Affirmative Consent Reminder (and A Few Metaphors)

I saw a Pearls Before Swine cartoon today where Pig decides that “remain[ing] dumb” is the lesson to be learned after he spends a few days trying to unpack everything happening in the news. My first thought was, yes, ignorance is bliss and wouldn’t it be nice to be blissful, and then I recalibrated my thinking because I know full well that being ignorant of the news and issues that are facing the world’s people is an example of priviledge. It’s a privilege afforded to only a few to be oblivious to why so many women and men have been protesting Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and likely appointment to the Supreme Court.

We are finally having conversations in public that we should have been having 35 years ago and even earlier, and it’s painful. It’s painful to think that our culture failed our sons and daughters so much—women were taught to be silent; men were taught that abuse is a way to exert power because rarely will abusers be held accountable. Even if a survivor was able to bring her abuser to the court of justice, very rarely is an adequate punishment handed down. It’s painful that Dr. Christine Blasley Ford did not have the support from our society 35 years ago to feel comfortable reporting what had happened to her soon after the attack occurred. Worse, it’s painful that our society taught any teen that pinning a classmate onto a bed and groping her despite her protests was acceptable. 

Sadly, some are still taught these lessons today. We need to keep having the conversations about how to offer justice to those wronged in the past, and we need to believe abuse survivors. I support due process whenever possible, but I also know that reporting is not always possible for survivors. Survivors deserve to do what is best for them, and many times that means not reporting it to authorities.  

The #MeToo movement will continue to seek justice for those who have been harassed, groped without consert, and raped, but…

We MUST find a way out of this pattern of creating sexual abusers in the first place. #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport illuminated the nation’s dark secret of sexual abuse at a viral level, but we need to keep moving towards making sure no one has these stories. How do we do that?

We MUST teach consent. And not ambiguous consent—a small smile, a resigned “yes” after numerous “no’s,” and suggestive clothing do not count. We need to teach everyone that consent must be an unquestionable, enthusiastic “yes!” This starts with parents telling children that they do not have to hug relatives that they do not want to hug, and we must stop the narrative that pulling pigtails is actually flirtation. Next, consent has to be a lesson in Health/Sex Ed classrooms, just like birth control and STD prevention.

We need to teach affirmative consent continuously. Danielle Clapham breaks it down in this post on Progress and Tea. If you’re looking for another source, I love the metaphor of castle-building from Everyday Feminism.

Just as no one should be forced to drink tea (another metaphor), no one should be forced into an unwanted sexual situation. Ambiguity goes away when each participant is given the chance to say if they want to participate in each activity from handholding to kissing to undressing to penetration. Guess what? This means talking to your partner as you engage in sexual activities and asking what they do or do not like. What a concept!

On a positive note, Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad received a Nobel Peace Prize today for their work and focus on addressing sexual violence during wartime, supporting sexual abuse survivors, and advocating for peace. This gives me hope.