An Analogy for Awakening to Consent

November 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

If you believed in germs and no one else did, I’m pretty sure you’d be freaked out.  By people’s behavior, for one thing.  And by the fact that they didn’t “see” it.  I’m sure you’d also feel crazy at least some of the time.  The world would constantly undermine what you believed.  Depending on how you presented your deviant worldview, you’d likely get some really intense reactions.  People would be nice about your craziness, or be condescending and mock you, or be threatened and attack you.  You might even end up incarcerated for your own good.

But germs would still exist.  And everyone would still be subject to them.  They’d still play out their causes and effects.  Lack of public agreement wouldn’t stop them, or change what they were doing one bit.

I’ve talked before about “awakening to feminism,” and with it to an ethic of consent.  It’s one of those amazing experiences that also freaks you out and costs a lot of energy and emotion, a lot of regret and anger and horror and anxiety.  A lot of mainstream media and everyday interactions begin to freak you out.  You can never casually waltz into a rom-com again.

Because in our culture, unacknowledged violence is commonplace.  If you start seeing and naming all the coercion that goes on, recognizing this authoritarian, hierarchical rape culture we live in, you will probably have to either gravitate towards likeminded people you can be safe with, or be very tactful in how you present your worldview.  Because people are going to be kind of freaked out by it.

In our culture, we aren’t educated about violence, about coercion, about rape.  They play out their affects nonetheless, causing pandemic suffering and harm.  But collectively, we deny it or just don’t recognize it.  Rape and abuse are supposedly rare.  Freedom is the alleged status quo, because over time more and more of the most overt forms of oppression have been named and combated.

Sometimes I feel depressed because I believe in an ethic of consent.  It seems like there is so much violence and so much denial, so many tiers of abuse in common people’s lives, such complex webs of power and violence.  Using the germ analogy helps me, because I can see then how seeing something harmful that’s pandemic and seems extreme and crazy can turn overtime to common knowledge, something we’d never refute because the effects, not just the science, are such realities in our own lives.  And I can imagine that violence might be like that one day.  Something we learn about and combat in more and more complex ways.

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