Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The spectre of false consciousness is sharp and clear, and it's wielding a double-edged sword

This is NOT a smutty story, and it's not an attempt at analysis of some kind of kink-related issue or fetish. Content note for possible triggers re non-con sexual activity. 


I was pretty slutty in my young years, and more so by the standards of the time and place (long ago and far away). Not completely sexually incontinent, but I had no objections to one night stands, or two night stands or to fucking my male actual friends now and then when the fancy struck us. I also tended to pick and choose, grab and grasp and had I been a man, I would have probably been seen as out of order on several occasions. As I was a woman, any discomfort I might have caused was expressed as slut-shaming and I shrugged it off in a you-win-some you-lose-some attitude. This was before the phrase erection does not equal consent became a thing, before the idea that lowering someone's inhibitions and insecurities using substances was unethical, and before open and straightforward negotiation of sexual interaction using your words rather than touches and gropes became de rigeur. 

Considering all that, it was probably lucky that I never became a victim of a traumatising sexual assault. Thick skin and a well-developed ability to say no probably helped as well, and to be honest here, I remember being spat at or yelled abuse by women on couple of occasions more than anything else. 

And yet, there were events that I can easily imagine being traumatic to other people. There was a guy who gave me a lift 24 hours into my longest ever hitchhiking journey who, although he didn't persist when I moved his hand off my thigh, refused to release my rucksack from the boot of his car before he jerked off on the ground in the wooded car park by a waterfall while I stood there with my back turned away, tapping my foot, smoking and repeatedly shouting ''I want my bag back'' in English he probably didn't even understand. 

And then, there was a party in a shared house - a progressively more drunken one - during which at some point I retired upstairs to my bedroom with a guy I occasionally and enthusiastically hooked up with. We had some fun, we went back downstairs, I drunk some more and eventually crawled back up to bed, collapsing into something half way between sleep and a blackout. I came to with a cock between my lips and I immediately knew that it wasn't my fuckbuddy but a completely different guy. I don't recall how I felt, or whether I even expressed my surprise but I certainly proceeded to suck him off without protesting in any way. He left, I went back to sleep, and woke up few hours later to a raging hangover, a vague ugh feeling and a phone number written in pink lipstick on my dressing table mirror. I didn't own pink lipstick, so that part has always remained a mystery to me. 

I never thought about this event much until quite recently, when I was reminded of all these issues by my own children's fast approaching age of sex, booze and drugs in a world where discussing various aspects of consent is much more common than it was twenty or thirty years ago. 

This is an admirable state of affairs and I do think we need more of it. Teaching people that they always have a right to say no, always have a right to say stop, regardless of what they did before, either with the person in question or others, goes a long way towards making consent more sacrosanct and central to how we talk and think about sex. Hearing or reading stories of violations people suffered is part of this process. Redefining rape and sexual assault away from violent assault by a stranger towards something that focuses clearly on the aspects of consent and violation will undoubtedly help many people to understand - and perhaps deal with - their own experiences. 

An yet I have a nagging doubt at the back of my mind about possible side effects of such a public discussion. 

It's difficult to avoid being influenced by the prevailing mores. It's difficult to find a balance between saying yes, this was an assault, your consent was violated, this was wrong and what he/she did was wrong and there is absolutely NOTHING wrong or abnormal about your feeling violated and traumatized on one hand and saying - or at least implying - yes, this was objectively an assault, what he/she did was wrong but it's absolutely fine if you don't feel traumatised or violated. Because, well, c'mon. You were actually, technically, objectively raped and it didn't even make you feel terrible? You must be deluded. In denial. There is something wrong with you if you don't feel the way normal people feel. 

It's difficult to define non-consensual touch or sexual approach as legitimately wrong and yet NOT to make people who might not have been bothered by it redefine their own experiences in one way or another. Feelings don't exist in a social and information vacuum. Feelings are often a result of a cognitive interpretation of events and are subject to cognitive interpretations themselves. 

The spectre of false consciousness is sharp and clear, and it's wielding a double-edged sword. 

I wasn't sure about posting these thoughts here, because I didn't want to appear as a rape apologist who tries to muddle issues up with her ''it's complicateds'' even though emotionally, it often is and the same thing that will fuck up one person for life will flow off another like water of a duck's back, with pretty much every option in between. 

But you know what?

It doesn't fucking matter. It doesn't matter in the slightest. 

It doesn't matter because morality is not, and should not be, about how any particular victim feels. Empathy and sympathy might be one of the driving forces behind ethics, and probable traumatic consequences of unethical behaviour are one of the reasons we deem certain actions wrong. But trying to work out how someone might feel about something can be a poor and often unreliable guide on how to act. 

The reason you must not rape or otherwise violate consent is not because you might scar a particular person for life. The reason is that's it's wrong. As simple as that. 

The guy who stuck his dick in my mouth while I was passed out at that party in a shared house thirty or so years ago did a wrong thing. The fact that it didn't traumatise me is neither here nor there. I don't need to feel terrible about it to be able to condemn his actions. And my lack of trauma should never be used to explain or excuse him. It was wrong. As simple as that. 

1 comment:

  1. Having had a similar youthful experience with sex in a time before AIDS made it all very Victorian again, I really appreciate the separation of "it's wrong" from "it was traumatizing" . . .just as, it's still wrong to rob someone, even if they have insurance or didn't really like the stuff you took. . .