This semester I've been guiding a gender conflict group. A gender conflict group, as I see it, is a group of people gathered together to raise awareness to their gender role in society, to investigate their positions and feelings toward their gender role, and, most importantly, to act out and experience a complex inner discussion through a group discussion that brings up many different voices that represent silenced inner voices.
A common discussion in these groups, that also took place in the group I participated in last semester, is about rules that regulate the relations between men and women. For example, what is definitely wrong for a man to do to a woman, such as physical violent acts, what is OK, such as smiling and saying hi, and what is unclear, such as touching, as in some contexts this is OK, while in other contexts this is definitely wrong.
Saying that this depends on context is not completely helpful, as some contexts for touching are clear, such as consensual intimate lovers who can touch and it would be clearly OK, or strangers in the streets who would be clearly wrong to touch. But what about contexts that do not determine things so clearly, such as a romantic date, where people are no longer strangers but not yet consensual intimate lovers?
Well, if the context is not clearly wrong, you should just ask, is it alright to touch you? If yes - yes, if no - no, if insulted by the question - reconsider your list of wrong contexts.
This discussion could end with this simplistic algorithm, trying to optimize petitions of consent. I think it feels weird, and although it is very politically correct, we know that this doesn't face the deeper complexity. It could be criticized as objectification of women, as touch-things, that can only express yes/no feedback to their function as objects of desire, and not a more complex subjective position. Men are also more than desiring objects...
So what would be a more complex subjective position to objectification? Well, it's hard to say, but I think we should consider how good it feels sometimes to be an object of desire, and how the same feeling could become horrible in its disrespect, to see that there is a deeper dynamic of subject-object within us. I will read some more in the direction of Kristeva and Zizek before I can truly explain what I mean. Anyway, to make this post add good to the world, as a rough thumb rule, a respectful question in unclear situations could help.