03:33

And MacKinnon is a very accessible woman.

She just happens to be brilliant and have an astounding legal mind too. Like I say, glad she bats for the team I want to support.

Grennie Mon 30-Sep-13 20:17:50

It is routine to see women in long term relationships, who have lost sexual interest in their partner, advised to go ahead and have sex anyway, for the sake of the marriage. This is very like Rosabud's analogy of the teenager.

YoniBottsBumgina Mon 30-Sep-13 20:54:43

YY when you think about the word consent and its meaning in other situations it doesn't mean something that you want to do at all.

ModeratelyObvious Mon 30-Sep-13 20:55:14

Would agreement be at least a start instead of consent? It seems more like the parties start on an equal footing.

badguider Mon 30-Sep-13 21:15:03

I must admit I was completely lost on this thread until the poster made the comparison with medical consent and that struck me as completely relevant. I do not "consent" to dh doing sex to me. Not at all. It's an activity we do together when we both feel like it, a state that is communicated through actions and body language in a type of personal code refined throughout our marriage. This type of intimate personal code does not exist in casual encounters and new couplings or in relationships where communication has broken down or was always poor and I think this does make "consent" or whatever you want to call it more problematic in those situations.

FloraFox Mon 30-Sep-13 21:18:40

Rosabud your teenager analogy really works for me.

The issue of consent as acquiescence / letting something happen is at the heart of patriarchal culture. Women as the subjugated sex class. It pervades our culture from princesses wanting to be rescued to the notion of women having rape / BDSM fantasies. I very much agree with grennie that choices are made within a cultural context. (One of the reasons I don't place much value on "choice" as a desired outcome of feminism.)

In this context, women and men eroticise women's submissive role. I don't mean that men and women are acting out 50 shades type crap every time they have sex. However the idea of woman as passive, waiting for her man is still prevalent in our culture although perhaps not to the same extent it was 40 years ago.

I can see some seeds here for "sex positive" thinking as a way to liberate women from this culture of submission, to be actors rather than consenters. However, I don't believe that behaviours which derive from the culture of subjugation and objectification (e.g. stripping, pornography, prostitution, etc) can be "reclaimed" in a meaningful feminist way. It's no coincidence that "consent" is always used to defend or uphold these activities. I agree with beach re consent to medical procedures - something that you would prefer not to have happen to you.

MiniTheMinx Mon 30-Sep-13 21:42:48

You are on a roll Beachcomber smile

Thinking not academically but from personal experience now, (too tired to think coherently, first day at uni today [sleepy emotion]) where there is domestic violence can there ever be meaningful consent? I'm not talking about rape but where a women actively or even enthusiastically engages in sex with a partner who she is afraid of. Of course there could be times when she is in actual fear and has some anxiety about provoking attack but there might be no immediate fear. I'm not certain I can get my head around it, partly because a very good friend was a victim of DV and she was besotted with her abuser. How could this be?

MooncupGoddess Mon 30-Sep-13 22:08:16

Great thread.

Good point re the medical comparison. Personally I am jolly grateful to the medical professionals who have looked after me... but consenting to a medical procedure involves passivity, lying there and keeping still while unpleasant things are done to you (albeit for your own good). Also, there is an unequal power balance. In no way is the experience comparable to mutually enthusiastic and loving sex.

In the DV case, Mini, I don't think it's meaningful consent if the woman doesn't feel she can say no. There is a wider issue of course about traumatic bonding too... it's a well-established phenomenon.

CailinDana Mon 30-Sep-13 22:43:53

Having a weird moment where it feels like someone's downloaded my rambly thoughts and written them out in a brilliantly coherent way.

Will write more tomorrow when my brain is functioning again.

Beachcomber Mon 30-Sep-13 23:07:53

I'm so glad this is speaking to people. Really glad.

It's a bit late so am going to read posts and hopefully we'll continue this discussion tomorrow.

YoniBottsBumgina Tue 01-Oct-13 00:24:36

I was talking about a past DV (EA) relationship of mine the other day. In the early days I wanted sex, but as it went on it became another control mechanism and I stopped wanting it. I still consented, sometimes I even enjoyed it once it got started, but I barely ever wanted it.

If that makes sense I think that is probably the crux of it. It's totally possible to consent to something that you don't want, but sex should be something that's wanted on both sides. I don't think that you can not-consent to something you want really can you?

I do think the PIV argument is hugely relevant here as well. Hugely. Because you can want (and, evidently, consent to) say, cuddling, or kissing or touching or oral and yet not want PIV. But because of the cuddling and kissing and/or oral you are assumed to have consented to PIV. With a man who respects sexual boundaries then sure, you can stop things and say "Actually no I just want to do X right now" and he will stop, but it would be considered strange to do this more often than some of the time. Some men would certainly feel hard done by. And then there's a kind of guilt about getting him worked up (anyone else felt this?) and a sense of "Oh, well it's gone this far, might as well finish it" but mostly, it's that feeling that once you've consented to one thing it means you consent to everything, as long as it falls under a "vanilla" kind of umbrella or even under the umbrella of "things you have wanted to do before".

And there are times when you get caught up in the moment and genuinely do change your mind about what you want, but I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about the times when you don't really want to continue onto PIV and you're faced with that choice of whether to ask him to stop or just go along with it.

MatildaWhispers Tue 01-Oct-13 00:50:48

I have been reading, but I am no good at the theoretical side only personal experience.

Having been in a sexually abusive relationship, there were certainly still times when I thought I had 'properly' consented and sometimes even initiated sex. But it was always in a period when my partner was being seemingly nice to me and I was in total denial about how shit it could be at other times. I am not sure that I wanted sex exactly at these times, there was an underlying expectation, but I did often enjoy it when it once it was happening.

However, at other times consent was undeniably meaningless. If I said no, he would pester and pester, repeating the same request for sex, until it drove me nuts and the easiest thing was to give in and say 'ok' - as at least if I 'consented' I would get to go to sleep afterwards rather than be kept awake by his constant demands. But that wasn't really consenting in the true sense, obviously. Also, if I tried to complain at all, or gave any indication afterwards that I was angry or upset because I had not in fact wanted sex, it would be thrown back at me that I had agreed to sex so I could not complain about it.

And then in the end there were other times when I was pestered for sex and afraid of him, and I knew that he was going to do it anyway regardless of what I said or did, so the easiest thing in that situation was to 'consent'. That was easiest all round, because then we both knew that he would not end up forcing himself on me and it would not feel afterwards as if he had raped me.

It is so completely fucked up really, and I am very glad I am no longer in such a mess of a relationship.

HerrenaHarridan Tue 01-Oct-13 01:18:37

Marking my place with a wee anecdote.

Years ago when asked by a young lad who was just embarking on his first sexual relationship for some advice, I told him this

"Never enter her early on, hold off and hold off, tease and touch and caress in every way you can until her nails are digging so hard into your arse to pull you into her that your in danger of having new holes in your bum."

They are still together 10 years later and have two kids now so I think she appreciated my advice


DadWasHere Tue 01-Oct-13 02:09:49

Yoni I once knew a woman who had a generalised fear of intimacy. It became for her a 'russian doll' (the dolls that stack within one another) problem that locked her out of intimate experience sometimes at all levels, unless she were able to get 'caught up in the moment' and so managed to give herself permission to pass to a deeper level of intimacy. Sometimes she could not even enjoy holding hands because she wondered if it would lead to an embrace, which might lead to a kiss, which might lead to being fondled, which might lead to being undressed, which might lead to oral sex, which might lead to intercourse.

It was about what she wanted for herself. While she could recognise on an intellectual level that 'sometimes a kiss is just a kiss' she could not give herself permission to enjoy it because of the possibility of other dynamics being in it, her own dynamics more than mine I think. You say 'there are times when you get caught up in the moment and genuinely do change your mind about what you want'. She was locked into simultaneously hoping yet fearing she might (or might not) get caught up in that moment. She said she had not suffered any specific abuse (although she could have concealed that from me) but had arrived in her paralysing situation because she had 'consented' too often to PIV sex she did not want to have. I begged her to seek counselling but unfortunately she would not.

ModeratelyObvious Tue 01-Oct-13 07:19:43

Dad, I don't think that woman is unique.

Conjugal rights and so on are a bit of a cliche and it's by no means "all men", of course, but it's baked into our culture that only PIV sex is real sex and men prefer PIV sex and think something is missing without it. See, for example, the joke in Friends about how kissing is like the comedian warming the crowd up before the rock concert for men - "you like the comedian but he's not why you bought the ticket."

Even Herrena's anecdote, which sounds like good advice, is acknowledging that PIV is the ultimate "goal".

ithaka Tue 01-Oct-13 07:32:11

I don't like Herrena's anecdote, because it assumes all women want the same kind of sex, when they don't.

The fact someone is married for 10 years with 2 kids does not mean that they are having great sex - or that they ever did have.

So many massive assumptions in that post.

YoniBottsBumgina Tue 01-Oct-13 08:01:45

I agree Moderately. I think this is horrendously common, actually. It might not be "specific abuse" but it is certainly a sexually abusive and entitled attitude from a previous partner which has brought this fear upon her.

There is a thread about once a week or more on relationships where the poster admits (if not straight away, at some point) she does not even want to kiss her DH for fear that he will take it as a green light for sex.

It is very sad. In my experience as well the disconnect from sex never truly leaves you once you get into the pattern of dissociating from it.

Plus this whole scenario then feeds back into the "men like/need sex more than women" or even "women don't really like sex but they do it to please their man" myths. Aaargh!

Beachcomber Tue 01-Oct-13 08:33:03

So sorry to hear of those who have been in abusive relationships, thanks for sharing. That sort of ongoing situation is such a good example of the sort of thing we are talking about - the woman 'consents' and the sex is had, but she didn't want it. And, yes, it is assumed that the sex will be PIV.

And, yes to this Flora;

The issue of consent as acquiescence / letting something happen is at the heart of patriarchal culture. Women as the subjugated sex class. It pervades our culture from princesses wanting to be rescued to the notion of women having rape / BDSM fantasies. I very much agree with grennie that choices are made within a cultural context. (One of the reasons I don't place much value on "choice" as a desired outcome of feminism.)

Yes, I see the goal of feminism as 'liberation'; not choice. Real choice (if it even exists within human society) can only come with liberation.

WRT to 'sex positivism' (a concept which for me has a whole bunch of problems, but I won't go into that just now), I can't take it very seriously as there is so very little analysis of what sex is for women. Of what the female perspective is. I also think it is an exclusionary movement as 'sex positivism' is an utter nonsense to so many women, it just isn't on their radar. How are trafficked women, pimped prostitutes, girls and women in unwanted arranged marriages, women with no access to contraception, women with no access to abortion, etc. supposed to feel about such a movement? Or even just us women who simply do not want to be defined by sex as it is the thing via which we are oppressed.

Mini, this is exactly what MacKinnon is getting at when she says; When sex is violent, women may have lost control over what is done to them, but absence of force does not ensure the presence of that control. (Good luck with uni!)

And Mooncup's point is a good one too when you say; I don't think it's meaningful consent if the woman doesn't feel she can say no. MacKinnon also talks about that in her lecture. She asks where is the agency or how valid is the 'choice/consent' if the women does not feel that she can say no or is in circumstances that cut off the opportunity for her to say no because she does not have real alternatives.

Also, so true what you say Yoni about how consenting to (or wanting) a cuddle or other forms of touching very often being taken as implied consent for PIV.

This brings me back to what Dworkin says here;

Sexual intelligence asserts itself through sexual integrity, a dimension of values and actions forbidden to women. Sexual intelligence would have to be rooted first and foremost in the honest possession of one’s own body, and women exist to be possessed by others, namely men.

And it was why I disagreed with DasWasHere when he said that he thought this notion was old. Women all over the world today are living this experience of it being assumed and expected that our bodily integrity can be encroached upon and that that is normal because 'it is sex'. It is just sex. And women are expected to have sex and of course what we mean by that is PIV.

Like what Matilda says about pestering. Pestering is an expectation that women exist to be possessed by others. It is nagging at a woman to stop withholding something the man feels is his right - her body.

Lots to think about here. Thanks for all the great posts, especially those generous enough to share personal stuff. I'm sorry if this is raking up painful memories for anyone.

ModeratelyObvious Tue 01-Oct-13 08:50:41

But yoni, I don't think a woman has to have been with a previously abusive partner to have internalised messages about PIV being the goal, don't be a cock tease, men give love to get sex whilst women give sex to get love, if you loved me you would, blue balls, Judy Blume's Forever - "once you've done it, you can't go back to holding hands"- with my body I thee worship, a marriage can be annulled if it's not consummated and so on and so on ad infinitum.

All cultural messages are, if you go to bed and don't have PIV, it's like taking your partner's plate away halfway through dinner. Whereas perhaps it should be more like a buffet, sometimes you pick this and sometimes that.

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 08:55:02

I have come across a few women on the net, who have male partners, have a sexual relationship, but don't have PIV. One has never had PIV. I and others, were very surprised that such relationships existed. And that says it all really. PIV is an expected part of the package of sex. When it should just be part of a menu of choices.

I read somewhere about a survey that showed women self reporting that they were far more likely to orgasm through other kinds of sex than PIV. If there was to be a female sexuality, these other kinds of sex would make more sense as the "goal" than PIV.

Beachcomber Tue 01-Oct-13 08:58:31

And another thing! I seem to have lots to say today...

The idea that there is something wrong with a woman who doesn't want 'sex' AKA PIV.

I remember going through a sustained period of not wanting sex after my first child was born. All the usual stuff, I was knackered, sleep deprived, breastfeeding, learning how to look after a baby, fairly isolated and felt totally 'touched out' by the constant physical contact with my baby. I had also just spent nine months being pregnant and had given birth - with all that entails WRT to hormones, pain, tiredness, etc, plus all the being touched by other people that happens to a woman during pregnancy and childbirth.

At first I expected to feel like this but then as the months went on I began to wonder if there was something 'wrong' with me. I was quite happy without sex so why was I asking myself if there was something 'wrong'?

There was nothing wrong, my feelings were completely normal. It lasted for about a year I think and then gradually (especially after I stopped breastfeeding) desire came back.

And this is where I get cross with contraception sometimes and I think it is very much part of this debate. Yes contraception protects women from unwanted pregnancies and that is a good thing. However, contraception also exposes women to unwanted sex.

It is normal for a woman who has a small baby to not want PIV because she doesn't want to get pregnant again. My body was telling me that and I was listening to it - however contraception falsifies this situation because it is possible to prevent a pregnancy.

I hate that effing 6 week check up thing where someone checks out the woman's undercarriage and gives her the green light to 'get back to normal relations'.


Your fanjo has just about repaired itself so you can (should) get back to some good old PIV action.

This is what I mean about the male perspective being dominant in sexuality. (Yes I know there are some women who want to have intercourse at this point if not before.)

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 09:03:11

I have a friend who was treated for vaginimus i.e. the vagina closing up and preventing PIV. The assumption of everyone, including herself, was that she needed treatment so she could have PIV. Nobody ever suggested that she obviously didn't want PIV, so didn't have to have it.

Bunnylion Tue 01-Oct-13 09:07:05

Yoni the myth you mentioned that women don't like sex and do it to please their man is, I'm sure, responsible for a lot of very unhealthy "consensual" sex within relationships.

A very good friend of mine always worried her boyfriend would leave her and had very low self esteem. He was the only person she'd slept with and was with him for 7 years.

She once told me she feels very low and emotional after sex and asked if I did too, she opened up and it turns out her man was obsessesed with porn and would make her watch it, tie her up, cover her face and humiliate her - acting out his dark fantasies every time they did it - since she was 15 years old. She went along with this to please him, as she felt that's what all women do and that he'd leave her if she didn't do what was expected. I was heartbroken and furious but eventually helped her LTB.

She always seemed insecure and unsure of her self but I would never have guessed she was going through this every day. I wonder how many other women are going through similar. Consent is totally meaningless when society has convinced you that your body is not your own.

ModeratelyObvious Tue 01-Oct-13 09:18:40

Good point about contraception, Beach.

PIV is the goal because it's how you make a baby. But I guess around 80% of the PIV that happened in developed countries last night was nothing to do with making babies (insert your own % guess above, but I'm sure it's more than 50%)

So, men and women know this, on a conscious level. PIV is just one of the ways to reach orgasm and show physical love.

In the "bases" mentioned above, I'm sure most teenagers involved in getting to fourth base would rather not conceive either.

So why is it so often the goal?

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 09:24:01

Why is it so often the goal?

Because it is the kind of sex men enjoy?
Because it involves men dominating women?

YoniBottsBumgina Tue 01-Oct-13 09:42:18

I know I've always been told by men that there's a scale, going from wank < hand job < blow job < PIV (with anal coming either above or below PIV or sometimes below oral depending on the man's preference)

Just because of the physical feeling, apparently this is the scale of how nice it is. With a penis being less complex than female sex organs it seems to make sense. Although how much is this socialised as well? With the idea that for women their preferences vary wildly with what they prefer as the "best" thing but men apparently all like the same things?

Also YY, funny when you think about it, that the "ultimate goal" is the same as the "top sexual act for men" hmm

badguider Tue 01-Oct-13 10:02:58

This is where I get confused. Surely PIV isn't socialised into us, surely it's a base evolutionary instinct?
The enjoyment if it, when sex is really "good" is (I think) in surrendering to your primitive instinct without "thinking" or social norms, particularly for men who run no risk of conception themselves.

Avoiding PIV for contraceptive reasons is "being sensible" which is never as freeing as just letting go.

YoniBottsBumgina Tue 01-Oct-13 10:08:20

I don't see why it can't be both? I can see the argument that the base instinct leans towards PIV as a goal.

ithaka Tue 01-Oct-13 10:09:05

I know I've always been told by men that there's a scale, going from wank < hand job < blow job < PIV (with anal coming either above or below PIV or sometimes below oral depending on the man's preference)

You've always been told this? By every man? You have spoken about this with every man in every culture?

That is such a silly generalisation - as silly as the generalisation Heretta made about the sort of sex all women are meant to like.

Male sexuality is complex and varied, as is female sexuality. It does not help the debate to reduce either gender to stereotypes.

Discussing men and women as a 'class' can lead to this broad brush stereotyping, it is hard to avoid in such discussions, but it should be noted and challenged as part of the debate,

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 10:12:21

I am far from an expert on this! But I do remember reading this anthropological study that talked about a place where straight couples only had PIV when they wanted a baby. The rest of the time sex was much more varied.

And remember how we have sex is socialised. The missionary position is called that because African people were amazed that that is how white missionairies had sex.

Wasn't it just the position recommended by the missionaries in preference to other possibilities Grennie?

