Okay, that joke’s not going to get old for me.
So some folks who’ve little or no interest in discussing harassment policies rationally, who just want to stop them from happening because feminists (*gasp in horror*) are the ones pushing for them, have been suggesting that any convention implementing strong harassment policies that demand consent before touching would open you to a whole raft of legal issues and would curtail all the fun that can be had at a convention.
I don’t even have to strawman or play that up. That’s what people are actually saying about the “make sure you have consent before touching” clause. That it would require you to get lawyer-notarized consent forms for every handshake or hug.
This is for a code of conduct that attempts to respect every person’s bodily autonomy, in a social setting where people might have zero clue that some folks get all squeamish about being randomly hugged by strangers. Or worse, that some people might not like having their breasts groped randomly by strangers — yes, that’s apparently an issue, given the existence of PenguinCon’s Open Source Boob Project back in 2008.
That “project” involved people wearing red or green stickers — red means you’re not allowed to even ask for consent to grope them, green means you can ask and the person can choose to consent or not. You’d think this might be a good idea for people who have no idea how to obtain consent for actions like that, but really, it’s a horrible way of doing this whole consent thing — it makes the convention very grope-focused, which has ripple effects on people who weren’t wearing stickers at all.
People generally obtain consent by conversing with people, discovering if there’s common ground, learning whether there’s mutual interest, flirting, then escalating by inches (centimetres?), and backing off if there’s any indication that both parties aren’t enthusiastic about it. This is how flirting works for the neurotypical. It is how our society’s “romance narrative” is built, where people obtain consent through non-verbal means. This can be a fun game for those who can play it, but for those who can’t, for those who aren’t adept at or don’t like this romance narrative, consent can be obtained through other means. Like, asking.
There is something absolutely hot about asking someone if you can kiss them, and them saying yes. It can be done sexily. It can be done without spoiling the mood. And even if it’s done clumsily because you’re clumsy at asking, it can still be awesome. The end result is, you know that person is definitely into you if they’re consenting despite your clumsiness. And if you ask someone “can I kiss you” and they respond by diving lip-first at your face, you’ve got your answer and your kiss. No forms needed. No legal notary on hand.
So when Thunderf00t among others complained that getting consent for touching is a bad thing, it’s obvious that they don’t realize how often we ask for consent to various social transactions in day to day activities without ever making a noise. And if you can manage to get consent without words for transactions with a person that are intimate or sexual, that means you probably either know that person well enough to be able to make that judgment, or you’re not actually getting consent at all.
If there’s ever any doubt, asking is not a bad strategy. The alternative is risking engaging in an assault. Given the decision matrix of “ruining the mood” being the downside for asking for consent, and “committing assault” being the downside for not, which one actually maximizes your potential for sexy fun times? Do factor in that sexy fun times are sexier and more fun when the other person is enthusiastic about participating.
And this respect for bodily sexual autonomy must absolutely extend to people who have hang-ups about touching. If you’re running around hugging random people and you hug someone who doesn’t want to be hugged, sure, you might not be doing any physical damage, but you’re doing psychological damage that could have been mitigated by being a decent human being and asking for permission. Even if you know the person’s likely to accept (e.g. JT Eberhard, who loves hugs), you should damn well ask anyway. Maybe he’s not feeling it right then. Maybe he’s sick. Maybe he’s holding a hot coffee. Maybe he’s in a rush. Maybe you’ve already given him twenty hugs in the past half hour and he’s already begged off once, and he’s now little creeped out. Consent once, or to someone else, doesn’t mean consent always or to everyone.
Or grabbing someone’s leg and biting it. That’s fine and great and grand if you know the person and know they consent because you’ve already crossed those physical barriers. But if you don’t know it, you risk getting kicked out of the bar or convention or whatever, because you skipped the whole consent thing. Why would you skip the consent part of any negotiation? Isn’t that how stealing is wrong, because you didn’t get consent (or didn’t care about consent) to take something from someone before taking it? Physical transactions work the same way.
If you don’t know for certain, don’t take the chance and do something without their explicit consent. How is this totalitarian or controlling, by saying that people have different tolerances for touching and that we should respect those by requiring consent?
I suspect most of the pushback from this is about privilege — the privilege that people think they have to make any pass at any person they want under any circumstances, even if those passes disregard the nature of the transaction they’re making and the familiarity between the actors involved. Any curtailing of their “right” to Hunt The Wild Vagina (and yes, it’s mostly men breaching these contracts of consent, and mostly in pursuit of women), is seen as an attack on them personally. There are, of course, women who argue that it’s controlling of behaviour to demand that people know they have consent before they do things, but for the most part, these women are engaging in System Justification. I would be surprised to learn that there are any women who believe obtaining consent is too constrictive to their own privileges, frankly. But either way, the only reason to put pursuit of your personal gratification over someone else’s right to bodily autonomy is a disregard for that person’s bodily autonomy; e.g., an argument for your privilege to do what you want to others, be damned the consequences.
It’s not like any of these intimate activities are ruled out by having to obtain consent, and it’s not like obtaining consent is an onerous requirement in any other social context. How is it so controversial in context of conventions that are about things OTHER THAN sex? How is it controversial, knowing that the language for the American Atheists’ policy that people have pushed back against was directly lifted from the OpenSF polyamory convention, where finding consenting partners for sex is, in fact, a large component of the convention itself?
Why is this hard?