Strigiforms

An owl's eye view of forests and trees

Considering Consent, Common Courtesy, and Confused Men of Power

Consent.  We all know what it means, right? Such a simple concept. Seems like only common courtesy, really. Yet it seems to confuse so many. Especially in men’s encounters with women.

 

Harvey Weinstein. Charlie Rose.  Roy Moore. Donald Trump.

 

Right now, their deeds spill from the lips of reporters. Their names splash across our webpages.  Because of certain behavior hinging on consent. Actually, the behavior hinges on many factors. But consent is one of the big ones.

 

And frequently those men’s reactions show they are a bit confused on the concept. It suddenly dawned on me after listening to these various men respond to accusations.  This is not just them saying anything to defend their actions. They really don’t understand.  They actually thought they had consent.  When they did not really come near the idea.

 

Some words of clarification.  I will refer to men of power not grasping the concept of consent a lot below.  But this problem relates to a lot more than just men of power. Wealth, influence, and political positions make it easier to see. Hence the dawn recently breaking for me. But others without any of those descriptors also have similar issues with understanding what consent really means.

 

I also want to clarify that the point of all of this is not to assert all men as villains. While I have disturbing things to say, it’s not about making men into bad guys or making them feel guilty, but rather about making us all aware of how our thoughts can be unknowingly influenced.  When we examine things that may be harmful to us, or create flaws in us, we give ourselves the power to do something about it for the better.  Not just men.  All of us. Keep that in mind if anything you encounter here disturbs you.

 

UNDERSTANDING CONSENT IN THIS CONTEXT

 

Consent.  Permission granted.  Agreement. It takes two to tango.  You get the picture, right?

 

So why is this concept so hard for some folks to grasp?

 

Because of longstanding cultural norms that allow it to mean one thing on paper and another in practice, particularly where women are involved.

 

Power. Ownership. Objectification. Inequality. And their application.

 

That’s what is at the center of all of this.

 

CONSENT PRIMER

 

Let me start with the basics so we are all on the same page.  I am talking about consent with regard to interactions between the sexes. Particularly when consent did not occur, e.g., sexual misconduct.

 

To start off, a video. Warning: There is foul language.  If you want a clean version, a link to one is also below.

 

Video Copyright ©2015 Emmeline May and Blue Seat Studios

Link to Original Version

Link to Clean Language Version

 

The video talks about consent by making analogies to drinking tea. The video centers on consent to sexual intercourse, but the basic principles remain the same whether it’s sexual intercourse, touching, kissing, grasping body parts, or what have you.

 

Simply put, to have consent, there has to be agreement by all the parties involved.  Don’t assume. Ask.  And recognize that someone may initially say “Yes” and then change their mind before anything happens. At that point, there is no consent.  In other words, it does not matter if there was agreement before. No agreement at the time equals no consent.  Hence a key point from the video that unconscious people cannot give consent.

 

Consent is an all way street. If one person consents, and the other does not, there is no consent.  One person’s desire for something to happen does not outweigh the other’s lack of consent. It’s not a majority vote. A single “No” means no consent. If everybody does not consent, there is no consent. Period.

 

We all clear so far?  Thought so. Great.

 

EXPLORING SOME DAMAGING CULTURAL NORMS

 

Now that we are clear on consent, I will dig a bit into the cultural norms driving a lot of the behavior towards women. Understanding the concepts at the center of these norms helps explain why consent may not seem so clear to some.

 

The United States has long established cultural norms that allow and, in fact, encourage, certain behavior and attitudes regarding women. In all fairness, those cultural norms existed well before this country did. Those cultural norms span continents and millennia. They are deeply rooted in the past and in our current society. The roots spread everywhere, and the norms cause problems beyond just the interactions between the genders. As if that is not a wide enough scope, all by itself.

 

I am not going to get into all the details of these cultural norms here. That would require a book, and this article is long enough already. Instead, I’d like to discuss one aspect of these norms.

 

At their core, these norms encapsulate concepts about women that shape our thinking. All of our thinking, by the way, not just men’s.  Among the concepts forwarded is essentially that men have rights of ownership over women.

 

Now wait a moment. Don’t get all defensive. I am not saying men own women as if they are slaves under the law. Nor am I saying the men of today created these norms, or that they are not also victims of them.

 

Nor am I saying most men consciously go around avowing these concepts of ownership.  All of us absorb cultural norms unconsciously from birth.  They affect us mostly at a subconscious level.  Thus, we often don’t actively develop those thoughts on our own, but rather the norms invisibly shift our minds in that direction.  As a result, we don’t often see or recognize them or their impact on us.  Which is why I am bringing any of this up. Not to blame men, or demand they feel guilty. But rather to make us all a bit more aware of what lurks beneath the surface of our culture.

