Please read the following articles:
- Wertheimer "Consent & Sexual Relations" (359)
- West "The Harms of Consensual Sex" (387)
- Pineau "Date RapeL A Feminist Analysis" (461)
Like identity, consent is a meta-ethical concept that has a rich philosophical history, but is of particular importance to the philosophy of sex & love. With the exception of the Marquis de Sade (France, 18th Century), nearly all modern theorists see consent among all participants as a necessary condition for moral sexual activity. In fact, given the problems with definitions of perversion discussed previously, consent has emerged as one of the most important criterion for determining the morality of any sexual act, but it can be challenging to know when consent has been freely and appropriately given. In our first article, "Consent & Sexual Relations" (1996), Alan Wertheimer (US, 21st Century) analyzes the definition of consent in relation to other criterion, like coercion and deception, then evaluates a variety of hypothetical examples.
Sadly, violations of consent are neither hypothetical nor rare and remain one of the most distressing experiences college students are likely to face. Furthermore, feminists have noted that there has been a long history of violence against women where cultures and legal systems have violated, ignored, eroded, or compromised a woman's right to consent to a wide variety of sexually related acts. However, feminists do disagree about the pervasiveness and best solutions to this problem. Some radical feminists, like Andrea Dworkin (US, 20th Century), argue that because of the patriarchial values of most cultures most heterosexual acts (including consensual ones) are harmful to women because these cultures sexualize male aggression and female submission. Conversely, sex-positive feminists argue that sexual freedom is fundamental to female empowerment and insist that a women should be free to participate in any sexual activity as long as she freely consents. These opposing versions of feminism persist and allow for a wide range of opinions among feminists not only on consent, but on other applied topics, like marriage and pornography which will be discussed in subsequent modules.
Thus, the remaining articles for this week focus on more nuanced and practical feminist views on the morality of consent. Robin West (US, 21st Century) will argue against the both radical feminism and sex-positive feminism, by insisting that even when a person freely consents to sex, if the sex is undesired, it can still cause subtle harms that accumulate over time. Meanwhile, Lois Pineau's "Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis" (1989) dispels several rape myths that have been used to excuse violence against women and articulates the concept of affirmative consent. While Pineau's notion of affirmative consent was widely ridiculed in popular media when it was incorporated in the Antioch College Sexual Offense Policy (1993) it has become the standard of most institutions, including PSU, with regard to sexual consent among students.
Learning Objectives: After completing the assignments listed below you should be able to...
- Explain the difference between a necessary and sufficient condition.
- Explain Wertheimer's definition of consent, its relevance to deception and coercion, and its application to sexual relations.
- Know the history of violence against women, particularly in educational settings.
- Explain the difference between radical feminism and sex-positive feminism.
- Explain West's criticism of radical feminism and her notion of the subtle harms of undesired yet consensual sex.
- Explain Pineau's communicative model of consent and its application to affirmative consent policies in higher education.