Performance vs. Commodity

By far, my favorite essay in Yes Mean Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape is “Toward a Performance Model of Sex,” written by my hero Thomas Macaulay Millar

Excerpt, emphasis mine:

The commodity model assumes that when a woman has sex, she loses something of value. If she engages in too much sex, she will be left with nothing of value. It further assumes that sex earlier in her history is more valuable than sex later…. But a musician’s first halting notes at age thirteen in the basement are not something of particular value. Only an obsessive completist would want a recording of a young musician’s practice before she knew what she was doing… She gets better by learning, by playing a lot, by playing with different people that are better than she is. She reaches the height of her powers in the prime of her life, as an experienced musician, confident in her style and conversant in her material. Her experience and proven talent are precisely why she is valued.

Because it centers on collaboration, a performance model better fits the conventional feminist wisdom that consent is not the absence of “no,” but affirmative participation. Who picks up a guitar and jams with a bassist who just stands there? Who dances with a partner who is just standing and staring? In the absence of affirmative participation, there is no collaboration.

Like the commodity model the performance model implies a negotiation, but not an unequal or adversarial one… Musicians have to choose, explicitly or implicitly, what they are going to play: genre, song, key and interpretation. The palette available to them is their entire skill set… Two musicians steeped in delta blues will produce very different music from one musician with a love for soul and funk and another with roots in hip-hop or 80s hardcore. This process involves communication of likes and dislikes and preferences, not a series of proposals that meet with acceptance or rejection.

A performance model is one that normalizes the intimate and interactive nature of sex. The commodity model easily divides sex into good and bad, based on the relative gains from the transaction, mapping closely to conservative Christian sexual mores. Under a performance model, the sexual interaction should be creative, positive and respectful even in the most casual of circumstances.      

The performance model directly undermines the social construct of the slut…. By centering collaboration and constructing consent as affirmative, the performance model also changes the model for rape. Forcing participation through coercion in a commodity model is a property crime, but in a performance model it is a disturbing and invasive crime of violence, a kind of kidnapping. Imagine someone forcing another at gunpoint to play music with him…. Certainly no one would doubt the coercion merely because the musician performing at gunpoint played music with other people. B.B. King has played with everybody, but no one would argue that he asked for it if someone kidnapped him and made him cut a demo tape with a garage band of strangers.

Get the book and read more excellent essays on rape culture and hope for a future without one.

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Filed under Hope, Misogyny, Objectification, Rape Culture

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