 

And in this instance, honestly speaking, the underlying cultural norms encourage thinking in both men and women that what matters is the man’s opinion, the man’s desires, the man’s concerns, the man’s career, the man’s feelings on the matter, the man’s intent. Lost in there is the woman’s autonomy. Her ability to make choices for herself. Her choices are suborned to and evaluated against the man’s priorities. Especially if the choices differ from the man’s desires.

 

The essence of a woman is routinely filtered through men’s experience instead of being viewed in her own light.  Her actions are frequently interpreted in terms of male perspective, not hers. For example, if she dresses up, we assume she must be trying to attract a man. That it might have nothing to do with men at all rarely crosses people’s minds. As a result of all of this, culturally speaking, the idea that a woman lacks autonomy or that men have some degree of ownership of women has been normalized.

 

Uncomfortable?  So am I. Don’t want it to be true? Neither do I.  But I can’t deny that underlying most of the encounters I have heard of or experienced personally that involve sexual misconduct have this ownership or lack of consideration for a woman’s autonomy at their core.

 

A FEW EXAMPLES

 

Obvious examples exist. Rape, for one.  But let’s look at some less obvious ones. Some that do not even center around unwanted physical contact or propositions. In order to better demonstrate how far this ranges.

 

A woman in a meeting at work has a hard time being allowed to speak. The others, all men, talk over her.  For them, her participation does not matter, despite being an equal member of the team. Cultural norms encourage this concept. Her personhood as a member of the team is ignored because of her gender. She is not granted the autonomy to speak her mind because men’s autonomy in this regard is more important. She cannot have anything to really contribute. What she has to say can’t matter compared to what a man has to say. So, she becomes an object rather than a human team member. Objectification and discounting full personhood are symptoms of ownership/lack of autonomy concepts.

 

Now say she finally gets to speak. She makes a suggestion, and her colleagues ignore it.  Five minutes later, a male colleague puts forward the same suggestion and gets praised for it. Whether done consciously or subconsciously, appropriation of a woman’s intellectual property exemplifies another area where this ownership norm raises its ugly head.  Again, the woman’s autonomy and, in fact her very thoughts, are not allowed to be hers. A man gets to own them instead.

 

And if she should object to this theft, she will often be the one accused of inappropriate behavior. She is disrupting the meeting. Disrupting the flow of events. Creating problems.  What’s the big deal?  Why make a fuss? Why be so overemotional about this? So demanding?

 

Underneath it all is the insidious idea that women are objects. They are therefore owned. They, therefore, have nothing to contribute.  And should they do so, their ideas are not their own. They belong to another. Should they exert their rights of personhood, that is inappropriate behavior. Thus, the woman also learns she has no recourse when these things happen.

 

To quote from the 1999 movie The Mummy:

 

“Do they know something we don’t?”

“They are led by a woman. What does a woman know?”

 

Jonathan Hyde in “The Mummy”, 1999, Universal Studios.

 

Sure, the movie was set decades in the past. But that sentiment still permeates our society today.

 

Can what I described happen to a man? Sure. But nowhere near as frequently. This is something women encounter all the time, whether in a business setting or not. I have even experienced it when among male friends who respect me.  Every time, they did so unaware.  Cultural norms create unconscious behaviors in us.  Which shows just how insidious harmful norms can be.

 

This goes far beyond rape, or groping. It goes to, “How dare you, an object I have a right to own, question what I am doing to you.”

 

That doesn’t sound true to you?  Let me rephrase. “How dare you reject my advances? I shall ruin you.”  That should sound a bit more familiar. It is a threat used to keep women quiet on this subject a lot. To rebut the woman’s objections. And underneath is, consciously or unconsciously, the thought process expressed in the original phrase I used.

 

CONSENT IS CONTRARY TO THE MESSAGE FROM OUR CULTURAL NORMS

 

It therefore is no wonder that people would get confused on consent. Because consent flies in the face of what those cultural norms are telling our subconscious. Women don’t get to object. They don’t get to have autonomy. So why worry about consent?

 

Sounds drastic, I know. I wish it weren’t. I speak from not just personal experience, but from long observation.

 

You want further examples of this whole ownership and lack of autonomy business? I know someone who, in high school, was subject to repeated non-consensual physical contacts by various boys, many of whom were friends.  No one asked what she wanted nor gave her a chance to object. Consent was assumed.  Once, when she said, “No”, in a very specific context, the young man did not proceed further. But he took umbrage that she dared reject him in that specific context. He never asked her about it or the basis for her decision in the moment. He just proceeded to take it as a rejection of him completely, and then proceeded to destroy her social life in revenge.  All because one time she dared say, “No.” What led him to believe he had the right? That idea of ownership and that her autonomy did not matter. Only his.

