In the wake of widespread allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment, attention has understandably turned to coercion and exploitation in sexual relations, and how to address it.
Considering the power imbalance between perpetrators such as Harvey Weinstein and his victims, it’s hardly surprising that questions are raised about when consent is given in sexual relations.
For example, how do we answer these questions:
Providing a solution for this problem, an app was recently launched to enable two people to easily sign a legally binding consensual contract for a one night stand. A Consent Conscious Kit is also now on sale in the US.
Yet these initiatives, and the culture of political correctness that gives rise to them, threaten to turn women into modern day slaves, according to philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
Writing in RT, Žižek suggests that in sexual relations, women are active agents in their own sexual objectification, and this shouldn’t be taken away. Creating “contracts for sex” has several devastating consequences:
- It threatens to remove passion from love and courting;
- It takes away the power of women to choose for themselves during acts of sex; and
- It ultimately takes away the freedom of women.
Here are the key points made by Žižek. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Women actively objectify themselves to seduce men, and this is a good thing
Žižek begins with a powerful but controversial point, suggesting that women actively objectify themselves in getting the attention of men:
“When women dress provocatively to attract the male gaze or when they ‘objectify’ themselves to seduce them, they don’t do it offering themselves as passive objects: instead they are the active agents of their own ‘objectification,’ manipulating men, playing ambiguous games, including reserving the full right to step out of the game at any moment even if, to the male gaze, this appears in contradiction with previous ‘signals.’”
Before assuming this places the blame on women for being coerced by men, consider Žižek’s next point:
“This freedom women enjoy bothers all kinds of fundamentalists, from Muslims who recently prohibited women touching and playing with bananas and other fruit which resembles the penis to our own ordinary male chauvinist who explodes in violence against a woman who first ‘provokes’ him and then rejects his advances.”
Political correctness will result in more coercion for women
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Žižek highlights the absurdity of creating sexual contracts for consent:
“A recent, politically-correct idea is the so-called ‘Consent Conscious Kit,’ currently on sale in the US: a small bag with a condom, a pen, some breath mints, and a simple contract stating that both participants freely consent to a shared sexual act. The suggestion is that a couple ready to have sex either takes a photo holding in their hands the contract, or that they both date and sign it.”
He continues by taking this to its logical conclusion:
“The underlying idea is how a sex act, if it to be cleansed of any suspicion of coercion, has to be declared, in advance, as a freely-made conscious decision of both participants – to put it in Lacanian terms, it has to be registered by the big Other, and inscribed into the symbolic order.”
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Who is it that agrees? The Ego, Superego or Id?
At what point does one enter into a conscious agreement about having sex? When is a decision made?
This raises some challenging philosophical questions about decisions, and there isn’t much consensus about whether our decisions are made consciously or subconsciously.
Žižek uses a Freudian framework in making this point:
“‘Affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement’ – by whom? The first thing to do here is to mobilize the Freudian triad of Ego, Superego, and Id (in a simplified version: my conscious self-awareness, the agency of moral responsibility enforcing norms on me, and my deepest half-disavowed passions).”
“What if there is a conflict between the three? If, under the pressure of the Superego, my Ego say NO, but my Id resists and clings to the denied desire? Or (a much more interesting case) the opposite: I say YES to the sexual invitation, surrendering to my Id passion, but in the midst of performing the act, my Superego triggers an unbearable guilt feeling?”
What if someone has indicated consent but wants to withdraw it? As Žižek asks:
“Here, however, problems multiply: what if a woman passionately desires it but is too embarrassed to openly declare it? What if, for both partners, ironically playing coercion is part of the erotic game? And a yes to what, precisely, to what types of sexual activity, is a declared yes? Should then the contract form be more detailed, so that the principal consent is specified: a yes to vaginal but not anal intercourse, a yes to fellatio but not swallowing the sperm, a yes to light spanking but not harsh blows, etc.”
Killing all passion
“One can easily imagine a long bureaucratic negotiation, which can kill all desire for the act, but it can also get libidinally invested on its own. These problems are far from secondary, they concern the very core of erotic interplay from which one cannot withdraw into a neutral position and declare one’s readiness (or unreadiness) to do it: every such act is part of the interplay and either de-eroticizes the situation or gets eroticized on its own.”
It’s difficult for people to admit that power is inherent to sexual relations, as suggested by Žižek:
“Yes, sex is traversed by power games, violent obscenities, etc., but the difficult thing to admit is that it’s inherent to it. Some perspicuous observers have already noticed how the only form of sexual relation that fully meets the politically correct criteria would have been a contract drawn between sadomasochist partners.”
Modern day slavery of women
“Thus, the rise of Political Correctness and the rise of violence are two sides of the same coin: insofar as the basic premise of Political Correctness is the reduction of sexuality to contractual mutual consent. And the French linguist Jean-Claude Milner was right to point out how the anti-harassment movement unavoidably reaches its climax in contracts which stipulate extreme forms of sadomasochist sex (treating a person like a dog on a collar, slave trading, torture, up to consented killing).”
“In such forms of consensual slavery, the market freedom of the contract negates itself: and slave trade becomes the ultimate assertion of freedom.”
What do you think of Žižek’s argument? Let me know in the comments.
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