This post was inspired by something I read that I cannot track down exactly, but got close. I am almost certain I read it at the A Radical Transfeminist blog, and this blog post here comes pretty close, so I’m sticking with it for now. If I stumble across what I am imagining I read before, again I’ll update the link.
For some reason, which could be related to the insidious pervasiveness of the patriarchy if you are feminist/political minded or could be related to the purported benevolent cluelessness and social awkwardness that seems to plague so many members of the skeptical community, women’s failure to provide consent is often perceived as confusing. A woman’s “no” is considered more of a negotiation point than a refusal or as inauthentic or as irrelevant, in a wide variety of contexts (and I’ve expanded on this point previously and do not feel like recapping here).
Gaining consent from a woman is also a point of confusion that frequently becomes a point of contention down the line. Consent for Behavior A or Context A is treated like Consent for All Future Behaviors or All Contexts, and the fact that a woman has provided consent in one situation seems to override all subsequent failures to provide consent, and the situation reverts to No Doesn’t Mean No (see above). What is not understood is that consent is temporary and highly context specific, and must be gained each time you want a woman to do something. Let’s run some scenarios to better make this point.
Consent does not transfer from person to person (A).
A woman wears revealing clothing to a bar for the purpose of getting sexual attention. She flirts with some people. You walk up to her and try to flirt and she rejects your attention. She is not a hypocrite. Just because she said yes to that person does not mean she has said yes to all people. Her consent applies only to the people she granted it to.
Consent does not transfer from person to person (B).
A woman takes on a task with specific responsibilities, and then agrees to do extra work in addition to the specific responsibilities. Then a different woman takes over the job, but refuses to do the extra work. You were lucky the first woman agreed to do the extra work, is all. Now you have to figure out who else will do it. The second woman is not being uncooperative or causing trouble for you. You have no justification for thinking badly about her refusal. You should have rewritten the specific responsibilities before getting a replacement if it was going to be that big of a deal.
Consent does not transfer from place to place (A).
A woman flirts with a person in one location, and consents to accompany that person to a second location. Then she decides flirting isn’t fun anymore and decides to go. Just because she flirted with a person over there does not obligate her to flirt with that person over here, and that doesn’t make her a tease or a liar or a flake or whatever word is invoked to angrily mask disappointment over her decision, even if the other person wasn’t done flirting yet.
Consent does not transfer from place to place (B).
A woman poses nude in a calendar that you buy so you can look at her nude. Later, you see that woman fully clothed. Even though you bought the calendar so you could look at her nude, and she posed for the calendar aware that people were going to buy it so they could look at naked pictures of her, she has not consented to being treated in other contexts as if she was nude for the personal pleasure of anyone who knows about that calendar picture. If you want to interact with her nude picture, you have to buy the calendar.
Consent expires immediately.
A woman gives consent to a behavior, and then engages in the behavior, and then concludes the behavior. Next time there’s a question of her performing the behavior, the request for consent starts at the beginning. It cannot be assumed that because she said yes before, she has an obligation to uphold the expectations of people who want her to say yes now. If she has changed her mind in the interim, it doesn’t mean she was wrong before or wrong now or wrong in the future if she says yes the next time someone asks. It means only that she doesn’t want to now.
I repeat: Consent is temporary and highly context specific, and must be gained each time you want a woman to do something. One of the reasons women are turned off by active participation in large groups of men is because they do not perceive that their wishes are respected. It sends a pretty clear signal that you are not considered an equal when people put words in your mouth all the time (But you said yes when…!) or think they have access to your time or attention now based on something you’ve said or done with someone else. It’s rattling to encounter some unstated expectation of what you are willing to do and then have to justify yourself to people insisting you’ve already said yes, and it hampers how comfortable you can feel in a group–how much fun you can let yourself have–if things you say in one context (like at a party) come back to haunt you in another context (like on a speakers’ panel). It is very inhibiting, and you can more or less guarantee that if your skeptical community is operating on the assumption that consent is universal, it is not benefiting from the full potential of its members (and it’s not enjoying the full membership from the local skeptics).
On the other hand, if women know that your group of skeptics is one that takes their words at face value, that makes no impositions, and will not hold women to fantasy obligations, women will be far more likely to trust you, chip in, speak up, help out, take risks, and generally further your cause. Strength in numbers, hidden talents, et cetera et cetera.