Antioch, We Hardly Knew Ye
And by Antioch, I mean the much-mocked Antioch College Sexual Offense Prevention Policy. It factors heavily in one of the essays in Yes Means Yes, Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process.” Also, while ze never mentions it, is Hazel/Cedar Troost’s essay “Reclaiming Touch: Rape Culture, Explicit Verbal Consent, and Body Sovereignty”, it sat behind the page, on my reading, as a huge unmentioned subtext. (I don’t know the author, so I don’t know if that was a deliberate tactic.) I also saw it lurking in the subtext in parts of Lee Jacobs-Riggs’s “A Love Letter form an Anti-Rape Activist to Her Feminist Sex Toy Store”. (Lee is an active blogger here; I’m sure she’ll tell me if I’m seeing things) More than that, the Antioch Code seemed to sit behind all of the thinking about consent as affirmative, rather than the absence of no.
(Indulge an analogy: I love Celtic punk — Flogging Molly, The Tossers, The Real McKenzies in all their sloshed glory … and all Celtic punk, on my account, leads back to a few antecedents, most notably The Pogues. You can’t discuss Celtic punk in any depth without acknowledging the foundational contribution of the Pogues. So, too, the Antioch SOPP is a milestone in the recognition of consent as affirmative, rather than the absence of no — the point where it broke the surface of the culture — the place of which cannot be ignored in discussing the history of this thinking.)
Lots of people talk about it and few have read it. Since Antioch closed the doors of its undergraduate campus and folded its website, I can’t find the full text, but I found a bullet summary:
Consent is defined as the act of willingly and verbally agreeing to engage in specific sexual conduct. The following are clarifying points:
Consent is required each and every time there is sexual activity.
All parties must have a clear and accurate understanding of the sexual activity.
The person(s) who initiate(s) the sexual activity is responsible for asking for consent.
The person(s) who are asked are responsible for verbally responding.
Each new level of sexual activity requires consent.
Use of agreed upon forms of communication such as gestures or safe words is acceptable, but must be discussed and verbally agreed to by all parties before sexual activity occurs.
Consent is required regardless of the parties’ relationship, prior sexual history, or current activity (e.g. grinding on the dance floor is not consent for further sexual activity).
At any and all times when consent is withdrawn or not verbally agreed to, the sexual activity must stop immediately.
Silence is not consent.
Body movements and non-verbal responses such as moans are not consent.
A person can not give consent while sleeping.
All parties must have unimpaired judgement (examples that may cause impairment include but are not limited to alcohol, drugs, mental health conditions, physical health conditions).
All parties must use safer sex practices.
All parties must disclose personal risk factors and any known STIs.
Individuals are responsible for maintaining awareness of their sexual health.
These requirements for consent do not restrict with whom the sexual activity may occur, the type of sexual activity that occurs, the props/toys/tools that are used, the number of persons involved, the gender(s) or gender expressions of persons involved.
I got this from FIRE’s website, but I’m not linking them.
I was an undergrad when this was adopted, though not at Antioch. It didn’t seem silly to me at the time, though the media mocked it mercilessly.
Here’s what the critics don’t understand — or do understand well enough to try to dismember it: the policy doesn’t function by requiring communication. The policy functions by assigning risk.
The Antioch SOPP makes clear who bears the risk: the intiator. That’s a big change, and one many men are profoundly uncomfortable with.
In law most places, and in Western culture generally, consent is the absence of “no.” If someone doesn’t say “no” to some sexual contact, it is presumed not unwanted, which equals wanted. As we all know, this is a huge problem for many reasons, not least this: We raise women to be nice, please others and put their needs last; we raise men to be entitled douchenozzles who don’t take no for an answer; and then we put the burden on women to be gatekeepers. It’s a recipe for disaster — but only for the women. This state of affairs puts all the burden on women. They face the vast majority of consequences for saying yes, and for saying no.
The Antioch SOPP shifts the burden. In a culture where everyone is assumed to be het, and where men and women assume that men will initiate sexual contact and most phases thereof, if men continue to initiate they bear the risk of a misunderstanding about consent. You see, if all parties are on board, nobody has to say anything verbal. But in the world we know, if a woman is not enthusiastic about her participation, then that’s her problem. Under the Antioch SOPP, that’s his problem. He can assume … but he better be sure. Because if he’s wrong, he’s committed sexual assault.
OH NOES!! But what can he ever do to be sure?! Well … he can … ask. For explicit consent. Or, as the policy explicitly allows, arrange a safeword or gesture in advance. Or negotiate specific activities ahead of time.
In fact, this is not hard. BDSMers do these things as a matter of course. Really. All the time. There’s nothing I ever, ever wanted to do that I can’t do under the strict letter of the Antioch SOPP.
