Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild” freaked me out. When I first finished the story, I was left with this nightmarish feeling of uneasiness. As an avid fan of horror films and literature, this response was not a typical one for me. There was more to my uneasiness than just Butler’s take on the bot-fly description–albeit pretty gross. During our group discussion on Monday, other classmates shared similar reactions. It wasn’t until our group began to discuss the presence and absence of consent in the piece that I was able to piece together what creeped me: it challenges how we view consent.
The piece is not completely devoid of consent. There is an almost contractual agreement that the characters follow regarding T’Gatoi. The situation that is presented in the story is not a great one, but no one really tries to escape it. Our group jumped into the conversion of what makes consent consensual. Does lack of consent always equate a evil harmful situation? In some cases, like sexual consent, absolutely. Lack of consent is always harmful and damaging in that context. But what about our births? Does our lack of consent to be born harm us? What about the material that we as assigned for a class? I have found some of my favorite novels and poems in college. I did not choose them; they were chosen for me. How about being placed on the Dean’s List and other academic lists? As far as I know, students do not consent to being placed on a searchable list that credits their academic success. You just get an email informing you that you are now on the Dean’s List.
These all feel like instances were lack of consent is not necessarily a negative thing. Not being able to consent can protect us. For example, our consent laws in New York were not given to every individual in the state in order to O.K them before they became laws. Our consent laws are not consensual, but they give us the ability to give consent or take it away. Internet history functions in a similar way. There is no way–unless you are far better with computers than I am–to completely delete your internet history or what you post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. We post on the internet with the understanding that we will never be able to delete our posts, but understanding does not equate consent. The alternative to that would be frightening, far more so than how things are now.
“Bloodchild” sparked a string of thoughts that I did not expect. I’m still trying to work out what the story is about; I could have used three class periods worth of talking it out. This theme of consent is one that will be sticking with me throughout the semester.