I have seen some amazing videos, articles and charts talking about consent. They are great tools to reaffirm to those who aren’t sure where the line of consent lies. Many of us know that no, maybe and I’m not sure are not terms of agreement, but to some this is unclear.
These campaigns that talk about consent seem to now focus, not on “no means no” but on “only YES means Yes”. And the US government is now extending that to wanting its universities to implement policy on “something called ‘affirmative consent,’ meaning that no certainly means no, but yes doesn’t necessarily mean yes, unless it is uttered clearly and soberly and repeatedly and convincingly, and one’s body language agrees.” So now even yes doesn’t mean yes? This is both confusing and ridiculous. It is becoming that after each kiss both parties almost have to pause and say, “can I do that again? Or how about we do X now, is that okay?”
I support consent movements but I balk at the idea that we are putting the entire onus on the initiator of a sexual act to be constantly vigilant that the other person present is okay with every advance. And what is most often being talked about is a male/female relationship where the man is the “initiator.” Thus we are saying, men, you are still in charge of “taking care of” women because they cannot speak up for themselves. What I would like to see is a dual focus, one on getting people to understand consent and another focus on getting people (often women) to speak up for themselves. Say NO when you are not interested and don’t be vague (maybe, I’m not sure, or silently enduring.)
It’s like a fighter leaving it up to the judges to decide. If you don’t get the knock-out you’re not going to be sure that the judges saw the fight the same way you think it played out. Don’t leave it up for interpretation because you could end up being the loser. And in the case of a sexual encounter that loss is assault. This isn’t to blame the victim but when someone thinks they were sending the ‘right signals’ that they didn’t want certain advances to happen the other party can poorly read subtle signals as being ‘playful and coy’. So let’s just skip the subtleties and advise everyone to simply say, or yell if needed, No, Stop, and I do not want you to keep touching me. There is no room for confusion when someone is yelling NO, I don’t want you to touch me. That person may proceed with the assault but there are no grey areas as to what is happening. There is no question about if it should be reported to the police – it should.
These initiatives that talk about everything other than yes just implies to me that we all need to protect women from their own inability to be bold, direct and honest. That it’s another men are from Mars and women are from Venus situation where men need to be told that women communicate differently. And they do, because women are told to be polite, sweet, and not to make strong statements and THAT is what has to change. As a culture we have to cease instilling this pretty polite image on girls and tell them that they can say no and demand whatever they want. Be demanding – demand to be respected.
I can tell you about so many situations in my life where I was more worried about being polite and not offending some creep than about being safe and making it clear that what they were doing was not welcome or appropriate. These are men who would stop and offer me rides in their car late at night, or try to rub up on me on transit, or friends/acquaintances being overly friendly in a way that made me uncomfortable, and a myriad of other situations. In the end I always felt even worse about it because I wish I had taken a stand and defended myself. I felt like I’d both let myself down and also reaffirmed to that creep that what they were doing was not wrong. I was lucky that none of those encounters ended up in assault but I won’t leave my child’s safety up to luck. I am going to teach her to be polite in the right situations but bold when she feels she is being attacked.
I feel I also need to comment on one other issue that ties into this. It’s a big one so I will just touch on it here. Our over-sexualized culture. There is increasing pressure on girls to “put out” and in more and more ways and at younger ages. This is a tough one to fight because it’s such a huge part of our society and because the internet is so woven into our lives. Sexual imagery is much to readily available. We are teaching our boys to want girls to be porn stars and our girls to want boys to be prince charmings.
So let’s keep telling people to talk about consent with their sexual partners, but let’s also tell people to be frank about what they don’t want to happen. No means No, only if it’s said (yelled) out loud!