There has been a slate of stories in the past few weeks on the notion of sexual consent, or, to be more specific, the consent required, particularly from the female, for the man to engage in sexual relations with her. There are the two Liberal (male) Members of Parliament accused of sexual harrassment by anonymous (female) accusers. There is the avuncular Bill Cosby, who more or less typified ideal fatherhood in the eighties, now vilified by numerous charges of rape, decades ago during his hey-day. In the case of Jian Ghomeshi, the disgraced CBC radio host, the debate concerning consent also revolved around, shall we say, ‘other activities’ of a more violent nature that I need not recite here. As Mark Steyn ironically pointed out, Jian’s self-confessed behaviour is curious in a man so committed to women’s rights and an ‘end to violence against women’. I was always bothered by his too-smooth voice, and his supercilious uber-liberal condescension to anything in any way conservative or traditional.
Of course, every man deserves his day in court, and there have been numerous writers who rightly claim that we should not condemn individuals based on unproved accusations (Mr.Gomeshi’s confessed publicly to his bizarre sexual activities, but the notion of mutual consent, or lack thereof, is yet to be proved). Public figures, I suppose, have as the nature of their job to live in the limelight, and to have their actions scrutinized more than we, the people, the hoi polloi. As the actor Johnny Depp once claimed, when one is famous, ‘privacy becomes an expensive proposition’, which is why actors live in gated mansions on large acreages.
The truth wins out in the end, however, or at least at the end of one’s life, but one thing at least that comes to light from all these stories is a clarification of the notion of implied consent.
When is it ‘safe’ for a man to engage in a conjugal liason with a woman? And by ‘safe’ I mean safe from accusations of some type of sexual assault. The anonymous accuser in the parliament case claims that she never said ‘no’, but never said ‘yes’ either, and felt, in some way, coerced by the advances of her male, shall we say, ‘paramour’. What she was doing in his hotel room in the wee hourse of the morning to begin with is left unsaid. Was she coerced up the elevator?
Even if she had said ‘yes’, would that have been enough? What would happen if she changed her mind afterward, that her ‘yes’ was not really ‘yes, or was coerced? Or that she never really said ‘yes’? Or changed her mind part-way through? Would it be her word against his? Whom would the court believe?
Let your yes be yes, and your no be no, indeed…
What if she had given her consent in writing? Before at least two witnesses? Before God Himself? And accept all of the implications that the sexual act implies, emotional bonding, possibility of children and so on? Would that be enough?
But, whoa on there, that sounds a lot like marriage, which, as the Church and most every civilization in history until our modern one, has proclaimed the only proper venue for sexual relations (yes, many pagan societies tolerated sex outside of marriage, but tolerated is the key word; sex was seen as proper really only within the matrimonial bond).
One unintended consequence of this spate of sexual harrassment cases is that women are waking up to the reality that the freedom of the ‘sexual revolution’ is that men are now ‘free’ to satisfy their lusts upon them. Some women understand this the easy way, being brought up and educated properly; others learn the hard way, left used and abused after a temporary liason (whether for a night or for years).
And this is not in general reciprocal. Women do not ‘feel’ sexual desire the same way men do; their attachments are more emotional, long-term, ordered towards the bringing forth and nurturing of new life. Men are naturally more polygamous, and, outside of the self-constraints of personal virtue (that is, learning by discipline from youth not to be a cad and sexual predator), the male half of humanity must be externally constrained to monogamy, by custom and, if necessary, by law.
Yes, there still men out there who desire to court a woman honorably with the intention of marriage, and women who are open to such courtship, both saving their bodies and emotions for ‘the one’. I have had the honour to teach many such men and women, and just received a phone call last night from two of my former students who, after a virtuous courtship, are now joyously engaged to be married. Outside of the society within which I live (and a few other such ‘societies’ out there), such customs now seem quaint and outmoded, relegated to Jane Austen novels. Even in the recent past, however, whatever one’s level of personal virtue, one felt constrained by these customs, or at least constrained to accept the consequences of deviating from them. This was society’s way of controlling the great power of sexuality which, if unleashed from moral constraint, has untold deleterious consequences, not just for the perpetrator and the victim (who may, in some ways, be the same person), but for society itself and future generations (abandoned children, abortion, sexually-transmitted disease, the breakdown of the family, emotionally damaged individuals, and so on and on).
Parliament is now formulating a ‘Code of Conduct’ for its members, but we may presume that CBC also had a similar ‘code’, and this did not apparently do much for them, and will not do much anywhere virtue is lacking. People will always find their way around a ‘code’, especially when driven by great and unbridled desire.
But I will have more on virtue and publicly funded individuals, especially those chosen, alas, to ‘lead’ us, later…
December 2, 2014
p.s. I just listened to a small part of a call-in lunch-time discussion on the CBC on when consent is consent, and had to turn it off; not only were the callers tying themselves up in knots (they were mostly men), but to listen to the modern Canadian male discuss his sad sexual proclivities was more than I could handle over my collation. This is the choice women have?