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 10:19:13

Perhaps it was juggling.

I can't imagine they'd not tried it, that's all!

YoniBottsBumgina Tue 01-Oct-13 10:35:17

No not every man in the world! hmm Surely it was pretty obvious I meant every man I've ever spoken about sex with.

CailinDana Tue 01-Oct-13 11:11:52

I've always had an issue with the concept of "consent" on a very simplistic level - it just doesn't ring true. Anybody who has ever had sex knows that 99% of it is non-verbal. People indicate their desire and "consent" through movements, eye contact, gestures, sounds, kisses, touches etc etc. A couple might never ever actually ask each other "do you want this?" "do you like this?" yet consent is very obvious through each of their actions.

In a worryingly large number of discussions here on MN I've seen the issue of consent used against an obvious victim of rape/assault. One in particular comes to mind where a woman had had sex with a man she was getting to know and then on a later date he came to her house to help her move. Seems like a nice guy, great. Then they started kissing and he started aggressively dry humping her on the floor and immediately she felt threatened and intimidated and felt sure that if she said no he would continue anyway.

So she took off her own trousers.

And on the basis of that one action at least three posters asserted that she had "consented" and therefore how could the poor bloke know she didn't want sex. Never mind that he was aggressive, that she was obviously scared, that she never responded to him or suggested in any way that she wanted sex. She did in fact say no, but he ignored her and so she took off her trousers to avoid any more aggression and to get the whole thing over with. Everything she did, including saying no, screamed that she was not consenting, and yet the one thing she did to "cooperate" was picking out by other women as a sign of consent. It was as though with that one move she switched herself over from woman to plaything and there was no going back. No notice was taken of the fact that her action was taken purely in an effort to stay safe an uninjured, no, that didn't matter, she did it and so it was all her own fault.

As others have highlighted the default position women are assumed to be in is one of consent. Under society's current ideas, they don't actually have to actively consent to sex (through participation, actions, smiling, saying "yes") they have to forcefully withdraw the consent that they are assumed to give at all times. This ties in with the idea that women's bodies don't actually belong to them. The woman in the thread I'm talking about did withdraw consent by saying no but then wasn't forceful enough because she didn't fight back or scream, she cooperated. Her cooperation put her back in her state of perpetual consent.

It was clear that the man who raped me felt this way about consent. We were in a relationship and he didn't want to use condoms (I wasn't on any contraception). I refused PIV (but did do other things) and then went to sleep. Because I wasn't at that moment, in my sleep, forcefully withdrawing consent, he assumed he was free and clear and raped me without a condom of course. He saw nothing wrong with what he did. In his mind, somewhere in his subconscious he genuinely believed my body was to do with as he wanted and my pesky brain getting in the way could just be circumvented by waiting till it was switched off. I got out of bed and went to the spare room which surprised him. He asked me what was wrong and I said "I didn't want to have sex yet you went ahead and did it anyway." He actually said "You're making it sound rapey." I was young at the time as not as well informed as I was now but I so wish I had said "That's because it is fucking rape you fucking toad!" But I didn't, I just broke up with him, which was at least better than staying to be raped again.

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 11:35:23

Cailin, sadly I think most women have had experiences like this. Yes we are seen to be in a perpetual state of consent, especially with a partner. That is why there is the old excuse of a headache. We need an excuse to verbally say no.

Beachcomber Tue 01-Oct-13 11:50:16

But ithaka, sexuality in patriarchal society is chock full of stereotypes. And it is helpful to identify them and discuss them, doing this is not reducing the debate to stereotypes; it is the process of deconstructing stereotypes.

I totally recognise the scale Yoni describes. When I was a teenager, there was a fairly strict code about sexual practices. Breasts would be touched before genitals, hand job before oral, etc. With intercourse seen as 'going all the way' and being considered 'having sex'. (Foreplay anyone?)

All manner of cultural notions and customs are part of this edifice; virginity being a notably universal and pervading one.

I think PIV has been accorded the status it has because it is a way of men dominating women, which is available to all men, and to which all women are vulnerable.

Beachcomber Tue 01-Oct-13 12:01:25

Hey CailinDana, I'm so sorry about your rape.

The horrible scenario you describe with your ex is one that many women recognise and we know that it means what you said; women are considered to be in a perpetual state of consent, and we have to actively and forcefully withdraw that consent if we don't want to raped.

You can so tell rape law was written by men.

Great post.

CailinDana Tue 01-Oct-13 12:02:07

Given that the basic biological drive of all living things is to survive and reproduce, I do think there is an instinctive element to the status given to PIV. Animals desire PIV sex as in evolutionary terms this desire keeps the species going. Species that have too limited a sexual repertoire, such as pandas, are prone to extinction.

I don't know where I'm going with this, anyone?

CailinDana Tue 01-Oct-13 12:06:23

Another rather random thought. Given that men have evolved so that an orgasm is essential for reproduction, but women haven't, does this indicate that rape is a feature of our evolution? This isn't a coherent thought, just throwing it out there. Feel free to tear to shreds.

CailinDana Tue 01-Oct-13 12:08:44

To flesh out my last thought a bit more - what I mean is, for men sexual pleasure is essential whereas for women it isn't. Therefore a man raping a woman, and enjoying raping her (so that he orgasms) is a feasible way to reproduce. Our biology has developed in such a way that PIV is very beneficial for men but not so for women, why?

CailinDana Tue 01-Oct-13 12:09:38

To clarify, I should have said "for men sexual pleasure is essential in order to reproduce."

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 12:11:18

Actually men don't need to orgasm to ejaculate.

Perhaps there does tend to be a progression in sexual activity towards PIV sex for men but not so much for women Cailin ? Is that a fair way to describe things ?

I'm also sorry for your bad experiences and those of others who've shared here sad

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 12:19:09

I remember reading a woman who said that she would tell her husband she wasn't interested in sex. He would respond by touching her, she would get interested, and they would have piv. She and no one else seeed to see an issue with this. But it certainly wasn't meaningful consent.

And of course piv carries more risks for women. Unwanted pregnancy, STDs, etc.

CailinDana Tue 01-Oct-13 12:24:10

Could you explain the ejaculating without orgasm grennie?

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 12:26:46

I don't know any more except that I have read that it is a myth that men automatically ejaculate and orgasm at the same time. Usually they do. But a man can ejaculate and not have an orgasm.

CailinDana Tue 01-Oct-13 12:35:51

I have heard of the converse - men orgasming without ejaculation. But anyway I think it's safe to say the vast majority of the time for men orgasm is part and parcel of reproduction, do you agree?

cadno Tue 01-Oct-13 12:36:59


I thought the act of ejaculation was the orgasm. That may not be that surprising if they are indeed two different functions but so inexorably linked as to be indistinguishable from each other.

Maybe wiki can shed some light on it.

MiniTheMinx Tue 01-Oct-13 12:47:10

I don't think it is just mere chance or accident that the discovery of the contraceptive pill and the so called sexual liberation of women happened around the same time. I have often thought that easy access to contraception has led to a greater expectation to engage in PIV.

Modern pornography seems to be pushing the limits all the time but none of this is new. I can't imagine that years ago people avoided all sex because they couldn't risk pregnancy, so I'm inclined to think our options have been narrowed. If anything we are possibly becoming more focused on PIV as the end result. The weirdest thing for me about what is depicted in pornography is the fact that PIV is not the norm. I feel that what is depicted is purely women hating, it about hating these women. No man should waste his "seed" impregnating these women. Instead he should deny it to her, so the end result is humiliation of these women. I'm not certain its all about camera angles or people wanting to see the "money shot" I think there is a darker psychological aspect about casting these women as inferior. So if men want to possess women, esp their woman, would it not follow that for men who want to keep this mate dependent upon them, they would seek to impregnate them. Of course conception may not be the end result because we have contraception but the drive towards wanting PIV might stem from this.

CailinDana Have you read Elaine Morgan's Descent of women. Its brilliantly written and entertaining. She talks about how women's physiology has changed so that PIV is not as pleasurable now as it was before. She couldn't answer the question as to why we have a clitoris though.

A little while back I watched a talk with Selma James, she was a 70s feminist who campaigned to have the law changed to recognise rape within marriage. She wrote the Rapist Who Pays The Rent. She's spoke about Assange. It seems that having spent her life devoted to the message that women do not give their consent in perpetuity that in the Assange case these women had. I could have screamed.

CailinDana Tue 01-Oct-13 12:54:31

I think I'm slightly unusual in that I don't particularly like being touched and I hate oral but I really enjoy PIV and orgasm very easily through it. Just that that nugget of TMI out there smile

CailinDana Tue 01-Oct-13 12:55:43

Mini did selma james explain her thinking?

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 13:02:03

I didn't know that our physiology had changed to make piv less pleasurable. Was that to allow the growth in a babies brain, but still allow us to give birth?

YoniBottsBumgina Tue 01-Oct-13 13:03:40

From what I know, ejaculation and male orgasm are separate things but very closely linked so that one almost always happens when the other does. It's possible for them to happen separately but it's supposed to be rare and/or require a lot of control over the process for it to happen.

YoniBottsBumgina Tue 01-Oct-13 13:04:12

In most mammals though sex isn't as pleasurable for the female is it? Why should it be different for us? sad

MiniTheMinx Tue 01-Oct-13 13:12:43

Selma struggled to make a coherent argument.

Are you sure most female mammals don't enjoy penetrative sex? I thought some did. I'm not certain though. Some apes are very keen on sex for its own sake incl the females. Although some use sex to keep the males in the community happy and prevent violence breaking out.

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 13:12:44

Because we have a choice for things to be different?

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 13:14:09

Most mammals for example kill or abandon disabled young. Many humans don't do that because we can do better.

AutumnMadness Tue 01-Oct-13 13:41:55

This is an illuminating thread. I really learn so much from the MN Feminist section.

The thing that I learnt today is that I was definitely raped. It feels so strange to say this. CailinDana, I had an experience very similar to yours. I was a virgin in a society that prized virginity and made it clear that I did not want PIV sex. This was years and years ago. I don't think it left a lasting damage and I actually stayed in the relationship for a while. But immediately afterwards I felt like something very precious was taken from me without me having any say in it. I felt devalued and sad, and has PIV sex afterwards with a "who cares now?" attitude.

And the issue of consent bothered me for ages, but I could never find the right words for it, to the point that I called myself "sort of raped." But the point that women are presumed to be in a permanent state of consent voice here did it for me. It is very illuminating.

I'm sorry Autumn sad

AutumnMadness Tue 01-Oct-13 14:04:55

It's ok, Juggling. I would bet my house that many of us have something like this in the past or present (nice excuse I am making for being ok,eh?).

I can't even blame him much. He was a nice guy, apart from being an entitled fool when it came to sex. But what was partially responsible for making him an entitled fool is all this unreflective swimming in the patriarchal cesspool that we are all in. And my boyfriend was not the sharpest tool in the toolbox. . . . . The next person who tells me that postmodernism and all its musings about discourse have no power to push for social change will get it.

MatildaWhispers Tue 01-Oct-13 14:12:50

Something else that confused the issue of consent for me in an abusive relationship, but that possibly also applies to a certain extent in non abusive relationships, is the way in which women's bodies can react physiologically to kissing, foreplay etc, even if you don't actually want to have sex.

In the relationship I was in, but I am sure this must be the same for some others, there was an assumption on the part of my ex that if he could do whatever he needed to do, perhaps whilst I was asleep, to get my body to react so there was enough lubrication for sex, then whatever I said when I woke up, I must want sex because of how my body was reacting. Sorry if tmi but this does seem very relevant, and I wonder how many young women are aware that their bodies can respond in that way even if they don't want full sex, and that it does not follow that you 'have' to have sex just because it seems your body is 'ready'.

AutumnMadness Tue 01-Oct-13 14:26:13

MatildaWhispers, this is seriously creepy, but true. Women are reduced to their automatic biology.

Men in this situation are also often reduced to automatic biology, but most of the time it's in their favour. For instance, a man explain that he did not heed the word "no" because he was in such a state of passion and arousal that he just could not control himself.

YoniBottsBumgina Tue 01-Oct-13 14:28:09

There was a thread about that recently Matilda - the general consensus was that it's only abusive men who claim this, as you'd have to be very ignorant or living under a rock not to know that physical symptoms of arousal don't always mean wanting sex, and that abusive men tend to know this but conveniently forget or ignore or "misunderstand".

But then there are a lot of women feeling guilty because they were raped but because they had physical symptoms of arousal they feel they "must have wanted it" deep down sad

So fucked up... all of it.

Seems important to acknowledge people's experiences though Autumn,
even when shared in the context of a wider discussion x

CailinDana Tue 01-Oct-13 15:22:58

Sorry to hear you experienced something similar Autumn. I mainly feel pissed off at the guy who did it - I'd love to explain to him why it was actually rape and make him feel guilty about it, I'd love to dent his sense of entitlement just a little bit. That said he'd probably think I was just a crazy ex mouthing off.

CailinDana Tue 01-Oct-13 16:09:59

Ok throwing another thing out there - the pill. I can't deny the fact that it helped to liberate women.


The pill is also known to cause loss of libido, weight gain, depression and mood swings, all of which can lead to a lack of sexual desire. These side effects are often dismissed by doctors as though they're not important. But what on earth is the point of using contraception that's going to stop you wanting sex?? Unless the tacit assumption is that the pill makes you available for sex. Being a woman, you don't need to actually want it, do you?

rosabud Tue 01-Oct-13 16:37:26

This thread is very interesting to read particularly as it is a mix between theory and personal experiences. I think the discussion on being in a perpetual state of consent unless forcibly withdrawing consent has got to the heart of the matter. This does not happen in other areas where consent is required. Eg back to my teenager doing forced homework analogy - if the teenager sulks, tries to watch TV while simultaneously doing homework, complains of needing to have dinner first and uses various other tactics to make it clear he/she does not wish to do the homework BUT finally, when threatened with no outing at the weekend, picks up a pen - no emotionally intelligent human would seize on the picking up of the pen as "meaningful consent" but would instead appreciate this was "forced consent." Recently, there has been public debate over whether organ donation should be changed from the current situation where people must give consent to donate their organs before they die to a system where consent is assumed unless withdrawal of consent has previously been made clear - and this has caused a lot of public concern and debate. So why is consent to sex not afforded this level of seriousness, why are we always consenting unless we forcibly withdraw that consent? This does suggest that sex is a fundamental male right in our society and so is used to control women and their bodies.

Which is why PIV is seen as "real sex" and the most important thing etc etc. I remember going off sex after the birth of one of my children for a long time but reading this thread has made me realise that I did not go off sex - I actually just went off PIV, but blocked all other forms of sex because I didn't realise it was OK to do all the other things without the finale of PIV. It did cause hurt and misunderstanding in the relationship I was in at the time and, looking back, I think if both of us had not been under the cultural exepectation that real sex = PIV and that sex is something women allow men to do, then it would have been a much more minor issue and/or, in fact, not a problem at all.

Beachcomber Tue 01-Oct-13 20:11:51

Hey everyone. Lots of new posts. Have had a busy day, am off to read.

BasilBabyEater Tue 01-Oct-13 20:22:10

Really interesting thread.

Must read more Dworkin.

BasilBabyEater Tue 01-Oct-13 20:33:07

Thinking about CailinDana's point about the pill liberating women for sex - I remember a fairly reactionary friend I had years ago opining that the pill had liberated women's bodies for use by men.

I was a bit uncomfortable about it because the assumption there is that women don't like sex for its own sake, but of course that was seeing it through the prism of assuming that PIV sex is sex.

Why did sexual liberation for women happen because of the pill? How come men suddenly became all in favour of it? For centuries they could have allowed us sexual liberation instead of locking us up or killing us for expressing any sexuality outside of a patriarchy-approved version, they didn't need reliable contraception to become enthusiastic about women's sexual liberation.

The only thing is, it would have had to be non PIV sexual liberation, so funnily enough they weren't that keen on it. They only became keen on it when the sex they we were free to have, was the sex they defined as sex - the PIV sort. Coincidence? I don't think so. I'm beginning to think that woman had a point.

WhentheRed Tue 01-Oct-13 20:58:01

I haven't delved into the reading yet but so much of this discussion makes sense, albeit quite difficult at times.

I wholeheartedly agree that the perceptions are that (a) women are not supposed to like sexual activity for its own sake and so sex is something that is done to them and (b) women are presumed to be in a perpetual state of consent and it is up to women to state that she does not consent in a manner that could be objectively observed by the "reasonable bystander". Added on top of that is the old chestnut that when women say "no", they don't really mean it ("You know you want it").

Consent is indeed meaningless.

ModeratelyObvious Tue 01-Oct-13 22:11:59

DH and I would definitely have a lot less PIV if we used condoms. I wonder what the stats are for couples who use condoms/diaphragm vs hormonal/vasectomy.

Grennie Tue 01-Oct-13 23:19:34

Yes I have heard feminists arguing that the pill was not a real benefit for women. It removed a reason for women to not have unwanted PIV, and brings its own health risks.

ModeratelyObvious Tue 01-Oct-13 23:29:44

The pill enables a woman to control her own fertility, I do think that's very important.

Woman as gatekeeper goes hand in hand with woman not wanting to be unwed mother, I suppose. So now the second link is broken by reliable contraception, the first should fall away, but it doesn't.

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 08:28:43

Dworkin writes about the so called sexual revolution in Right-Wing Woman.

As you can imagine she is quite scathing grin . I'll try to quote a part of it later on when I have more time.

Contraception is a funny one; yes it allows women to have more control over their fertility - but at a cost. I don't think the pill was developed to liberate women, I think it was developed to make women sexually available to men for PIV.

Most forms of contraception are pretty ghastly when you think about it, especially hormonal ones and ones that are placed in the woman's body. There was a thread on MN recently about the implant and it creeped me right out. Lots of women had had awful side effects from it and problems with the thing snapping and having to be removed in pieces, leaving them with scars. I always feel like I'm reading a section from Brave New World when I read about the implant, same goes for the coil.

How can we say that a woman has bodily integrity when she has a foreign object placed in her body, or is taking a chemical that changes the hormonal balance of her body. How is that 'liberating'?

I guess because it liberates women from the biological consequences of mandatory PIV. Awesome hmm

It seems like a pretty invasive way of dealing with the problem.

On the other hand, the consequences for women who do not have access to contraception can be horrific.

Seems to me that the problem is PIV, not women's biology. Contraception (like beauty practices) carries the implication that women's bodies are faulty and need to be fixed.

(With the possible exception of condoms which highlight the fact that sperm is actually responsible for pregnancy too and that PIV is risky behaviour for this reason plus potential exposure to STDs.)

