Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Music and consent: a troubling couple

I really ought to have a better idea of the music I like. I never buy albums unless they are on sale, I don't use iTunes, I don't use my MP3 player, I don't watch MTV or listen to the radio. I sometimes remember a tune I used to like so find it on YouTube and then look at the other linked/recommended videos, but that is the extent of my music engagement. So a list seems appropriate, but a long-winded option. However, until a smarter mechanism is found (Pandora is no longer available in the UK - I wonder what happened to my carefully crafted profile/preferences; LastFM is getting me there slowly - but I forget to use it), I need to start somewhere, so I am starting here:
  • SaltNPepa - Let's talk about sex, Whatta Man, Push it.
  • Aaliyah - Back and Forth, More Than A Woman
  • Corinne Bailey Rae - Put your records on, Breathless, Like a star, I'd like to, The Blackest Lily.
  • Shackles (Praise_You)
  • En Vogue- Don't let go (love)
  • TLC - No Scrubs, Creep, Waterfalls, Dear Lie, Unpretty (the music video of which featured Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes using American Sign Language).
  • SWV- Right Here/Human Nature (featuring Michael Jackson sample and a hilarious video of gymkhana-costume wearing band members sitting around camp fires and fishing - which is a bit inappropriate considering the song featured in the Free Willy soundtrack). The original version had a musical video that showcased the ladies' dance moves and told the story with flashbacks to childhood.
  • Destiny's Child: Bills, Bills, Bills, Bug a Boo, Say My Name, Jumpin', Jumpin', Independent Women, Survivor, Bootylicious. No, No, No (Part 1) was with the four original band members (before Michelle Rowlands joined at the loss of the other two). The music video (where they dance in a nightclub) was released after that of the remix by Wyclef Jean No, No, No (Part 2) (where his guitar-playing is accompanied by the girls' singing).

I'm not sure I like the lyrics to this last song - they might be too easily misconstrued by the confused and the devious as a rape excuse. These rape apologist tactics are examined in the comments of this article.These matters are further discussed in this article that states:
"The murkiness surrounding what's reasonable has deepened further with the Maryland case, which was tried in 2004. The accuser and the defendant agree that after he began to penetrate her and she wanted him to stop, he did so within a matter of seconds and did not climax." (my emphasis) Matter of seconds? What happens during those seconds? A brief thought that she might change her mind if the next couple of strokes are supersexy, hit the G-spot, etc.? That she was being a tease and making negative statements to add illicitness to the sex act, not to end it as she has said? Or is there nothing happening - does a mind filled with the joy of human contact and the anticipation of great climactic pleasure need a few seconds to process the new information before acting upon it? Is the sense of horror/revulsion/concern at no longer being wanted as a sex act partner insufficiently compelling in the same way as being caught in the act? Lisae C. Jordan, legislative counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault: "Any one of us who's had a toddler walk in on them knows that that's not true. Or a teenager who's had a parent walk in--they stop pretty quickly." Consent is explored more here and here specifically as relating to the Roman Polanski case. (NB Despite Polanski pleading guilty - as part of a deal to avoid jail time apparently, having already served 42 days in jail awaiting psychiatric testing - we do not know if what the case transcripts detail are true. We weren't there. We don't know what was said, the tone used, the acts that took place. All we know for sure is that Polanski plead guilty - the legal documents show this - and then fled the country. What the Salon article doesn't cover much is that the case pertains to unlawful sex with a minor, even if the child did agree to the acts, she was too young to give consent in the eye of the law and thus, if the acts that have been discussed did occur, it was rape.) The dialogue about consent is played out in many fora with the feminist slant landing on the side of 'always ask first'. But there are other issues about patriarchy, heteronormativity and gender identity that make the conversation even more complex.

This issue of consent it even more confusing if you start to consider the 'red, yellow, green' safeword check-in method during power-plays. Yellow = I'm not sure. Hmm. If I am being dominant, should I therefore stop? Or carry on until I offer you another R,Y,G choice and then see what I should do then? Or carry on until your partner voluntarily says red or green to clear up the confusion? But if your partner is gagged or on a promise not to speak until given permission, it rather ruins your play. When/how should you check if things are copacetic?