Or, if some guy is too embarrassed to communicate straightforwardly about sex with a sex partner or too paranoid to trust, he can simply … not be the initiator. If his desired partner is that into it, after all, can’t he just let her do the touching and the licking and the worrying about whether he consents? (But his gender map about men being the subject and women being the object may be so ingrained that he simply can’t or won’t be sexual with a subject. Said guy is, in fact, the problem.)
In fact, the Antioch SOPP isn’t radical. It only looks radical to people who are very invested in the assumption that men can assume consent until someone stops them. I’ll show you what radical looks like. Recently, Kate at This Is Rape linked us, and browsing her blog I ran across a year-old post (that I read and liked the first time around) by the inimitable Twisty Faster, founder of I Blame The Patriarchy, a smart thinker and a really first-rate prose stylist.* She made the following proposal:**
Well, what if lack of consent were the default? What if all prospective objects of dudely predation — by whom I mean all women — are a priori considered to have said “no”? What if women, in other words, were seen by the courts to abide in a persistent legal condition of keep-the-fuck-off-me?
A straight girl could still have as much sex as she wants with men, if for some reason she thinks it’s a good idea (naturally I would most vigorously urge self-identified heterosexual women to contemplate the horrific personal and political implications of submitting to male domination in this way. But that’s another post). All she’d have to do is not call the cops. No harm no foul.
But if, at any time during the course of the proceedings, up to and including the storied infinitesimal microsecond preceding the sacred spilling of dudely seed, the woman elects to biff off to the nearest taco stand; and if her egress from the sweaty tableau is in any way impeded by the pronger (such an impediment would include everything from “traditional” brute force, to that insistently whispered declamation “just a couple more minutes, I’m almost there” the dread seriousness of which the fervid oaf dramatizes by that ever-so-slight tightening of his grip on her wrist); or if, in three hours or three days or, perhaps in the case of childhood abuse, in 13 years it begins to dawn on her that she has been badly used by an opportunistic predator, she has simply to make a call.
Presto! The dude is already a rapist, because, legally, consent never existed.
[The kind reader will intellectively supply the Law & Order ‘chung-chung!’ audio here]
This contingency would have the immediate and pleasant result that the engorged dude would be forced to ruminate a bit, prior to gettin’ busy, on the subject of his own integrity. Should he examine the scheme from all sides and ultimately determine that his motives perhaps emanate from baser impulses to dominate or whip off a piece or put a notch on his bedpost or satisfy some other subhuman urge, he would, would he not — knowing that the woman could drop a dime on him at any time should his deportment should fail to live up to her standards of civility — decline the opportunity to become a rapist and go to jail?
I grasp that, technically, the plan criminalizes all male participants in heterosexual sex.
Well, what of it? The set-up now, with the emphasis — in a misogynist world with a misogynist judiciary — on whether or not women “give” consent, is that female participants are all infinitely rapeable, because all some perv has to do is say, “she said yes.”
(Emphasis supplied). To speak lawyer-speak, the Antioch SOPP and Twisty’s proposal differ in that the SOPP is a rebuttable presumption — the presumption of nonconsent, rebuttable only by express consent arranged prior or confirmed at the time; while Twisty’s is a conclusive presumption. Would Twisty’s proposal end het sex? In fact, as she recognizes, it would not (whinging of MRAs to the contrary). Rather, it simply would require something that, right now, women need to extend to have het sex and men really don’t: a huge amount of trust in a partner’s respect and goodwill.
I’ll say that again, because I like to repeat myself: Right now, in het sex, women need to, and men don’t need to, extend to their partners a huge amount of trust in their partners’ goodwill. If having it the other way around would be horrifying, then we should be horrified by the present state of affairs. Pace the conservatives, just because it’s been this way too long doesn’t mean it’s remotely right, or even functional.
The burden to be sure of consent; to know, rather than assume, that one’s partner is an enthusiastic participant. Neither silly nor radical. Quite sensible, in fact. Antioch is gone, but the SOPP that was ahead of its time lives on, like Obi Wan in death, more powerful now than ever.
*Fair warning: the IBTP comment section has a history of vitriolic transphobia and a core of vocal and determined opponents of BDSM in all its forms and sex work in all its forms, and a lot of other positions that would be hurtful to some readers here. Readers who wish to avoid contact with those views are going to want to avoid the comment threads at IBTP.
**I don’t think Twisty is the first person to propose a conclusive presumption of nonconsent in feminist literature, and I don’t understand her to claim she is. But Twisty’s formulation is (a) the one I remember reading; (b) the one I can find; and (c) Twisty’s writing, which is just so … inimitable.