By Isobel Whitcomb ‘17
Current Events Columnist
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
Two weeks ago, Governor Jerry Brown made an official announcement about SB-967, the State of California’s new “Affirmative Consent” policy, which seeks to address the current high prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. The law officially recognizes consent as the clear presence of a “yes” rather than the absence of a “no.” In addition, the new law requires state-funded universities to institute new policies recognizing this definition of consent and will reprimand those who fail to institute new policies by withdrawing funding.
Not surprisingly, the decision has stirred up controversy. Just one example of the backlash against SB-967 was columnist George Will’s recent op-ed titled “The Coveted Status of Victimhood.” The article, which caused Scripps to promptly uninvite Will from contributing to a planned lecture series, succinctly summarizes the views of many skeptics on affirmative consent. Many see the policy as a way for women to more easily accuse men of rape and press charges, while turning themselves into victims — a supposedly “coveted status.”
It is hard to name every single one of the flaws and sexist nuances that form the foundation of this argument. First of all, it assumes that women are irrational by nature, driven solely by emotion and incapable of making informed decisions. It is infuriating that these assumptions still hold such prevalence today; however, it is not surprising. They are fueled by hundreds of years of stereotypes about female hysteria, a concept originating around the time of the Greeks and Romans. While no longer a medical diagnosis as it once was, hysteria, the notion that women’s rationality is impaired by their sexuality and emotions, still fuels many underlying assumptions specifically about women, including those backing the argument against SB-967. Not convinced? Think about the very gendered connotations of the common phrases “that girl is crazy,” or “I don’t want to seem like I’m turning into a crazy girl.” Replace “girl” with “man” or “boy” and these sentences would take on entirely different meanings.
By arguing that affirmative consent will spark a crisis of college campuses convicting innocent men of sexual assault, opponents of SB-967 are relying on the antiquated and sexist idea that women are prone to hysteria. What rational human being would want to jump through the bureaucratic hoops required to report a sexual assault that never happened? What person with a conscience would want to press charges on a person who was truly innocent? And what mature adult would want to turn themselves into a victim, ever?
According to opponents of affirmative consent, the answer to these questions is a woman. It is time for us to step into the 21st century shed this anachronism.