On Consent in Life and Stories

Trigger Warning: If you are adamant about requiring written permission for any sort of physical contact, this post is not something you’ll want to read.

I originally wrote a fairly heated (angry) blog post back on November 2, 2018 on the topic of consent. I did so after seeing an article in The Atlantic titled “How to Write Consent in Romance Novels” The article was an interview of a feminist writer, and starts with an example from one of her latest books where the protagonist is taken to a Dodgers baseball game on a date.  The character’s boyfriend is of course described as a clueless boor but good looking and an actor.  They’ve been dating for a few months.  He pops the question on the jumbo-tron and is supposedly so clueless after dating her for months that he can’t even spell her name correctly while doing so.

Quite understandably, given the short time of their relationship and the very public way the proposal was handled, she feels shocked, embarrassed and cornered.  I think most people would if they’d only been dating a short time.  She says no, he goes on a tirade yelling at her, and the stadium crowd turns on her also.

Long story short, this excerpt from her book was supposed to show how more traditional relationship roles are backwards and oppressive, society supports oppressing women, etc…  I just want to bang my head against the wall when I see stuff like this. Let’s be clear here: The protagonist had every right to say no.  I would have in her shoes. 

What I strongly object to is the broad brush strokes that the author and The Atlantic use to paint anyone who thinks differently about relationships and erotica as either a monster or a brainwashed clueless woman needing enlightenment from them. 

Hers is NOT the only valid approach or opinion.

Let me CLEARLY set the record straight here before I go any further. My only major differences of opinion on this issue is that I believe consent shouldn’t require written legal documentation to be valid. That, and the author using sexist cliches in her book to push an agenda. Consent should definitely be required though, and it CAN be revoked. Plain and simple.

California: Why Extremes Ruin Good Intentions:

Before I escaped California three years ago, I saw quite a bit of change regarding the idea of consent. Nowhere was this more true than with the state’s university system. THIS is the document that students are legally required to fill out before even engaging in so much as a kiss:

Not 100% sure it’s the most current but it’s one version the state has used.

Consent IS sexy and required. It shows respect. Have we really fallen so far as a society that we have to bring lawyers into the bedroom though? I’d outright argue if you need an itemized legal document to spell out permissions, there’s not enough rapport and trust built for you to be having sex in the first place.

So, yes, on the surface it’s well-intentioned. It’s ALSO primarily intended to shield the university system from sexual assault lawsuits. Even taken at face value though, like everything the far left or far right do nowadays it’s taken too far in my opinion.

MY Take on Consent

This is going to apply to real life as well, but more towards the realm of fiction. I’ll do my best to document where I see differences.

First, I’ve got to be a bit of a snarky redhead and say this whole situation is why REAL members of the BDSM community (as opposed to abusers) discuss these things in depth before agreeing to a relationship. Consent is a must, and should be discussed in depth for that kind of a relationship. I personally would have to assume that if a submissive wanted a legal document, that they’re not emotionally mature enough to take responsibility for their decisions. Even saying that, hard limits, safe words, and the right to say no at any point are always valid.

So, there’s your first difference. In a BDSM relationship (real or written), I believe consent is vital, but that all parties should be mature enough and have enough integrity for verbal consent to be sufficient. Granted integrity is as rare as gold these days…

Allowing verbal consent to be sufficient while still reserving the right to say “No” also allows for more romance and seduction in “more vanilla” relationships also. Let’s face it, having to stop in the middle of making out, already half naked, to sign a legal document for consent… It’s a total mood killer. To use a romance novel trope, it SHOULD be ok to have an exchange like this instead.

“You want this, don’t you”, he whispered into her ear

“Oh god yes, take me”, she replied.

It’s clear consent. Nothing said revokes her right to say “Stop” or “Not that” either.

Then there’s the issue of non-verbal consent. I freely admit this is much more of a gray area. It’s more problematic to sort out in real life than in a romance novel than it is Secondly, I think there needs to be consideration given to the possibility of non-verbal consent as well, especially in the realm of writing.

I’d dare say that in both realms, the body language used to signal consent (or lack of consent) should be clear. If he feels her up (as one example), she should do one of any number of actions that would signal approval, and ideally at least whisper or moan a yes… OR clearly pull away… and say no. Again verbal is ideal but… Well, let’s take a more graphic but clear sign of consent. If he slips a hand in between her legs, and she starts rocking her hips against it, that’s a very clear unspoken signal of consent.

Yet the extremists on this issue would want that declared rape if it wasn’t permitted in writing first. The only way to justify it would be to declare she’s not responsible for how her own body responds or her “inability” to use her brain to override that.

Personally, I think that notion is complete objectification; reducing the woman to a sex object incapable of controlling her own desires.

With books specifically, we have to keep in mind that it’s pure fantasy, especially in the genre of erotica. Within that realm of written pure fantasy, there can be quite a few things that a woman might fantasize about or want to role play for kinky fun with a partner but never want to happen in real life. There’s a huge difference between reading about or pretending to be the sexy secretary getting called into the powerful boss’s office and being taken right there on his desk, and dealing with a real life Harvey Weinstein situation. YES, contrary to extremist opinion, people ARE smart enough to know the difference between fantasy and reality also.

My options at least leave some room open for the more traditional relationship and storytelling trope of pursuing and being pursued. That can and DOES happen while still respecting the woman all the time, both in the real world and in fiction.  I think my Power Girl’s Power Date story is a good example there.  Marc pursues her strongly while engaging her on an intellectual level, giving her an out at the couple of times where she feels uncertain, and never outright forces himself on her or coerces sex from her.

That kind of relationship relies on built trust and honest communication, and thus I’d argue is more valid and real than anything requiring legal documents.

Regardless of how it’s given, consent should always be there though.

Oh and if somebody comes along and tries to negate all I said because of my Witchfire heroine peril stories…  They’re an attempt to humanize stereotyped characters and bring some reality to the situations they’re put in. It’s also about showing the characters’ strength as survivors and ability to overcome, NOT to glorify non-consensual sexual acts. Everything there is also pure fantasy.

Leave a Reply