Both feminists and anti-feminists routinely make 3 arguments against changing cultural understandings of consent towards a â€œConsent-as-Feltâ€ and away from a â€œConsent-as-Permissionâ€ model.
The first is that understanding consent as â€œbeing okay with an experience one is having or has hadâ€ rather than as â€œexpressing permission to do a thingâ€ is incompatible with the legal system. We consider this a feature, not a bug. Obviously, the legal system is also incompatible with providing peace of mind for its citizens and justice for the alleged perpetrators.
The second is that consent-as-felt â€œattacks personal responsibilityâ€ (in anti-feminist jargon) or â€œremoves individual agencyâ€ (in feminist jargon). This logic asserts experiencing sex that one later â€œregretsâ€ is categorically different and mutually exclusive from (â€œrealâ€) rape because (â€œrealâ€) rape is always identifiable as such at the moment bodies collideâ€”and anyways, nevermind that intimate violation, not regret, is rapeâ€™s defining element. And even if we were to cede the ridiculous point that rape survivors â€œshould take personal responsibility and not put themselves in a situation to get raped,â€ this still means the people who raped them are rapists. In other words, they are arguing that your regret is a false accusation.
The third is that accepting consent as a felt sense would â€œtrivializeâ€ the instances of rape currently recognized as rape because we would be forced to accept that things we donâ€™t today consider (â€œlegitimateâ€) rape are, in fact, also rape. Put another way, they argue we should not want to call all rapists rapists because our priority must be auditing and ranking rape survivorsâ€™ experiences. In this logic, not all rape is, yâ€™know, RAPE, so they have euphemistic modifiers like â€œdate,â€ â€œgray,â€ and â€œmarital,â€ which all convey the meaning: â€œonly sorta.â€ But it is certainly not â€œtrivializingâ€ rape to say that rapists are rapists any more than it trivializes photography to say that photographers are photographers. Endlessly debating these semantics while ignoring how many rapes, how much trauma, is being experienced right now, today, that we are not even willing to name is pedantic at best, and cruel at worst.
All three of these arguments anti- and pro-feminists are making against our Consent as a Felt Sense essay assist in the perpetuation of an environment so universally coercive that the rapes we can recognize as such are but a mere fraction of the trauma experienced. What the reaction to Consent as a Felt Sense shows most of all is that folks from â€œboth sidesâ€ of the issue want discussion about consent to stay firmly rooted in lawyerly debating which rapes are â€œrapeâ€ and which are not.
We donâ€™t think thatâ€™s helpful.
A more succinct remix of my longer essay, â€œ3 Reasons Why Rape Fans From Both Sides of the Fence Hate â€˜Consent as a Felt Sense.â€™â€