Rage of Consent

I like to classify myself as a feminist, in that I believe women should be given equal treatment in the workplace, socially, etc.  Those views include the belief that rape is a horrific crime, street harassment isn’t OK, and that anyone who uses the hashtag #notallmen should be clocked over the head with a philosophy primer.  But (shock and consternation!) sometimes people who label themselves as feminist can go a wee bit too far, making it easier for misinformed people to smear the entire philosophy based on the cyber-ramblings of a few idiots.  Enter Meghan Murphy.

Now, not being Canadian, I hadn’t really heard of Jian Ghomeshi until this week.  I believe he’s some type of TV personality over there, and he’s just lost his job.  I only know about the last bit because Mr. Ghomeshi decided to get in front of a wave of bad PR this week by making this Facebook post.  The internet collectively jumped on it, picking apart every detail in an effort to determine whether this was an innocent man trying to clear his good name or a creepy rapist trying to cover up his actions.  Then, Ms. Murphy presented us with this gem.

Before getting to the horribly-reasoned mess that is her article, I first want to make a few things clear.  I don’t know what happened between Jian Ghomeshi and any of his lovers.  I don’t know whether there was consent involved in any of these cases.  What I do know is that no criminal or civil charges have been filed by any of the women who are accusing him of this.  I also know that this doesn’t make their charges any less legitimate, but it’s important to be aware that this is entirely a battle over public image.  It’s also important to note that (at least at this point), there is apparently such a lack of evidence to support charges that civil proceedings can’t even be initiated.  Which simply means that this will boil down to he-said-she-said.

But we can put all that aside, because Ms. Murphy is arguing something entirely different.  Her argument is that it doesn’t matter whether these women consented to sex.

Let me repeat that: her argument is that it doesn’t matter whether these women consented to sex.

And why doesn’t it matter?  Well, because apparently there is an objective standard by which we can all judge sexual activity, and any sex that involves what Ms. Murphy deems to be “violence against women” cannot be consensual.  Of course, what she is referring to is any sex where a woman takes on a submissive role.  Once that happens, apparently women lose their capacity to consent, because Meghan Murphy has determined that the type of sex they are having isn’t good for women.

Let’s be clear about fetishes: everyone has them.  Some people have minor kinks (feet, blindfolds, feathers, etc.), and some people have major ones (extreme bondage, diapers, electrodes, etc.).  And pretty much everyone has a sexual leaning towards dominance or submission that is completely unrelated to gender.

Some men prefer to be dominant; some prefer to be submissive.  Some women prefer to be dominant; some prefer to be submissive.  And almost everyone has a preference, even if it’s not extreme enough to always come in to play in the bedroom.

Speaking of the bedroom: Ms. Murphy argues against it being a private space in situations where men are playing a physically dominant role, because apparently women who prefer to be submissive are insane.  I mean, how could they possibly enjoy that?  Ms. Murphy is simply looking after these poor, abused victims of sex that they didn’t know enough about to consent to.

I don’t particularly understand men who like to be chained to the wall, put in a gimp mask and prevented from orgasming.  But some do.  Is it violent?  Yep.  Is it consensual?  You betcha.  But where’s Ms. Murphy’s outrage about the thriving dominatrix community that engages in this type of rough play?

Views like the ones expressed in this article are extremely problematic.  They assume that women don’t have the capacity to consent to sex that someone else finds degrading.  They assume that there is some objective standard by which we can determine whether consensual rough sex crosses a line.  And they assume that any type of relationship deemed “creepy” by any chunk of the public is inherently non-consensual.

Again, no one knows exactly what happened in this case, except for Jian Ghomeshi and the women who are alleging the abuse.  But what’s damn sure is that if the sex was consensual, then it was not abuse.  The definition of consent doesn’t change to suit individual preferences.


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