Beatrixparty Wed 02-Oct-13 08:29:45

Just read through Catharine MacKinnon's chapter on rape - linked in the OP.

Sort of makes one proud to be British

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 08:32:19

Why did sexual liberation for women happen because of the pill? How come men suddenly became all in favour of it? For centuries they could have allowed us sexual liberation instead of locking us up or killing us for expressing any sexuality outside of a patriarchy-approved version, they didn't need reliable contraception to become enthusiastic about women's sexual liberation.

The only thing is, it would have had to be non PIV sexual liberation, so funnily enough they weren't that keen on it. They only became keen on it when the sex they we were free to have, was the sex they defined as sex - the PIV sort. Coincidence? I don't think so.

ITA Basil.

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 09:04:37

OK. Some stuff from Dworkin on the sexual revolution - she discusses it in her chapter on abortion, and this is not without significance. She begins the section with this;

"Norman Mailer remarked during the sixties that the problem with the sexual revolution was that it had gotten into the hands of the wrong people. He was right. It was in the hands of men."

The whole chapter is great but here are some parts from the section on the sexual revolution. It begins on page 83 of the pdf kindly provided by CaptChaos and on page 87 of the book (the quality is much better than the copy I posted in the OP)

Below the link are some quotes - I have left a couple of passages out and quoted what seems most relevant to the thread.

Link - you have to download it but it only takes a minute.

Sexual radicalism was defined in classically male terms: number
of partners, frequency of sex, varieties of sex (for instance, group
sex), eagerness to engage in sex. It was all supposed to be essentially
the same for boys and girls: two, three, or however many
long-haired persons communing. It was especially the lessening of
gender polarity that kept the girls entranced, even after the fuck
had revealed the boys to be men after all. Forced sex occurred—it
occurred often; but the dream lived on. Lesbianism was never accepted
as lovemaking on its own terms but rather as a kinky occasion
for male voyeurism and the eventual fucking of two wet
women; still, the dream lived on. Male homosexuality was toyed
with, vaguely tolerated, but largely despised and feared because
heterosexual men however bedecked with flowers could not bear to
be fucked “like women”; but the dream lived on. And the dream
for the girls at base was a dream of a sexual and social empathy
that negated the strictures of gender, a dream of sexual equality
based on what men and women had in common, what the adults
tried to kill in you as they made you grow up. It was a desire for a
sexual community more like childhood—before girls were crushed
under and segregated. It was a dream of sexual transcendence:
transcending the absolutely dichotomized male-female world of the
adults who made war not love. It was—for the girls—a dream of
being less female in a world less male; an eroticization of sibling
equality, not the traditional male dominance.
Wishing did not make it so. Acting as if it were so did not make
it so. Proposing it in commune after commune, to man after man,
did not make it so. Baking bread and demonstrating against the
war together did not make it so. The girls of the sixties lived in
what Marxists call, but in this instance do not recognize as, a “contradiction.
” Precisely in trying to erode the boundaries of gender
through an apparent single standard of sexual-liberation practice,
they participated more and more in the most gender-reifying act:
fucking. The men grew more manly; the world of the counterculture
became more aggressively male-dominated. The girls became
women—found themselves possessed by a man or a man and his
buddies (in the parlance of the counterculture, his brothers and
hers too)—traded, gang-fucked, collected, collectivized, objectified,
turned into the hot stuff of pornography, and socially resegregated
into traditionally female roles. Empirically speaking, sexual liberation
was practiced by women on a wide scale in the sixties and it
did not work: that is, it did not free women. Its purpose—it turned
out—was to free men to use women without bourgeois constraints,
and in that it was successful. One consequence for the women was
an intensification of the experience of being sexually female—the
precise opposite of what those idealistic girls had envisioned for
themselves. In experiencing a wide variety of men in a wide variety
of circumstances, women who were not prostitutes discovered the
impersonal, class-determined nature of their sexual function. They
discovered the utter irrelevance of their own individual, aesthetic,
ethical, or political sensitivities (whether those sensitivities were
characterized by men as female or bourgeois or puritanical) in sex
as men practiced it. The sexual standard was the male-to-female
fuck, and women served it—it did not serve women.
In the sexual-liberation movement of the sixties, its ideology and
practice, neither force nor the subordinate status of women was an
issue. It was assumed that—unrepressed—everyone wanted intercourse
all the time (men, of course, had other important things to
do; women had no legitimate reason not to want to be fucked); and
it was assumed that in women an aversion to intercourse, or not
climaxing from intercourse, or not wanting intercourse at a particular
time or with a particular man, or wanting fewer partners than
were available, or getting tired, or being cross, were all signs of
and proof of sexual repression. Fucking per se was freedom per se.

Sexual-liberation ideology, whether pop or traditionally leftistintellectual,
did not criticize, analyze, or repudiate forced sex, nor
did it demand an end to the sexual and social subordination of
women to men: neither reality was recognized. Instead, it posited
that freedom for women existed in being fucked more often by
more men, a sort of lateral mobility in the same inferior sphere.

In the garden of earthly delights known as the sixties counterculture,
pregnancy did intrude, almost always rudely; and even then
and there it was one of the real obstacles to female fucking on male
demand. It made women ambivalent, reluctant, concerned, cross,
preoccupied; it even led women to say no. Throughout the sixties,
the birth control pill was not easy to get, and nothing else was
sure. Unmarried women had an especially hard time getting access
to contraceptive devices, including the diaphragm, and abortion
was illegal and dangerous. Fear of pregnancy provided a reason for
saying no: not just an excuse but a concrete reason not easily seduced
or persuaded away, even by the most astute or dazzling argument in behalf of sexual freedom. Especially difficult to sway
were the women who had had illegal abortions already. Whatever
they thought of fucking, however they experienced it, however
much they loved or tolerated it, they knew that for them it had
consequences in blood and pain and they knew that it cost the men
nothing, except sometimes money. Pregnancy was a material reality,
and it could not be argued away. One tactic used to counterbalance
the high anxiety caused by the possibility of pregnancy
was the esteem in which “natural” women were held—women who
were “natural” in all respects, who wanted organic fucking (no
birth control, whatever children resulted) and organic vegetables
too. Another tactic was to stress the communal raising of children,
to promise it. Women were not punished in the conventional
ways for bearing the children—they were not labeled “bad” or
shunned—but they were frequently abandoned. A woman and her
child—poor and relatively outcast—wandering within the counterculture
changed the quality of the hedonism in the communities in
which they intruded: the mother-and-child pair embodied a different
strain of reality, not a welcome one for the most part. There
were lone women struggling to raise children “freely” and they got
in the way of the males who saw freedom as the fuck—and the
fuck ended for the males when the fuck ended. These women with
children made the other women a little somber, a little concerned,
a little careful. Pregnancy, the fact of it, was antiaphrodisiacal.
Pregnancy, the burden of it, made it harder for the flower boys to
fuck the flower girls, who did not want to have to claw out their
own insides or pay someone else to do it; they also did not want
to die.
It was the brake that pregnancy put on fucking that made abortion
a high-priority political issue for men in the 1960s—not only
for young men, but also for the older leftist men who were skimming
sex off the top of the counterculture and even for more traditional
men who dipped into the pool of hippie girls now and then.
The decriminalization of abortion—for that was the political goal
—was seen as the final fillip: it would make women absolutely accessible,
absolutely “free. ” The sexual revolution, in order to work,
required that abortion be available to women on demand. If it were
not, fucking would not be available to men on demand. Getting
laid was at stake. Not just getting laid, but getting laid the way
great numbers of boys and men had always wanted—lots of girls
who wanted it all the time outside marriage, free, giving it away.
The male-dominated Left agitated for and fought for and argued
for and even organized for and even provided political and economic
resources for abortion rights for women. The Left was militant
on the issue.

CailinDana Wed 02-Oct-13 09:05:12

Sorry to be thick beachcomber but what does ITA mean?

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 09:33:25

In total agreement.

Sorry! It gets used a fair bit on MN and it didn't occur to me it might not be familiar to some people. You are not being thick!

ReviewsOffers Wed 02-Oct-13 09:56:03

That's an amazing passage.

I fear this may sound a bit evo psych so feel free to pick as many holes as you can;
But I do think it is natural and innate for women to be much more circumspect and choosy about partners and numbers of partners. For millennia the consequences have just been too serious to fuck around with fucking. Which is not to say we don't have desires and wishes and all the rest of it, but we have the brakes which men don't have. On the whole, generalising, not everyone at all times etc. I don't think the Gatekeeper role is entirely imposed on us, I think there are good sturdy internal reasons for this, which translates to the emotional and psychological aspects of sex which are so often ignored.
I was talking an acquaintance who is back on the dating scene after the end of a twenty year marriage. One of the things she said was that sex is much more expected now, much quicker, and it's a total faux pas to expect it to have any meaning. She went on to say, for the zillionth time in the history of dating, that women can't help becoming attached afterwards. Sher made the point that it's women doing the compromising within themselves, not men who get a new sexual partner for a few weeks and tend to move on. Now she was just chatting and not presenting a thesis, so she was talking about her and her friends' experiences. I'm sure many people have different experiences. But many would identify with what she said.
The sexual revolution may have liberated us to say yes without fear of pregnancy, but not without fear of old fashioned 'broken hearts'. (Of course there are exceptions, anecdata etc) But, generally, casual sex while not immoral or anything like that of course, is more likely to harm women. But the emotional side of things is determinedly ignored as something women ought to just get over, irrelevant, some daft quirk or weakness that should be skated over. We know a little more about oxytocin and bonding now in both sexes so there is no excuse. Unless of course you had a particular reason for ignoring it.

(Beach I made a rambling comment way back at teh start which you asked me to clarify, I think it's a simple as acknowledging that men's view on reality is the view on reality, not v groundbreaking insight but just musing!)

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 09:57:45

Dworkin then goes on to discuss how the sexual revolution pushed a lot of women to become feminists.

Women realised that they had worked for men (in the realms of sexual 'liberation', civil rights movements, etc) and that they had got very little in return, indeed that had lost a lot and so, they directed their energies onto themselves and the liberation of women from male oppression. An oppression that did not end with the so called sexual revolution (which was no revolution at all unless perhaps an Orwellian one).

From Dworkin (page 90 of pdf and 95 of book) :

Then, at the very end of the sixties, women who had been radical
in counterculture terms—women who had been both politically
and sexually active—became radical in new terms: they became
feminists. They were not Betty Friedan’s housewives. They had
fought out on the streets against the Viet Nam War; some of them
were old enough to have fought in the South for black civil rights,
and all had come into adulthood on the back of that struggle; and
lord knows, they had been fucked.

As Marge Piercy wrote in a
1969 expose of sex and politics in the counterculture:
Fucking a staff into existence is only the extreme form of
what passes for common practice in many places. A man can
bring a woman into an organization by sleeping with her and
remove her by ceasing to do so. A man can purge a woman for
no other reason than that he has tired of her, knocked her up,
or is after someone else: and that purge is accepted without a
ripple. There are cases of a woman excluded from a group for
no other reason than that one of its leaders proved impotent
with her. If a macher enters a room full of machers, accompanied
by a woman and does not introduce her, it is rare indeed that
anyone will bother to ask her name or acknowledge her presence.
The etiquette that governs is one of master-servant. 5

Or, as Robin Morgan wrote in 1970: “We have met the enemy and
he’s our friend. And dangerous. ”6 Acknowledging the forced sex
so pervasive in the counterculture in the language of the counterculture,
Morgan wrote: “It hurts to understand that at Woodstock
or Altamont a woman could be declared uptight or a poor sport if
she didn’t want to be raped. ”7 These were the beginnings: recognizing
that the brother-lovers were sexual exploiters as cynical as
any other exploiters—they ruled and demeaned and discarded
women, they used women to get and consolidate power, they used
women for sex and for menial labor, they used women up; recognizing
that rape was a matter of utter indifference to these brotherlovers—
they took it any way they could get it; and recognizing
that all the work for justice had been done on the backs of sexually
exploited women within the movement. “But surely, ” wrote Robin
Morgan in 1968, “even a male reactionary on this issue can realize
that it is really mind-blowing to hear some young male ‘revolutionary’—
supposedly dedicated to building a new, free social order
to replace this vicious one under which we live—turn around
and absent-mindedly order his ‘chick’ to shut up and make supper
or wash his socks—he's talking now. We’re used to such attitudes
from the average American clod, but from this brave new
radical? ”8
It was the raw, terrible realization that sex was not brother-sister
but master-servant—that this brave new radical wanted to be not
only master in his own home but pasha in his own harem—that
proved explosive. The women ignited with the realization that they
had been sexually used. Going beyond the male agenda on sexual
liberation, these women discussed sex and politics with one another—
something not done even when they had shared the same
bed with the same man—and discovered that their experiences had
been staggeringly the same, ranging from forced sex to sexual humiliation
to abandonment to cynical manipulation as both menials
and pieces of ass. And the men were entrenched in sex as power:
they wanted the women for fucking, not revolution: the two were
revealed to be different after all. The men refused to change but
even more important they hated the women for refusing to service
them anymore on the old terms—there it was, revealed for what it
was. The women left the men—in droves. The women formed an
autonomous women’s movement, a militant feminist movement, to
fight against the sexual cruelty they had experienced and to fight
for the sexual justice they had been denied.
From their own experience—especially in being coerced and in
being exchanged—the women found a first premise for their political
movement: that freedom for a woman was predicated on, and
could not exist without, her own absolute control of her own body
in sex and in reproduction. This included not only the right to
terminate a pregnancy but also the right to not have sex, to say no,
to not be fucked. For women, this led to many areas of sexual
discovery about the nature and politics of their own sexual desire,
but for men it was a dead end—most of them never recognized
feminism except in terms of their own sexual deprivation; feminists
were taking away the easy fuck. They did everything they could to
break the back of the feminist movement—and in fact they have
not stopped yet. Especially significant has been their change of
heart and politics on abortion. The right to abortion defined as an
intrinsic part of the sexual revolution was essential to them: who
could bear the horror and cruelty and stupidity of illegal abortion?
The right to abortion defined as an intrinsic part of a woman’s
right to control her own body, in sex too, was a matter of supreme

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 10:04:06

ReviewsOffers, sorry X-post with your one. Am not posting huge tracts of Dworkin in answer to your post! It is a brilliant passage isn't it. The whole book is amazing.

There is a lot in your post, a lot to think about. I have some stuff to do and will come back in a bit with my thoughts.

Thanks for the clarification on earlier comment - IMO it is a revolutionary thought to acknowledge that men's reality is imposed on women. smile

CailinDana Wed 02-Oct-13 15:09:48

Men and women's realities do fundamentally differ don't they, even from a young age. Take periods for example, they change a girl's life a lot in the sense that they have something new and potentially very embarrassing and painful to manage every single month. The only thing vaguely comparable in boys is wet dreams and they're not really similar in terms of incovenience etc.

CailinDana Wed 02-Oct-13 15:22:59

Also it really struck me how mine and dh's realities differ when I was pregnant with our first child. We were both having a baby but his life changed very little whereas mine was totally different. It actually pissed me off quite a lot because he didn't really acknowledge how much harder the having a baby process was for me. I had always emphasised equality in our relationship but I did feel I deserved special consideration when pregnant simply to take into account the physical strain I was going through. He seemed to think that me relaxing my housekeeping standards (due to exhaustion)

CailinDana Wed 02-Oct-13 15:27:11

Sorry phone being weird ...was a signal that he could also take it easy when in fact what I wanted him to see was that I needed him to pick up the slack. It took a screaming argument to get the point across but he did improve.

CailinDana Wed 02-Oct-13 15:33:56

Dh really is a good man but understanding more about feminism has highlighted to me that he like all men does have a sense of entitlement. He listens when I call him on it and has changed his attitude an incredible amount in the last 12 years but it still pops up now and again in small but significant ways.

YoniBottsBumgina Wed 02-Oct-13 17:27:14

I know what you mean Cailin. Mine's alright as well, in fact probably as close to unconsciously feminist as you can get, but he doesn't "get it" at all. He read something out to me the other night, I won't repeat in detail, but it was a list of phrases that women's sexual attackers had said to them. He read it out in total confusion, because although some of them were horrible and obviously so, some of them were (to him) completely baffling and he couldn't understand why a rapist would say those things.

It was immediately obvious to me. Also, he didn't get that just hearing terms of sexual violence was pretty upsetting for me - I've never been a victim of rape, but I have experienced enough that the words triggered memories, thoughts and feelings which were uncomfortable. For him they were just words, horrible, but totally unrelated to his life in any way.

Although through the mumsnet relationship boards and feminist boards I've come to realise that men are just people and not anything special or awful or alien, I've swung back the other way a bit I think and realised that there are so many differences between the way men and women think and experience the world because of, well, patriarchy! It makes me wonder if perhaps that is why men and women seem to be so "alien" to each other and the way that each of them think is so incomprehensible at times - because men grow up being unconsciously aware of their privileged position, and women grow up being unconsciously taught they are not as important as men. Of course that's going to colour the way that you think, experience and perceive things.

rosabud Wed 02-Oct-13 18:10:33

I am intrigued by the Dworkin passage about the real agenda behind the sexual revolution of the sixties and by ReviewsOffers' anecdotal evidence that suggests some women are not as able to walk away emotionally unscathed from casual sex as some men are (at least, that's my reading of your post, Reviews, - apologies if that is wrong!). Dworkin also seems to be saying that the women involved in the sexual revolution were exploited into having sex - which seems to imply, again, that sex is something women ought realy to be witholding from men.

Do men and women experience sex in a fundamentally different way? Is it, really, all about an orgasm for men and getting as much sex as possible whereas for women it is more of an emotional experience? Have women been made the gatekeepers of sex not only to prevent pregnacy, but to prevent emotional distress to themselves too? I think that is an old stereotype which I'm not sure I agee with.

Is that a possible implication behind Dworkin's analysis or am I reading it all wrong??

BUT, if I'm on the right track with that line of thought - how does this idea link to consent? Because if women and men have a fundamentally different experience of sex - then what is actually being consented to could be poles apart. Couldn't it? Please help me, Wise Women, to think this through, love from Confused of Tunbridge Wells smile

CaptChaos Wed 02-Oct-13 18:40:40

Wow, just wow Beachcomber total light-bulb moments here!

I have been particularly interested lately in the abortion issue in the USA, and how many states, while unable to repeal Wade Vs Roe in state senates, are doing everything they can to make it impossible for ordinary women to access abortions, on demand or otherwise. I had never really equated it to the issue of consent, but of course, 'allowing' women to have abortions on demand almost negated the need for consent. The man's thought process being 'If I knock her up, she can always get rid of it', and therefore having even less regard to consent from the woman, active or otherwise.