 

Nothing unique or even uncommon about this story. It should sound familiar to you, especially if you don’t limit yourself to a high school setting. That’s a big clue as to the truth of what I am saying about those cultural norms right there.

 

So yes, with those cultural norms, it’s easy for men to be confused on this whole consent business. Consent is based on the idea that all parties have autonomy. They all have an equal right to say “No.” On the other hand, the cultural norms in this regard are based on the opposite.  They center around ownership and removing the autonomy of others.  Cultural norms encourage men to assume consent is not necessary, or already granted.  Because the man has rights over the woman’s autonomy to choose for herself. His desires take priority. His view is what matters. Under that logic scheme, a man can unconsciously assume consent, because cultural norms say he has the right to do so.

 

Those norms, therefore, also encourage the assertion of power. And links the assertion of power to the removal of other’s autonomy. No wonder then that persons in positions of power seem to struggle with the concept of consent more than most.

 

But here’s the tricky part. If you’re a man, you may say to yourself, “I don’t think that way or act like that.”  Again, I am not trying to depict all men as villains. But cultural norms are the mix of values you, and all the rest of us, were raised with and continue to be steeped in every day. You may not think it affects your thinking. But trust me, if you have not examined it and actively sought to push back on it, it does, as part of your subconscious make up. Just like it is part of mine. And all the rest of us. Through no fault of our own.  So, again, it is no wonder people have problems with a simple concept like consent in this context.

 

CHARLIE ROSE AND SUPPORTERS’ CONFUSION ABOUT CONSENT

 

Let me bring up some recent examples that stood out to me.

 

After sexual misconduct accusations came out against Charlie Rose, he commented that there was no wrongdoing, as noted in this article. All the encounters were consensual.  See, for example, his apology, as in this article, where he indicates that he believed he pursued shared feelings.   In reading a different article on the events, I encountered the following in the comment section.

 

“’I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings’

Why don’t Charlie’s feelings matter as much as the women’s?”

 

The commenter quoted Mr. Rose from the article and then showed his own misunderstanding of consent.

 

Everybody has to throw in for consent. Or there is no consent. Period. One does not weigh the depth of one person’s feelings, i.e., consent, against another’s.  If Charlie Rose has feelings in a certain direction, and the woman does not have the same feelings, they are not shared. There is no consent. One “No” vote means no consent.

 

Further, even if there are “shared feelings” that does not mean both parties consented to all actions done.  A woman can love her boyfriend very much. But if she does not want to have sex with him before they get married, there is no consent to sex.  They still are “pursuing shared feelings.” But there is no consent to have sex.  Remember the video on tea.

 

But those simple concepts eluded to commenter. And Charlie Rose.  The question that should be asked is whether Mr. Rose ever asked if the feelings were shared or asked for consent to the actions. Or did he just assume?  The cultural norms in play actually encourage Mr. Rose to assume. And to assume that he had a right to behave as he did and women should just be flattered by the attention.  Hence, of course, he would see it as consent.

 

Ownership. Lack of autonomy. His feelings should weigh more than her consent. What does a woman know?

 

Charlie Rose. Photo Courtesy of the TMZ, November 2017.

NOT BEING GIVEN A CHANCE TO SAY “NO” DOES NOT EQUAL CONSENT

 

When a woman clearly rejects the behavior. When she says, “No.” Then, obviously, she does not consent. But many times, it seems, no one asks the question. No one checks first.

 

For example, someone just starts masturbating in front of a woman. And before you ask, yes, I have witnessed this. In the workplace.  He kept it underneath his desk, but what he was doing was absolutely clear. And we were expected to sit there and just witness it.

 

Someone leans in to kiss a woman before she can react.  Someone stands next to a woman and then just grabs her butt, or her breast. Again, before she can react.

 

Let me give you a clue, stunned silence does not equate to consent.

 

If you are not asked first or given a chance to accept or reject, you were not given a chance to consent. Consent was not obtained.

 

Maybe, after the fact, you do consent. You find what happened acceptable and something you wanted. Maybe you don’t. But at the time, the action was not done with consent. Got it?

 

COERCION DOES NOT EQUAL CONSENT EITHER

 

Then come those situations where someone provides consent, either before or after the fact, but it is essentially coerced.  Sometimes the pressures against the woman make a free or willing choice very difficult, if not impossible. This is especially true when the person making the advances is in a position of power. They can unfairly influence one’s career, reputation, or social standing. Thus, women will submit to a loss of autonomy to continue to have a job, to stay in their chosen career, to continue to be able to provide for their families, to not shame their families, to not be ostracized by friends, and so on.

