Consent is more than just a class – it’s a way of life
It’s time we stopped calling consent conversations ‘infantilising’ and ‘patronising’
In the media lately there has been a plethora of articles relating to the issue of “consent classes,” with many arguing that they are “infantilising,” and “patronising.” Others argue that they are necessary preventative action to take against the ongoing problem of sexual assault.
While the argument “I don’t need to be taught not to rape,” seems superficially obvious, the issue of consent and sexual violence is one that increasingly needs to be addressed.
A recent report on sex crimes in the UK (focusing on girls aged 16-18) has concluded that “Girls aren’t strong enough to say no,” stating that 29 per cent of girls have experienced unwanted sexual attention at school. This is a huge statistic given that in many cases the nature of the crimes means that many are unable to admit they are victims. A recent Tab report shows this is an even greater problem in universities across the country.
The widespread nature of the views deriding consent is staggering and given these girls may then be the ones coming to university – where alcohol, boys and sex and an integral and almost unavoidable part of university life — this is a problem that needs to be seriously addressed. In a time where consent classes are treated with little regard, something needs to change.
And fundamentally, consent classes, despite having some benefits are not enough to solve this problem. It is not simply a question of making girls ‘strong enough’ or teaching boys the meaning of “no.” We need to wake up to the reality that sexual violence is all-encompassing; penetration does not differentiate victim from non-victim.
In Emma Watson’s recent speech to the UN General Assembly she asks,”What if, as is the case in far too many universities, we are given the message that sexual violence isn’t actually a form of violence?” We are inclined to agree. It is prevalent amongst our generation that girls will find they have “hooked up” with a male friend, not because they liked them, or because they particularly wanted to, but often because they have found themselves in the same bed.
The issue we have here is attitude. Both male and female. We have, unfortunately, a generational norm that means both sexes have accepted certain behaviour as normal, or even appropriate.
Girls, and boys, don’t realise that what they’re doing is wrong. Often it is only after an incident has happened that the girl realises that it WAS NOT OK (and rarely to they feel, or even know, that they can go to the police). And terrifyingly the boys are often none-the-wiser that their behaviour is prosecutable.
I once had a friend tell me that “if I was in bed with a girl, it doesn’t matter in what context (friends etc), I’m obviously going to try something.” In such a cliché way this was followed up with “it’s just a guy thing.”
Well you know what, it’s not “just a guy thing.” It’s never ok to cop a feel if the girl is not 100 per cent on board with what is going on. Furthermore, it does not matter what situation you are in – as soon as either person says no, it should stop.
This is summed up perfectly by Amber Rose, ‘“If I’m laying down with a man — butt-naked — and his condom is on, and I say, ‘You know what? No. I don’t want to do this. I changed my mind,’ that means no. That means f-ing no. That’s it.” Consent is never a given, it is always a question, regardless of the situation.
As much as trying something is “just a guy thing,” concurrently runs the idea that girls aren’t strong enough to say no.
Having several close friends who have been placed in situations where they have received unwanted attention from guys, the overwhelming sentiment for them was the catch 22 situation they were in – condemned if you do, condemned if you don’t. The “Madonna/Whore,” paradigm continues to be as relevant as ever, with victim shaming exacerbated hugely by the ability to rapidly spread compromising images and information.
And girls – you should always be into it. If you’re not feeling it but you decide to just keep going because he is enjoying it – that is wrong too.
The more you make sex purely about male enjoyment the worse you will start feeling about yourself and the less you’ll expect from it – thus leading to, in worst case scenarios, exploitation of this weakness and then an inability to ‘say no’ because, to be perfectly honest, you don’t think you have any right to.
Arguably, until attitudes fundamentally change, we will continue to need consent classes: they need to teach why it is necessary to know how to say “no” – because sex is not about just one party and above all it is about pleasure. Two organs, two people, and therefore, two consents necessary.