The whole rape myth about women who have 'really' been raped not being 'able' to conceive, and therefore not needing access to abortion is almost like the way witches were tried in the middle ages. If you didn't consent, and it was real rape, you can't conceive, if you have conceived, then you weren't really raped. If you have conceived, you must have in some way consented, and therefore 'deserve' to be pregnant.

When men controlled, or believed they controlled the decisions about abortion, then abortion on demand was an acceptable thing to have, even a boon to men, because they could have all the sex they liked, without any responsibilities. Even more so when the concept of birth control is added to the argument. Plus, it enabled men to absolve themselves of any responsibility, by saying that he had asked (or assumed) about contraception, and then offering to pay for an abortion, he had fulfilled his role. It's only in recent years when women have identified abortion on demand with ideas of true liberation that men have decided that abortion needs to be controlled, even eliminated. Nice girls don't consent, and so can't get pregnant, bad girls not only consent when they want sex but 'cry rape' when they didn't want sex and so can become pregnant, and should be punished by being made to carry the foetus to full term. So slut shaming begins, rape myths continue and women have no active choices left open to them.

So it's not even about whether a woman has consented anymore, it's also about what kind of woman does consent, and whether that kind of woman should be allowed to have bodily autonomy, up to, and including ever being able to withdraw that consent from any man who chooses to have sex on her.

I hope that's making some sort of sense, please critique away, I'm more thinking aloud than coming with any crystalised theories!

LurcioLovesFrankie Wed 02-Oct-13 19:04:06

I'm finding this thread brilliant on so many levels - the mixture of personal reflection and being talked through some really challenging theory is amazing. I'm not really up to adding much on the theoretical level, but a few things have really rung bells on a personal level.

Cailin Dana's point about the pill and loss of libido really resonates with me - the only reason I've ever felt I should take it was to keep a man happy, because it sure as hell didn't make me happy -crashing depression and loss of sex drive.

Picking up on Reviews and Rosabud's points, I wonder if the truth is a mixture of biology, properly understood (with an eye to the variance of the populations as well as the means) and cultural conditioning. I certainly recognise myself in Review's friend: one dose of oxytocin following orgasm and I bond no matter how crap the prick on the other end of the prick is! Been celibate for many years now, but it was a big problem in my 20s and 30s. On the other hand, I have female friends who do feel comfortable with casual sex (and some who have persuaded themselves they're okay with it), and male friends who are only interested in sex within a loving relationship. But these individual differences are washed out by patriarchal culture which reduces complicated and variable behaviour to stereotypes. Women who like casual sex are painted as sluts and men who want love are dismissed as unmanly. And the whole travesty serves as a rapist's charter, where if women aren't gatekeepers (and sexually inactive) they're seen as eternally available.

The Dworkin Beachcomber quoted really chilled me - because she's writing about the period when someone close to me became sexually active, and got royally screwed over (she once told me that she'd had over a 100 sexual partners by the age of 20, which would be fine if it had been her choice, but it hadn't, not in any meaningful sense - she told me she sometimes had sex because it was easier than saying no). I felt so sad for her.

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 19:24:39

Lots of interesting stuff here. I've caught up on all the new posts and have had a think about some of the stuff that has come up. Am going to try to get my thoughts out clearly.

grimbletart Wed 02-Oct-13 19:32:51

Don't mean to derail but all this brings me back to the point I made early on. How is it some women don't internalise a self destructive attitude?

I can only give my personal experience as someone who was in her teens and 20s through the so-called liberated 60s. I had access to the pill from the mid 60s, so technically no fear of pregnancy yet I never saw easy sex as liberating or something I ought to do or at least not make a fuss about or this easier than saying no thing.

Thinking back I don't think I was unusual among my female friends. None of us had any fear of saying fuck off, not interested. It wasn't an issue.

Yet none of us were in any way special and we came from all sorts of backgrounds.

But clearly something must have been different. But what? Upbringing, self-esteem, self-confidence (don't remember us being any more self-confident that women of later decades)?

Maybe we were just more influenced by de Beauvoir, Frieden etc. than those who only came to feminism in the late 60s/early 70s.

It's a huge puzzle. confused

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 20:09:47

Okay, on the emotional thing. I think it is impossible for us to know how much of what people feel about sexual relations and sexuality is socialized and how much of it is human nature. So we have to work with what we know to be true. One of the things that we know is that PIV is much riskier for women than it is for men. It is riskier due to pregnancy, due to disease and potentially death, and it is riskier due to socio-cultural stigmatization.

PIV sex is an entirely different experience for women and men; both physical and socio-cultural. It therefore seems logical that we approach it in different ways and feel about it in different ways. PIV is potentially life changing for a woman in ways it is not for a man. A man retains his bodily integrity throughout both the act of PIV and any potential consequences; a woman does not. PIV is political for women in a way it is not for men (reproductive rights, abortion, virginity, motherhood, prostitution, etc).

When a woman agrees to have PIV with a man she is putting her life, her livelihood, her safety, her freedom, her bodily integrity, her physical health, her lifestyle, her independence, her earning ability and her mental well-being on the line. And that list is by no means exhaustive.

Thus it would seem sensible and self-respecting and self-loving on the part of the woman to take PIV somewhat seriously. (Which is not intended to be a judgement of women who engage in casual sex.)

Now, there is a paradox in male dominated society. Men want to have PIV, and plenty of it, so they sort of want women to be free with it. On the other hand men want to control women's reproductive capacities so they don't want the women to be too free with the PIV. And so men separate women into two subclasses; mothers and prostitutes. Both subclasses come under the main heading of the sex class 'woman' and both subclasses are dominated for sex and via sex. Mothers (or potential mothers) are exploited for their reproductive capacities and wifework, prostitutes are exploited for kicks and for money. Both groups of women are financially exploited, both groups of women are expected to provide PIV (and ignore the risks it presents for them) and both groups of women are being oppressed by male conceived institutions.

With the so called sexual revolution, the lines between these two groups became a little blurred (the women in the 'mother' subclass engage in PIV with multiple partners for 'fun' and the women in the 'prostitute' class are presented as liberated women with agency who freely choose to use a 'fun' activity to make money) but the exploitation and social control of women as a class remained the same.

And women felt that they had been betrayed, and they were right, they had.

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 20:21:59

grimbletart maybe it is about how much a girl or woman manages to retain a sense of self, of individuality. Of herself as her, a person, not as being mainly identified by the label and role of 'woman'. I think how that happens is arbitrary and immensely varied. Sometimes it only takes a small event for an inner lightbulb to be lit. A sort of personal butterfly effect IYSWIM.

One of mine for example was reaching into my parent's bookshelf and pulling out and reading 'The Women's Room' at an impressionable age (probably about 14). I'm not even sure that either of my parents had read it (must ask them sometime...).

MiniTheMinx Wed 02-Oct-13 20:22:27

I'm trying to catch up, so much to read smile

I found Right wing women on Ebay and have just bought the book. So look forward to reading it.

I'm really interested in the civil rights movement so this will be useful. I don't agree with all of Dworkin's analysis here about left wing men. Not to say that ordinary young men of a more liberal attitude did not want women liberated to engage in more sex, I'm sure they did.

Marxists (at least those that are read) would say that there is a base and a superstructure. The base structure is the mode of production, here that is capitalism. The super structure is the culture, politics, religion, gender relations, media, literature etc, Gramsci developed a theory "Cultural Hegemony" and proposed that those who hold the social power (under capitalism this is through wealth) dominate mainstream discourse, through media, politics, literature. They seek to build and maintain the consensus of everyone else, so that there is no antagonism to their world view.

With this in mind I don't believe that the left was in the driving seat during the latter part of the civil rights movement. I believe that liberalism is a product of cultural hegemony pushed by the interests of the dominant class.

If you think about how medical research calls upon both state and private capital investment I would argue that right wing men were pursuing the advances that led to the pill.

The civil rights movement originally was in league with the communist party, this was about more than just race and gender but class emancipation. The biggest threat to the capitalist class, is of course class struggle. Far easier to concede ground to blacks and women, lesbians and gays than take on the left.

The sexual liberation of women would have been stoked up in the mainstream culture despite the middle aged conservatives dismay, music and magazines which as we know are corporate owned, privately funded to make money for the capitalist class, don't blindly follow where we lead, but are used to lead us. Just as the Ex-Factor and trash TV, pop lyrics and sport are used to dumb down the young less they become too radical now, culture would have been used to dumb down the young people of the 60/70s.

Lenin said that women would never have equality under capitalism. He told the women to stop discussing sexual liberation, until women had been liberated from the bondage of slavery to house and home, until women had social power, political power and equality economically with men, then men would still view them as the "sex class" I agree with this because I think this has been proven to be correct.

CailinDana Wed 02-Oct-13 20:24:03

Something that has caused some fairly serious issues between me and dh is this sort of scenario: I'll suggest something fairly big such as moving in together, he'll say no it's not the right time for various reasons,which I'll accept, then a couple of months later he'll suddenly say he's decided now is the right time (no discussion) and I'll be expected to hop to it as though suddenly changing things makes no difference to my life. I explained to him that that behaviour betrays a belief that our life is actually his life and he's the one who dictates its course. He got it and he stopped doing it for the most part although he has had a few slips, which he's owned up to.

CailinDana Wed 02-Oct-13 20:36:44

Sorry my last post was a late addition to my earlier post mentioning dh's sense of entitlement.

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 20:44:02

Lenin said that women would never have equality under capitalism. He told the women to stop discussing sexual liberation, until women had been liberated from the bondage of slavery to house and home, until women had social power, political power and equality economically with men, then men would still view them as the "sex class" I agree with this because I think this has been proven to be correct.

This sounds to me like a man trying to get women to stop fighting for themselves and to put their energies into what a man wants and believes.

Whilst I agree that capitalism and women's liberation are contradictory, women will never achieve liberation of any kind until they are liberated from sex based oppression. Women as a class cannot achieve social, political and economic power until they have achieved sexual liberty. Some women may achieve those things, but not women as a class (this is where liberal feminism and radical feminism part from each other IMO).

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 20:48:08

CailinDana, I think you are right that all men have a sense of entitlement. Some more than others, but they all have it.

MiniTheMinx Wed 02-Oct-13 21:33:53

No this is not about a man wanting anything, I'll try to explain why. Lenin was ambivalent about marriage and the nuclear family. He believed that relations would evolve and that the left wing women shouldn't force the issue of sexual liberation until changes happened in the base structure which emancipated women economically. The reasons he believed this is because he was using historical materialism to understand how all revolutionary change happens.

People can not make huge leaps in their thinking because their thinking is derived from their material existence and their understanding of this mediated through the super structure which is influenced by cultural hegemony/bourgeois domination. Men will not alter their behaviour towards women just because that is what is demanded today if the requisite revolutionary shift doesn't also occur in the base/economic sphere. This seen with the hiving off of women into to classes at the time of agricultural surpluses being realised and the invention of marriage/nuclear family. See below.

And so men separate women into two subclasses; mothers and prostitutes. Both subclasses come under the main heading of the sex class 'woman' and both subclasses are dominated for sex and via sex. Mothers (or potential mothers) are exploited for their reproductive capacities and wifework, prostitutes are exploited for kicks and for money. Both groups of women are financially exploited, both groups of women are expected to provide PIV (and ignore the risks it presents for them) and both groups of women are being oppressed by male conceived institutions

I agree with everything here. But marriage came about because of private property relations and the need for men to be assured of their progeny. This happened because of evolutionary/technological advancements in the base structure. Various cultural changes happen around this time, such as the overthrow of mother right being reinforced through religion. I'll apologise here as I don't want to cause offence, religion has material foundations, god is a manmade construct so that man could say that man created new give it up lady! a cultural shift occurs that maintains and makes sense of what is happening in the material base. Prostitution is the flip side of marriage and a throw back to an earlier time of sexual liberation for all, where men still want their sexual liberation but require their wives to be chaste. Culture is used to justify the prostitution of some women/although the reasons are material. Those material class relations must be maintained and cultural reinforcement used to ensure this is so, not just to subordinate women but to advance the creation of wealth/the creation of the state/and all social-economic hierarchies, ie patriarchy.

With the so called sexual revolution, the lines between these two groups became a little blurred (the women in the 'mother' subclass engage in PIV with multiple partners for 'fun' and the women in the 'prostitute' class are presented as liberated women with agency who freely choose to use a 'fun' activity to make money) but the exploitation and social control of women as a class remained the same

Yes and this has led to some women having economic emancipation ,freeing her to pursue a life without fear, she can afford to leave an abusive partner, she won't have to prostitute herself to feed her children, she won't be living on a dollar a day. This is a product again of liberalism, liberal feminism is a lame duck. (sorry if that offends) but the breakup of the nuclear family, the economic liberation of some women and the further vulnerability of other women is created by capitalism and class inequality. This class inequality between women prevents women as a class from acting as a class. Middle class women have nothing to gain from the economic emancipation of their sisters. The culture that feeds our conception of self, the consensus that is sought from all of us, is that women have already been emancipated if only they would accept it. But the class differences between women also benefit men because working class women are exploited in pornography and prostitution. And this constitutes the clearest evidence yet that the civil rights movement was subsumed into the the capitalist hegemony and liberalism is the tool that was used and still is.

And I agree with you Beach that the sexual liberation of women hasn't liberated women, it simply makes more women available to more men.

MiniTheMinx Wed 02-Oct-13 21:47:35

Oh, just wanted to add that I agree that PIV is different for women because of the socio-economic risks and obv risks to health. However I am inclined to think that the socio-economic risks could be reduced but only in a very different society, one that isn't capitalist. I'm sure that in some far away, tucked away little corners of the globe those risks don't exist because looking after new life and providing for the material needs of people is a communal responsibility. If anyone knows of such a place I'll pack my bags now.

Beachcomber Wed 02-Oct-13 21:49:35

I bet radical feminits would have said to Lenin to stop discussing economic class and focus on sex. grin

Only by ending male dominance could a classless, free, fair, equal, humane society be achieved.

That's my gut reaction.

It's late where I live so I'm off the bed now but will give a more considered response to your post tomorrow.

Grennie Thu 03-Oct-13 06:15:25

I agree that without the end of capitalism, we can't get rid of patriarchy. And this is what radical feminists mostly believe too. I disagree we should concentrate on the class revolution until then. Firstly we can make short term improvements under capitalism. And secondly there is no guarantee that whatever replaces capitalism will liberate women.

Beachcomber Thu 03-Oct-13 09:41:36

Okay Mini, a couple of things.

If we use the Marxist analysis of base and superstructure, radical feminism would argue that the base is patriarchy, not capitalism and that capitalism is an element of the superstructure.

But marriage came about because of private property relations and the need for men to be assured of their progeny. This happened because of evolutionary/technological advancements in the base structure. Various cultural changes happen around this time, such as the overthrow of mother right being reinforced through religion.

I agree with elements of this but I think there is a piece missing. Marriage came about in order for men to control and dominate women so that they could dominate private property relations and have control over the issue of progeny.

Your explanation makes it sound as though male supremacy is an inevitability that happened to men rather than it being something they instigated.

This class inequality between women prevents women as a class from acting as a class.

I don't entirely agree. Yes, economic class plays a divisive role as does racial class, but IMO the biggest obstacles to women acting as a class are internalized sexism and male violence.

MiniTheMinx Thu 03-Oct-13 10:19:26

Your explanation makes it sound as though male supremacy is an inevitability that happened to men rather than it being something they instigated

Yes, that is what I think. I don't believe that that man's subjectivity is shaped by original thinking cut off from all social/physical reality. If we accept social conditioning as the reason for the maintenance of gender relations and stereotypes, it should follow that men only perceive/think/act in ways that are shaped by their relation to the reality in which they live.

Can a deaf dumb blind infant living in a cave with all senses deprived develop thinking? I would argue not. In order to think in any complex way and to develop the skills necessary for forward planning we need language. Once we have language we can convey meaning to each other, we can start to co-operate and in doing so create consensus around values and shared goals. It has been necessary for humans to co-operate in order to survive, that unfortunately also includes women co-operating with men and sharing in their conception of the world, even if that means assimilating sexist thinking into their own, because that is what we have. We see the evidence of this throughout history and we see it with our own eyes and experience it by speaking to other women.

Feminists are challenging this because we are more conscious of these social relations. However until we have changes to the base structure that drives a massive cultural shift away from the domination of the capitalist/patriarchal world view then we will never have equality.

I would argue that all forms of social science are located in the super structure and that includes patriarchy that doesn't in any way invalidate patriarchy. Marxism will be there too sitting beside feminism and all your other isms.

I don't believe that patriarchy is a thing, a club, but an evolving changing set of social relations. Our understanding of it will change as time changes how these relations develop and our consciousness gives rise to different subjectivity, the same with class relations in general.

CailinDana Thu 03-Oct-13 10:36:20

From what little I know about Communism it seems to create a visible organised patriarchy where one group of men take on the role of parents to a whole society, deciding what is best for them , what they want and need while satisfying their own (not so worthy) wants behind the scenes. I don't think communism suits the human psyche - everyone seems to lose out except those in power.

MiniTheMinx Thu 03-Oct-13 11:18:50

CailinDana, I don't want to take the thread off topic but I would refute this. All we know from exp is the communist exp of russia, many mistakes were made and the Bolsheviks have a lot to answer for incl a lot of quite flawed ideology. I will get round to starting a thread when I can about Feminism & Marxism rather than take over the thread. I can bore for england on the topic!

Going back to Dworkin. I can't remember where I read it but basically the author proposed that the liberal men of the era started making pornography and to start with women were on board with this. It was small time, it wasn't about making money or the exploitation of women for financial gain. What came out of it though was the realisation that women could be exploited for male economic gain, which is a guess where you get the Heffner et al popping up.

CailinDana Thu 03-Oct-13 11:25:06

Agree about not derailing into politics.

Grennie Thu 03-Oct-13 11:31:17

I would be interested in a thread about Marxism and feminism though.

ReviewsOffers Thu 03-Oct-13 11:45:12

Me too.

Mini I recall there was a thread that got deleted a little while ago but you had just made a brief comment about the feminisation of labour and the rise of m r a's, I would like if you could expand on that sometime.

(It wasn't your fault that other thread got deleted, btw smile)

JuliaScurr Thu 03-Oct-13 12:26:25

ooh, yes. Let's talk about feminism & Marxism. And Engels. For Engels is Good. And thus it will all fit together beautifully until we ARISE as a mighty army and DESTROY it all with truly Righteous Anger.

But yes; without arsing around - I do believe this is the argument.

Beachcomber Thu 03-Oct-13 16:31:10

Mini - then we disagree on what patriarchy is.

