This essay frames contemporary antiviolence movements’ embrace of “consent” through its historical context. To the extent that consent has been a harbinger of liberal humanism, it has frequently sutured the freedom of some to the unfreedom of most. In particular, this essay explicates the necessary relationship of contract to consent’s logics and suggests that relying on consent in contemporary antiviolence discourse asserts the logic of transaction and exchange in contemporary sexual encounters. This logic produces a fictitious mutuality in sexual encounters that are, in fact, always already shaped by (gendered, racialized, classed, sexual) power. This fiction of mutuality emphasizes the importance of the individual rather than structures of power, strengthening the logic of “he said, she said” in the aftermath of violence and once again leaving redress for harm largely out of reach.
Keyword 7: Consent
emily a. owens is an assistant professor of history at Brown University and works on the history of sexuality and slavery. Her current book project, Fantasies of Consent: Sex, Affect, and Commerce in Antebellum Louisiana is a cultural and legal history of the sex trade in antebellum New Orleans (University of North Carolina Press, 2020). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Louisiana History, Feminist Formations, and Signs. In addition to her appointment in history, Owens also acts as a faculty fellow at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.
Emily A. Owens; Keyword 7: Consent. differences 1 May 2019; 30 (1): 148–156. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-7481316
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