 

But that is not really consent.  And, I admit, that is a little harder for most folks to understand.  And to see through.

 

A LOOK AT CONTRACTS

 

Let me explain it through contract law.

 

Contracts are agreements. Consent is agreement. With me so far?

 

This…

 

…Boils down to this

 

To be valid under the law, a contract, i.e., the agreement, has to meet certain requirements.  Among them are that there is a true meeting of the minds. As in everyone has to truly agree and understand that to which they are agreeing.  We still clear?

 

Another is that the parties are competent and legally able to contract. In most states, for instance, there are laws establishing that minors are not legally able to contract.  So even if an underaged person agrees to a contract, that contract is not enforceable.  The idea is that minors do not necessarily have the experience or wisdom to understand the full ramifications of what they are agreeing to, and they can be unfairly influenced by others, especially adults, on the subject. Thus, it would be unfair to hold minors to such agreements.  For the same reasons (and others), laws regarding statutory rape or other sexual misconduct with minors indicate that it does not matter if the young woman consented or not. If she was underaged, it’s against the law regardless of her consent. Because, like with a contract, she really can’t be counted on to fully understand what she is agreeing to and can be unduly influenced to agree. Still with me?

 

Similar to the legal capacity issue is that a contract must be for a legal purpose. You can’t sue someone for not carrying out that murder-for-hire contract, because murder is against the law.  Make sense?

 

Also, say one person deliberately lied, mislead, or negligently failed to find out and tell the other person about key things that made the second person agree to the contract. That too would make the agreement invalid.  Sounds fair, right?

 

The agreement has to be truly willing with eyes wide open.  And entered into fairly.

 

That also means no literal or figurative guns being held to people’s heads. The agreement is not valid if one person entered into it under duress. That would not be a true meeting of the minds, or necessarily lawful, or with full capacity, or eyes wide open, or fair.  That makes sense too, right?

 

A LOOK AT COERCION

 

But a figurative gun is held to the heads of many women facing unwanted advances from people in power.

 

They may go back to the guy’s place. They may not have to be kidnapped to go there. They may not run from the apartment screaming and crying. But that does not mean they were there entirely willingly. Coercion and duress erode the ability to give true consent.

 

And you should be able to accept that such coercion often exists.  Before and sometimes after the fact.

 

“If you don’t, think about what will happen to your career…”

 

“If you do, I can help your career. You’re just starting out.  I know this business. Don’t blow your only big chance.”

 

“If you tell anyone, who are they going to believe? You or me?”

 

“If you tell anyone, I will ruin your career.”

 

I am guessing none of that sounds new or surprising. You’ve heard of things like that being said in real life.  All of those are examples of undue pressure put on a woman to get her to “consent”.  But it is not really a free choice, with those threats hanging over her, is it?

 

If your still not convinced, look at it like a contract and think again.

 

SILENCE IS NOT CONSENT

 

Say the guy does something. And the woman never says anything. Ever. That’s not necessarily consent either, although many people in power seem confused on this also.

 

I hinted earlier that the cultural norms affect women too. They learn that they have no recourse.

 

First, they should not speak up. What do they know, after all?

 

Second, should they speak up, they will often not be believed and be seen as the wrongdoer.

 

Third, after getting over the first two hurdles, women often find that anything they do or say is ineffectual.  Depending on the nature of the complaint, who can they report to? What can actually be done? What is likely to be done?  Will it really change anything? Will it make things worse for the victim?

 

And all three of those hurdles are made worse by any threats, explicit or implied, from the man should the woman say anything.

 

MORE EXAMPLES FROM EXPERIENCE

 

Let me give you an example from my own past. I had a boss who sexually harassed female employees. He liked to hire young women in their teens or early twenties, in part for their looks, and in part for their inexperience. They did not know their options when it came to his behavior.  So, he got away with more.  I observed it. I experienced it.

 

What did I do?  Not much of anything, actually. Did that mean I consented? Absolutely not.

 

But what could I have done?  It was a small office. He was my boss. There was no one but him to complain to. Dead end there.

 

How about telling him, “No”? Most of his behavior was on impulse. He acted before any of us could react. There was no time to say, “No” before he acted. How about after?  The one time I did, I was told to leave for the rest of the day. I was paid at an hourly rate, so I lost money as a result of his bad behavior.  At other times, I was too shocked to say or do anything. Shock really can paralyze you.