From the other viewpoint, when/how do you determine your own decision on consent? Are you genuinely feeling yellow/unsure and need a moment to work it out - should that moment be activity-free (ie no more thrusting, spanking, etc.)? Should all physical contact stop (ie move apart) until red or green is decided? Should you have a few more moments of the activity that preceded the R,Y,G check in order that you can decide if you want it to continue or not? If I am being fed soup (food play!) and the 'chef' asks if I want to carry on, think about it or stop, should I have one more mouthful to determine how much the continuation/stopping matters to me? Should I ask what else there is to eat instead? Should I ask if the 'chef' would rather be eating the soup whilst I dish it out?

Continuous consent giving/checking during sex is hot and healthy, not only because the opposite is so not hot or healthy. There are also cultural considerations. Then there are those that don't want to think of it as hot but as the only rational and ethical position possible. What about remembering that sex should be fun and love-making should be loving and therefore including discussions on hotness in ethical sex practices (like openness, communication and negotiation) makes the young more likely to take it up and reminds people that sex is supposed to be a positive, enjoyable act. Does making the core issue about ethics (and leaving out the sexiness of being ethical) make the whole dialogue too dry and distant from the sexyfun that is sex, or does is emphasise the very real importance of being ethical? Does motivation matter as long as the end result is better communication in coupling? Some say 'yes'.

The opposite is also worth considering: that if you think a lack of communication is hot, then we are getting into murky waters. There is a big difference between pretending not to know or care if a partner is enjoying sexual contact, and actually not knowing. If you find the latter to be sexy, this is a problem. This, however, doesn't preclude sex-clubs or hole-in-the-wall encounters. Attending, paying for entry (to the building!), using a glory hole are all acts of consent. If you are in a shadow room at a sex club and you know that you cannot see who you are engaging with and might not be able to communicate with them (gagged, loud music, etc.), at what point do you give consent and at what point is a person not giving/revoking consent and therefore the sexual contact becomes unwanted/unlawful? [My cousin is actually doing a PhD thesis on this!]. Is there a sex situation where one party does not know if their partner is consenting to the current sexual contact and it is not immoral/illegal?

What if you have consented to certain sexual acts but then a partner started doing something you did not want? If you were being fingered in your vagina and then your partner stuck another finger in your anus. It happens so quick and you may not have time to say 'no'. Sometimes assault is presented in scenarios that seem like, hmm, there might have been time to push them away, shout for help, bite down, etc. In traumatic situations the obvious course of action is sometimes not easy to enact because of shock, fear of worse happening, etc. So if the perpetrator reasonably believes that you are willing for the encounter does that make it rape? Well, if you are a good lover then having someone moaning in pleasure is a good sign that things are okay; you don't need a verbal 'yes, please'. If you are with someone who is silent and stock-still for most of your sexual engagements I would suggest that reviewing your connection much sooner is in order. But what if the victim is moaning/whimpering with pleasure and then something that they don't like/didn't give explicit permission for happens, but they carry on moaning/whimpering, perhaps for a different reason now, or perhaps out of habit (I know plenty of people who hate silent sex so moan throughout and then really moan when something feels especially good)? How can someone be held accountable for behaviour that they didn't know was not pleasing for their partner? What, again, about those tricky seconds when you are both working out how you feel about a new element of sexual contact? Should we be spending serious time analysing all the possible scenarios one might encounter and how we might feel about them, so that in the moment we can have a ready answer of no or yes? Should we stop before each new activity and ask permission?

Things get more complicated when the unwelcome act is seen as less significant on the hierarchy of sexual contact. If you are already having anal sex with a woman, then putting your fingers in her vagina at the same time is fine - right? No, not necessarily.

There is also the assumption that conversing about (planned) sexual activity is uncommon, not the norm. But as this post argues, this is not the case, many people are careful, considerate and want permission to be given before hand to avoid any suggestion that the activity might transgress a person's personal boundaries and preferences.

I've certainly been in situations where sexual contact wasn't agreed or agreeable and in the instances where I was the actor I stopped the contact as soon as I realised the situation was not okay. But at the times when I was the recipient of the unwelcome behaviour, I often said nothing; I didn't 'use my words'. Should the other person have known I meant no, that my default mode was 'no', that this particular act was not okay? Should they have felt a flinch or seen a look in my eyes? If I had asked them if they thought they had assaulted me, what would they say? What would I say?

