Sex with out consent is just not intercourse | Zoe Williams | Opinion

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“When you turn out to be an MP, you don’t cease being a member of the human race,” wrote Andrew Bridgen within the Sunday Times. The Conservative MP reported his colleague Dan Poulter to the whips’ workplace – over sexual harassment issues – seven years in the past, solely to come across first hand their now notorious disinclination to do something about such allegations, past placing them on a spreadsheet.

Brigden’s conscience is as clear as anyone’s: it takes guts to be the MP who thinks, when 3 separate girls refuse to make use of the identical elevate as a colleague, that may sign some downside past a lapse in professionalism. Yet I anticipated his sentence to proceed: “… simply since you’ve been elected to parliament, you don’t immediately turn out to be Benny Hill, the one safety for passing feminine our bodies out of your palms being how briskly they’ll run of their foolish sneakers; you don’t get a go to look at porn while you’re at work; or end a lunch trying to get off with someone. It may be a very special job, but it’s still a job, it’s not a cape of impunity.”

Brigden’s sentence actually ended quite differently: “We have all the failings and frailties of those we represent.” Fish gotta swim; bird gotta fly; man gotta follow his manly urges wherever they take him.

The harassment scandal engulfing Westminster writhes with misconceptions and misconstructions like snakes in a sack: defensiveness, personal gain, inveterate misogyny, misunderstanding, all vying to see which can do the most to warp the picture beyond the point where a sober eye could make sense of it. The Michael Fallon defence was that “what might have been acceptable 15, 10 years ago, is not acceptable now”; because in 2002, of course, women had only recently arrived in the workplace, and nobody was quite sure whether they were there to make tea or give massages. Inevitably, there has been a bid to make it party political, though the Labour party has been noticeably reserved on the Tory spectacle, knowing – of course – that its own debacle is yet to come.

The worst faith is from those who seek to amplify the trivial, before generously waving it away. The journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer is the Boudicca of this manoeuvre, recalling Fallon’s hand on her knee and how little it affected her – adding, illogically, that had it happened again, she would have punched him. The message here is that proper women can take care of themselves; harassment is just a clumsy pass gone wrong; that the territory is so ambiguous it may throw up as many male victims as it has, historically, amassed female ones.

This in turn aerated the paranoid fantasies of Peter Hitchens, who concluded in his column in the Mail on Sunday : “Wise men in Westminster will in future go about with chaperones, record and film all conversations with the opposite sex … nothing else will keep them safe from claims that they momentarily applied a ‘fleeting hand’ to someone’s knee.”

So, our claims are petty; men are more likely to suffer than women; we’ll end up in niqabs if we’re not careful, and what’s extra, we’ll deserve it.

In this bilious overstatement the argument reveals itself: girls who object to sexual harassment, girls who need to go about their working lives – no, wait, their total lives – unmolested, handled as professionals and equals, are in opposition to intercourse itself. We need to clamp down on it, shroud it, erase it – flip regular, lusty, non-public relations between women and men right into a supply of public humiliation and punishment. This is just not a easy misrepresentation; it’s the reverse of the reality.

“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” It’s Oscar Wilde’s line, however so memorably delivered in House of Cards that everybody – sarcastically, in view of latest occasions – thinks it was Kevin Spacey. To replace this for a contemporary world and our explicit circumstances: when somebody ready of energy seeks to leverage guarantees of development or threats of ostracism – or their bodily presence in lifts and darkish corridors – in change for a sexual act or a hint of bodily contact, that isn’t about intercourse. That is about making an attempt to make flesh their ineffable sense of the “he-man” they assume they’re, eager to concurrently money out on and shore up their standing, on the expense of one other human being.

Sex is, by definition, congress: the act of coming collectively. A frisson is the approaching collectively of want; a contact is the approaching collectively of intent. How might something achieved by pressure or trickery or bribery resemble that criterion? If you need to have intercourse with somebody, discovering out if they’re is sort of easy. You don’t must press your groin in opposition to their hip, or textual content them a few job alternative. You simply must ask them. And for those who don’t need to ask as a result of you realize they’re not , or favor them not , then what you’re speaking about is just not intercourse. It could also be a fetish, some solitary buzz from contempt for one more, or it could be utterly asexual, a quest for energy in any type. But it isn’t intercourse.

The caricature of the empowered lady is that she despises intercourse, will consent to it for sensible functions – however lies in wait to catch males out of their wishes, earlier than she cries rape or assault or harassment. Having no sexual urge for food of her personal, the appetites of males are a treasure trove to her, for use for her development in the future and revenge the following. It is a cultural fact, noticed over centuries, that feminine sexuality is so terrifying it’s truly extra calming to think about all girls frigid, with all of the anxieties attending that fiction, than it’s to think about the reality of it. But with out feminine want within the image, ideas resembling “consent”, “delight” and “mutual pleasure” are at all times going to be a bit sketchy.

If we wish equality, in parliament or anyplace else – if we wish a world during which girls usually are not relentlessly undermined by colleagues who would scale back them to their bodily attributes – the job of labor is to not censure a number of rats, and forged out those who actually pushed it. It is to forge a correct understanding of what intercourse is. Sex with out consent is just not intercourse. Sex beneath duress is just not intercourse. Only a feminist might have intercourse.

Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist


Zoe Williams from theguardian.com

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