Why You Can’t Punch a Boxer in the Face When He Asks You for Directions: Consent, Context, and Humanity
It is hard to imagine anyone arguing that it is acceptable to punch a boxer in the face when he asks you for directions because the boxer allows himself to be hit in the ring. It is even harder to imagine that anyone would argue that random punches to the face by strangers on the street is an inevitable or even likely consequence of taking up boxing, or blame the boxer for bringing the attack upon himself. It is harder still to imagine anyone objecting to the boxer’s right to seek protection under the law by claiming that the injury he suffers will decrease as such random attacks increase, or that if the boxer really wants to protect himself from being attacked in the street he should never have taken up boxing.
It is hard to imagine because most people have no difficulty understanding the concept of contextual consent most of the time. Just because X consents to an activity with a particular individual in a particular time and place under particular conditions does not mean that X consents to the same or similar activity with any individual in any time or place under any conditions. Boxers do not consent to being punched in the face as they walk down the street just because they get punched inside a boxing ring; janitors do not consent to cleaning your bathroom just because they clean the bathrooms at the local school; thrill seekers do not consent to being pushed off bridges without warning just because they enjoy bungee-jumping.
And yet, as we see in the common response to revenge porn, many people argue that if a woman gives a sexually explicit photo of herself to her boyfriend, not only should she expect that he will pass that photo on to complete strangers but she also has no right to object to him doing so. Many people argue that the more common revenge porn becomes, the less serious the harm to its victims will be. And many, many people argue that if a person does not want to become a victim of revenge pornography, she should never allow any intimate images of herself to exist. Why should the expectation and understanding of consent change so drastically when the victims are primarily female and the activity is sexual? This inequality is not only unjustified but dangerous. Indifference and hostility to women’s consent doesn’t just drive revenge porn; it is also at the heart of sexual harassment and rape. This is yet another reason why law and society must take revenge porn seriously: revenge porn normalizes and fetishizes the non-consensual sexual use of women’s bodies. Treating acts like revenge porn as inevitable, defensible, or at the very least outside the reach of the law teaches women that their consent to sexual use doesn’t matter. Even more importantly, it teaches men that women’s consent to sexual use doesn’t matter. Every failure to challenge the disregard for women’s sexual consent is a failure to recognize women’s humanity.