 

How about leaving?  That led to multiple problems.  I was just starting to find a career. I needed to be in the job long enough to have some experience to make me more hirable elsewhere.  Also, if I left his employ after only a few months, it would have reflected poorly on me.  First of all, perspective employers would have seen me as someone who did not commit to a job. If they asked why I left my old job so soon…Well, I was raised to be honest.  I would have mentioned the sexual harassment. And the onus would have again been on me, not my former boss. Employers would assume I was a troublemaker. Someone who was too sensitive. Too likely to complain about any little thing. A problem in the workplace with no loyalty to employer or the job. So, from a career standpoint, I had to stick things out, at least for a while.

 

How about complaining to the police? Over what?  They were not going to arrest him for any of the things he’d done. He did not rape or physically harm a single one of us.

 

Court of public opinion?  We were in a small office, not some major firm with a reputation. There was no court of public opinion for a small fry like him.

 

Tell my friends and family?  Sure, I told some. But I did not give all the details at the time to some of them. Like my father. Or my fiancé. Because I did not want either of them to go and assault the guy. They would see jail time all because I told them about this man’s bad behavior. Not a fair exchange in my mind. Besides, other then venting, what good did telling friends and family do me? It would not stop the behavior.

 

How about suing him?  I eventually left and got a new, better paying job.  But I worried that this man would continue on with other young women.  So, I actually went to a lawyer about pursuing a suit. No dice.  There was cause, but it was all “small time” stuff. Worse yet, what damages did I have? I wasn’t an emotional wreck. I now had a better paying job. So what harm had I suffered? Having actual damages is a necessary part bringing a civil suit. I had none. Therefore, I could not file the suit despite him clearly having sexually harassed me.

 

I learned I had no recourse on my own.  This is a common tale and a common lesson women learn.

 

So, they learn to be silent.  Is it any surprise? Does that mean they were okay with the behavior? I wasn’t. Most aren’t.

 

 

CONSENT CONFUSES MEN LIKE ROY MOORE AND DONALD TRUMP TOO

 

Not giving someone a chance to say “No.” Consciously or unconsciously unfairly pressuring women into “consent.” Stacking the deck culturally and through consequence so that silence is often the response afterwards.  Cultural norms encouraging assumptions of consent.  Exercises of power, ownership and control.

 

All of which leads me back to men of power getting confused about the simple concept of consent.  Charlie Rose thought things were consensual. Because he assumed. Because he was raised on cultural norms encouraging him to assume, not ask. Because he held the power of repercussions over those women. Because those women were raised in a culture that told them there was nothing they could do in such situations but accept or face ruin.  And so, Charlie Rose may truly not have understood how non-consensual those encounters were.

 

ROY MORE DOES NOT GET CONSENT,  BUT DONALD TRUMP GETS ROY MOORE

 

Similarly, Roy Moore has made statements about the accusations against him in which he implies that, for any non-underaged contact he had, it was all consensual and with the permission of their mothers (and the underaged stuff he denies).  Despite the stories of a consistent pattern of behavior to the contrary told not just by the women involved, but by many other witnesses as well. Again, he appears to have made assumptions of consent, without asking, or without considering the duress and coercion these young women may have felt.  It does not appear to have occurred to him that consent was not actually obtained when he acted, or that silence after the fact did not indicate consent.

 

By the way, if a young lady is not a minor, her parents cannot give consent on her behalf. And permission to see someone is not blanket consent to all acts the person may do. That Roy Moore apparently thinks both of those things do qualify as consent further demonstrates his misunderstanding. Because cultural norms allow him to assume he has sufficient consent.

 

In response to the Roy Moore accusations, Donald Trump has made clear that what is important to him are Roy Moore’s denials.  Just as Trump has denied the allegations of sexual misconduct against himself.

 

Question by reporter: Is an accused child molester better than a Democrat? Is an accused child molester better than a Democrat?

Trump: Well he [Roy Moore] denies it. Look he denies it.  I mean, if you look at what, what is really going on and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen, and, you know, you have to listen to him also.

. . . .

Question by reporter: What is your message to women, sir, during this pivotal moment in our country, when we’re talking about sexual misconduct? You’ve had your own allegations against you.  What do you say to women?

Trump: He … Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it.  That’s all I can say.  He denies it. And by the way, he totally denies it.

(Sources: here and here.)

 

Trump made it clear that the women’s statements, and all the other supporting evidence, do not matter as much as the man’s simple denial.  Again, the man is prioritized.