I very much do think it is a thing. Which is why I often refer to it as male supremacy - a term which is much more descriptive and concrete than patriarchy.

We understand what white supremacist society is; male supremacist society is its sex equivalent.

Your argument makes me very uncomfortable because it appears to be placing oppressor and oppressed within the same bracket and invisibilizing what I would describe as a war on women. And it sounds like an argument that absolves the oppressing class of responsibility for their actions.

I agree with you that the base structure needs to change; men as a class need to stop oppressing women as a class. Men need to stop their violence against women. Men need to stop constructing institutions and systems of control over women. Men need to stop exploiting women. Men need to stop awarding themselves higher status than they award women and then using that self awarded status as a justification for all the privilege they also award themselves and all the damage they do to women.

Men need to stop imposing their perspective on women, and listen to women, and let us in to our fair and equal share of running things. You don't get a humane society when you leave half the population out of important decisions and bury their creativity and divert their energy. Half the population being awarded lower status than the other half is not right. And it is a waste.

I don't think Marxism (which is a male perspective) is the answer for women's issues and I think it is presumptuous and overbearing of men to think that it is. (And has the potential to be enormously divisive for women.)

Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory. Catharine A. MacKinnon

"Representation of the world," de Beauvoir writes, "like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth." The parallel between representation and construction should be sustained: men create the world from their own point of view, which then becomes the truth to be described. This is a closed system, not anyone's confusion. Power to create the world from one's point of view is power in its male form.54 The male epistemological stance, which corresponds to the world it creates, is objectivity: the ostensibly noninvolved stance, the view from a distance and from no particular perspective, apparently transparent to its reality. It does not comprehend its own perspectivity, does not recognize what it sees as subject like itself, or that the way it apprehends its world is a form of its subjugation and presupposes it. The objectively knowable is object. Woman through male eyes is sex object, that by which man knows himself at once as man and as subject.55 What is objectively known corresponds to the world and can be verified by pointing to it (as science does) because the world itself is controlled from the same point of view.

Feminist observations of women's situation in socialist countries, although not conclusive on the contribution of marxist theory to understanding women's situation, have supported the theoretical critique. In the feminist view, these countries have solved many social problems, women's subordination not included. The criticism is not that socialism has not automatically liberated women in the process of transforming production (assuming that this transformation is occurring). Nor is it to diminish the significance of such changes for women: "There is a difference between a society in which sexism is expressed in the form of female infanticide and a society in which sexism takes the form of unequal representation on the Central Committee. And the difference is worth dying for."12 The criticism is rather that these countries do not make a priority of working for women that distinguishes them from nonsocialist societies. Capitalist countries value women in terms of their "merit" by male standards; in socialist countries women are invisible except in their capacity as "workers," a term that seldom includes women's distinctive work: housework, sexual service, childbearing. The concern of revolutionary leadership for ending women's confinement to traditional roles too often seems limited to making their labor available to the regime, leading feminists to wonder whose interests are served by this version of liberation. Women become as free as men to work outside the home while men remain free from work within it. This also occurs under capitalism. When woman's labor or militancy suits the needs of emergency, she is suddenly man's equal, only to regress when the urgency recedes.13 Feminists do not argue that it means the same to women to be on the bottom in a feudal regime, a capitalist regime, and a socialist regime; the commonality argued is that, despite real changes, bottom is bottom.

rosabud Thu 03-Oct-13 16:34:37

Another purpose of marriage, as well as ensuring property rights/control for men over reproduction etc, was that it gave men a guarantee of regular, "safe" PIV. It also, generally, provided them with someone to do all their domestic chores. In theory, the "payoff" of this for women was a husband who would provide security - usually in the form of somewhere to live, food to eat and protection from (other) male violence. Another result of the fact that the sexual revolution made women more available to men for PIV whilst pretending to liberate women (by selling the sexual revolution to women as their "liberation" from old morals to be able to "enjoy" more PIV with men), was the understanding that women were also being liberated from their need to rely on men for all the above security - they could now be treated equally and, thus, go out and earn all that security for themselves. However, it seems that what this has actually translated into is that women can provide lots of PIV sex whilst being offered a lot less security for children which result from the PIV sex. I've always thought of this as an ironic own goal for feminsim but, reading Dworkin, I think it is just further evidence that the sexual liberation of women was actually in the hands of partriachy all along.

You could also argue that this "security-free" PIV also extends to emotional security (picking up on what we were discussing upthread) so that now we are in a situation where patriarchal attitudes or stereotypes of men not wanting love and security themselves, just lots of casual sex, can be perpetuated. Alongside this, of course, is the implication, again, that women who feel a need to hold out for emotional security should be the gatekeepers of sex. which kind of comes full circle in that women are still the sex responsible for dealing with emotions - so, we are then back to: we can't possilby expect men to pick up on the emotions of women who are reluctant to have sex - she "consented" is all that counts; men can't be expected to notice that she may have looked miserable and uncomfortable all the way through, they just need to hear "yes."

MiniTheMinx Thu 03-Oct-13 21:40:55

Your argument makes me very uncomfortable because it appears to be placing oppressor and oppressed within the same bracket and invisibilizing what I would describe as a war on women. And it sounds like an argument that absolves the oppressing class of responsibility for their actions

No, not at all. However there is but one world, the one we live in, we share it with men and we share many experiences in common. If women have been subject to cultural and social conditioning then so have men. I would extend this argument to class as well, I don't hate David Cameron and he doesn't consciously with original thought set out to oppress the poor but he is socialised to act and think in certain ways. He attended a very different educational establishment where he assimilated the thinking of the elite, he wasn't born to rule, for his mother could have given him to an orphanage should she have wished. Instead he has been indoctrinated, educated and socialised to rule, just as men are socialised to uphold patriarchal gender relations. Analysing and theorising about the nature of oppression and its origin isn't the same as letting men off the hook.

Its a strange thing, I'm certain there is much we agree on but I don't subscribe to the primacy of patriarchy as a theory and neither do I believe that it explains the material or exists in the base structure. Marxism, like all other social theories exists in the superstructure as a theory not a thing. Like patriarchy its not tangible like a rock or an apple it's simply a means of understanding society. Where lots of people McKinnon incl get caught up is in thinking that because Marx didn't directly address sex as a class that the tools he gave us can't be used to analyse it. I could take the view that Marx didn't talk about patriarchy and deny its existence. But then equally I could say Marx didn't foresee the great depression so it didn't happen, obv v.silly!

MiniTheMinx Thu 03-Oct-13 21:44:06

Can we talk about consent again? I should have glossed over Dworkin on left wing men <sorry emotion>

Beachcomber Thu 03-Oct-13 22:50:27

Sure Mini. It's okay for a thread to wander a bit though. I think Marx underestimated the amount of unpaid unrecognised labour women do. But mainly I do think he was a good 'un.

Rosabud, I very much agree with what you say. And with regards to what you say here; she "consented" is all that counts; men can't be expected to notice that she may have looked miserable and uncomfortable all the way through, they just need to hear "yes."

It is incredible really isn't it. It is one I have never been able to get my head around, the dreadful callousness and violence of a person who is prepared to have sex on another human being who doesn't want it. But that nasty little word 'consent' relieves them of all responsibility. Consent is basically a rape myth.

CailinDana Thu 03-Oct-13 22:55:05

The way it seems to me is that the man's wants and needs are paramount and if he wants sex naturally he should get it. If the woman is going to be uppity and deny him his right then she'd better put up a good fight, the presumptuous creature.

The attitude around the idea of "consent" does make it seem like a myth bc. Sadly.

DadWasHere Thu 03-Oct-13 23:12:29

Grimbletart wrote: “Don't mean to derail but all this brings me back to the point I made early on. How is it some women don't internalise a self destructive attitude?”

Because women who best understand the nature and capacity of their own sexualities have the greatest possibility to act as intelligent consumers of sex rather than just providers or the naive- who either short change themselves with mediocre sex because they don’t know any better or barter sexual services as a means of obtaining something other than their own sexual satisfaction (while hoping that does not eat at their soul over time).

I watched a 'round-table' show once where a female host was interviewing teenagers about their sexuality and sex practices. An older girl started talking about her experiences of providing oral sex to guys. She seemed very proud of herself and her sexuality. The interviewer said that while all that was well and good for the guys it seemed a bit unfair to her. She asked if she received oral sex in return. I watched that poor girl transition in a split second from a blow-job queen who exuded sexual confidence to a rabbit frozen in headlights mumbling something about such a thing being too personal for her.

Grimbletart wrote: “how misogynistic men manage to exclude themselves from the good/bad concept i.e. they divide women into the girls you fuck and the girls you marry yet don't seem to be able to divide themselves into the boys you fuck and the boys you marry. The classic double standard.”

People exclude themselves from the good/bad concept as first principal, the bad sleep well. But are women any more inclined to divide themselves into 'girls you fuck' and 'girls you marry' or does your wording allude to something else? I have met men who would indeed separate women into 'those you fuck' and 'those you marry' but fortunately they seemed few and far between.

Don’t most men these days (in the western world at least) want to specifically avoid marrying a virgin not because they want to 'sample the goods in advance' but because of the implications that a woman 'withholding herself' till marriage speaks more to her conflicted sexuality or a 'sex for security' exchange?

P.S how does one italicise text on this board?

CailinDana Thu 03-Oct-13 23:20:24

Italics - ^ italics ^ without the spaces.

What are your thoughts on the concept of consent dwh, given what we've said so far? Do you agree it's a meaningless concept?

AutumnMadness Thu 03-Oct-13 23:22:55

The discussion about Marx et al is fascinating. Thanks everyone! One of the base questions seems to be (forgive me if I am wrong) "what is at the base - capitalism or patriarchy?" What is the structure and what is the superstructure. Or are they one and the same? I have a doubtful feeling, however, that social order is about a hierarchy of ideologies, propped up at the base by materiality. Materiality seems important as I do not think it is a coincidence that the civil rights movement emerged in the post-war economic prosperity. But do we have to choose between cutting the social cake into classes or into genders? Can we have both? Intersecting, flowing in and out of each other, clashing and cooperating in different places? Perhaps social order is more of a social disorder.

To me, the disorder makes it possible for us to think the unthinkable. If patriarchy or capitalism were so totalising in their power to condition subjectivity, I do not think we would be able to sit here and write the things we write. So somewhere, somehow, there must be rips in the fabric through which different ideas slither in. Perhaps in some perverse way it is the contradiction between capitalism and patriarchy that contributes to the development of feminism as women eventually start wondering what the fuck they are doing on the tractor and in the kitchen at the same time. This is not to say that both capitalism and patriarchy at the same time do not benefit from women being on the tractor and in the kitchen.

Sorry for the rambling, but this brings me back to consent. While we are wondering about consent, I feel that we are wondering about the nature of sex. What is sex? What are we consenting or not consenting to? Obviously, we are not consenting to child molestation or rape in all its forms, but I am truly starting to think "does this feel patriarchal?" when I am having it with my husband.

I listened to that amazing speech by Catherine MacKinnon linked at the start of the thread. It definitely drives it home that prostitution is not like any other work. But why is that? What is it about sex and its connection to women that produces such a poisonous concoction in our society? Is it possible for us to break out of the submission-domination order?

AutumnMadness Thu 03-Oct-13 23:26:52

CailinDana, yes, I agree that hormonal contraception is just shit for many women. There are multiple threads about it on MN. It is a double-edged sword. I am sure it helps many women to resolve health issues and has no negative effects on others, but experience shows that the establishment does not want to listen if you have problems with it. And I am sure that it has everything to do with capitalism (money) and patriarchy (PIV availability). I also spent years on the pill to make my man happy. It made me feel like a log.

AutumnMadness Thu 03-Oct-13 23:31:52

DadWasHere, I would be equally suspicious of the men who specifically want to marry a virgin and men who specifically what to marry a non-virgin (right word anyone? "woman"?). Both are attempting to make a woman's sexual experience her essence and both are attempting to control it.

CailinDana Thu 03-Oct-13 23:34:14

I was a biology geek as a teenager and learning about the pill horrified me. When I heard it later being lauded as freeing women I could see the truth in that but it seemed to ignore the price paid for the freedom. Plus seeing as women's hormonal systems are so much more complex than men's, messing with women rather than men seemed not to make much sense to me.
Fwiw I've never been on hormonal contraception. One boyfriend raped me because he didn't want to wear a condom. Luckily dh agrees with my view on the pill.

DadWasHere Thu 03-Oct-13 23:42:09

What are your thoughts on the concept of consent dwh, given what we've said so far? Do you agree it's a meaningless concept?

Its meaningless, I said it a long way back in the thread, I also said that even genuine enthusiasm for sex can be meaningless (eg, too young, judgement impaired, etc).

CailinDana Thu 03-Oct-13 23:43:33

Sorry have read the thread but it's a long one!

DadWasHere Thu 03-Oct-13 23:45:22

Ahhh... it works... thanks CailinDana

registary Fri 04-Oct-13 01:07:38

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Beachcomber Fri 04-Oct-13 01:48:43

Registary - I'm not sure that rape (or at least what rape is to women) has ever been taken seriously by society. I mean rape as in all rape - not just stranger rape or rape with additional violence.

It took feminists a long time to get marital rape taken seriously and considering how few rapists ever end up being punished for raping I don't think that we can consider that society takes it seriously from a female perspective.

Now what I do think is taken seriously is rape from a male dominated perspective. That is, it is seen as a very serious and harmful thing for a man to be considered a rapist. To the point where a lot of the time society would rather not call rape rape and bends over backwards to not call a man a rapist.

It seems that in patriarchal society it is a terrible thing to be considered a rapist. Almost more terrible than actually being raped. Which is a kind of upside down way of looking at things isn't it?

Let me get this straight- you lot think a woman can be "raped" even if she gives consent??

I don't want to speak for anyone other than myself on this thread, but yes, I do. This thread was born out of another thread we had on here about the men who use prostitutes - and the concept of consent was discussed a little and some of us questioned consent as a meaningful concept.

If someone holds a gun to a woman's head and then asks if she consents to sex, do you think that consent is valid? If that person then has intercourse with the woman whilst holding the gun to her head, do you think that is rape? (The law does consider this rape BTW even if the woman consented, the consent is invalidated by the use of threat of violence.)

What about if the gun wielder is a pimp and he isn't actually in the room at the time intercourse takes place and the woman consents to sex with a punter for money even though she doesn't want to. Do you think that consent is valid?

What about if a woman is in an abusive relationship and she is afraid of being hurt if she doesn't consent to sex, do you think that consent is valid?

These are extreme examples. But they are not uncommon.

Then once one begins to question the validity of consent in situations of extreme violence, and find it wanting, the logical thing to do is examine the validity of consent as a concept in less obviously violent or coercive situations.

Such as a woman consenting to sex after being pestered by a partner. Or consenting after a partner suggests that he will leave her otherwise.

registary Fri 04-Oct-13 01:53:38

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BitBewildered Fri 04-Oct-13 01:56:00
Beachcomber Fri 04-Oct-13 01:56:42

Ah so in some situations, you agree that a woman can be raped even if she gives consent.

We're just chewing the fat on what that means and what other situations the above might occur in.

registary Fri 04-Oct-13 01:59:01

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

Beachcomber Fri 04-Oct-13 01:59:26

Thanks for that BitBewildered

CailinDana Fri 04-Oct-13 07:07:14

Sorry registary are our 177 posts getting in your way? Or do you object to us talking or something?

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 08:18:36

registary this discussion is way over your head, please stop interrupting it.

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 08:25:43

A puddle is well over his head, basil.

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 08:50:28


I had my suspicions...

Beatrixparty Fri 04-Oct-13 09:17:16

Beachcomber 'Or consenting after a partner suggests that he will leave her otherwise.'

Lets try to regard women as adults shall we ?

People don't have a duty to stay in relationships. People should be free to decide when to leave relationships for whatever reason they chose or merely on a whim. But, if things aren't working out to such an extent that separating is a serious consideration, then a reasonable thing to do is to talk problems through. Ought the man in your imagined example merely leave one day without word ? Is that preferable ?

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 09:34:13

Beatrix what's your point?

How does it relate to the nature of consent?

I'm not quite following what you're saying, can you elaborate a little bit on what you're saying about consent here? I'm not quite sure what you're saying about that situation and consent?

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 09:37:23

grin Sorry that was repetitive wasn't it. Making eggs at the same time so possibly not focusing properly. (Mmmm, soft yolks, mmmm)

Beatrixparty Fri 04-Oct-13 09:58:21


As adults we all often face making decisions that are unpalatable. If the man in Beachcomer's example wants to finish the relationship because their sex life is unsatisfactory, then show him the door - wishing him all the best for future.

If the women instead decides to agree to sex as she wants to remain in a relationship with that particular man, then therein the consent - given as an adult after some considerations of her options.

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 10:07:31

Beatrix, I think there's a difference between "my dear wife, I love you but we haven't had sex for years and I'm very unhappy, can we work on it or should we split up?" And "come and fuck me now or I'm leaving you for someone who will."

I think Beach probably had something like the latter in mind.

Beatrixparty Fri 04-Oct-13 10:21:58


My turn to ask for clarification - what are you saying about consent in the latter ? Does this particular man have a duty to stay with this particular women ?

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 10:26:02

But isn't that why we're arguing that consent is a crap concept?

I'm not really interested in the legalities here (for now), just in human relationships; if we didn't live in a male supremacist society, the concept of consent wouldn't even exist. It would be meaningless, because it wouldn't occur to normal people that it was acceptable, normal behaviour to blackmail someone into sex.

But in our society people blackmail each other into sex all the time and it's considered OK really. Not top-notch or anything, not the gold standard, but by no means incredibly, awfully scummy, as it should be - just a bit bad-mannered, like putting a buttered knife into the jam-jar. Not worth getting angry about.

Beatrixparty Fri 04-Oct-13 10:26:03


And for that matter, what are you saying about consent in your first example ?

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 10:32:11

The first example is a person in a couple asking to explore a pr

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 10:37:04

The first example is a person in a couple asking to explore a problem together.

The second is a threat. If the second led to the woman and the man having sex, I would not consider that rape, but I would consider it pretty scummy, as basil says, and I also find it really hard to understand why anyone would want to have sex with a partner (of either sex) who was in bed with them as a direct result of them saying something like that.

Beatrixparty Fri 04-Oct-13 10:53:16


I think the CPS would agree with you - referring it back as a 'no crime'

MatildaWhispers Fri 04-Oct-13 10:56:58

There is a massive grey area between the scenario where a woman consents because she feels pressure not to say no (but with no overt force being used) and a woman consenting because the man has a gun. Although registary has been deleted, I wonder what he would have made of the following example.
This happened to me a long time ago.

