Friday, June 23, 2006
Anyone remember that, from way back in Ninety-Ought?
In 1990, a feminist group from Antioch College demanded that the administration of the college institute a sexual consent policy binding upon all Antioch students. The group, Womyn of Antioch, sought the policy out of frustration after two rapes were reported that year on campus, neither of which was prosecuted. To demonstrate their resolve, they threatened the college with “radical, physical actions” if their demands were not met. The campus furor instigated by the Womyn of Antioch resulted in a formal “Sexual Consent Policy,” issued in 1992.
Drawn up by a committee of students, faculty, and administrators, the policy was primarily designed to prevent and—when that failed—deal with sexual offenses on campus. The process by which the plan would realize its purpose was quite straightforward. One party involved in an intimate encounter would be required to obtain the consent of the other party before the encounter could advance further. Should consent be given and the encounter escalate in intimacy, consent would be required at every level of intimacy. The need for graduated consent is clearly and unequivocally mandated on page one of the policy:
If the level of sexual intimacy increases during an interaction (i.e., if two people move from kissing while fully clothed—which is one level—to undressing for direct physical contact, which is another level), the people involved need to express their clear verbal consent before moving to that new level. If one person wants to initiate moving to a higher level of sexual intimacy in an interaction, that person is responsible for getting the verbal consent of the other person( s) involved before moving to that level.
The principle behind the Antioch policy is simple both in theory and practice. If someone consents to an intimate act at any and every level of intimacy, he or she cannot claim rape after the fact. However, if someone refuses to consent, then any intimate act following the refusal can be labeled as forcible sex and dealt with accordingly.
This from a site called eNotes which appears more or less unbiased.
As I recall the policy endured much ridicule in print and on TV (I think it climbed all the way up to Saturday Night Live if I'm not mistaken), and eventually was considered to be nothing if not evidence of a vast radfem conspiracy designed to drain all the fun out of sexual activity and ruin it for everybody. "Countless
articles described the Antioch rules as the culmination of hysterical
rape-crisis feminism," according to one web site. And then nothing more was heard about it - people just got tired of talking about it and it sort of receded into the footnotes of history, apparently.
The recent decidedly-uncivil BJ wars opened my eyes to the fact that many young women say they feel pressured to deliver on certain "mandatory" sexual activities, in a way that I have to say I don't remember feeling when I was a young woman. (I feel really guilty that I have allowed myself to lose touch with young women's experience, but for all that I'm grateful to be better-informed now.)
For all one might condemn the Antioch Rules they did bring about a new context in which to discuss sexual behavior - the idea of consent being given at every step of the way was quite novel and allowed for new ways to discuss sexual expression.
This was, for me, a great thing. In my mid-20s, this idea of consent allowed me far greater sexual freedom than one might think. The idea of consent was like armor for me. Nothing and no one could touch me, I was inviolable and unassailable, I was a fortress behind the wall of Consent. There was no mandatory or expected sexual activity, to my mind and the minds of my partners. Everything was up for negotiation - the negotiation became expected and mandatory, but nothing else.
I could choose to consent to nothing at all, or everything under the sun. And I had the great responsibility to ask for consent from my partners, too, which led to some fascinating discussions which were almost as satisfying as the act itself.
Naturally, no madeup concept of "rules" is going to save a woman from the stranger rape, the marital rape, the random ogle or other similar offense to human dignity.
And of course, there's much debate raging on whether one can ever obtain true consent, pure and free from the corruption of patriarchy. (I think it is possible, others are not so optimistic.) However, in the context of otherwise-responsible adults trying to get it on in an egalitarian, non-exploitive manner, I think it was a very useful concept. I dug the Antioch rules. They were useful to me, and to others. I'm sorry to see them ridiculed into oblivion, the result of which seems to be that the sexual freedom I enjoyed (hoo boy!) in my twenties is no longer possible here in the 21st century.
I'm a huge believer in trusting in a relationship enough to try things about which i would otherwise be uncertain. But it does seem like people have taken the GGG mentality and built solid obligations out of it. Then again...i'm not sure Savage didn't on his own.
but i really don't see what's so terrible about checking in every step of the way. "is this ok?" "is THIS ok?" "and how about now?"
i regularly ask my partners for consent, esPECIALLY when we move to the next level. (or rather, did. now i'm all monogamous and shit. but i still talk to her and keep our lines of communication open.) i've never (to my knowledge) gone past someone's comfort level without them saying something to me, and i've felt like a total jackass when i did. "whoops, shouldn't have put my hand on yer boob. sorry. backing away quickly." that's not fun. and not sexy.
obtaining consent is. giving consent is. having someone ask me if i'm alright is fucking HOT.
It's a shame the good and real baby got thrown out with the bad and nonexistent bathwater.
Antioch alumn class of 2008