Monday 10 December 2018

Ian O'Doherty: Consent may be sexy but surely enthusiasm is sexier?

A question of consent
A question of consent
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

If we have learned one thing from the fallout from the Belfast rape trial - and that's a rather large 'if' - then it must surely be that the sexes still struggle to communicate with each other.

The wildly divergent responses have opened a scab that exists all across Western societies.

It brought home the ubiquity of porn; it raised ugly questions about male entitlement and provided uglier answers; it prompted one of those dreaded 'national conversations' about where we are going as a people.

It also seemed to open the floodgates for extremists on both side to scratch their itchy trigger fingers and use the trial as an excuse to further propagate their own agenda.

The last few weeks have left a sour taste in everyone's mouth, but it has also proved that both sides of this increasingly fractious and bitter row have good points to make and it would be stupid to dismiss them on a point of stubborn principle.

That there is a subset of young men who behave appallingly is hardly breaking news.

They have always been there, and they always will be. It is perfectly possible to state that the actions of the few should never define the many, just as it's equally possible to look on the actions of those few with contempt.

The 'C' word has been the dominant topic of conversation recently, and it obviously makes sense to give clearer guidelines of what consent is, how it should be requested and how it should be granted.

But some of the arguments are just plain daft.

The idea, which has been bandied about of late, that a woman simply cannot give consent if, for example, she is drunk, would result in the closure of every nightclub and most of the pubs in the land.

The idea, however, that a woman cannot give consent if she is paralytic drunk and puking into a sink, is screamingly obvious and makes perfect sense.

'Consent' has become a loaded word, and seems to have been used as a stick with which to beat men. The idea of mandatory consent classes for young men attending university won't work for the simple reason that, as was the case in UCC, they were demanded by the college's Feminist Society, which rightly or wrongly, immediately put everyone's nose out of joint.

Anyway, by the time someone gets to university age, it is probably too late - it is certainly too little.

There has been much talk of changing the curriculum in schools to include consent, and that would make far more sense. What might be even more sensible, however, would be to drop the word 'consent' entirely and replace it with a more universal 'respect.'

Empathy, kindness and mutual respect are not inherent values, we have to learn them. When a child spends its first few years deprived of love and affection, and even physical contact such as hugs, as has been the case in many orphanages in the former Soviet Union, they can't learn these skills later in life.

So we should start teaching kids the importance of respect for their friends, for any future partners they may have and, ultimately, for themselves.

Teaching someone to be a good citizen doesn't diminish the role of the parent as the primary moral authority, it just... teaches kids to be better citizens.

The pornification of society I mentioned earlier has become one of the greatest obstacles to this. It is quite possible, even important, to defend porn on a free speech platform, and oppose Government attempts to regulate it.

But it is also possible to recognise that early exposure to hardcore sex when you're 14 has potentially disastrous consequences for everyone involved.

Nobody wants to be a moraliser. When you tell someone who has never known a world without gangbangs on their phone that they shouldn't be looking at such material, they'll dismiss you as an old fogey who is simply out of touch - and they'd be right.

After all, the days of waiting up late to watch one of those infamous 'red triangle' movies on Channel 4 have long gone and porn is here to stay.

What's the answer? I honestly don't know, but we could at least start teaching kids that what they see on a porn site is a fantasy, not an instruction manual.

But if we are to teach proper respect, we need to lose such bogus, codological terms as 'toxic masculinity' and 'male privilege.'

You can't pathologise half the human race, not because it is unfair but because it is stupid. But a lot of the current batch of feminists seem to have developed an almost religious zeal on the matter. If male privilege is an article of their faith, toxic masculinity is their original sin, one which is inherited and must be renounced before you can be saved.

Bad male behaviour is bad male behaviour, but it's no more representative of men than Jemma Beale, Rebecca Palmer, Lottie Harris or Kate Woodhead are of women.

They are just some of the people who have recently been convicted for making false rape allegations in the UK. Are we to take it that they symbolise a sort of toxic or deceitful femininity?

That's the problem with identity politics, which thinks you can explain anyone's actions on the basis of what tribe they come from - male or female, gay or straight and so on.

Maybe it comes down to enthusiasm - if your partner isn't enjoying it as much as you, then perhaps that should be your cue to stop.

Just a thought...

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