Under Duress: Agency, Power and Consent, Part Two: “Yes”

This article is a follow-up to Under Duress, Part One: “No”, which discussed “no means no”, ambiguous sexual requests, implicit refusals and drunken consent.

Trigger Warnings

This article contains discussions of rape, rape apologism and narrative examples of the ways in which multiple systems of domination can be used to put pressure on sexual consent. It contains a fictional account of retraumatisation after abuse.

If, after reading this, you feel like you would like to talk to somebody about personal experiences of non-consent:


When rape apologists are using our models of consent to defend rape and to deflect feminist analyses, it’s at least worth considering the limitations of the models. This article is part two in a two-part series of articles examining the issues.

Part One: “No”: Understanding consent as a binary is powerful because it allows us to say that “no means no”, a statement which has had and still has incredible power to change attitudes about rape for the better. However, it can make it more difficult for us to conceive of what else might mean “no”, as well as to distinguish between different kinds of “yes” given in different contexts. It can be used to victim-blame. It doesn’t always accommodate some of the complexities of communication (although we should beware, because “miscommunication” is a shield rapists often like to hide behind). And admitting “no always means no” seems to mean that we must also admit “yes always means yes”; this can conflict with the subtleties of a fully radical feminist analysis of rape culture.

Part Two: “Yes”: Modern feminist views on consent have often been in conflict. One way to resolve that conflict may be to look for unified models of consent which takes into account ideas from multiple feminisms. Here I suggest a non-binary power model of consent, which looks at systems of domination such as patriarchy, and the pressure they enable people to place on consent. In this model, “no” still means “no” but “yes” should be understood as a statement meaning, “I choose to say ‘yes’, understanding the consequences of saying ‘no'”. A focus on systems of domination – plural – allows us to consider other dynamics of rape beyond men raping women without moving away from fifty years of feminist work on rape and consent.
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