- Text by Frankie Mace
When it comes to consent, the #MeToo campaign has started an important dialogue: the outing of Weinstein and those of a similar ilk has just been the start. We’re finally talking about the universality of women’s experiences of harassment and unwanted sexual attention; we’re talking about what consent means, and how it operates within the power structures of our workplaces, communities and culture.
But there is a flaw in the logic of the responses to the #MeToo revelations: so far, the consent conversation is based on the assumption that women can only the recipient of advances, and subsequently – when presented with an situation where sex is on the cards – we simply have the ability to accept or refuse. Isn’t it time we start asking the question ourselves?
Mainstream heterosexual society has set up an unsustainable binary. It’s one that says men have sexual appetites, and only can demand (or politely request) access to a woman’s body for sex. Women are responsible for granting or denying it. The gendered dynamic of predator and prey, pursuer and pursued, is the core of the issue, and not just because it sanctions men’s sexual aggression but because it denies women their freedom of sexual expression.
Within this structure, the dude has to make the first move; what if, for fear of accusation, men stop coming on to women. Will heterosexual sex just… end? #MeToo has men are panicking online and in the street. It’s the beginning of a sex-pocalypse!
The culture of sexual violence is perpetuated by male behaviour, but after this wave of denunciations, where do we go from here? Sexual equality cannot exist if women are expected to remain in a reactive role. Yes, men need to change, but so do women.
There is a danger that this is obscured in the #MeToo movement, by a focus on correcting men’s conduct only, and not attempting to foster a fundamentally different understanding of the dynamic between sexes. The risk is that it could become an exclusively sex-negative cultural force, one that seeks solely to punish and curb men, instead of encouraging women to create a genuine sexual revolution. The next step is to become equal partners, regardless of gender expression or sexual orientation. And to do that, it’s time women took charge.
But this is not as easy as it sounds. The complication inherent in the consent argument is that women have been socially conditioned to be deferential and submissive. How can women give consent, when power relations place them automatically at a disadvantage?
The only way for women to possess their sexuality, to actively explore and shape their own desire on their own terms, is to overcome the shame and stigma attached to being sexually forward, which has been forced on to us from birth.
Things have come a long way for female sexuality. We’ve moved beyond the virgin, the mother, or the whore. This isn’t the ‘50s. We’ve got the pill, ‘the Rabbit’ vibrating dildo, and ‘female-friendly’ porn. Dating app Bumble (https://bumble.com/) requires women to send the first message to try and bypass the unfortunate meat-market tendency of Tinder. The website phenomenon OMGYes – famously admired by Emma Watson – instructs, advises and assures women that they can have a healthy and satisfying relationship with their vaginas.
It’s no longer a secret that women have sex for fun; they do, voluntarily, enthusiastically, joyfully. But the fact remains that, to varying degrees around the world, female desire is routinely discouraged, controlled, ignored and dismissed. For a woman to be ‘promiscuous’ continues to carry a morality judgement.
For the good of the future of sex, we need women move on from consenting to a man’s desire, to articulating their own, without inhibition or fear of retribution; we need to women to be safe to freely seek sexual pleasure and satisfaction, not just covertly receive it. We need to banish the negative connotations of ‘slut’ from our culture, to finally shed ideas of ‘purity’ from the way we value women, and the way we value ourselves; journalist and sex-opinionist Karley Sciortino AKA Slutever has been blazing this particular trail with glittering success and skill.
One of the lasting positive effects of #MeToo, beyond women feeling they can speak out against their harassers and be believed, could be for men to back off, listen more, and understand they are not entitled to anything. But it could also empower women to initiate sexual interactions themselves, and tell prospective partners what they want, rather than submit to a culture of male domination and female victimhood.
Quite apart from anything else, being the seducer is fun. Everyone should feel able to enjoy it. The effects of breaking down and redressing gendered behaviours will be sexually liberating for everyone; but it’s not just going to improve everyone’s sex lives, it’s going to radically alter gender relations for the better.
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