I had an important appointment to get to. My partner was giving me a lift to the appointment. He drove a different way, stopping somewhere else on the pretext of collecting something he needed on the way to the appointment. He stopped the car, he insisted we had time for sex. I didn't want sex, I also did not believe there was time for it, I just wanted to get to my appointment. He became increasingly angry with me, and in the end I had to consent to having sex. It was obvious to him I didn't want to. I had to consent or he would have made me miss an important meeting. So was my consent meaningful in any way? I don't see that it was.

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 11:02:50

Matilda, sorry that happened. flowers

MatildaWhispers Fri 04-Oct-13 11:09:14

It's ok, it was a long time ago. But sometimes these discussions get so theoretical and I hope personal experience helps to show how messy rl can be in comparison.

Beatrixparty Fri 04-Oct-13 11:14:02


Cases are driven by their facts. On those facts, I'd say that the offence of rape is made out.

Grennie Fri 04-Oct-13 11:18:31

Sorry that happened to you Matilda. Unfortunately I think that type of coercion is not uncommon.

Grennie Fri 04-Oct-13 11:19:50

I feel the same way about seduction. The idea that a man should seduce a woman to have PIV, has strong elements of coercion in it.

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 11:24:35

Matilda that's rape.

But the law may not frame it as such, because men made the law and for some reason, when they made it they accepted rapist's definition of rape, rather than victim's definition of rape.

I did a blog post about consent quite some time ago, I hope no-one minds if I post it here, it discusses some of what we are discussing here.

AutumnMadness Fri 04-Oct-13 11:26:01

On the subject of what is rape - I cannot imagine having sex with my husband if he does not want it, even if I am climbing the walls. What kind of sex would that be? Brrrrrr. It just feels deeply wrong. Forcing somebody into an act that should fundamentally be about mutual pleasure. It pollutes the whole thing. And yes, it's rape.

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 11:43:27

If the consent is obtained coercively, that is rape.

There'll be a spectrum of behaviours that legally don't meet the definition of coercion but are on the way there and blackmail - if you don't have sex with me there will be an unpleasant consequence for you - has got to be pretty close.

Beatrixparty Fri 04-Oct-13 11:57:19


The first problem with consent, is that it focuses on the actions and behaviour of the victim. Did she consent? Not: what did he do? How did he do it? Why did he do it? What steps did he take to ensure that she wanted him to? But: did she consent? So it continues the long tradition that rape has had, of ensuring that the starting point for any investigation, is not the behaviour and actions of the alleged perpetrator, but that of the victim. So far, so bad.

Are we to take it that you have never sat through a criminal trial of rape, possibly any trial ? You appear not to know that the initial focus is always on the defendant, his actions, his behaviour and the trial process questions his defence. Now, his defence may not be on the issue of 'consent'. But if 'consent' is raised, then that issue is explored.

Have you only thought about this from an armchair perspective ?? Criminal trials are open to the public - go and out and learn for yourself.

AutumnMadness Fri 04-Oct-13 12:06:08

Beatrix, I confess that I never sat through a criminal trial, but I do think that Basil has a very good point. Take the Julian Assange case. When that discussion about him having sex with a sleeping woman who objected to it afterwards was going on, most of it focused on whether her having consensual sex with him previously constituted consent. Very few people asked "Mr Assange, how did you know she wanted it before you did it?"

Many women who do not report rape, myself included, do so because they feel that in some way it was their fault, that they had actually consented, created an appearance of consent, even if they did not want it.

Grennie Fri 04-Oct-13 12:09:35

Basil - you are herbsandhags! I have been reading your blog for some time.

Beachcomber Fri 04-Oct-13 12:27:05

I had a whole bunch of situations in my head when I used the example of a partner threatening to leave.

For example a very young woman in a first relationship who doesn't feel ready for PIV and who is worried about getting pregnant but who thinks she is with the love of her life and doesn't want to loose him - he knows this and knows that by suggesting he will dump her she will probably accept to have PIV. (It is not uncommon in this scenario for the man to dump her anyway, after the PIV.)

Or I dunno, a woman who has children with someone and he doesn't think he's getting enough sex. He implies to her that he will go elsewhere. She and the children are financially dependent on him (and as rosabud said very perceptively earlier women are taught very early in life that marriage is safety from the wider violence of men).

I would say that the consent in these situations is coerced.

I don't know if that means I would call the above rape, I think that would be up to the individual women to decide whether she felt violated or not.

Certainly they are situations which to my mind show what a thin concept consent is and how it is open to abuse.

I know the MacKinnon paper was in part talking about the legal status but I'm more discussing this in a wider socio-cultural frame.

In the above situations the man is thinking of sex as something he has a right to and something she should let him have. He feels entitled and he isn't thinking about her wants other than how to get around the obstacle they may present to his wants.

Beatrixparty Fri 04-Oct-13 12:32:09


What happens in reality and what is news-worthy are often two separate things. Assenge's trail has not taken place yet. I do not recall which country the alleged offence took place, but it would be a very strange process if the initial issues were not what did he do? How did he do it? Why did he do it? What steps did he take to ensure that she wanted him to?.

Beachcomber Fri 04-Oct-13 12:36:41

Most rapes don't make it to trial - many of them are weeded out for a whole load of reasons, including what Basil says about consent in her blog piece.

And many will also be weeded out due to 'implied consent' were the woman doesn't actually consent to PIV but her consent is considered to be implied because;

she had already had sex with him on a previous occasion
she had been on a date with him and had kissed him in view of other people (this one is all the worse if she had been drinking)
she lives with him
she engaged in other sexual practices with him
she was sleeping next to him
she dressed a certain way and acted flirty
etc, etc...

AutumnMadness Fri 04-Oct-13 12:38:51

Beatrix, so why is then a woman's "sexual history" such an important part of the trial? I accept that the accused man will most likely be asked these questions, but what happens in the trial as a whole and not just at the start?

Overwhelming majority of rape cases also do not get to trial. Overwhelming majority are not in fact reported at all. Many of them because of this notion of "consent" whether you define it strictly legally or as it is used in popular discourse. So privileging what happens during the trial over the broader social attitudes limits our perspective. And in talking about the Assange case, I did not mean the trial, but whatever the public was talking about in official and unofficial forums.

Beachcomber Fri 04-Oct-13 12:39:20

All of which focus on what she did, not what he did.

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 12:39:54


What's the minimum legal standard and what's the reasonable social standard are probably not the same thing.

Beachcomber Fri 04-Oct-13 12:41:57

Autumn AFAIA they aren't allowed to invoke a woman's past sexual history any more (although this is relatively recent).

However simply by knowing the woman's relationship to the man is invoking her sexual history.

AutumnMadness Fri 04-Oct-13 12:43:47

Oh good, Beachcomber, there is some progress.

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 12:45:13

Beatrix I think you're being a little bit disingenuous here. We are discussing the concept of consent. The concept of consent, concentrates on the behaviour of the victim not that of the perpetrator - it asks whether she consented, it deals with her feelings, her behaviour, her as the focus of the event (or him for that matter), not with that of the perpetrator. I don't see how you can honestly argue otherwise tbh. That's what consent implies. "S/he consented" is the get out of jail free card - if you can establish consent, it means we don't need to look past that to examine the behaviour of the perpetrator.

Not sure if I can be arsed to engage with your extremely patronising questions, but no, I haven't just dealt with rape and trials from an armchair perspective. hmm

Beachcomber Fri 04-Oct-13 12:45:28

The concept of consent (in all its forms, including implied consent) presents a significant barrier to women seeking acknowledgement that they were raped (often even their own acknowledgement - which IMO takes us into the realms of gaslighting).

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 12:50:03

<Waves to Grennie> I tried to keep BBE ID and H&H ID separate at first, but just can't be arsed. grin

AutumnMadness Fri 04-Oct-13 13:03:15

Another thing - the mere questioning of the man about his actions does not guarantee a critical examination of these actions. Metaphorical Assange's answer to the question "What steps did you take to ensure that she wanted you to?" could very plausibly be "We had PIV sex several hours before and she was sleeping naked next to me." And then we are back to the jury deciding whether or not "Mr Assange" was reasonable to take that for consent. And in many cases the answer turns out to be "yes."

But perhaps I am wrong and there has been some earth-shattering progress on this issue in courts and in the broader society. In which case, I would be delighted to know.

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 13:07:22

Also 85-90% of rape incidents don't see the perpetrator questioned on their actions in the first place, because their rapes are never reported.

CailinDana Fri 04-Oct-13 13:42:31

Beatrix we are not talking about court cases we are talking about women's actual lived experiences. The fact a man wouldn't be convicted of rape doesn't automatically mean it isn't rape.

ReviewsOffers Fri 04-Oct-13 14:03:09

So the question of consent could be reframed as

how did you get her to not say No

Society lays half the groundwork here - Men have needs and a good girlfriend's first duty is to satisfy them.

Personal circumstances make up the rest
As the sad example given above - he wouldn't let me go to my meeting without it
He's my husband
He had a gun to my head

the channelling towards acquiescence is very obvious sometimes, but quite subtle and largely unexamined as well

Beachcomber Fri 04-Oct-13 14:44:50

Yes, that's a good summary ReviewsOffers.

Thanks again to you and others who have shared personal experiences (something I find very difficult to do and admire in others). Big hugs to you. Women really talking and sharing this stuff is very powerful.

youretoastmildred Fri 04-Oct-13 15:25:34

[Massive round of applause to all on this thread]

On a fb thread today someone (a man btw but a very pro-fem one) attacking Sinead O'Connor's "open letter" (what a terrible format) to Miley Cyrus said something like: whatever damage current commodified sexuality does to young women is nothing compared to the damage caused by the sexual oppression of the traditional past.

I usually think this chap hits the nail on the head but this bothers me. It seems to me that there is at least formally a position of safety in traditional sexual mores. You can withdraw, be a nun or a celibate or a virgin maiden aunt. It is not the case that you become immune to actual sexual assault, but it is understood that if you do become a victim of it he was breaking the rules. You limit your options by doing so, you are materially impoverished and personally stunted (perhaps, if you have a sexuality, you may be naturally asexual). But you have a position of caution to which to retreat.
Today you cannot, you are simply not allowed, to not take part. There is no position of safety, no metaphorical burka, to which to retreat. O'Connor got it wrong in a million ways (including advising Cyrus to retreat to a safe place that no longer exists) but her sorrow at seeing someone who, in her eyes, is "playing the game" - for Them - is something I kind of identify with, maybe, a bit...?

then again, full disclosure, I come from a fucked up Irish Catholic background so maybe we are both warped in the same way

Anyway in that culture at least there is a tradition of a. no sex outside marriage and b. marriage is something that is arranged and doesn't happen for everyone. so you can be a sort of asexual person, you aren't up for grabs, literally, all the time like secular english culture. I was very confused the first time I didn't want to kiss a boy and was insulted as a "fridge" to discover that not to be up for sex was considered an insult.

Of course the vile horrific underside is that to be up for sex is to put yourself beyond the pale of human protection

this did tenuously relate to the issue of consent when I started writing it but I have forgotten how. Sorry

ReviewsOffers Fri 04-Oct-13 15:39:06


It's not liberation if you are not free to say no

YoniTime Fri 04-Oct-13 15:58:18

Your post is very relevant to the thread mildred.
“Of course the vile horrific underside is that to be up for sex is to put yourself beyond the pale of human protection”
Yes there is the idea that if a woman is interested in a man, if she wants to do something sexual with him, it means she consents to whatever else he wants.
It probably comes from marriage. In the past, if a woman said yes to marrying a man, it meant he was to lord over her.
So we still have the rests of these beliefs today, and it’s so damn harmful.
This thread has made me think a lot. It hasn’t even gone a hundred years since we won the right to vote. Second wave feminism wasn’t long ago.
So there is still this idea today that female humans belong male ones, that we don’t have the same right to bodily integrity, (can be seen on the “Relationships ” board all the time) that our perspective and preferences (like not wanting PIV all the time or ever, perhaps instead the very common preference of clitoris stimulation) are quite irrelevant. We have had many hundreds of years of male supremacist society where men would rule over women, basically own his personal woman as a slave in marriage, and it wasn’t that long ago. And today we also have the problem with porn and how it shows men doing whatever they want to a woman as a wanking device and she should just be fine with whatever cruel thing it is.
And much of the language people use to talk about sex is from a patriarchal male point of view.

It also made me understand that since women have been considered a type pf slave class for a long time it’s understandable that men are angry at feminism and uppity women. The slaves are revolting, they insist they are human and have their own minds and integrity…something they shouldn’t have.
Thanks for the link to RW women by the way, will read it when I have the time and energy.

CailinDana Fri 04-Oct-13 16:31:12

Has anyone else attempted talking about this with a male friend/partner? I have talked about patriarchy and entitlement with dh and I have identified ways in which his behaviour shows his sense of entitlement (not around consent but other issues) and he gets it but he seems to find it quite upsetting. I think he feels disappointed in himself. We both have backgrounds in psychology so I've tried to emphasise the societal influence and subconscious elements of it but I still think he feels he should know better. It's a lot more emotive a topic to discuss than I thought it would be. I feel I'm attacking his sense of what's true and rightand it's hard for him to accept how blind he is to his privilege. But to be fair I do point out that his shit of a dad is a blatant misogynist and the fact that he is as unsexist as he is is down to his own character and intelligence.

youretoastmildred Fri 04-Oct-13 16:34:01

It is beginning to occur to me that my own sensitivity to issues like this, along with my inability to discuss them with DP, could conceivably be connected to [la la la sticks fingers in ears changes subject]

CailinDana Fri 04-Oct-13 16:48:24

Can you say more mildred? (it's ok if you'd rather not).

youretoastmildred Fri 04-Oct-13 16:55:05

well I am not going to talk specifically about the thing I refuse to talk about, but DP's lack of recognition of male privilege (esp in our relationship) bothers me in general.
Partly because he sees me as cushy / confident / educated middle class, while he is not, so he thinks I have all the advantages.

Last night I was very upset when I asked a man to move his bag off a seat on the train and he was visibly arsey about it. I sat down and he replaced his very big umbrella (you couldn't get more Freudian) so it was between us and against me and in "my" seat. I said "Would you like me to put that in the luggage rack for you?" (PA I know) He grudgingly moved it and said sarcastically "is there anything else you'd like?" I said nothing. I KNOW I should have said "No thank you, I am fine with just the one seat to myself" but I know that NOW... anyway I was quite upset. for pathetic reasons, feeling physically hemmed in by a man who had made it clear he didn't like me and was feeling hostile.

when I got home I was still feeling crushed and shaken, even after putting the dcs to bed. I told DP and his mind was blown. That I was upset by this. I know I don't share my vulnerability with him often, he thinks I am gobby and "feisty" (ugh tbf he has never used that word) and I do put on a good show in the main. But... I can't even show my vulnerability to him as a man. I mean, vulnerable to him, not show to him. If you follow. It damages our intimacy. and it is because he doesn't believe me because he sees me as "privileged" (which I am in many ways)

youretoastmildred Fri 04-Oct-13 16:57:16

Another thing. Maybe my overblown response to the dickhead with the umbrella is to do with: I have given up drinking and it is making me very open and raw. I haven't talked about my feelings about that or even that I have stopped and even been to 3 AA meetings... he just thinks I haven't fancied a drink

LurcioLovesFrankie Fri 04-Oct-13 16:59:23

I'm really taken with your comment: “Of course the vile horrific underside is that to be up for sex is to put yourself beyond the pale of human protection”.

I think this really lies behind a lot of slut shaming and rape myths about women in short skirts asking for it. A woman is not allowed to dress in a deliberately sexualised way in order to attract a partner *of her choosing*; quite the contrary, if she dresses in an overtly sexual manner she is assumed to be available to all and sundry. The idea that women might like sex, but only with a man she fancies, not with just anyone, or that she might want to celebrate her sexual attractiveness without this being seen as an open invitation, just doesn't seem to be a concept a lot of people (of both sexes) can get their heads round. (And this is why I'm very uncomfortable about Sinead O'Connor's open letter - it does seem to be slut shaming, while at the same time she is probably right that Cyrus's record label, etc. are out to exploit her).

CailinDana Fri 04-Oct-13 17:03:09

I get it. Fwiw I would have found that situation quite upsetting too. I struggle with vulnerability too, due to abuse and rape and in my more "mad" flashback moments I have goaded dh and even asked him to hurt me, which really brought home to me how much I actually feared him. This was years ago and I've gone past that stage now thankfully although I don't think I'm fully healed.

youretoastmildred Fri 04-Oct-13 17:04:33

Well the format of an "open letter" is awful, it is hard to imagine anything more prone to concern trolling. But I think O'Connor is outdated in that she is imagining she is encouraging Cyrus to a place of sexual safety while not realising that no such thing exists any more.

YoniTime Fri 04-Oct-13 17:09:47

I never understand the "asking for it" thinking. Yes someone dressing in sexy clothes are perhaps asking for positive attention and flirting. No, not violence. If you think about that someone as a real, equal person that is.
Perhaps it also comes from the 19th century thinking. Woman is either the property of one man, or on the street and the property of all men. (Unless she is a nun or similar, property of God then)

The subject is distressing to think about and just to write about in general terms on a message board imo, but it's important. It effects us so much.

youretoastmildred Fri 04-Oct-13 17:13:43

Sorry to hear about that CailinDana.

YoniTime Fri 04-Oct-13 17:19:43

Yes I am too sorry to hear that CailinDana.
I think much more women that people think suffer from PTSD. So even minor aggressive behaviours from men can be scary/triggering to us.

CailinDana Fri 04-Oct-13 17:25:47

Thanks mildred. I get the sense you've experienced something similar. I'm at a point now where it still affects me to some extent but I am able to discuss it in print without much fallout. Talking about it is still very hard. A random thought -the advent of the internet could well be hailed by future women as the next thing after the pill - the thing that contributed to true freedom for women. It's only on the internet and mn inparticular that I've seen women's issues tackled in a m

CailinDana Fri 04-Oct-13 17:26:41

Sorry ...meaningful way. Mn has certainly clarified my thinking hugely.

youretoastmildred Fri 04-Oct-13 17:28:28

oh yes, it is so great to be able to get all this stuff out and have other people to talk to. It is like pulling out all the bed linen from your messy airing cupboard and having people to help you fold it smile

CailinDana Fri 04-Oct-13 17:30:13

Thanks yoni - I definitely did have ptsd at one point - I used to properly freak out.

Beatrixparty Fri 04-Oct-13 18:39:17


Sorry been off for a while, DD is baking a birthday cake for her best friend. The ingredients don't buy themselves.