 

“You know you have to listen to him also”, said Trump, while making it clear from his surrounding statements, that the man is the only one to whom you should listen.  An earlier blog article dissects how Trump uses figleaves to give what he says a whiff of respectability, while meaning something else entirely. That’s what Trump did with his “you have to listen to him also” bit.  He tried to give the appearance of balance and fairness, while indicating he is really only listening to one side.

 

Note also how Trump reasserted Roy Moore’s denial as the final word on the accusation when a reporter brought up the specter of the accusations against Trump. Trump urged that Moore’s denials were sufficient, thus implying his own should be.

 

Part of the reason Trump sees no problem asserting Roy Moore’s denials as definitive to the public is because, in Trump’s mind, as in Roy Moore’s, anything that happened must have been consensual.  So, Trump believes Roy Moore understands where he is coming from. And that Trump understands where Roy Moore is coming from.  And they both feel they are being unfairly hounded by accusations for what they perceive as consensual encounters.

 

HERE’S ONE EXAMPLE OF TRUMP’S FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND CONSENT

 

Trump already has proven that he does not understand consent. That he assumes ownership of women.  Women fought in this country for the concept of marital rape to be allowed into law.  To this day, some men don’t get it. If you are married, how can it be rape? Trump is apparently one of those men.

 

During one of his divorces, Trump was accused of marital rape.  Whether marital rape occurred or not is not the question. What’s important is Trump’s response when the public was reminded of this during the recent presidential run.  His attorneys claimed the accusation was false because marital rape, by definition, cannot happen. They further said the law supported that position.  Since marital rape is, in fact, against the law, the attorneys later had to walk back their statements. I cannot see any reason to publicly put that much egg on your face as an attorney, unless the statements made were in keeping with Trump’s beliefs on the subject.  That, to Trump, marital rape is an impossibility by definition.

 

And to be clear, marital rape clearly can happen. Consent has to be at the time. Remember the tea video again. A woman does not give a blanket consent once, for all time, on the day of her marriage. She does not waive her rights with that one act. And to think otherwise is to, again, buy into those cultural norms about ownership of women. That she is property, who, at the moment of marriage, gave up any rights to personhood and autonomy by becoming a wife.  If you think that sounds extreme and wrong, good for you. But, in that same vein, you should then be able to accept that a woman retains her rights to autonomy after her marriage. Which means she can say, “No”.  Which means that marital rape can exist.

 

HERE’S ANOTHER

 

Let’s move on to another example of Trump’s behavior, again from his own mouth, in more than one way.

 

Reminder to Trump: Watch where you put those lips. Photo from Reuters.

 

“I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything….Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

— Donald Trump on the Access Hollywood tape.

 

Look at that statement. Don’t just focus on the line about women’s privates.  Look at the whole thing.

 

Trump equates acting on his impulse without waiting for permission and having star power to be consent. “They let you do it.” He is implying that there is consent with that line. Yet he admitted just before that line that he does not wait to find out if the women actually consent. He assumes consent exists. He says “They let you do it” without understanding that women subject to his conduct have little recourse when he does do it. That they can do little to prevent it from happening and little to reject it after the fact. They don’t let him do it. They are not given a choice. That is not consent.  But that is not something many people in power can grasp, apparently.

 

Trump does what he wants, and does not cross certain lines.  For example, none of the current accusations against him, with one possible and questionable exception, claim rape.  He does what he wants on impulse. He does so because he assumes consent is given before he even acts.  Women are shocked or too powerless, given his influence or the situation they are in at the time, to do anything.

 

If he had come off that Access Hollywood bus, and grabbed the woman waiting for him by the breast, would she have done anything while the cameras were rolling?  Or would she, at most, look a bit embarrassed and try to pretend it did not happen, for the sake of the job she was there to do?  The latter is more likely. But that would not mean she asked for or consented to the behavior.

 

If the women do want to protest afterwards, they have limited responses available. Who will believe them? What damages have they suffered; so how can they sue? If they do confront him, can they afford to deal with his litigious nature? He likes to sue people to get them to go away because they can’t outspend him in courts. So, the women tend to remain silent.

 

To Trump this all equates to consent.

 

It is not.

 

CONSENT CONFUSES MEN IN POWER ACROSS IDEOLOGICAL LINES

 

Al Franken also exemplifies this problem. In response to, at this point, four accusations of non-consensual physical contact, Franken has said he does not remember these incidents, or that he does not remember them as the women do. And that he is a hugger.

 

 

From that I guess I am just supposed to assume that stuff just happens with huggers, and it’s all okay?

 

Now don’t get me wrong. Franken, unlike many others, has mostly said “the right things” in response to the accusations against him.  But they still indicate how deep these cultural norms go. How pervasive that idea of ownership and lack of female autonomy is. And how that can make something as simple as consent hard for some to grasp.

