drwex (drwex) wrote,

Consent is hard'

Start here: http://rockstardinosaurpirateprincess.com/2015/03/02/consent-not-actually-that-complicated/

This is an amusing and fine discussion of the importance of consent and a funny analogy between getting consent and tea. It's worth your time to read, though I disagree with an important element of it, the part where the author says, "It's not hard."

My response will be in three parts, starting with the least important point and building from there. I'm writing from the perspective of someone who plays for Team Enthusiastic Consent. I believe that we need to build a consent culture, one in which consent is the norm and violations of it are taken seriously. I'm also the father of two teen(ish) boys and I'm concerned about how to help my boys understand consent, and how to participate in building consent culture.

Part 1: Hard is a word with many meanings. If I put down the New York Times crossword puzzle and say, "Man that was hard" people don't generally respond by contradicting me. Nobody says, "That's easy; working sunup to sundown in a field picking crops is hard" although that sentence is correct. If we accept that hard isn't one single thing, then I think I'm not breaking new linguistic territory when I say that I think consent is hard, in a sense (hard-prime). Hard and easy are not measured on one simple axis. I believe that consent is hard not simply as an interaction between two people, but as an act that challenges upbringings and dominant culture, and a practice that requires ongoing thoughtful attention.

Part 2: Easy is not the point. One place where I think the essay writer and I (and I suspect most of you) agree is that consent is mandatory. I long ago lost count of the number of times I have argued with my boys that something was required, and that thing is easy to do. Immediately, they contradict me. No, dad, that's hard!

Suddenly we're debating about whether the thing is easy or hard, and not about what it is they're supposed to be doing. I see no reason to allow consent to fall into that pattern. By stating that it is hard, I head off the argument about hard vs. easy and can turn to what I think is important - it's not optional. I don't actually care whether my boys (or any other boys) find consent easy or hard; either way they are still required to get it, to understand it, and to make it part of their normal routines. That's one way I think we build consent culture. I watch my younger son struggle these past few months with the idea that "absence of no is not the same as yes" and I realize that what his mother and I are trying to teach him is really different from the messages his peers send. That's the point, not what's easy or hard.

Part 3: It devalues effort. Many times the kids accomplished something and wanted nothing more than to have someone acknowledge how much effort they had put into it. Pygment and I have tried to explain to the kids that their smarts count for a whole lot less than their effort. There is no faster way to deflate them, and to discourage them from trying, than for someone to dismiss what they were working at as "easy." If we label consent as "easy" then we risk discouraging people who find it hard and who are trying - we devalue what they are doing. Like lots of things about motivation, this is tricky.

Working hard at something is not itself an excuse for giving up. Homework still has to be completed and consent is still mandatory. Consent is double-tricky because at its root it's about treating the other person as a full human being. That ought just to happen and not require any special pats on the back. Congratulations, you've achieved the status of "sentient sapien" now let's get to work. But the sad fact is we don't live in a culture that treats everyone (especially women) as fully capable realized persons, a prerequisite for consent culture. I am loathe to devalue the effort of anyone - especially young men trying to figure out what sort of adult men they will be - who is working hard at this. It's also a fact of our culture that we're deeply ingrained to seek external validation. If I see people who are honestly striving toward a worthy goal I want to validate that striving.

As noted, I love the essay author's tea analogy. For me, consent is like riding a bicycle. When I couldn't do it at all, it seemed impossible. Even today, I mess up and fall and skin my elbow or bruise my shoulder. But most of the time I can just ride in good balance and focus on the next tough things, like the potholes and Massachusetts drivers who don't want to share the road. I'd say that riding a bike is easy for me, now, but I'd never argue with someone who found it hard.


This piece was challenging to write. I have benefited from the input of friends who pre-reviewed this and who may identify themselves if they choose - thank you. As always I own the words in my journal and I am solely to blame if these words are wrong or offensive.
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