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All Your Boobs Belong To Us: Some Thoughts About Consent While Female

I once had occasion to date a woman who had very strong boundaries regarding acceptable affection. (I won’t get into the reasons, because they were hers, and totally valid.) Now, as I am a fanatic for consent, this turned out to not be that big an issue for me; in fact, it was a healthy reminder of the way things should ALWAYS be. That is, I had to ask her when I wanted to try something new. I made sure that I got enthusiastic assent before I stretched a previously-established boundary. And yeah, sometimes it was frustrating, but it was often sexy as hell. (It helped that there were no boundaries on kissing, and she was a past master of the art.) And in a weird way, by needing to seek and receive consent constantly, we achieved an intimacy I’ve seldom felt in other relationships.

I despair sometimes that we were able to achieve this mutuality of respect and consent only because we were both women. Because lately, except for Thomas Macauly Millar, it’s getting pretty hard out there.

Take, for example, your latest court-sanctioned reaffirmation that a woman’s body belongs to everyone but herself:

A jury on Thursday rejected a young woman’s claim that the producers of a “Girls Gone Wild” video damaged her reputation by showing her tank top being pulled down by another person in a Laclede’s Landing bar.

A St. Louis Circuit Court jury deliberated 90 minutes before ruling against the woman, 26, on the third day of the trial. Lawyers on both sides argued the key issue was consent, with her side saying she absolutely refused to give it and the defense claiming she silently approved by taking part in the party.

The woman, identified in court files as Jane Doe, was 20 when she went to the former Rum Jungle bar in May 2004 and was filmed by a “Girls Gone Wild” video photographer. Now married, the mother of two girls and living in the St. Charles area, Doe sued in 2008 after a friend of her husband’s reported that she was in one of the videos.

“I am stunned that this company can get away with this,” Doe said after the verdict. “Justice has not been served. I just don’t understand. I gave no consent.”

But Patrick O’Brien, the jury foreman, told a reporter later that an 11-member majority decided that Doe had in effect consented by being in the bar and dancing for the photographer. In a trial such as this one, agreement by nine of 12 jurors is enough for a verdict.

“Through her actions, she gave implied consent,” O’Brien said. “She was really playing to the camera. She knew what she was doing.”

Ah, yes, “implied consent.” Because she happened to be at a bar where a film crew for the somehow-not-yet-criminally sleazy “Girls Gone Wild” franchise was taping, and she didn’t turn on her heels and leave like a proper paragon of virtue would have –no doubt ruffling her crinolines as she did so. Certainly the fact that she could be heard saying “no,” on film, isn’t a defense.

Because NO is never a defense. It’s merely a prerequisite to making a defense. See, she still needed to not be in the video, even though she would surely have been sued had she taken some of the several deliciously violent courses that spring to my mind when contemplating my reaction to a GGW camera crew. And certainly, she should have prevented somebody else from pulling down her top. What was she doing wearing a top that could be pulled down? In a bar? Where there is alcohol and men?

She should have known better, right? She should have known that this might have happened, and if it did, and there happened to be a camera crew handy, she’d have no right to stop them from exploiting her image to make tons of money and show her naked breasts to complete strangers. Without her consent.

Just her implied consent.

When one is confronted by cases such as this–or the Larry Rivers Art/Child Porn/Images of a Minor Made Without Her Consent that Sady and Amanda discussed last week–one wearily wonders if there is any way to be publicly female without giving implied consent to have something done to your body. I mean, seriously: just how far does this go? Had GGW showed up to, oh, say, Le Bernardin, and some trashed suit was spending his bailout money on adult entertainers, and somehow a primly dressed female patron walked into the shot and had her dress ripped off…is that implied consent? Does a $180 prix fixe somehow mitigate the implications of consent in the way that a $3 PBR doesn’t? Because to be honest, what is the difference? Why should it matter if you dance or you don’t, if your skirt is shorter than your belt or brushes your ankles? How in the hell can clothing or location or body movements override a direct refusal to consent?