 

Franken’s comments show he knows better. That such conduct is not acceptable. Yet he appears to have done it anyway. If he is to be believed, he has done so unconsciously. Which actually makes it, in some ways, worse.

 

He knew better, but this kind of behavior is so normalized that he did it anyway. Without conscious thought.  On impulse. To paraphrase, “I just grab them by the butt cheek….I don’t even wait.” I am not equating Franken with Trump. But the underlying problem with consent both seem to have is similar.

 

Nor did Franken realize he had done it after the fact. Since he says he doesn’t remember any of it.  Nor did he stop at the time and say, “Oops. Sorry. I should not have done that.” Nope. Just groped and put it out of his mind. For someone claiming to be aware of how this behavior is wrong, his pursuit of it is disturbing.

 

I have known many huggers. They usually ask before hugging me, either by word or gesture.  They don’t grope my butt cheeks.  If they did, they would have apologized at the time.  I know many folks who need lots of physical contact, and they usually do so only with consent.

 

But Al Franken apparently does not. At least with women and their body parts.  Assumption of consent without consent. Normalized behavior to the point where it is done unconsciously and without recognition when it happens.  Very problematic. And obviously unclear on the concept of consent, at least subconsciously.

 

Reminder to Franken: Watch where you put those hands. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein, courtesy of Getty Images.

CLARIFYING TWEEDEN’S CLAIMS REGARDING THE KISS

 

And let me take a moment to clarify things for those not in the know. When discussing the initial accusations by Leeann Tweeden against Al Franken, I found many people online unaware that more than a photo was at issue.  She also reported an unwanted kiss. Further, many of those I encountered who knew about the kiss excused it, by saying it was part of a rehearsal. “If you are in showbiz, you know you are going to rehearse kisses. What’s the big deal? Give me a break?” And to stress that the cultural norms do not just affect men, I ran into a lot of women saying this too.

 

Statements like those exemplify why you should always check the original source, if at all possible. Most people making those comments did not know about the full text of Tweeden’s account. They were only reading other’s accounts of what Tweeden said. Thus, they did not know that she was not talking about an ordinary stage kiss she was trying to avoid.  I am providing a link here to a Snopes article on one of the attempts to discredit the photo. But it also quotes part of original statement made by Tweeden.

 

Of the kiss, Tweeden said,

“We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.”

 

According to Tweeden, Franken forcibly French-kissed her.  From her statement, she clearly did not consent to being French-kissed, to share germs, with Franken before he grabbed her and planted a kiss on her in a manner designed to prevent escape.

 

For those saying that that’s just the nature of being in show business, then the nature of the business needs to change. Just like a wife does not give up her rights as a person when she says wedding vows, an actress does not give up her rights as a person, and to not share someone else’s saliva without consent, by applying for a Screen Actors Guild card.  If two actors are going to French-kiss, they both should have a right to consent to it first.

 

So, even when looking at show business in general, the idea of consent seems hard for even the average person to grasp. Why? Because the cultural norms tell us that that’s just how it is in Hollywood.  Consent is not asked for, and is instead assumed.   Not just by the aggressors, but by the public too.

 

And right now, we are beginning to hear stories about members of the House of Representatives.  Particularly, John Conyers does not see what appears to be a pattern of sexual harassment in the workplace to be sexual harassment, or non-consensual.  Again, it appears his position of power led him to assume consent to his advances, or that that such behavior was his due, as he was taught. And again, women in the workplace were under duress and bitter lessons to remain silent. Which does not equate to consent.  But Conyers, like many others, appears to have difficulty understanding this concept.

 

GERALDO RIVERA DOESN’T GET CONSENT EITHER

 

The day before I posted this blog article, NBC fired Matt Lauer for sexual misconduct allegations. In support of Lauer, Geraldo Rivera tweeted:

 

“News is a flirty business & it seems like current epidemic of #SexHarassmentAllegations may be criminalizing courtship & conflating it w predation.”

 

Rivera proved the point of this blog article by demonstrating he too fails to understand the simple concept of consent.

 

The women are not complaining about courtship. They are complaining about behavior that is wrong and not asked for or appreciated. That is not courtship. And it lacks consent.

 

The reason he and others have a fear about “criminalizing courtship” stems from the hindbrain, or subconscious. Steeped in those cultural norms of ownership, it flares when it feels its modus operandi may be threatened. Threatened by the idea that maybe Rivera and men like him might have to stop assuming consent exists. To instead actually exercise the common courtesy of finding out if it exists. Like we do for all our other social interactions.

