In an ESPN documentary, professional wrestler Ric Flair claims to have slept with more than 10,000 women. As far as I know, no one is calling for his head over this or demanding his arrest for sexual assault.
Meanwhile, cascading allegations of creepy sexual behavior on the part of other prominent celebrities have washed creepy clown sightings from the tabloid sheets, and spilled over to become major headlines for “serious” news outlets. Jobs and contracts are being lost and careers wrecked as a result.
What’s the difference? Why does Ric Flair get a pass from members of the public and media while all those other biggies are censured or punished for their sexual activities?
The obvious answer is: Consent, or lack thereof.
Unless one of those 10,000 women (or however many there are in reality) comes forward to credibly claim otherwise, we may assume that Flair’s sexual encounters were all consensual.
Some of the allegations being made against other celebrities describe actual sexual assault, and these are the ones, assuming they did happen, that draw the strongest condemnation.
People know instinctually the importance of consent in human interactions. Consent is the difference between rape and sex, between robbery and giving, between slavery and doing a job for someone.
The other day I saw someone wearing a shirt that said, “Consent. It does every body good.” Exactly!
Unfortunately, people’s instincts often short-circuit the moment someone can produce a law or flash a badge giving him the “right” to do something to another human being that otherwise would be considered outrageous or criminal.
Presumably, no one would see as legitimate a law giving some men license to rape a woman (although, given the mystical awe in which laws are held, who knows?). But how many people see no problem with a woman being kidnapped by uniformed men and put in prison, with its increased risk of sexual victimization, because she violated a law forbidding ingesting or selling some substance?
When pressed for a political label, I call myself a voluntaryist, though I think of it more as an anti-political position (not anti-government, though; see here).
A voluntaryist says all human relationships and exchanges should be voluntary. He makes no exception for situations in which one person is wearing a uniform, or claims the backing of a law or the authority of political office or the support of a majority.
Perhaps a better way to say it is: I am a consentialist.
(“Consensualist” briefly occurred to me, but “consensualism” is already in use in reference to a form of group decision-making. It’s not unrelated to the concept of consent but is a narrow application of it.)
A consentialist believes consent must be present in every exchange, sexual, financial, or any other, between two or more people, or else it’s illegitimate. Who could object to that?
Consentialist. I like it.
Unfortunately, the label one might choose — consentialist, voluntaryist, libertarian, whatever — hardly matters so long as people who understand the importance of consent in one sphere, such as sexual relations, blank out when you insist it should apply in all spheres, including “government.”
Still, I take it as good sign that what people are outraged about with all these sexual allegations isn’t the sex, but the coercion — the non-consent.
I can work with that.
Update: Someone else has previously suggested the word “consentualism,” I discovered. That spelling perhaps makes more sense than my “consentialism.”