The answer is, of course, that it doesn’t. Not really. And not in the good way that you might think I’m going, what with the feminism and all. I mean just the opposite: it doesn’t make a difference. Cover your body completely, or go out naked into the streets; inhabiting a female body seems to be the exception to the old saw that possession is nine-tenths of the law.

Coincidentally, the divine (!) Echidne is rerunning some of her most thoughtful columns this week, and this one couldn’t be better timed:

Yesterday my visiting alien from outer space came to me all excited (you can see it from the quivering antennae). It had learned the concept of property, both public and private, and it had decided to apply it to women’s bodies and sexuality. Its conclusion was that women and their sexuality are private property, belonging to husbands, fathers and sons, in much of the world, including most Muslim countries, and that women in the Western democracies are public property, belonging to everybody.

“Nononono!” I said. “You have it all wrong. Women do own their bodies and sexuality in most countries of this world. They can decide what to wear and who to have sex with. They can decide if they will be pregnant and so on.”

My alien friend wasn’t convinced. It asked me what would happen if I went out shirtless and braless, for example. Wouldn’t I get arrested, unless my name was not Echidne but Ed? And can a woman choose whether she uses contraception or not, in all countries? Can she use it if her husband doesn’t want her to? Can she breastfeed her baby in public?

It then asked me about pornography. Why is the majority of porn about women’s bodies? Why is most of it aimed for men’s consumption. Who owns the right to view the generic “female body”?

Sometimes I really hate this alien. I had to explain about the sexual difference between men and women, how men get turned on by the very sight of the female body and how that means that women must cover those bits of their bodies which mostly inflame men’s desires. Otherwise the men can’t control themselves. Men are so much more visual than women, and the society reflects that, by regulating the amount of female nudity allowed in the public sphere. We can’t have naked breasts slip out suddenly on television, in the middle of a football game, say.

“Breasts..” mused the alien. “They are for nurturing the young humans, right? But what about pornography, then? If men are more visual than women and easily inflamed, shouldn’t porn be illegal or severely regulated? It sounds to me as if women are not in control of the female body, even in the West. Someone else, is. Someone else determines when that body can turn up naked in your visual fields.”

Which takes me back to me and my lady friend. She set very firm boundaries with me, and in a way I’m forever grateful that she did, because it gave me a very practical class in the fictitiousness of implied consent. I couldn’t assume consent for anything. What’s shocking is that such a situation seemed unusual. That such a situation isn’t normal, and commonplace. Or that such a situation even today is still better understood by two women–even one who took as roundabout a path to womanhood as I did.

Because as women we knew what implied consent sounds like.

It sounds like “No.”


  1. Melissa wrote:

    You know, they get you wither way. If you drink and dance at a bar, you’re a whore and you deserve anything they do to you. If you don;t drink and dance at a bar, you’re a damn prude and need to looses up. You can;t win.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink
  2. Victoria wrote:

    @CL + Others: I’m sure you’re right. I just find all these instances of power-taking and abusing so very interesting and sad. And there seems, in all of this, such a direct relationship between who has the money and who holds the power. GGW seems to get out of a whole lot of shit through expensive, tricky lawyering.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  3. La Chica Lucy wrote:

    “enthusiastic consent” is the phrase you are looking for.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  4. Jha wrote:

    Skeptifem: I imagine saying something loudly like, “Attention ladies! The GGW bus has just rolled in, thus exponentially raising your chances of being forcibly exposed, molested, sexually assaulted, and raped. If your rides are uninterested in protecting you, here are some numbers for taxis you can call. For those without any money to call a cab, please approach the ladies with boas for a ride home.”

    The last bit, of course, only works if members of the feminist group have cars to start with to offer rideshares for women who would want to get away. It may not even have to be loudly said, just talk to women present about GGW and their bad rep.

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 2:41 am | Permalink
  5. Jaime wrote:

    The implied consent concerns me since it happens all of the time. People are filming others in public places, then placing the video online,etc. even if it’s not sexually explicit. It’s troubling and it also begs the question of whether or not ANYONE owns their own bodies/images.

