It takes two to tango, or not – 2. Request.

The first step of the dance is the social request – a request made by a person to a person they consider a fellow human being of relatively equal worth and standing (though, in many cases, this may just mean someone suitably hawt). This is a question designed to ensure and secure the INFORMED CONSENT of a party in a given activity.

The term “consent” has been co-opted for use in a very narrow range of situations, which is a shame because the concept encompasses and underpins all aspect of human interpersonal interactions. Consent is also one of those concepts that gets a lot of lip service, yet is rarely defined. The dictionary describes consent as “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.[1]” Unfortunately, that is only half of the story. For consent to be valid, it must be:

  • Given by an individual who has been fully informed. People must be given all of the information in terms of what the activity involves.
  • Given by an individual with the capacity to consent. People must be able to understand the information given to them, and be able to use it to make informed decisions.
  • Given voluntarily. People must decide to sign up without coercion or deceit.
  • For ongoing activities, consent should also be revocable. People must be able to withdraw their consent if they so wish, without any penalties or the requirement to provide any reason.

It doesn’t matter what the sphere of interaction is: whether people are asking you if you would like to have sex, go on a date, have a coffee, or adopt a pet crocodile. The basic criteria for informed consent remain the same.

What constitutes an appropriate request varies hugely depending on the social settings in question. “Wanna dance” may be perfectly appropriate on a dance floor, but a tad more unusual in a supermarket. “Wanna suck my dick” will most likely be inappropriate at church, yet both normal and welcome at some parties. This doesn’t mean that we cannot draw any kind of line on whether a request is inappropriate, though. The basic rule of thumb is that any attempt to overcome or bypass our consent is NOT okay. Unfortunately such attempts are not always obvious unless we know what kind of tactics people may use to do so.

“Come with me and don’t make a scene” is not a social request; it is an implied threat. This is hopefully obvious to most of us. Other tactics are less blatant.

“I know you’re not one of those stuck-up bitches so I thought I’d ask you…” is not a social request either. It is an attempt at manipulation, using “typecasting” to force our hand into saying yes. “If you don’t say yes, I’ll have nobody to go with” is doing the same by using emotional blackmail. “If you don’t go with me, I’ll tell everyone you let me down” is putting a cost on a possible rejection. They are all attempts at twisting our arm into consenting.

Another common tactic is to misinform us as to the nature of an invitation in order to secure our agreement. For instance, “would you like to just hang out, not like a date” when their intentions are actually romantic, or “come to my place to meet my friends” when they’re actually going to be there alone. If they know that we would have probably said “no” to a forthright request, so they are misrepresenting the nature of the request to get a yes, they are trying to bypass our consent rather than gain it.

Although these weasel tactics are hardly criminal, they are not benign, either. They indicate that the person doing the asking is ultimately more invested in gaining our acquiescence than our consent. This is not a good basis on which to start any kind of social interaction, and particularly a romantic or sexual one. People who play fast-and-loose with our consent are not safe to be around, and they’re definitely not safe to bed.

If a woman reacts “inappropriately” to a request, allegedly starting off a chain of escalations and retaliations, it pays to look at how that request was presented. It could very well be that her reaction was so negative because she wasn’t faced with a social request in the first place. Yes, “he just asked her out for pizza”, but how did he ask her? The manner of a request is as important as the content.

 

[1] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/consent

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