Friday, March 23, 2012

The 'all sex is rape' trope is back

Remi Watts, opinion editor of The Gauntlet, the undergraduate newsweekly of the University of Calgary, resurrects the "all sex is rape" trope that rational people long ago rejected in a singularly meaningless and other-worldly piece called Age of No Consent

Watts posits, with no authority beyond his or her serene ipse dixit, that "[y]ou have never had consensual sex." Why? Because "[w]e are incapable of making autonomous and well-informed decisions."  I'm lost. Why is that?  Because of "the direness of our present circumstances," of course. Well, sorry, but what does that mean?  It means that "the inherent barbarism of the social, economic, political, religious, academic and cultural corrals into which we are captured and contained" render it "impossible for anyone to adequately consent to sexual activity in the present."

Sigh. It's infuriatingly meaningless, and as wrong as it is silly.  Watts seems to suggest that because there are inequalities among people, "consent" is not possible. S/he writes: "The behemoth that is our way of life is thoroughly infected. The laws, the language, the imagery -- everything our senses can be imbued with, even one another, has been infused with patriarchy's dominating, savage values. The same system that allows spliced and splayed 'women' to be devoured also liquidates our capacity to make well-informed judgements and to understand and appreciate our own sexualities. We live under the same roof, and eat the same stale, mouldy bread as the whore and rapist do."

Watts seems woefully unschooled in the concept of "consent." By analogy, the common law has developed well-honed precepts to determine when a manifestation of assent is not legally operative.  Microsoft routinely contracts with small companies and individuals with very little economic clout, and sometimes the "weaker" entity exacts advantages Microsoft wouldn't offer without prodding. The fact that inequalities generally exist cannot, of course, negate the possibility of consent.  The concept of "duress" is employed to invalidate agreements due to the absence of the kind of freely given consent that society has decided is necessary to bind people to their promises. The classic example is a loaded gun pointed at someone’s head with a threat that “either your brains or your signature will be on the contract,” per Don Corleone. A contract is voidable for duress if (1) the victim’s manifestation of assent has been induced by an improper threat, and (2) the victim has no reasonable alternative except to manifest assent.

None of that is what Watts is talking about. A garden variety sexual advance is not an improper threat, and women have reasonable alternatives to participating, they can say no. Watts starts, and ends, with the premise that one party in a sexual encounter is not a free moral agent but, rather, a leaf in the wind, and that her manifestations of assent are nothing short of lies because she can never consent.

The rest is not worth discussing -- Watt's dream of a world of "autonomous equals, adequately informed and genuinely in touch with ourselves" and about "annihilating the destructive order at hand . . . ."

There will never be constructive discourse about these issues so long as the people interested in talking about them insist on passing off stupidity for thoughtful analysis. Student newspapers are notorious for this sort of thing, where angry feelings of victimhood trump rationality and a healthy respect for the accumulated knowledge of our forebears. 

Watts ought to demand that his or her tuition money be refunded: that school isn't teaching him/her how to think.