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 3:22 am | Permalink
  6. Farore wrote:

    The issue of implied consent is especially personal to me, because, as a young Farore (so, 18 years old on the button), I was at a nightclub with friends and they announced a contest for ‘best costume’ (it was Naughty Schoolgirl night). The prize would be, well, a lot of money, money that I, at the time, really needed forto pay the rentings. Since my friend and I both had our ‘schoolgirl’ outfits on (plaid skirts, basically 9_9) we went up on stage to compete.

    Once up there, it turned out the ‘costume contest’ was actually more of a ‘dance contest’, if by ‘dance’ you meant ‘attempt to behave as sexually as possible for the visual pleasure of the menfolks’. Well, okay; I and my friend were both pretty open with our sexuality at that point, had a loose sexual relationship with each other, and knew that ‘girl-on-girl’ was more likely to win us the money. So, we act sexy. Okay.

    Then it turns out that the MC wants us to strip, because ‘the DJ is from out of town’ and he wants to show him ‘how great [city] girls are’. Uhm, alright, well we’re already up here, there is money involved, we are out of reach of dudes and there are bouncers everywhere. We are comfortable with out bodies. So, stripping it is.

    And that’s when the camera phones come out. People start filming us, a few as we strip but once we’re nearly nude, there are so many that some of them are pushing past the bouncers and halfway up on the stage. We win the money, so my friend, who is farther from the crowd, gathers her clothes and hops down. I go to gather my clothing to find that some of the camera-wielders have GRABBED THEM and are now refusing to give them back. I act angry, signal them to stop recording and give my clothes back, and one of them reaches up and grabs my chest. I take several steps back and the MC says ‘hey guys, that’s not okay, give the lady her clothes’. A few of the more gentlemanly members of the crowd wrest my clothes from the douchebags and toss them back to me. Since I’m STILL being filmed by about 30 – 50 people, I gather my clothing at my chest and hop down to try to make a beeline for the bathroom. I am followed by people trying to film me and grab me, until a bouncer manages to shove his way through and a couple of the big gentlemenly fellows push people back and help me through the crowd. As I duck into the bathroom, I can explicitly hear the bouncer shouting ‘all of you, turn off your phones! Delete those videos, you do not have permission to have them!’ (Mr Bouncer got a big hug at the end of the night.)

    Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing if the many, many people who recorded me that night deleted their videos or posted them online or what. A friend later told me that a few bouncers were guarding the door, checking cell phones and making people delete any video they had taken of the incident, but I did not see any of that when I left and have no idea if it was effective or if my friend was just trying to cheer me up or what.

    I tried to speak to the MC, after the show, about what had happened, but his response was essentially ‘if you didn’t want to be filmed, you shouldn’t have stripped’. Implied consent. Now there could be amateur video of my naked body, and my friend’s, anywhere and I would have no way of knowing about it until someone who knew me pointed it out. Even if I did find it somewhere, it is unlikely I could press any charges, because the club was too loud for any phone to have recorded me saying ‘no’ or ‘no filming’, and this case has set precedent that means the very fact that I did not immediately run over and punch the first person to raise their camera implies consent on my part.


    I dislike, but understand, the law that anything that can be seen in or from a public place is therefore in the public domain and can be filmed, etc. I wish it were not so, but if it wasn’t for that law people could sue for accidentally turning up in your vacation photos 9_6 However, when it comes to a private place, a business or a home, there needs to be strong consent rules in place. This case only proves that fact further, to me.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  7. Liam wrote:

    Implied consent simply shouldn’t exist.

    There’s so much in body language that can say yes or no on a dance floor even when the music is too loud for words. It’s obvious.

    Women should be allowed to go out and have fun doing whatever they wish, but that doesn’t imply that they want to be touched or photographed. If they do, that’s up to them, but it should never be assumed. this is a clear case of non-consent. GGW should be legally required to have written consent for anyone to appear in their videos, even if it’s Jane Schmo walking through the background fully clothed.

    If I were a bar or club owner, I would ban photography for reasons like this, and if anyone ever pulled off someone elses clothing, I’d eject them.

    This travesty enrages me in so many ways. The woman said no, goddamnit.

    The woman said no.

    Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 4:32 am | Permalink