There’s a lengthy essay out by Laurie Penny that is worthy of your time. It’s about, in part, the recent astonishing outburst of… whatever this is… and why it’s even more important to all of us than it looks at first when examined as a simple matter of human justice:

A great many abusers and their allies have begged us to step back and examine the context in which they may or may not have sexually intimidated or physically threatened or forcibly penetrated one or several female irrelevances who have suddenly decided to tell the world their experiences as if they mattered.

Look at the whole picture, these powerful men say. Consider the context. I agree. Context is vital. It is crucial to consider the context in which this all-out uprising against toxic male entitlement is taking place. The context being, of course, a historical moment where it has become obvious that toxic male entitlement is the greatest collective threat to the survival of the species.

I am going to be discursive for a moment. Have you enjoyed the sport of watching male newscasters on television talking about these recent events, and trying to spot the not-yet-outed guilty weasels? Some of them are definitely starting to show green around the gills; they have this nervous and shifty look, as if, you might think, they have examined their consciences and come up… concerned?

Others — Chris Hayes on MSNBC comes to mind — have dived into reporting the harassment-and-abuse news with vigor and gravity, but nary the scent of weasel. Only two possibilities flow from that demeanor: a completely clear conscience, or consummate acting skills. Too many shocks and surprises make us idiots if we assume the best of anybody (Garrison fucking Keillor?) but I’ve got a pretty clean conscience of my own so I know it’s possible. (I credit a happy relationship, plus the not-usually-so-helpful fact that minor social phobias tend to keep me from making eye contact with, much less inappropriate verbal or physical advances on, anybody who is not The Nymph.)

So let me speak for a moment to the community — however small it may be — of men of relative clear conscience, men who accordingly might be watching this unhappy spectacle from a place of smugness, amusement, bemusement, or detachment, perhaps thinking “this doesn’t directly affect me.”

You’re wrong. I was wrong. Laurie Penny’s piece explains why. The mass refusal of women to take this kind of bullshit any longer offers a directly relevant object lesson:

We know the world doesn’t work the way most of us want it to. We watch a bunch of badly-fitted suits stuffed with self-satisfied swagger frogmarch our nations down the road to economic calamity and climate destruction, and we try to tell ourselves that we chose this, that we have some sort of control, that there is a thing called democracy that is working more or less as it was designed to. We want to believe that some of this is our fault, because if it isn’t, then maybe we can’t do anything to stop it. This is more or less the experience of being a citizen of a notionally liberal, notionally democratic country these days. It is depressing and scary. And if we ever actually speak about it honestly we can count on being dismissed as crazy or bullied into silence, so it’s easier to swallow our rage, to bear up and make the best of things and try not to start drinking before noon every day. Being as furious as we want feels like it might be fatal, so we try not to be too angry. Or we direct our anger elsewhere. Or we turn it inwards. Or we check out altogether.

Sound familiar? That’s about how most women experience sexuality.

Oh, shit. No matter how clear I thought my conscience was, if I’m part of that… *gulp*

Moving on, rapidly.

Penny makes the point that our current society generally is based on abuses of consent. She argues that the women coming forward right now are, perhaps, a vanguard. She argues, if not in so many words, that taking consent seriously is literally revolutionary:

We watch the despots warming their tiny grasping hands around the trash fire of civil society, we look at the real extent of rape and abuse being revealed all around us and some of us still try to believe that we somehow choose this. Because the alternative is even worse. The alternative, awful truth is that it doesn’t matter what the vast majority of us choose. That none of the choices on offer are enough to protect us, or our families, or our communities from violence, that the important choices were never ours to begin with, that we are not living in an age of consent.

What happens when enough people stop believing that they ever wanted a world like this? What might happen to us as a society — hell, as a species — if enough of us begin to take consent seriously? What might happen if enough of us stood up together and refused to spend another second watching rich old white men do whatever the fuck they want to our bodies and call it freedom? Well, we might be about to find out.

It’s been a tired blogging trope for almost twenty years, so by now you should know the drill. Go read the whole thing: The Consent of The (Un)Governed).

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