Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Seduction and consent

It's been a while since I've posted - I spent most of December finishing up projects for my library science classes, and then catching up on the holiday shopping I hadn't done, and finally just taking some time off.

There's been a discussion starting with radical feminist Maggie Hays and making its way to several other sex-positive blogs (see below for links) about expanding definitions of rape to include things like "seduction." While the debate seemed to start out as yet another "radical vs. sex-positive" argument, it's grown more nuanced (or more nitpicky), as the definition(s) of "seduction" get examined.

I think the central issue here is whether "seduction" is seen as a method to encourage enthusiastic consent, to obtain nominal consent, or to simply have sex. And I think that we live in a culture that typically doesn't distinguish among these, which is why there's so much confusion and argument going on in these discussions. Seduction is seen as anything from "flirting with intent" to the dubious lyrics of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear" to the now-obsolete seduction tort.

I also think that people are looking at this from different perspectives and that clouds the issue somewhat. From the "seducer's" perspective, doing things that might erode the "seducee's" ability to freely consent to sex is problematic, and not caring whether your partners freely and enthusiastically consent is the attitude of a rapist. From the "seducee's" perspective, though, treating things that only *potentially* compromise consent as *automatically* compromising consent can rob him/her of agency.

Because, when it comes down to it, the authority on whether consent existed has to be the person whose consent it was. (Yes, in a criminal case this is often something that's seen as needing more proof, but we're talking morals here, not trials.) Which means that telling the "seducee" that he/she was raped is wrong, but it also means that it's not legitimate to excuse behavior intended to compromise consent to sex on the grounds that they did or could have still consented. (Just as, for example, reckless disregard for someone's physical safety isn't excused by the fact that, in a particular instance, nobody was injured.)

Other posts on the topic: