Who Is Mistral Dawn?

Mistral Dawn is a thirty-something gal who has lived on both coasts of the US but somehow never in the middle. She currently resides in the Southeast US with her kitty cats (please spay or neuter! :-)) where she works as a hospital drudge and attends graduate school. Taken By The Huntsman is her first effort at writing fiction and if it is well received she has ideas for several more novels and short-stories in this series. Please feel free to visit her on FaceBook or drop her a line at mistralkdawn@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How Does This #Work?

Hey Everyone!! :-)

Today I'd like to talk about something that seems to be a matter of confusion for a lot of people: consent.  For some reason, many people don't seem to understand what it means and how it works, so I thought I'd share my thoughts about it.  It's something I've thought about quite a bit.  As I've shared more than once, the inspiration for Taken By The Huntsman came to me after a debate I had with an online friend about the nature of consent.  But, honestly, I began thinking about what it means long before that.

As many young women realize at some point during puberty, I became aware, as a young teenager, of the fact that to many people I had ceased to be a human being and had become a body.  You see, bodies don't have minds or feelings.  They exist simply for the gratification of others.  It is perfectly acceptable to make comments to bodies about actions you'd like to perform on them or improvements you'd like to see them make to themselves.  It's also permissible to touch the body in any way and at any time one wishes.  It doesn't matter whether or not the body wants to hear such comments or be subjected to such pawing, because bodies don't think or feel.  They are things.  And things exist to be used.

Except I'm not a body; I'm a person.  And I do think and feel in response to how other people treat me.  It's not the words or actions themselves that are the problem.  With the right person, at the right time, I enjoy such attention immensely...or at least it doesn't make me feel bad.  For instance, I certainly don't appreciate a random stranger approaching me on the street and making a comment about the size of my ass.  But if I go to my doctor and ask her questions about what I can do to improve my health, I don't get upset if she suggests that I need to lose some weight.

What's the difference between the two scenarios?  Consent.  By going to my doctor and soliciting her professional opinion about my health, I have invited her (read "given my consent" here) to offer suggestions that will help me improve my body.  Her motivation for making these suggestions is to give me information that will aid me in feeling better and, hopefully, living longer.  They are for my benefit and edification.  What's more, my doctor has completed many years of education and training and so has cultivated an expertise that would allow her to have an opinion based on something more than just aesthetic appeal.  Therefore, I respect her opinion, value her input, and ask her for her advice.  She has my consent to speak to me about my body.  The stranger on the street does not.

Likewise, when someone you have invited to touch you does so it's very different from being grabbed at by someone to whom you haven't given such permission.  Everyone has the right to determine who may and who may not touch them.  What's more, everyone has the right to change their mind about who falls into which category at any time and for any reason.

But the principle of consent goes beyond touching and even beyond personal comments.  Consent applies to anything that a person does or has done to them.  If you want to play a board game with your friend, you must first gain their consent.  If they agree to play the board game with you, they still have the option, at any time, to change their mind and decide they don't want to play anymore.  If you and they play a board game one day, you don't get to assume they will also agree to play the same game the next day.  You must ask them again and they must agree again in order for you to play the game with them again.  It doesn't seem complicated, does it?

How do you gain consent?  Well, how do you get someone to agree to play a board game with you?  In my experience, asking is usually the easiest way.  It's also the way that is least subject to misinterpretation.  You see, consent requires active participation.  It's not a matter of whether or not they've said "no."  What counts is whether or not they've said "yes."  To have consent, the person you want to do whatever it is you want to do with has to agree that they want to do it too, and there needs to be some indication that their agreement is ongoing.  For instance, if you're playing a board game and the person you're playing with falls asleep, you can consider their consent to play withdrawn.  Might they consent to continue the game when they wake up?  I don't know, you'll have to ask them.

Another point about which there seems to be confusion is justification for denial of consent.  This one is really easy: it doesn't matter.  It does not matter why a person declines to consent to your request.  They can have any reason or no reason.  It doesn't matter.  They do not have to justify their decision to you.  You may ask their reason if you wish, but they are under no obligation to explain themselves to you.  If they do choose to tell you their reason, it doesn't matter whether or not you agree with it or if you think it's a good reason.  Because your opinion on this issue is irrelevant.  Every person has the right to decide for themselves what they will and will not do and what they will and will not allow to be done to them.  Period.

If you are with someone who does not consent to what you want to do, you are free to go find someone who will consent to it or to pursue the activity on your own.  But you do not ever have the right to override their decision and force, coerce, trick, or harass them to do what you want.  Every individual has the right look for what they want and need in life, but other people have the same right.  When your goals don't line up with the goals of the people around you, it might be time to look for new people to be around.  It's a great, big, wide world out there.  I can almost guarantee, no matter what it is you want, someone, somewhere wants it too.  Go find them.

Now, I'm sure after reading this, someone will want to point out that there are exceptions.  Those who are incapable of giving consent, such as very young children and those who have been robbed of the ability by disease and/or injury, have others who are appointed to make decisions for them.  That's true, but there is an assumption that those who have been given such rights are making decisions based on what is best for the one for whom they are making decisions.  If that assumption is ever in doubt, those people can be stripped of their right to decide for their charge.  Also, those instances are very specific and narrowly defined, and it is only the designated person(s) who can make decisions for those individuals, not just any random person who encounters them.  There are also cases when a person might have their rights curtailed by the government under specific circumstances.  But those circumstances and the limits that representatives of the government must operate under are also specific and explicitly defined.

For most of us, most of the time, consent is pretty simple and straightforward.  It is active and requires clear agreement and a person is free to decline to give consent or to withdraw consent at any time for any reason or no reason.  That's it.  Other people might consent to do things that you would never consent to and they may decline to consent to things you would definitely consent to.  That's fine, different people are different and what works for one person may not work for another.

When do you need to gain consent?  When whatever it is you want to do impacts someone other than yourself.  You know the old saying: your right to swing your arm ends at my nose?  That about sums it up.  If what you want to do involves someone else, you need that person's consent to do it.

The people around you are not bodies, they are people.  No matter what society and the media have conditioned you to believe, every other person you encounter has the same right to their thoughts and feelings that you do.  They are not characters in the play that is your life, they exist independently of you and are not subject to your will.  As people, they have the same rights and privileges that you do and, just as you would want your own decisions respected, they have the right to have their choices respected.  The only consent your agreement matters to is your own and the only person for whom you may give consent is you.  Now see, isn't that simple? :-)