I For One Welcome Our New Affirmative Consent Overlords


As you may have heard, last Sunday California enacted a new “Yes Means Yes” statute governing state university policy towards sexual assault. This law has been a while in coming, and the usual suspects have been whinging about it on and off for months, but generally speaking I feel like the media coverage has been both fair and encouraging. Generally.

I curate my facebook feed pretty rigorously so as to avoid things that will skyrocket my blood pressure, but this bit of sophist concern trolling from sociologist Laurie Essig still managed to break through: “‘Yes Means Yes’ Is a Bad Coupling of Feminism and the State.” The old standby arguments against affirmative consent show up, but where she really goes off the rails is this gem:

Like the antiporn laws, “yes means yes” is a bad romance between feminism and the state for two reasons: pleasure and danger. The statute equates good sex with a legalistic definition of consent rather than with the pleasures had by the parties involved. It also expands notions of criminality at a time when the criminal-justice system is regularly committing horrific acts of race-and class-biased violence.

And then she goes on to the usual “gotcha” about consensual non-consent.

I will be honest with you guys: I actually work in domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy for a living now, and a quick poll of my office resulted in a collective “WTF?” when I showed them this post. Her argument, such as it is, is fragmented and specious and carries the general air of MRA/libertarian chauvinist discontent at the suggestion that people who aren’t them ought to be considered rational actors with regard to their own sexuality. The law does not establish new standards for burden of proof in criminal proceedings, and it says absolutely nothing about what constitutes good sex; its scope is wholly focused on addressing sexual violence at California public universities. If she’s so worried about the criminal justice system screwing over people of color, maybe she could find the time to advocate for timely processing of rape kits and other forensic tools that could turn up exculpatory DNA evidence. Instead, she invokes Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. The whole thing is crass and nonsensical and implies pretty strongly that Essig thinks racial justice and sexual assault prevention are fundamentally incompatible.

Honestly, though, she made it personal for me when she decided to refer smugly to “how power can be eroticized,” because in going there she’s attempting to speak for me, and I want no part of her idiotic argument.

Consent is definitely an issue in the BDSM community, which generally tries really hard to self-police as a result of running up hard against battery laws and the kinds of attitudes that make the “Yes Means Yes” law necessary. But I doubt Essig knows anything about the kink community; she’s just apparently trying to score points in the rape culture war by holding up a certain type of sexuality–one that I’m happily involved in–as paradigmatically problematic. What the hell is up with that? Does she also believe that seatbelts shouldn’t be mandatory because some people choose not to wear them?

The reek of Internet Libertarian is inescapable. I’ve never seen one lean so hard on racial justice issues before, but I guess it takes all kinds.

In a particular display of bad taste, she ends with this:

Feminists work hard to show that the state is both racist and sexist, and yet some feminists imagine that very same state making the world a safer place for them. That’s like dating the wrong partner and wistfully hoping, against all evidence, that he or she will change.

Whatever, lady. Guess I’ll go back to work now, trying to undo some of the damage done by attitudes like yours.

I hope she stubs her toe every single day for the rest of her life.

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