Protestors in Wellington today have “come out in force to denounce what they call rape culture,” says Newstalk ZB, demanding “the compulsory teaching of consent in all secondary schools.”
They may be on to something, but perhaps not precisely in the way they think they are.
Moral outrage is high, even as actual numbers of rapes have been diminishing. And not just here, but across the west. Writing at The Undercurrent, student journalist Josh Windham acknowledges that “rape and sexual assault are morally atrocious and profoundly evil. And the idea of a ‘rape culture’ does have its finger on an important issue: that this is a deep cultural problem which cannot be resolved easily by harsher penalties (or by louder protests).”
He argues that “the social factors identified by proponents of the ‘rape culture’ diagnosis are relatively superficial; to focus on them is to ignore the deeper causes of the rapist’s mentality””
Some feminists blame sexism. But while many rapes may be partially motivated by sexism, sexism is not the key element explaining their continued occurrence. There are plenty of sexists who would never dare commit the act of rape…
It takes the mindset of a criminal to commit the act of rape—the attitude of someone with a one-track mind bent on satisfying his momentary whims, unconcerned with abstract hindrances like the “consent” of others. But why does consent matter?
This is the key, isn’t it. Consent acknowledges the fundamental human faculty of free will – respecting the sanctity of another individual – and clearly “consent is especially important to the value of sexual interaction.”
To rape is to deface a richly rewarding celebration of partnership and love. To rape is to mount another as unscrupulously and mindlessly as a dog would.
So why not teach consent in schools?
Well, why not talk about a culture of consent – and, crucially, understand that consent is fundamental to all human interaction, and its violation has become routine and widespread across the culture. If these students truly wish to discourage what they call a “rape culture,” let them truly understand the vital importance of consent in all human interactions:
Sadly, sexual interactions aren’t the only cases where our culture undervalues the importance of consent. Ask yourself whether you always consider the consent of others in your everyday life. Do you care about the consent of the musician when you download his music without payment? What about the consent of the t-shirt vendor who refuses to sell shirts with your design? Do you consider the consent of the baker when he denies you the cake you would like baked? How about the consent of the restaurant owner whose facility you storm in political protest? Do you care about my consent, when you vote to force me (and everybody else) to buy health insurance, whether I desire it or not?
To be sure, rape is far worse—far more repugnant—than any of these offenses. But is it different in principle? The dorm-room rapist who bypasses the consent of his intoxicated victim is entirely unconcerned with his victim’s most intimate personal wishes—it’s his will that comes first. And just as the rapist trivialises the mind of his victim by taking command of a body not his own, so does the demonstrator who takes control of a space that isn’t his to occupy, interfering with the lives and careers of others who have the right to use it. The same is true for the healthcare-mandators, the cake-demanders, and even the illegal-downloaders: to one extent or another, their victims are treated as objects to be owned, used, and commanded. The reasoning of the perpetrator in each case is simple and vicious: “I feel like taking this. I’ll take it.”
If we hope ever to succeed in the battle against sexual assault, it’s this cavalier attitude towards consent that we must fight. For if we consistently permit the use of force in society to run people’s entire lives, how can we possibly expect to be taken seriously when suddenly stressing the importance of consent in cases of non-violent sexual assault?
The way to combat behaviour like sexual assault is not to speak out against a “rape culture,” but to advocate and foster a culture of consent—not just about sex, but in every area of life. Each of us as individuals must internalize and practice a sincere respect for the lives of others. This demands recognizing the sanctity of the sovereign mind, of the fact that others are not mere fodder for our whims, and that they can never be of value to us if treated as such.
“A culture of consent,” he correctly concludes, “respects the idea that my end does not justify the seizure of your means.”
Yes, let’s all try to understand that, please.
Let’s place consent above compulsion in all its forms.