 

But to do so challenges how they think they can and do interact with women.  They may have to realize that perhaps they believe such behavior is merely “flirty” or proper “courtship” because of the position of privilege our cultural norms have let them occupy all this time. And that all this time the conduct has been unwanted and inappropriate.

 

Geraldo Rivera should also get kudos for hitting so many other logical fallacies with his comments.  He creates a false equivalence between predation, non-consensual behavior and similar misconduct, on the one hand, and consensual, mutual courtship, on the other. As a further example of this fallacy, Rivera tweeted in explanation of his comments, “If News wasn’t (formerly) a flirty biz then how do we explain so many newsroom courtships that have led to happy marriages?”

 

His logic equates sexual predation with happy health relationships.  Specifically, that women who complain about inappropriate behavior steeped in ownership and inequality cannot tell the difference.  That they confuse such bad conduct with playful flirtation that will lead to a happy marriage.  Ones presumably based on equality. Because otherwise at least one person in the marriage really is not happy.

 

And that gets into another problem with the logic. Victim blaming.  It’s the women’s fault. They don’t understand that getting pressured to have sex or getting groped is just playful banter that will lead to dating and a wedding.  In other comments by Rivera, he suggests women complain to get revenge on the boss. Underneath it all, the women are in the wrong, not the men doing the conduct. And underneath that, the women, by complaining about bad behavior, may make it difficult for the men to continue to assume consent in their “flirty” behavior.

 

The message: “Don’t complain ladies. You are being over sensitive.” Remember what I said up above? How that is commonly used to criticize women for speaking up. To reassert the ownership cultural norms.

 

After his employer, Fox News, expressed concern over his comments, Rivera apologized:

 

“Reaction to my tweets today on #sexharassment makes clear I didn’t sufficiently explain that this is a horrendous problem long hidden-Harassers are deviants who deserve what is coming to them-Often victims are too frightened to come forward in a timely fashion-I humbly apologize”

 

While he does hit some of the right notes, he also reveals why he did not understand the errors of his position previously.  “Harassers are deviants.”  No. They are not some rare abnormality. Harassment is widespread and normalized.  That’s been the problem all along.

 

Rivera thinks this behavior results from some abnormality in the person or their environment. Because he, like many of us, cannot see the impact our invisible cultural norms have had on thought processes and behavior.  How normalized all of this is.

CONSENT AND COMMUNICATION – NOT A GENDER THING, BUT A PEOPLE THING

 

As more and more men of power face accusations, I am betting many of them too will show a similar confusion about the fairly simple concept of consent.

 

This is not about political parties or political ideologies. It is not about making men the villains.  Or making people afraid to interact with others of the opposite gender.  It’s about being aware of how something as simple as consent can be misunderstood and overlooked.

 

And can be very hard for powerful men to understand.

 

In the process, recognizing the lack of consent in these areas helps us be more aware of consent in all areas of our own lives.

 

All of us should just think a bit more first. Step back a bit before acting on impulse. Communicate. Ask. Not assume.  All important lessons. And simple common courtesy. Not just in the interactions between genders. But for all our interactions with any of our fellow human beings.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Ann, very engrossing commentary but I must say you missed one opportunity to point out a very big example of the problem of assumptions in society about taking sexual and personal liberties with women. The Tweedon incident did not happen in a vacuum. It was part and parcel of a USO tour which, by design, is highly sexualized with women in the object role almost exclusively. Tweedon knew this and participated in other shows where she engaged in sexualized behavior. Whether those instances were consensual or not really isn’t the point I’m trying to get to. The bigger issue is the USO shows themselves which are designed to perpetuate and normalize this kind of behavior. Let’s not forget that Bob Hope, he of USO binging fame, was notorious for assaulting his female performers during tours, especially USO tours.

    Changing *that* cultural event from something that seeks to “entertain” male troops by sexualizing women strikes me as a seriously important issue as well.

    It’s one reason I consider Franken’s issues far less serious (though as you point out indicative of a larger societal problem) than those of a Roy Moore.

    • Ann Anderson

      December 4, 2017 at 12:46 am

      I absolutely agree that there are bigger issues with these cultural norms that need to be addressed. Objectification of women comes in all manners and forms. I also agree that the entertainment industry is heavily immersed in it. It’s used to sell. And men, particularly young men, are encouraged that wanting that objectified view of women is “manly”. Hence, no one would think of having a USO tour without heavy use of sexualization. “The boys need a little T & A”. I actually think, in some ways, addressing that would better get at the root norms. While it’s harder to do, I am certainly think we should try. As I noted, these norms branch out further the what I discussed in the article by far, and it would take a much longer article or series of articles to really address it all. Which is why I limited myself to consent on this one.

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