The “Wearing-Down Approach” to Consent
February 7, 2012 § 3 Comments
My friend Veronica likes to use the phrase “the wearing-down approach” to consent. She sometimes adds, “a.k.a. coercion.”
This describes when someone keeps asking, or keeps calling, or otherwise continues to push a boundary you’ve set until you either escalate your “no” or give in. They don’t escalate the aggression of the approach, instead they stay neutral or more often add a level of helplessness or neediness to the situation. They keep testing the boundary, changing the emotional pitch, over and over, to see if it will stand.
Let me just state…
BEGGING IS COERCION
I have so rarely heard anyone discuss begging and posturing low status and neediness as a means of coercion. Yet it comes up time and again in accounts of friends processing past experiences of rape and other coercion.
Of course, there is such a thing as more accurately portraying the intensity of our feelings about something, there is such a thing as checking in again as time passes, there is such a thing as making sure someone is sure. But there is also such a thing as tiring someone out by getting them to set the same boundary over and over again. And there is also such a thing as learning to over-express emotion to control someone else’s behavior by exploiting their empathy, and often their learned sense of responsibility for someone else’s feelings.
Coercion can be overtly violent, but it can also be less overt and manipulative. We’ve all met one of those people who can’t take no for an answer but doesn’t blow up, who plays angles and manipulates more “nicely”. A lot of us have done it and at point or another, and some of us are trying to break the habit.
But I hope we can start calling a spade a spade and clarifying in our own minds and hearts that repeatedly pushing against someone’s boundary or posturing multiple emotional pitches to try and get a different response is disrespectful and unethical. It teaches people away from consent. It is the opposite of love and counterintuitive to it. It is coercion. And it is abuse.