The 54 Percent: The politics of consent
Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
At this point, continued discussion on the topic of unh_d might seem like beating a dead horse, because the account has been deactivated and the fervor has died down. But despite all the controversy that has taken place both on and off campus, I feel that the crux of the issue has been overlooked. I have no doubt that it is within the contributors’ First Amendment rights to tweet the things that they did. Whether or not it was distasteful or vulgar is a matter of personal opinion, and hasn’t been relevant to the discussion since the operator(s) of the account removed the UNH logo. The central issue, for me, is the negation of consent – and the danger that poses to the women of this community.
Consent is a Feminism 101 issue. It needs to be given enthusiastically and clearly by all parties to any type of sexual behavior before that behavior proceeds. Even kissing. It’s impossible to overstate how important this is. If you think it sounds superfluous to stop and make sure your partner consents to what’s going on between you two, ask yourself how making out with someone who doesn’t want to be making out with you sounds.
(If your answer to this question was any variation of “sounds OK”, I would recommend contacting a mental health professional immediately.)
The unh_d tweets removed consent on the part of the female from the equation entirely. In case this somehow needed clarification, – no combination of participating in different activities, while wearing varying types of clothing, in different locations around UNH, at different times of the day or night, while simultaneously being female constitutes consent to sex (or, in their language, “wanting the d”). There are plenty of resources available that examine the nuances of consent, including some offered through the UNH Health Services website (as an aside, although I am happy that there are so many campaigns to spread awareness of the issue, the fact that we have to spoon-feed such a basic tenant of human decency to people through catchy phrases and jokey mnemonics irks me. Yes, “consent is sexy,” but shouldn’t it be reason enough that consent is not “rape-y?”)
Some supporters of unh_d, such as the blog Barstool Sports, claim that objecting to the account is a function of sex-negativity, or of the belief that women don’t enjoy sex just as much as men. But I hold that it is the opposite. What could be more sex-positive and supportive of female sexuality than wanting to ensure that all people on this campus, male and female, ensure consent before proceeding with sexual behavior? Dismissing objectors as “feminist prudes” is a rather transparent attempt at deflection.
In discussions of rape, there are often gray areas. What if one or both parties were drunk? Does participation mean consent? Does consenting to one sexual activity mean consenting to another? Waking up the morning after and realizing you’ve entered one of these gray areas leaves a lasting psychological mark, and often has a profound effect on mental health. And yet this can be avoided entirely by creating an environment in which everyone feels comfortable saying “no,” in which the word “no” is never challenged or met with pleading or coercion. Mutual respect is not a difficult proposition. But the situations constructed in the unh_d tweets skipped over entirely the part of the equation where the female says either “yes” or “no” to sex. Consent was presupposed.
This is dangerous because, by constructing the dynamics of male/female sexual interaction in this way, you create a mental script in which some obscure action – being drunk, wearing a skirt, walking across A Lot at night – is consent. To restate this one more time: Nothing is consent but a freely given “yes.” And if any example given by the unh_d account becomes shorthand for “yes,” then you are policing the female behavior, telling the women of this campus that they cannot stand outside of The Knot after last call unless they want to have sex with you.
Within a very wide set of boundaries, what you post on Twitter is a matter of your personal discretion. Freedom of speech is not what I am questioning here. But just because something you say could not be challenged in court or by the school administration, does not mean it is right. The essence of this issue is not legal, but moral. Reading or writing “jokes” that transgress the lines of consent and silence female voices negatively affects everyone on this campus, female and male alike.
Aliza Harrigan is a junior political science major and English minor. The 54 percent denotes the percentage of the UNH student body that is female.