Going Beyond Consent

Is consent really the only thing that matters?

Trigger warning: rape

© Gabbi Wenyi Ayane Virk

Call it shallow, but we are making progress. Whether it’s “feminism” emblazoned onto fashion apparel, or non-binary characters in children’s cartoons, or just the availability of POC writing online and in print, I feel like we are slowly but surely making our way towards feminism becoming the norm.

It’s part of this process of refurbishing feminist dialogue for the mainstream that has led to our addiction to analogies. Rape is likened to a five dollar note, to tea, to sticky tape. It’s not that we want to underplay rape as a serious social issue. It’s that people aren’t getting it, and so we try to break things down and simplify them. We think, maybe now he’ll get it. Recently, the focus has been on publicising the idea that “no means no”.

And it does. Don’t get me wrong. The purpose of this piece isn’t to say that no means yes or that yes means no, or to devalue the fight for an understanding of consent. Because consent is important. And we are absolutely right to say that children, teenagers, and adults need to brush up on our understanding of consent. Absolutely, go ahead and clarify what it means to be a consenting partner in sex. If they’re drunk, don’t have sex with them. If they said no, don’t have sex with them. If they physically can’t say no, don’t have sex with them. If you had to coerce or otherwise convince them, don’t have sex with them. If they are underage, don’t have sex with them. If you’re ever unsure about whether you can have sex with them or not, don’t have sex with them.

Consent is important.

But a lot of dialogue about consent ignores the fact that rape is not normally about sex. Yes, there are cases of genuine misunderstanding (because one party didn’t bother to figure out what consensual sex meant before diving into the sack), but is erotic pleasure always the goal of the rapist?

Nowadays, there are so many avenues for individuals seeking sex to find sex. Say what you will about the industry of adult entertainment and sex work, but even the prudest person, if desperate enough, will be able to cough up the money to pay for sex. And even closer than the world of commodified sex is the world of omegle, tinder, and kik. For a lot of people, sex is attainable. So what is it that rape fulfils that sex doesn’t?

If you observe wild animals, or pets who haven’t been neutered, you’ll eventually realise how they assert dominance over other animals in the same group. They hump. They simulate sex in order to say, “I am in control”.

Who’s to say humans don’t do the same thing? When a rapist rapes, they don’t always do it for sexual gratification, although that is most certainly one of the things they will gain from the experience. Rape happens because people want to feel dominant and in control of someone else. Whether as compensation for lack of control in other areas of their life or out of somewhere much deeper and sicker, rape happens because humans don’t want to simulate sex to prove dominance. We want to go beyond what animals do. We want the real thing.

It’s disgusting and it is difficult to come to terms with, but many rapists know what consent looks like. Many rapists can see the damage they are doing, and know that the other party wants them to stop. Many rapists don’t stop, because this is the goal — to overpower.

Consent is important, but it isn’t the only thing we need to talk about when we talk about the prevention of rape. We need to ask why people crave power. We need to go to the root of the problem and understand it. I want to open up the discussion on power, control, and rape. I want us to talk about why the connection between these things has become so confusing, and when I have further opinions on the matter, I will revive this piece. For now though, it really is just a platform for discussion that I hope will be illuminating.