Regarding the NRL/Matthew Johns scandal, Andrew Bolt knows who to blame:
If Johns is sacked, why not Lumby?
Catherine Lumby’s offence?
ABC reporter: There have been stories of a culture of group sex in rugby league. What do you think of group sex? Do you think it’s OK if it’s consensual?
Lumby: Speaking as an academic, I think that there’s no problem with any behaviour which is consensual in sexual terms.
That was Lumby’s doctrine – what adults did to each other even in the most crowded of beds was fine as long as all agreed to it.
So… Lumby’s focus on consent (in 2004) is to blame if footballers had sex with a woman without her consent (in 2002).
He’s learned that consent does not trump morality, whatever he’s been told by fashionable ethicists.
That’s why he’s been dumped by Channel 9 and Melbourne Storm, and that’s also why one of those ethicists – the National Rugby League’s own gender adviser – should be sacked, too.
That’s not what he’s learned at all. Well – he’s learned that consent doesn’t trump the commercial interests of major entertainment corporations. He’s learned that he’d better stick to their arbitrary version of public “morality” – in this case, that group sex is WRONG BY DEFINITION – if he wants to keep those jobs. And if Lumby were his PR adviser, and had told him that Channel Nine wouldn’t mind if he were revealed to have engaged in group sex, then she’d certainly deserve to be sacked for that – clearly she’d have been astoundingly wrong.
But the main thing Johns is in trouble for is allegedly NOT following Lumby’s subsequent advice, that “informed consent” is vital. It’s the allegation – which may be untrue* – that he stood by as a girl was effectively raped (again, only an allegation) by his team mates. Because – and it staggers me that a prominent newspaper columnist doesn’t seem to get this – consenting to sex with two men does not equal consenting to sex with any man who happens to walk into the room. And standing by while a woman is raped would itself be a crime. (If that was what in fact happened, in respect of which all we know is that the NZ police have investigated those allegations and decided not to prosecute.)
It shouldn’t, in 2009, be all that difficult for any functioning adult to understand.
But Bolt thinks that when Lumby and the law say “consent” they include failing to object or simply acceding to intimidation:
I don’t doubt that she did feel powerless, or at least intimidated and on show, and if she was indeed smart enough to work out at the time that the sex was wrong, she was not strong enough to insist.
Yet even though she consented to the sex – or didn’t object –
Those things are very, very different! Failure to object is not “consent”. Being intimidated into agreeing is not “consent”. They’d both be rape.
You keep using that word “consent”, Mr Bolt – I do not think it means what you think it means.
Consent also means it’s every man for himself. That you can do whatever you can force some silly or intimidated woman to agree to, however much it will hurt them.
If this teenager consented to group sex, there was nothing more for Johns and his mates to know.
That’s complete rubbish. If a woman consents to sex with particular men, then that didn’t mean she’s consented to sex with others. And forcing someone to do something is, again, not consent.
Andrew, you’re attacking consent by describing harmful situations that are clearly not consensual.
Now, responses to this incident have run the gamut from the misogynist “if she said yes to two she said yes to all” to the puritan “group sex is wrong and should be punished”. Bolt’s attempt to blame it all on his cultural war opponents lurches awkwardly from one extreme to the other – if you were to try to tie it together, the only sense you could make is that he blames all participants for falling short of his personal moral code, and thinks that the harm described – the harm of a rape – is simply the consequence of such a failure. He wants to blame Lumby’s focus on consent for an incident that is claimed by the woman now not to have been consensual – for the players she advised allegedly NOT following her advice.
Because Lumby was quite right – it is all about consent. Consent is not a “furphy”, as Bolt refers to it in his column. Adults can consent to things that they might later regret – in every aspect of life, not just sex. (Andrew’s side of politics is a big defender of the right of people to be stuck with poor economic decisions they’ve made.)
Denying adults agency – telling them that there’s a big MORAL AUTHORITY that knows what things are and aren’t good for them (apparently consensual group sex being a contradiction in terms) actually robs them of the power they might need to, for example, say “no” when things get out of hand. Andrew’s position actually makes it worse for young women – who might feel once they’ve fallen afoul of the moral code he espouses (by agreeing to sex with two men) that they’ll get no sympathy if something they DIDN’T want happens to them after that.
Andrew’s position does the hurt young woman at the centre of this scandal – who he patronisingly accuses of being “neither that smart nor that strong” – no favours at all. And it will make it harder for the next woman who knows what she wants and what she doesn’t to have the freedom to do the former whilst having the power not to be bullied into the latter.
The problem is not adult men and women choosing not to follow Andrew Bolt’s arbitrary moral code; it’s cretins thinking that once a woman has strayed from it, now anything goes.
The problem is the dangerous, appalling notion that consent is a “furphy”.
Let’s hope it doesn’t spread to any more footballers.
*We have no idea what occurred on that night, and are not alleging anything. We are commenting on the general issues raised by the subsequent discussion. Mr Johns has not been charged with any offence, and the allegations against him that are being widely discussed in the national media are just that – allegations. We know nothing more on the specific incident that prompted the debate than that.
UPDATE: There have been some minor changes made to this post to make the above note doubly clear. Obviously, this post is about the general issue, not the specific incident in question. It is responding to Andrew Bolt’s thoroughly disturbing suggestion that consent is merely a “furphy” – and his ridiculous attempt to use the incident to try to get a “culture war” opponent sacked.