You thought campuses were going crazy when California enacted its “affirmative consent bill” that requires couples to give one another explicit affirmative ongoing consent for sexual activity? (“Yes, it’s still OK; yes, it’s still OK; yes, it’s still OK…”) You hadn’t seen anything yet! Now Princeton is telling students that ongoing affirmative consent is also necessary … to dance:
If this were a spoof, I’d be laughing. But it’s not alas.
— Brit Hume (@brithume) January 22, 2018
Campus Reform has the backstory:
Princeton University wants to ensure that students know how to ask each other to dance, and so recently issued instructions for obtaining “consent on the dance floor.”
The guidelines came in the form of a Facebook post shared by Princeton’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources, & Education (SHARE) office and created by the school’s UMatter initiative in anticipation of the annual Orange and Black Ball (OBB) that took place last Friday.
“Hey, are you still into this? We can stop if you aren’t.”
“Going to OBB this Friday? Planning to have a great time tearing up the dance floor with your friends?” the post asks. “Great! Check out some tips about what consent on the dance floor looks like!! #OBB #RespectMatters #ConsentIsCool #DoYouWannaDance?”
The post indicates that “Do you wanna dance?” is an appropriate opening, and that responses such as “Absolutely!,” “Yeah! Let’s do it!,” and “I’d love to!” are all ways of consenting to the question.
Beyond simply “asking & waiting for an answer,” the post also asserts that “frequently checking in with your dance partner” is required in order to maintain consent until the music stops, suggesting that the person who extended the invite periodically ask “Hey, are you still into this?” and volunteer that “We can stop if you aren’t.”
Although the story is from November, we haven’t talked about it here, and there are parallels between this story and the recent Aziz Ansari controversy. Both illustrate the lack of common sense that is increasingly absent in the debate over the nature of ongoing consent.
You have the right to begin dancing with a guy and then to change your mind. However, signaling that you have changed your mind typically requires you to either say something clear, or to stop dancing and walk off the floor. Continuing to dance, while sending overly subtle nonverbal cues that you’re just not into it, may not send a clear enough message that you have withdrawn consent. If you can later complain of assault because the guy continued to dance with you, despite your indirect and understated signals that you weren’t enjoying it that much, normal people will not take your complaint seriously.
By the same token, if you accompany a man back to his place after a date, you have the right to begin to get physical with him and then change your mind. However, if you get undressed with him, accept oral sex from him and perform oral sex on him, you have already sent several nonverbal cues that you are interested in sex. Therefore, any nonverbal signals to the contrary have to be stronger than they otherwise would be, in order to overcome the clear cues that you have already sent.
Put more simply, you can always say no — but if you say it with his d[vowel deleted]ck voluntarily inside your mouth, he’s going to have a harder time understanding you.
All of this used to fall under the category of what we called “common sense.” But we’ve now reached a point where we have to pretend that long-held societal norms don’t apply any more. We have to act as if every woman is presumptively appalled at this precise moment by what she seemed to be enjoying five seconds ago, whether she tells us or not.
I take very seriously the notion that women have an absolute right to consent or not consent to anything at all. I take very seriously the notion that they can change their minds at any point. But if they want society to continue to take this right seriously, we all have to recognize that the need for clarity in cues changes with the situation and with past behavior.