I have opinions. Wanna hear them? Consent
Consent is a hot topic. It’s mostly applied to sexual assault, but there’s a lot more to consent than that.
Here’s an example; A parent/grandparent/older relative is tickling the little child (three or four years old) and the child is giggling, but suddenly stops giggling and turns and twists to get away, says no. The older adult continues tickling. The child says no again, this time more loudly. The older adult stops, waits a couple of seconds, then resumes tickling. Eventually, someone tells the adult to stop, which they do but they’re annoyed because it was just a game, right? That older adult engaged in non-consensual behaviour twice and even then couldn’t understand that their behaviour was non-consensual. That child said stop…twice. Once should have been enough.
When the consent curriculum went into Victorian schools, replies—a thousand billion to the power of stupid—filled the screen below the posts on various social media. Mostly along the lines of “I’m not a rapist and neither is my son” and “It’s just about being respectful” and “It’s a parents job to teach consent.” But if a parent has ever made their child hug another person, then they are NOT equipped to teach consent. Example; uncle/aunt/grandfather visits the home, they stay for lunch, then as they’re leaving, they say, “Give us a hug/cuddle”. The child hesitates, so the parent says, “Go on, give (relative’s name) a hug”. They may even apply a supportive shove in the back.
Guess what? You have just engaged in and enabled non-consensual behaviour. Here’s a novel thing to do…ASK the child if they want to hug the person. Hugs require touching. We ask consent to touch. Children who’ve been taught consent will advocate for themselves, otherwise they simply comply because it’s expected, but compliance is not consent. It’s like women who feel obligated to have sex with men who badger and push and cajole and guilt them into the act because they’ve spent so much money on their date; those women are complying, not consenting.
Of course, rape and sexual assault are at the pointy end of the scale. But all those men (they’re all men) in the replies stating how not rapey they are, probably hugged a child non-consensually, probably kissed a woman by stealth and surprise, but sure they’re not a rapist.
Stealth and surprise kissing. That’s sexual assault. But all those movies where the guy kisses the girl when she doesn’t expect it, the whole scene is portrayed as romantic and the female character always seems to like it….yeah, that’s actually non-consensual behaviour. Ask. To. Kiss. Someone. Shoving your face onto another person without them expecting it is non-consensual, no matter how normalised Hollywood and society has made it.
Most of us have witnessed sexual harassment in a movie, a song or a TV show, but because of the way it’s framed, we probably won’t even recognise the crime in front of us. In fact, we probably thought ‘aww, how romantic’. 2004’s The Notebook, an apparent romantic movie, is now widely recognised for how creepy Ryan Gosling’s Noah truly is. The only way he manages to get Rachel Adams’ Allie to go on a date with him is by lying down in the middle of the road and telling her he’s going to let himself get killed unless she says yes. Unsurprisingly, she feels coerced into dating him.
There’s some classic non-consenting behaviour right there.
Plus some emotional blackmail for extra points.
How about the 2001 romantic comedy Bridget Jones’ Diary where Bridget has two love interests: Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy and Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver. When Daniel and Bridget’s relationship starts, he is her boss. He emails her sexually suggestive messages about her short skirt and see-through top. When their relationship breaks up, he sidelines her in the office and mistreats her to the point that she decides to quit. What a great romantic comedy; full of sexual assault, and predatory non-consensual behaviour. Monitoring texts, stalking, spreading rumours about women based on their perceived non-compliance with your demands are all examples of non-consensual behaviour. The dude in the movie Love Actually who holds up the cards and declares his love? Not that sweet. Total stalker with the constant zooming in on the wedding video, ostensibly for his private use later, and then basically guilting the woman into kissing him. Puh-lease. Not romantic. Try non-consensual.
Back to kissing. Here’s a new idea to practice; Ask the person if you could kiss them. Try it. It’s actually rather sexy to have a person ask to kiss you.
Thunderous footsteps. “But asking all the time ruins the mood!” Hmm. Does it? Whose mood is being ruined when you think about it? If a woman is being asked if they like this, like that, is this good, then I can guarantee that she is absolutely not having her mood ruined. I predict—this is a big call but I’m standing by it—that if more men asked women if what they were doing to or with that woman was good, okay, the right speed, etc, then those women’s experiences of sex would drastically improve.
But back to the man-dudes in the replies; we get it, you’re not a rapist, but if I told you that one of the boys in the Year 10 Biology class snapped the bra strap of the girl who was leaning over the lab table working on her project, would you pass that off as just a lad being a lad, didn’t mean anything, bit of fun? I hope not (even though I think you would), because that’s…..drumroll….non-consensual behaviour. Did the girl ask for the boy to snap the strap of her bra? I can guarantee she didn’t. She’s working on her damn project. But adults have decided that bra snapping is lad-behaviour, which only needs a finger-wagging and a head shake. It’s the same as a skirt flick.
“But nobody saw anyth—” Non. Consensual. Behaviour. “But it was just a quick—” Non. Consensual. Behaviour.
Thunderous footsteps. “Well, if I have to ask for consent for everything then my kids will say no to any jobs at home”. I can’t believe I have to explain this, but I will because it’s necessary.
Jobs at home are about a mutual understanding of obligations by people inhabiting a common space. Consent is about having the right to, and autonomy of, your own body and the metaphysical space it takes up. It’s about who or what interacts wth your body and your choices and decisions. Stocking up the toilet rolls in the bathroom cupboard is a household chore. You’re safe, Kevin. You can still get ten-year-old James to run a Hoover about, you just can’t march into his bedroom, fling his doona off, and tickle him awake when he told you last week that he feels uncomfortable when you do that.
So many people have no idea what consent is. It’s actually really simple. I’ll repeat the definition. Consent is about having the right to and autonomy of your own body and the metaphysical space it takes up. It’s about who or what interacts wth your body and your choices and decisions. I do believe that parents should be teaching consent. I really do. The problem is that there are very few parents who truly, fundamentally, believe in consent, because non-consensual behaviour is rooted in power. So when Uncle Pete tickles little Gillian, even when Gillian says stop, and he gets in a huff and says, “I’m just playing” what he’s really saying is “I’m just playing with power.”
If the parents are fine with that, then hand over the consent curriculum. You don’t get to teach it.
“I’m just playing”, “it’s only a game”, “boys will be boys”, “it’s a joke”, “where’s your sense of humour?” “it’s harmless”, “nothing bad happened”. If people, from a very young age, were taught to ask for permission when they want access to another person, then we’d lose a lot of those phrases. Good.