Janet Halley, The Move to Affirmative Consent, 42 Signs 257 (2016).
Abstract: In “The Move to Affirmative Consent,” I argue that, though affirmative consent has great appeal because of its respect for norms about good sex that we all share, as a rule intended to be enforced in actual punitive processes, whether on campus or in the criminal justice system, it will be vastly overinclusive, deeply repressive, and socially conservative in its enforcement of traditional gender roles. I show how affirmative consent reforms represent a partial victory (and thus also a partial defeat) for dominance feminists ultimately seeking to criminalize subjectively unwanted sexual behavior without respect to the intent or knowledge of the accused; the relationship history of the parties; the racial, cultural, or other social distance between the parties; and the character of the complainant’s memory of the events. I further demonstrate how existing affirmative consent rules will allow decision makers to hold people responsible for serious misconduct based on one or more of three states of mind that have been consistently muddled in the debates so far: the accuser’s subjective consent (described as “positive” if it is rests on her positive desire and as “constrained” if she consents to sexual conduct to avoid something she disfavors) and as “performative” if it rests on an indication of consent through physical or verbal signs. Each of these rules includes some conduct that, almost all feminists agree, deserves sanction and should be deterred, but they are all overinclusive in ways that many feminists would reject. One such way, I demonstrate, is an affirmation of female passivity and male activity in sex—a legal affirmation of, and incentive to reawaken, the gender roles of the gilded age. This current contribution asks feminists to consider carefully how affirmative consent will operate in practice, in the real world, before offering it their support.