If you have issues with s.1 of the sexual offences act 2003 - are you able to suggest amendments to it without reference to the word 'consent' ? You appear to have given the subject much thought.

Beachcomber Fri 04-Oct-13 18:53:01

Umbrella man sounds horrible. I find that sort of thing really upsetting too. It isn't just the occurrence itself - it is a reminder of who/what women are, it is a putting in place.

Recently I found a small baby bird that had fallen from its nest, near us is a bird sanctuary so I took it there and was greeted by three men who said they couldn't help, but the best thing to do would be keep it warm with bodily contact and then there was much winking and nodding and one of them actually said 'you look like you've got enough to keep it warm' whilst staring at my breasts. I was really upset by the whole thing even though I didn't feel scared for my physical safety at any point. I was with my (female) children as well which made the whole thing even more disgusting.

Talking to male friends/partners is difficult - they just don't get it a lot of the time. I didn't tell DH because if he had downplayed what happened it would just have made me feel worse. He gets some stuff, but he is still a man with male entitlement and privilege.

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 18:58:08

This is a thread about the concept of consent Beatrix - the whole concept, the ideas behind it, the way sex and rape are defined in our culture as well as in our law and where consent fits into that.

It's not a narrow legalistic discussion about how we can change one piece of legislation, so no, I'm not that interested in going down that path, tbh. I'm more interested in the cultural acceptance of the concept of consent and what that says about our assumptions about sex.

Beatrixparty Fri 04-Oct-13 19:19:19

You appeared interested in your H&H article. Not so keen now though. Ok, I'm fine with that. It never was going to be easy. Bye

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 19:54:57

I am interested in it. I'm just not as interested as in the wider issues that this thread is discussing. smile

sinistersal Fri 04-Oct-13 19:55:09


sinistersal Fri 04-Oct-13 19:55:44

scrap that

wrong thread

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 20:02:08


MatildaWhispers Fri 04-Oct-13 20:02:43

Wrt the legal side, maybe my experience was unusual, but I did in the end speak to the police about an ex of mine. It didn't go anywhere, but the policewoman I spoke to had a much better grasp of what constitutes consent/rape than I did. Or at least a different grasp. Which on one hand isn't surprising I suppose, but it did shock me at the time. I thought I knew exactly what rape was. And it is odd in that I can't be that unusual, there are lots of women in abusive relationships who do not fully understand consent, as illustrated in 'Relationships'.

With me, I was speaking to the police about some specific incidents, and as part of that I was asked whether it was a controlling relationship. Then when I said yes I was asked what I understood that term to mean. The examples that I gave as examples of 'controlling behavior' the policewoman said were examples of rape.

Reporting didn't go anywhere for a range of reasons, but the police themselves were very understanding and certainly educated me about consent, though it did also end up causing a lot of other issues and all got very complicated. It's very hard to be told something was rape when actually you don't believe it was, though the police were very kind about it and I suppose you can't expect or want the police to hold back on calling it rape if that is what it is. It's complicated!

But I also think mn is an amazing place to be able to discuss things like this.

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 20:09:48

I'm glad you spoke to some supportive people in the police MW.

rosabud Fri 04-Oct-13 20:11:33

Why are posters like Beatrix so closed to being open minded on this subject? Why are they so determined that this subject must not be examined from any view point other than the conventional one? And why, when women discuss it, are they so patronising? And why is there a sense of anger just below the surface in all their posts on the subject? It's astonishing.

As for discussing this subject with partners, male friends etc, it can be challenging and devastating when they 'don't get it.' I was enraged the other night by two male friends who implied that young teenage girls were inviting trouble by being dressed "too old for their years" especially as "some men can't control themsleves." However, they very graciously acknowledged that it was not the gilrs' fault but the fault of the parents (although there was a heavy implication that they meant the mothers) of the girls who allowed them to dress this way. When I argued back I could tell they thought I was being too feministy and anti-men. hmm

However, some men are prepared to listen, even though they may never completely get it. When discussing this subject the other day, my partner said that he had thought about rape from a different angle because of some of the things that I have said and that he can now appreciate male entitlement (I think the "Where is Men's Roar" video that someone posted on here a while back really made him think.) So there is some hope.

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 20:15:18

Yeah it's funny how she wanted to narrow it down to just the legal stuff.

And then strops off when that tack is rejected.

It's not that it's not interesting, it is, it's just that this is more interesting - the legal stuff comes out of the cultural stuff.

I have a feeling that at least consent is something - perhaps a lowest common denominator if that makes any sense.
Ideally we should be looking for more than that - for active enthusiastic engagement or whatever.
But perhaps consent can be a meaningful concept in many relationships and encounters.
To make it personal I feel that if I'd ever asked anyone to stop (and sometimes I have) then they would have done/ did.
I feel I've been fortunate whereas really it's the least we should be able to expect.

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 20:44:12

Beatrix has a legal background from other posts, so I can understand that being the angle, but I'd be happy to post separately on a thread about rephrasing the 2003 Act once this thread has thrashed out the philosophy behind it.

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 20:48:36

It comes up time and again rosa but I still can't understand why it's anti-man to be baffled by any notion that "men" can't control themselves in the presence of skimpy clothing. Are "men" like toddlers left alone with a birthday cake or something, in the eyes of your friends, rosa?

CailinDana Fri 04-Oct-13 20:53:12

What sometimes helps to challenge ideas about restricting women's movements/choice of clothing is suggesting that instead men be placed under curfew or be required to be chaperoned at night by a trustworthy woman. The response is usually "don't be silly why should all men be restricted when only some of them are rapists?" to which the only response is of course "why should all women be restricted when none of them are rapists?"

caroldecker Fri 04-Oct-13 21:20:08

Interesting the point about not discussing with partners. I would think that if people who understand these points cannot discuss with our nearest and dearest we are a long way from changing anything.
Most men I know are consciously feminist but unconsciously conditioned so need these things explained so they can see beyond what they have been bought up to understand as true.

The other question I have about consent in relationships is whether compromise in sex is different to compromise in other areas of life. Upthread someone mentioned a woman at home who is financially dependent on a man concerned he will leave without sex, so has sex therefore there is no consent. However we would expect her to provide other things 'in return' for the financial dependence (housework/childcare etc) as that is how relationships work, with give and take on both sides. Why, therefore, does sex always have to be fully mutually enjoyable at all times, and not sometimes be considered part of the give and take of relationships?

sinistersal Fri 04-Oct-13 21:28:33

What makes sex different, is that what you are getting at CarolDecker?

I think it was discussed upthread - best I can do at the moment is It Just Is. Anthropologically, PIV sex (aka sex) for women has been potentially life changing, maybe even life ending. So women 'naturally' (?) tend to invest it with emotions, that we just don't with making tea or whatever.

I imagine a lot of women recognise that, even if we can't articulate it that well, and we are certainly not encouraged to examine it either.

YoniTime Fri 04-Oct-13 21:32:53

Bodily integrity/boundaries also. Having sex you don't really want and doing the dishes are two very different things. It also makes sex into a chore. How unsexy.

MiniTheMinx Fri 04-Oct-13 21:44:51

Big hugs to everyone who has shared some difficult real life experiences. It can help to talk but its also great for some of us to listen too. I get caught up in theoretical stuff and I need to be reminded that its only useful in so much as it helps us to understand real life.

A lecture today touched upon consent but in relation to something else. I don't know if anyone remembers the case of the German Cannibal who advertised for dinner dates. He advertised for people that would be prepared to share a meal with him, to be murdered by him and eventually eaten by him. (grim) He was caught frying his last dinner date's liver and arrested. His defence at trial was that the people he murdered had given their consent. The judges decided that it wasn't possible for anyone to consent to be murdered.

These male judges simply couldn't conceive that anyone in their right mind could consent. Presumably anyone who did would be vulnerable in some way, mental illness, depressed or perhaps once they got there they couldn't say no. Perhaps he wouldn't allow them to leave and they couldn't withdraw their consent. No one was interested in whether "they" consented to be murdered. It was judged irrelevant that there was even a the slightest possibility that these "victims" were sane or that he didn't use force/coercion/intimidation

It just seems to me that women are judged to be in a perpetual state of consent until we say no, if no is not enough then we should fight back. But this simplistic view doesn't take account of any vulnerabilities, be it drink, mental health, lack of strength, fear. No wonder rape trials focus on the issue of whether the women gave consent. Its already assumed that despite 100s of years of male dominance that somehow we are still capable of giving consent irrespective of the circs in which it is given.

Beachcomber Fri 04-Oct-13 22:22:55

Anyone who has ever had sex they didn't want knows why it is different to doing the dishes, etc.

It is a hard thing to put into words and I don't think women are encouraged to analyse it. I haven't read Dworkin's book 'Intercourse' - but I suspect what she says in it may help articulate the phenomenon. I have been meaning to read it for a while but have been putting it off as I have heard it is pretty painful to read.

I've read the introduction by Ariel Levy and she describes it as Dworkin's most radical book, so I imagine it must shake things up a little...

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 22:26:11

God Mini that is a really good point.

In English law, it has always been the case that you can't consent to your own murder. A murderer will never have been able to argue (as far as I'm aware) that his victim gave consent, that they did a deal etc.

And yet that understanding that sometimes consent is simply not a good enough excuse to do something to someone, isn't there for rape.

sinistersal Fri 04-Oct-13 22:28:40

But I suppose the difference is sex is a normal thing to do, in most cases.
After all, what's harmful about sex?

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 22:30:19


Some men (people?) do think sex is the same quality of deed as doing the dishes, I think - they must do if they think that prostitution is just another job where you pay someone for a service.

It reminds me of my mum once being cross that her vegetarian friends wouldn't eat meat at her house, after all, she ate veggie food at theirs. To her, it was being a good guest. To them, of course, it was integral. I don't think I could make her understand though.

YoniTime Fri 04-Oct-13 22:33:30

I don't think that they actually think of prostitution as just another job. For example, not many men who say things like that would want to have it as their or their wives/children's job even if the pay was good.

CaptChaos Fri 04-Oct-13 22:37:15

The problem with that view CarolDecker is that sex is not a human right.

we would expect her to provide other things 'in return' for the financial dependence (housework/childcare etc) as that is how relationships work, with give and take on both sides. Why, therefore, does sex always have to be fully mutually enjoyable at all times, and not sometimes be considered part of the give and take of relationships?

Housework and childcare do not legally require consent from both parties in order to not be a criminal act, sex does. It doesn't have to be fully mutually enjoyable at all times, but it does have to be consensual at all times, hence the difference. The problem within this type of relationship is that consent is often taken as a given by the man, and unable to be freely given by the woman. If consent cannot be freely given, then it is not 'real' consent, and therefore any sex which takes place under these conditions could be construed as rape.

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 22:37:17

Yes, but they'd probably also prefer their kids not to be sewage workers or whatever.

I do think in some people's eyes, someone who is paid to have sex isn't philosophically different to someone who is paid to wipe bottoms or other "personal care" type work.

YoniTime Fri 04-Oct-13 22:43:36

I don't think so. Prostitutes are look as with a certain type of contempt by buyers, nurses are just not doing the same thing and are definitely not seen in the same way.
Many men seem to think of "hookers" as a special type of subgroup of women who have even less personhood and bodily integrity, zero to be exact, than other women.
They're just "hookers" not people. So for example some have the idea that if they pay one it's better than having an affair, because no real person was involved (?!)

YoniTime Fri 04-Oct-13 22:49:14

However we would expect her to provide other things 'in return' for the financial dependence (housework/childcare etc) as that is how relationships work, with give and take on both sides. Why, therefore, does sex always have to be fully mutually enjoyable at all times, and not sometimes be considered part of the give and take of relationships?

By the way I found this comment chilling.
Here it is, the idea that women's bodies should just be "open" for men's use as a service and that we should have no sexual boundaries. It's disturbing. We are human and we need boundaries and to feel that our bodies are our own. Because they are.

BasilBabyEater Fri 04-Oct-13 22:51:17

And because sex isn't a service we render each other.

It's something we share FGS.

Call me an incurable romantic. hmm

CailinDana Fri 04-Oct-13 23:04:08

I think carol's question is a totally valid one as it reflects an attitude that many women themselves have - I've seen it far too many times on MN. Women who can barely stand their partners and yet are still having sex with them as they feel it's their duty or worse still women who are exhausted from small children and yet feel obliged to provide sex to a partner who's decided she's had sufficient "holiday" from duty and must go back to letting him use her body.

The real question is, what sort of partner would want or enjoy sex with someone who doesn't wany it? And if it's the woman who's the breadwinner what services is she entitled to demand in return for the money she provides?

DadWasHere Fri 04-Oct-13 23:04:17

Hmmm. OK, I will get very personal here. I think in marriage 'meaningful consent' has a lot to do with the connection of sex and love. Being married for decades you go through times where your desire for sex with your spouse matches up with theirs and times when it does not. During those mismatched times its possible to get into an entirely wrong and problematic head space, which I would distil as 'If you love and respect me you will match your sexuality to mine.' That can be the mantra of either the spouse who wants more sex or the spouse who wants little, in fact both can have that attitude at the same time.

When I fell out of desire for my wife (which happened first) I saw it as a problem I needed to work on because I loved her and valued our relationship- and therefore her sexual satisfaction was important to me. I knew it would negatively affect her sense of self and our relationship if she perceived I no longer desired her. She never talked about whether she even noticed my problem or not. On my side it was quite a deep issue. I could satisfy her sexually but it had become more of a robotic chore for me with faked enthusiasm and faked orgasms. It took me several months before I got my 'Damn you look hot today honey!' groove back.

When she fell out of desire for me (which happened many years later) she saw it as a situation I should be content to accept as long as she felt that way because of my love for her. I was disappointed. I felt that she had disconnected love from sex and used love as a justification that made her 'right' in her view. But I did not play the 'fuck me or I leave' card because I would not put up with sex as a 'chore' she would perform for me. I told her our relationship was on the rocks and that it was not on the rocks because she either refused sex with me or provided sex for me, it was on the rocks because her desire for me had vanished and so intimacy between us was devalued. That seemed to get through to her and we worked through our problems.

ModeratelyObvious Fri 04-Oct-13 23:07:56

Yoni, I wasn't thinking specifically of punters.

Lots of people are neutral on the subject of prostitution, they would not go to a prostitute but don't have a problem with the idea that others do. I can only assume it's because they don't see selling a sexual service as massively different to selling other "physical services"

CailinDana Fri 04-Oct-13 23:11:25

Interesting post dwh. Was there a reason you felt you couldn't talk to her about your lack of desire?

rosabud Fri 04-Oct-13 23:11:43

By the way, I forgot to say earlier that I have so enjoyed the depth of critical thinking and analysis on this thread, thanks to all that have provided that. However, I must just mention that the best "light-hearted" moment was the poster who mansplained what a Russian doll is. Just saying.

caroldecker Fri 04-Oct-13 23:36:28

I think following the comments above that we agree sex is different from other things we compromise on in a relationship. so why is this? It is not the physical intimacy because we are happy with nurses etc, it is not the emotional intimacy because we are ok with therapists, so what is different?
I think part of the conversation is that we are saying a wife can legitimatly refuse sex (which I completely support), but also a wife can prevent a husband getting sex elsewhere.
How we would we see a wife who didn't want to clean put prevented the husband employing a cleaner or cleaning himself?
I genuinely am trying to understand why we put sex on a pedestal and why we cannot see it as the same as other things?
BTW my view of sex is that it is different but cannot understand why

MatildaWhispers Fri 04-Oct-13 23:52:22

Carol I agree it is different, but when in a sexually abusive relationship I tried to approach sex in exactly that way in order to get through it. I imagine other people do this too. But it wasn't a sustainable way of coping.

MatildaWhispers Fri 04-Oct-13 23:57:56

I think it is the physical intimacy that makes it different. If a nurse is physically intimate they are only doing so to help a patient. They are not enjoying themselves sexually at the patients expense, making them feel used.

caroldecker Sat 05-Oct-13 00:05:02

Matilda - why cannot a woman see sex with an otherwise loved husband as this, ie helping them? (I couldn't but don't know why)

MatildaWhispers Sat 05-Oct-13 00:10:55

Well personally I believe I couldn't do it long term, although I did it fairly long term, because I felt too used. But there wider issues as the relationship was abusive in other ways.

Also it can lead to mental health issues. It's possible that the woman dissociates to try to deal with the situation, so kind of like disconnecting body and mind.

DadWasHere Sat 05-Oct-13 00:52:48

Interesting post dwh. Was there a reason you felt you couldn't talk to her about your lack of desire?

Because she would have accepted the validity of the reason and blamed herself totally for it. It would have then compounded the problem of one person not desiring the other (and solving it) with the other person doubting their own desirability. The first problem was an elephant in the room on me alone, bringing in another elephant would have made things worse for both of us by an order of magnitude.

pegfin Sat 05-Oct-13 01:15:33

OK, jumping in having read the start of this thread and the last few pages, so apologies if I make some glaring error.

I am particularly interested in DWH position on this. I have been in long term r/s in the past where I have been aware that for various reasons, usually tiredness, being distracted or just differences in body clock and/or sex drive I have not been that in the mood (initially) but I have consented because I know (a bit like going to the gym) I will probably enjoy it once I actually get there.
and I do actually, positively, enthusiastically enjoy PIV (amongst other things) and if not then I will happily takes steps to increase my own enjoyment.

which is not to say I have never had sex I did not enjoy. and this is a world apart from the kind of sex that goes on in many DA r/s where the consent is based on fear/getting it over with and the abuser is perfectly well aware that although they may have agreed to the sex they do not want it. (see it all too often on MN sad)

But it does also happen the other way round. I have been in a r/s where it has become apparent very early on that there is a mismatch and that I would happily have sex far more often than they would. and I think there is a societal assumption that if a woman offers it a man will always take it. when in fact they may not actually want it. they may consent because they think that they need to live up to the societal idea that that is what men do. virile men are always up for it.
so I found myself in the position of either feeling like I was having sex with someone who I could not be sure really wanted it or feeling both extremely frustrated and undesirable (possibly because after all he must want it just not with me because the 'norms' tell us men have a higher sex drive than women) and also it is an unusual position to find yourself in as a woman because it has never been an issue in any other r/s .

but the bottom line is the people that I like/love/get on well with but do not have sex with (or rarely have sex with grin) are my friends not my parnter/SO/bf.

