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"Consent To Harm" - Elf M. Sternberg
"Consent To Harm"
I've just had the mixed pleasure of listening to Consent To Harm on CBC Radio's Ideas With Paul Kennedy. I say "mixed" because, while the overall content of the show was both well-thought and well-produced to an extent that ought to make American broadcasters faint with envy, editorial choices made by the producers have left me puzzled.

The abstract of the show reads: Giving consent seems straightforward. But what a person is allowed to consent to is actually deeply fraught territory. And it gets especially fraught when the question of sex enters the equation. The show contains two different reports: one is about Consent in BDSM, and the other is about Consent and Sex Work.

In the BDSM segment there are several interviews with BDSM practitioners. All of them are women. Even when there are couples involved, both participants are women. They were certainly the best representatives I could have hoped for. They gave well-spoken, lucid explanations about safewords and negotiation, and the negotiation examples are beautiful and explicit (in both senses of the word). They made repeated calls for explicit, enthusiastic, and ongoing consent, with the "ongoing" part being repeated several times, and the dominant partners emphasizing that ongoing consent was necessary for tops as well as bottoms.

In the sex work segment the only mention of men is in the context of sex work clients, not sex workers themselves. The show concentrated on the risks women take when they enter into sex work, and the academic and legal scholars interviewed for the show discussed in detail the essential power dynamics that existed that made sex work dangerous for women, and why the state might want to regulate it. The conversants made classic, straightforward pronouncements about several generations of feminist thought and how it has evolved in the context of sex work.

Excluding men from the BDSM segment may have eliminated the need to discuss the issues of consent in the context of gender dynamics, but by doing so the CBC reinforces the impression that consent is something men already understand and control but women are still trying to figure out. To the extent that the show deals with "people," in only deals with half of them, and to the extent that it deals with relationships and consent, the issue remains woefully uncovered.

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