Consent is a tricky thing. There is useful discussion about how the assertion of 'I want' becomes confused with 'I submit', which is connected to a woman's ability to have her own desires and society's ability to recognise that.

With assault there is a problem in the aftermath of the extent that the incident was a private act that should not be shared/aired (going to the police is too shocking/difficult, talking about it is too graphic for polite conversation). There is concern that individualism has encouraged people to treat perpetrations on a person as shameful/secret, no-one else's business and maybe even no-one else's concern. In fact it is noted that changes in the law in the last 150 years have finally started to shift the legal mindset to being one where rape is an act against the sovereignty of a person and their body/liberty, rather than against a man's property as it used to be: "Even the rape of men was usually considered mainly an act against god and nature, not a crime perpetrated on one person by another." There is historical basis for the use of the word 'rape' to mean other things (that therefore may reduced the potency of the word in its real meaning). Determining a person's own blame in the assault perpetrated against them is a common theme and here is a list of other tropes that cloud an already complicated issue. Normalisation of violent sex, especially through the consumption of porn has been blamed for both acts being carried out without thinking and for victims' unwillingness to complain/report. Porn-inspired rough/frantic sex ensures that the participants do not have to engage with the emotional or intellectual congress that might occur during real love-making. Sting and Trudie Styler's tantric sex marathons might sound corny, but are probably based on a true love and joy for one another's bodies, souls and pleasure. Also, the idea that porn sex is used as an introduction to real-life sex (ie sex ed) is very worrying. Mostly because it gives the opinion that such sex is immensely pleasurable to those involved (giver/receiver/both) and  is also 'normal', which I suspect is not the case in the history of sexual congress.

Consent is the main thrust of this blog, Yes means YES! and one post tackles how a BDSM sex space handles boundary pushing, not respecting agency and assault - there is a quotation from Halo P. Jones, an NYC domme, feminist and blogger that deals with the aftermath of a guy groping her at a party:
"I immediately turned to the assaulter and yelled in his face: “Don’t touch me–I don’t even know your name. You didn’t have permission to touch me! Back off!” He mumbled sorry, walked away immediately, and disappeared into the mass of people beyond my friends’ couch.[...]What if everyone who heard me loudly state my boundaries had spoken up too? As I yelled at him, people watched, seeing what was developing. If he had tried to punch me, no doubt people would have held him back. But they just watched. What if–while I yelled at him–there had been a chorus of voices, yelling “You do not touch her without permission”? That would have felt pretty great."
Having a community support one another in protecting boundaries is so crucial but so difficult to achieve without someone being identified as a victim and someone else as a perpetrator. I had an idea to combat for public transport groping that might be useful - get people to announce non-directed statements ("I suspect this person of being a harasser") or even less confrontational routes (stickers on the back to warn others and for them to find later). This is an important alternative method when the victim doesn't want the fact that their sovereignty has been damaged known. If you are being assaulted in a public space, how can you express that you want the behaviour to stop without making it known that you are a victim? I know a friend who was raped (fell asleep/crashed in a room with everyone else at the end of a party and awoke to find him inside her) and I wonder how in that moment she chose what to do. Would one want to draw attention for help in ensuring the situation stopped immediately? Or would it make it worse, that the assault had already happened and everyone else knowing about it would only make the situation harder to handle?

What about male consent? Here is an article about penile erection and how that doesn't signal consent. The male relationship with sexual assault is complex and progress is hampered by statistics (most assaulters are male, but this doesn't mean most males are assaulters: 84% of the victims of sexual assault are girls and 97% of the perpetrators are male [Department of Justice. The Uniform Crime Reporting Survey. Ottawa, ON: Department of Justice, 1992.]). There are specific campaigns to encourage responsible, respectful and proactive behaviour in men that supports female sexuality without the cultural association of a man's right to access it. There are two in particular: www.mencanstoprape.org (look at “Our Strength is not for hurting” campaign) and www.menagainstsexualviolence.org.

My own tangential comment on the topic of asking for it with clothing choice is here and a comment specifically about encouraging dialogue about consent and reasons to stop sexual encounters is here.

I guess the most important point is that good/healthy/mutually pleasing sex is about open communication and ensuring enthusiastic consent is being expressed in some way during the encounter, which brings us nicely back to the start of this post which was about favourite music and that my first listed song was Let's talk about sex - and I think we should...everyone of us.

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