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:


Sungold said...

Hi - I like this post. I appreciate that you maintain a concern for the agency of all parties.

I do think it's possible to use seduction in a less manipulative way that implies a *mutual* process. It's absolutely possible for one person to do most of the persuading, and for the other to *want* to be persuaded. That's how seduction has usually worked in my life. It's more intense than mere flirtation. There's more *intent* involved, to use a term you mentioned.

Figleaf's second definition of seduction works well for me, in that regard. It captures an important part of my experience. I recognize, of course, that other women (and men!) have had quite different experiences. That doesn't invalidate my experience, though, or mean that mutual seduction is impossible. In fact, I'd argue that mutuality possible even when one party is clearly leading and the other is clearly following.

Thanks for making me think some more about this!

Queen_George said...

Hi Jeff!

I just dropped over after you commented at Hysteria!, and I'm so glad to see you're posting about this stuff too! I'll check with MaryB, but I'm sure she'd be cool with my adding you to our blogroll. Would that be okay with you?

jfpbookworm said...

Sorry for the delay; the comment got stuck in moderation because I didn't realize anyone was still reading.

But yeah, anyone is welcome to link to this blog.