Let’s Talk About Consent

This piece originally posted on Femtastic.

by Mona Thompson, ’13

In the past few weeks, Stanford has been talking a lot about sexual assault in the context of Judicial Affairs and the Alternative Review Process (someone really cool and smart and talented even wrote an op-ed about it).

It seems like most of the opposition to specific points in the ARP comes from this justification of needing adequate protections for a man who is falsely accused of sexual assault and at risk of losing his precious Stanford education based on the false claims of some crazy or misinformed woman.  I’m not going to get into why we think women are falsely accusing men of sexual assault on campus (it seems like it would be a lot easier to get someone in trouble by falsely accusing them of almost anything else.  Like cheating).  But what I do want to talk about is: why are we so worried that men who do not think they assaulted someone will be accused of assault?

It seems that most of our worry over sexual assault comes from our own insecurities about consent.

Now here’s an idea: we are so worried about supposedly false accusations of sexual assault because we do not fully understand what consent looks like. I seriously do understand that for well-intentioned men (who, by the way, make up the vast majority of the male population), the thought of assaulting somebody or being accused of assaulting somebody is a terrifying thought.  But perhaps the way to deal with that fear is – instead of adding more and more “protections” for men who have been accused of sexual assault in the Stanford Judicial Affairs system – to spend some time talking about just what exactly consent looks like.

In a recent talk on campus, Dr. Harry Brod, a philosopher, founding figure of masculinity studies, and creator of the awesome talk: Asking For It: The Ethics and Erotics of Sexual Consent (clip here) talked about the choices we have when it comes to consent.  Basically, he said that as humans we have a choice: we can either absolutely make sure that we never put ourselves in a situation where we are unable to hear an active and enthusiastic consent (or the lack of one), or we can live our lives never being able to say with 100% certainty that we have never assaulted someone.

As Donnovan Yisrael has said in talks at the WCC, violation is a subjective experience.  When it comes down to it, we do not have the authority to say whether or not someone has felt violated (I’m not talking about Judicial Affairs here, I am talking about our own individual actions and decisions).  Therefore, it is imperative that – during any stage of a sexual interaction – we make sure that we have complete and total consent.  That means checking in and asking questions at every step of the process and being prepared to hear and respect whatever answer the other person gives you.  Worried this might be awkward?  That it might “ruin the moment?”  Two responses: 1) don’t knock it ’till you try it.  I know a number of men and women who happen to think it is really sexy to know that someone cares about their feelings and desires.  And 2) even if it is the slightest bit awkward, it is the only way you will know for sure that you are not assaulting somebody, and I would say that knowledge is worth an infinite amount of awkward.

Worried that men who do not think they have assaulted somebody will be accused of sexual assault?  Then let’s talk about consent.

Care about the ARP?  Go to the ASSU Senate meeting in the Nitery at 7pm tonight and have your voice heard!

Mona is a Junior majoring in Urban Studies. She is a PHE and works at the Women’s Community Center.
 Femtastic is a student-run community blog with the goal of facilitating feminist conversations and activism at Stanford and in the larger community.

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One thought on “Let’s Talk About Consent

  1. anonymous says:

    Why not sign a written document beforehand? It seems that the assumption of the article is that verbal agreement is really the only prerequisite to sexual activity. If consent is king, I do not see how sex is not becoming a commodity that can be priced, traded, and valued, and determined by a written contract… (Sure, there are extra emotions attached, but what owner of a good does not have complex emotions and attachments about it as well?) Much of this comes from the dissolution of an institution valuable to what was once our heteronormative, antifeminist, cissexual, patriarchal society: marriage. It used to require commitment and could not be easily dissolved just because things “didn’t work out”. Marriage today is a farce because getting out of it is just a matter of saying “never mind”. How ironic that the idea of liberalizing marriage laws in the name of reducing domestic abuse has perhaps led to even our most private of activities to be sold out to a capitalistic, dehumanizing ideal. This is why I think the current progressive narrative really requires more thought…

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