DadWasHere Sat 05-Oct-13 08:26:52

Not sure what you would like my opinion on Pegfin, your certainly not the only woman ever to encounter a man who had (or developed over time) a lower sex drive for them then they expected/wanted. My observation is the 'oversexed' partner has very much the same feelings about their situation, regardless of gender, if their partner has a more neutral attitude to sex, ie they 'consent without enthusiasm'. If, however, the partner has more of a resistance to the idea of sex I believe attitudes of the 'oversexed' partner will tend to diverge depending if they are male or female, the man increasingly externalising it more as frustration and the the woman increasingly internalising it more as being because of her own undesirability. IMO anyway.

I think PIV sex is a big deal for men because they far more commonly orgasm during PIV sex then women (of whom no more than 25% do at best and only 5% exclusively). To orgasm during sex a woman requires clitoral stimulation, which is what men get automatically in PIV sex because the glans penis = the clitoris. If the bulk of women reached orgasm during PIV sex instead of the opposite I doubt there would be nearly as much of a notion of 'why is PIV sex such a big deal for men'? running through female social circles.

ModeratelyObvious Sat 05-Oct-13 08:44:03

DWH, but there are other ways for men to reach orgasm too, so the question of why goal = PIV instead of why, say, goal = orgasm remains.

ModeratelyObvious Sat 05-Oct-13 08:52:59

Carol, a cleaner can clean for someone they dislike, a nurse can care for someone they dislike, but it makes me very uncomfortable to think of a person having sex with someone they disliked..

MrsMinkBernardLundy Sat 05-Oct-13 10:03:11

Sorry dwh that was not entirely clear, what i meant was i found your earlier post interesting. because i take similar view in a loving r/s where my drive is the lower at a given time, I probably would make the effort to have sex in order to avoid a partner feeling rejected.but the other way round i just feel extremely uncomfortable. These things sometimes balance out over time sometimes not.

Plus I do think there is an assumption that it is normal for men to have a high drive and women low (hence women being portrayed as the gatekeepers).

So dutiful rather than enthusiastic consent can apply to men too (I would assume less often but perhaps I am gender stereotyping)

And there is a societal pressure of a different sort on men to 'perform'. I suppose i was wondering dwh if you agreed with that- it is assumed men are always up for it. or is it easy enough for a man to discuss with other men their general lack of desire for sex without it being seen as a problem.

But the other part of my point was that the question was posed - what is different about sex? You can love someone but not have sex with them, they are your friends. and many people would not mind if their partner cleaned someone else's house (either for money or to help that person out) but might be a bit less delighted if they met their sexual needs.
So sex and the mutual enjoyment of sex (of some kind) with your partner must be what distinguishes a partnership from a friendship.

CailinDana Sat 05-Oct-13 10:04:12

One very basic difference MO is that a nurse is in control, they are doing something for someone more vulnerable than they are in an official capacity where they are protected from assault/violence. With traditional PIV the woman is letting someone more physically and socially powerful they are do something to the most sensitive intimate part of their body. In the case of prostitutes there is little or no protection from violence.
It's worth noting too that caring intimate jobs are usually considered beneath men and are predominantly female roles. Having cared for disabled adults myself I can say from my own experience that the physical interaction does make the job more emotionally draining than other manual jobs that don't involve a caring element.

ModeratelyObvious Sat 05-Oct-13 10:08:53

Good points Cailin.

CailinDana Sat 05-Oct-13 10:12:58

It's my view dwh that in a healthy relationship one partner should feel able to tell the other that they're not up for sex without the other partner taking it personally. My dh went off sex for a while -I ws a bit frustrated but didn't make a big deal of it. Equally I'm not much up for sex at the mo due to bfing and dh doesn't mind. We know it'll even out later.

CailinDana Sat 05-Oct-13 10:14:48

In fact caring for someone you actively dislike is very hard.

ModeratelyObvious Sat 05-Oct-13 10:15:24

Cailin, yes, ideally, but sex does come with all kinds of emotional and cultural subtext.

ModeratelyObvious Sat 05-Oct-13 10:18:50

I suppose I was thinking more along the line of a hospital nurse who maybe had patients for a matter of days. I can imagine that care home nursing feels different because it's closer to a personal, long term relationship.

pegfin Sat 05-Oct-13 10:20:26

cailin good point re. discussing the issue, although this is based on the assumption that at some point it will return to the norm.

And yy I think any job where you are required to be physically within someone else's personal space is different from jobs where you are not. I think part of that is the strain of being constantly watchful/aware of the (unusual) dynamic.

CailinDana Sat 05-Oct-13 10:29:37

It seems to me that what makes caring jobs like nursing social work and teaching so stressful these days is a denial of the social and emotional element of these jobs. I used to be a primary teacher and it felt very much like people who had never taught and so didn't understand teaching on a personal level had introduced a whole raft of initiatives that teachers just have to deliver robotically with no regard for the fact that children are complicated demanding human beings who are not just silent receptacles for knowledge.

DebrisSlide Sat 05-Oct-13 10:31:51

Fabulous thread - thank you all.

Dworkin's "Intercourse" is magnificently challenging and thought-provoking. The questioning about why PIV is different from doing the dishes (!) reminds me of this passage from it:

""He has to push in past boundaries. There is the outline of a body, distinct, separate, its integrity an illusion, a tragic deception, because unseen there is a slit between the legs, and he has to push into it. There is never a real privacy of the body that can coexist with intercourse: with being entered. The vagina itself is muscled and the muscles have to be pushed apart. The thrusting is persistent invasion. She is opened up, split down the center. She is occupied--physically, internally, in her privacy.""

CailinDana Sat 05-Oct-13 10:34:05

Equally nurses are expected to execute duties quick smart without any thought given to the fact that for example you can't just march in and stick a needle in someone's arm then storm out again. You have to interact in a friendly personal way with someone you don't know - that involves time and emotional energy.

Grennie Sat 05-Oct-13 10:42:36

Dad - the glans doesn't actually equal the clitoris. Yes they are both physical organs that produce sexual pleasure. But the clitoris has many more nerve endings on it than the penis, and most of it is internal.

youretoastmildred Sat 05-Oct-13 11:40:26

rosabud, I sniggered about "a russian doll is...." too

caroldecker, good point that if we aren't talking to those closest to us even, how can we really change anything. this is one of many areas in which I am finally seeing I just have to get out of my comfort zone.

About why sex is different: I don't have the answer to that but I have some vague musings... when I started work, firstly in sales and then as various temp admin / receptionist jobs, it was very clear that I was being hired for my "personality" - not my real one, but the one it was assumed I could put on, as young educated pretty woman. It was understood that I could be smiley, "bubbly", kind, open, available, always smiling, always cheerful, always empathetic. I tried to do all this (had to, to make a living) and it jarred with me, hard. I am a natural introvert and I had been educated at a time and in places where the emphasis was on academic cut and thrust: rigour, knowledge, arguments, strong essay writing basically - as opposed to many areas of education now where I gather that being "personable" or "a team player" is part of the deal. It was hard for me to find I was forced to make a living by, essentially, massaging other's egos, as a social instrument, and I compared it in my head to prostitution, while recognising it is not the same. Much more recently I read Nina Power's book One Dimensional Woman and recognised my disquiet of the time very clearly in her examination of the woman who is always polishing the Self, along with the CV. It is the person that is available for work, not just the receptionist / administrator / designer / whatever you do.

Oddly I am sure some people are very positive about this as they see it as a lovely warm privilege to take your whole person to work rather than being treated like a robot. I found it very hard and creepy and have only gradually come to terms with it - and to the extent that I have it is because I have bent the rules and found ways of throwing in the bits of myself that it relieves me to express: analytic skills (even when they result in negative or critical conclusions); sarcasm (when not too rough and results in a feelgood laugh, not against anyone); knowing my shit (because I do). all this is possible only because I am 42 now, and no longer (in my job that I have now and have had for 6 years) expected to be that "bubbly girl". I am not sure it will travel should I get another job.

Minitheminx, the no-consent-to-murder thing is so interesting, and reminds me of how nuance can be allowed here but not there, eg, in Catholicism killing innocents is ABSOLUTELY NEVER ALLOWED EVER when the innocent is a foetus; but there is such a thing as a Just War, which may result in the deaths of innocents, because you can't seriously expect men to entirely relinquish the possibility of going out and fighting, can you.

cailindana "the fact that children are complicated demanding human beings who are not just silent receptacles for knowledge." Right. but the funny thing is that outside teaching, it is generally recognised that Communication is a skill, a Thing; it is not by any means easy to get large numbers of people to understand what you want them to, nor to buy into the project in the first place. there are vast armies of highly paid marketers and PR people in all industries, who are vastly rewarded for doing this very tricky job of winning the attention of an audience and imparting what you want them to know. why is this not recognised in teaching?

Beatrixparty Sat 05-Oct-13 12:42:57

Here's an interesting case re: the concept of consent.

It will interest me to hear the views of others on the case. I'm still forming mine.

pegwin Sat 05-Oct-13 13:11:35

Could someone repost link above in linky form- cannot follow it on phone and would be interested to read. thanks

Beatrixparty Sat 05-Oct-13 13:32:38

Here's an interesting case re: the concept of consent.

difficult consent article

It will interest me to hear the views of others on the case. I'm still forming mine.

Beatrixparty Sat 05-Oct-13 13:35:01

Pegwin - hope you can access it now.

youretoastmildred Sat 05-Oct-13 14:18:40

"My own view is (2). To deceive someone of full capacity in order to have sex with them is morally reprehensible, but it seems to me that it should not attract the sanction of the criminal law, especially when you consider the severe consequences. "

this is truly yuk - the writer is blatantly saying that a certain offence should not be considered an offence because, boo hoo, it attracts a heavy punishment. That is like saying an umpire at a tennis match should refrain from calling a fault if it will make the player lose, and they will lose a valuable trophy, and be sad.

Here is a question: in a society in which sex outside marriage is heavily taboo (say our own 100 or even 60 years ago) what if a man put on a sham "marriage" (a ceremony conducted by someone posing as a registrar or a priest, with no authority to marry), and then persuaded the woman to have sex with him because she consented believing she was married to him, and then she found she was unmarried (perhaps pregnant, certainly believing herself seriously violated and defiled) - could that be grounds for considering consent to have been negated?

My gut feeling is "of course" even though the pre-existing moral framework is so yuk that it is hard even to navigate within it

Of course, this is contrived, but in real life what women used to often found they had ruined their lives doing was to have sex with a man who said he was about to marry them. If that was a conscious lie (perhaps he is already married to someone else, so a provable conscious lie) what effect should that have on the integrity of "consent"?

I am not comfortable with buying into any of these social or moral codes to the extent of even arguing in theory within them, though

Beatrixparty Sat 05-Oct-13 15:01:45

Mildred It is a minefield.

Can it ever be the case though, that the nature of deception is irrelevant ? Say in the case of a poor man pretending his is wealthy, or say not an Asian but a heavily tanned 'white' man, or say, a catholic not a protestant - where of course all those latter conditions for sex were made plain.

Or - as in this case, a 'woman' not a 'man'.

BasilBabyEater Sat 05-Oct-13 17:05:54

“the evidence relating to ‘choice’ and the ‘freedom’ to make any particular choice must be approached in a broad commonsense way”

Comonsense as defined by whom?

In any other area of life, allowing your bodily boundaries to be breached, requires informed consent. If your doctor or even dentist doesn't inform you of the potential side-effects of even the most minor medical procedure, s/he opens him/ herself to a lawsuit in the event of it going wrong. If your financial advisor sells you PPI on a false basis, or hundreds of them do the same to thousands of people, the banks are forced to pay millions in compensation.

It's only in sexual relations, that informed consent is considered some kind of luxury. Except when you're under the age of consent though - the law accepts that a child can't give informed consent, though s/he can give consent. In the case of a child, consent by itself is insufficient for the law, because it can't be informed consent. In the case of an adult, it doesn't need to be informed consent. Is that right? confused

scallopsrgreat Sat 05-Oct-13 18:04:25

Can I just mark my place to say that this a really great thread with loads of lightbulb moments and nodding along. Sorry it's taken me so long to join in. I wanted to devote some proper time to it and I just haven't found that time this week. I hope to come back this evening with something more to contribute.

Beachcomber Sat 05-Oct-13 18:44:07

I was thinking of another thing about why sex is different to other activities - someone on here mentioned dissociation upthread and that got me thinking about sex as a form of violence/sexualised violence etc.

Sex must be one the the few areas of human interaction where the same act can be one of love and one of hatred and extreme violence. Doing the dishes or flipping burgers and all the other silly comparisons one hears sometimes, do not have this element to them.

And then that got me thinking about things like gynaecological examinations - which can be not very pleasant procedures, like they can be damaging and traumatising, depending on how they are done.

And when you listen to women talk about things like birth trauma or upsetting vaginal exams, they will very often talk about a number of things aside from things like physical pain. One of them is about losing control, not being in control of your own body, another is a feeling of violation and overstepping of a personal boundary, another is the invasion of intimacy, usually unwanted vulnerability is mentioned and often a feeling of a breach of trust.

Also women will often mention having to shut off from themselves to get through it - which of course is dissociation, which is a technique for coping with stress.

For a woman there is something immensely stressful about having a man overstep a physical boundary and there is a combination of violence and intimacy that is particularly humiliating and degrading. And terrifying.

Coming back to birth trauma, women often say they felt like a piece of meat - by saying this, they are saying that they felt dehumanized. And I think this is a key element as to why we feel differently about sex compared with other human activities. The right to bodily integrity is a human right, and having bodily integrity is an acknowledgement that you count in society as a human - a person with rights, the same rights as everybody else. When someone infringes on that right, they dehumanize you. They treat you like a piece of meat and not as a whole person with the right to agency and a connection between what goes on in your body and what goes on in your head. They disconnect you. They take you apart for their own self-purposes and take the bit they want and ignore or reject the bit they don't want (or can't be bothered with). And they do all this whist being physically inside your body and in a place where they could really hurt you or make you sick, pregnant, etc.

They violate you physically and they dehumanize all - all whilst engaging in an activity that is as intimate as it is possible for humans to get (with the possible exception of a pregnant women and foetus).

And if that isn't fucked up, I don't know what is.

Beatrixparty Sat 05-Oct-13 18:53:15

There is case called Miller v Miller - this was not a criminal case, but a divorce case where the Courts were asked to come to a financial settlement. Such a settlement ought to be a fair one. One of the Judges in that case said this of 'fairness'.

Fairness is an elusive concept. It is an instinctive response to a given set of facts. Ultimately it is grounded in social and moral values. These values, or attitudes, can be stated. But they cannot be justified, or refuted, by any objective process of logical reasoning. Moreover, they change from one generation to the next. It is not surprising therefore that in the present context there can be different views on the requirements of fairness in any particular case

'Common-sense' could I think be described in a similar way - the people making such decisions in a criminal Court would be the Jury. In the McNally case the defendant pleaded guilty, and therefore the issue did not come before a jury.

ModeratelyObvious Sat 05-Oct-13 19:15:04

Informed consent is an interesting comparison Basil.

caroldecker Sat 05-Oct-13 19:42:29

But the writer's preference is not the law. The law has upheld that the deception in the article (a femal pretending to be a male) was illegal as it was not informed consent. this is also the case in HIV positive sex.
The law has also considered wealth and found that pretending to be wealthy does not impact on consent.
There was previously a breach of promise law where, if a man renaged on a marriage after engagement, the woman could sue.

ModeratelyObvious Sat 05-Oct-13 20:47:58

It seems to me that if one person knew something that they could reasonably anticipate would affect the other's consent then they do have a duty to disclose it.

MatildaWhispers Sat 05-Oct-13 21:02:00

Beachcomber I agree with your last post about sexual violence and dehumanization. Added to this though is that in an abusive relationship the man may totally deny that the sex was non consensual. Even if it so blatantly was non consensual. They may have reasons or explanations for what happened and why they did it if confronted. But none of those 'explanations' reflect the reality, they won't say 'I don't know what came over me I should not have done that to you when you made it very clear you didn't want it'. At least not in my experience. I think it is the dehumanization coupled with the denial it ever even happened that is so terrifying yet also so confusing.

At least in a medical scenario, where say a vaginal examination is badly handled, you would expect a complaint to be properly acknowledged and given a considered response. Well, ideally I suppose, though I guess that maybe doesn't always happen either.

BasilBabyEater Sat 05-Oct-13 21:03:24

But is it rape carol? Legally I mean. Can't remember that HIV case.

caroldecker Sat 05-Oct-13 22:14:23

The HIV case here is that it is not rape if HIV or other sexual transmitted diseases are not disclosed but, it it is an offence against the person, so they can be tried, but not for rape.

BasilBabyEater Sat 05-Oct-13 22:24:26

Ah yes, I thought it might be sth like that.

I've just had a vision of The Importance of Being Ernest. (Informed consent and all that.) That prob means I should go to bed. grin

Good night.

Beatrixparty Sun 06-Oct-13 00:58:06

In the appeal case of R v EB, the defendant was convicted of rape in any event. This conviction remained.

It was then asked however as a side issue - that is - if it would have been rape merely for not disclosing his HIV positive status to the complainant. It was on that question - as if that was the only criminal issue to be resolved, that the court decided that it wouldn't.

Beachcomber Sat 12-Oct-13 20:07:48

Hi again everyone, don't want to unnecessarily bump the thread but just wanted to say thanks to everyone for their input.

I got a lot from this thread and hope others may have too. We are lucky to have this space on MN to have these sorts of discussions. Have a nice weekend all smile

FloraFox Sun 13-Oct-13 09:38:53

Hi Beach. Just want to quickly say that I think this thread has lots of life left in it, lots of avenues to explore. I don't know about others but I've been keeping off it recently because I was afraid of penis-beaker and AIBU interlopers spoiling a great thread. I think and hope they've gone so I was planning to post again this weekend.

coldwinter Sun 13-Oct-13 10:50:45

I agree with the case posted that it clearly wasn't informed consent. I think partners do have to disclose information that they think might stop someone agreeing to have sex with them e.g. if they are married, have HIV, are trans, are pretending to be a sex they are not. Sex should be a lovingly shared mutual activity.. Not something that one partner tricks another partner into.

WhentheRed Tue 15-Oct-13 01:42:16

This thread has been great, and very challenging. I have to think more about this (and perhaps some of this has been covered already).

When I think of even the word "consent" and how it is used every day, it has a passive connotation. One consents to someone else doing something.

When you look at business contracts, the parties don't "consent". They make an agreement. They say they agree to do something. It is much more positively stated. When you see the word "consent" in a business agreement it is generally a passive concept or a giving up of a right.

Then when you think of marriage vows - "I take you .... It's even more positively stated.

I think consent is the wrong concept in sex. There needs to be agreement.

grimbletart Tue 15-Oct-13 12:29:40

I agree about agreement! I always think of consent as "oh all right then if you must".

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