By Kate Ringer
Just before school started this year, I was lucky enough to be an Orientation Leader, which meant that I got to walk a group of about forty freshman around campus for various structured activities to help them adjust to being in college. During that process, every single freshman who attended orientation (which is a lot) watched this video comparing sex to drinking tea. Through humor, this video promoted one of the most important messages that a new batch of students could receive upon arriving to campus: how to know that the sexual activity they are engaging in is consensual, and not sexual assault. But, the question is, did these students receive this message early enough?
Here’s a story. I was a sophomore in high school, walking around downtown Boise with a group of friends. Out of nowhere, a guy friend unhooked my bra. To some, it may seem like I solicited that action because I was wearing a backless shirt with the clasp of my bralette just waiting to be unhooked. But, to me, it was completely unsolicited, I was surprised and embarrassed and I didn’t know how to react. Afraid to confront him (and not really knowing if this situation merited confrontation anyways) I laughed it off and had one of my girlfriends hook it for me. About ten minutes later, the same guy friend grabbed my boob. Again, I was surprised and embarrassed and I didn’t know how to react, but I laughed it off and walked away.
What do you do in situations like these? He was a friend. We had been friends for years, I’d dated his friend, we’d gone to parties together. I wore push up bras and kissed boys and I was kind of wild for the nerdy friend group that I was in. Is this what made me think I couldn’t say no?
This is where consent comes in. Even with the backless shirt, my history of being moderately wild, and our friendship, I was not asking him to unhook my bra. I did not want him to grab my boob. Maybe to him it was a joke, but to me it wasn’t funny. This video does a good job explaining why unhooking my bra was wrong: maybe I gave the non verbal affirmation of laughing, maybe I didn’t say no, but there is a difference between not saying no and saying yes. One problem with consent that many do not address is that consent isn’t just about sex, it’s about kissing and butt smacking and boob honking and back rubbing and anything. If you aren’t sure, ask!
The next time I had a social battle with consent was when I heard the song Blurred Lines for the first time my senior year of high school. If you want to know what consent isn’t, that song is a pretty good lesson. If the lines are blurred, if you’re not sure, ask or don’t do it. The cheerleaders danced to this song with the football players at our homecoming assembly and I almost threw up in my mouth (but this parody got me through). When it comes on the radio, I turn it off because messages like that are too harmful to listen to passively; that’s how they become part of our rape culture. The fact that this song was being played in a school at all just showed how little consent was considered by my classmates and by the school’s administrators. That needs to change.
We need to rewrite the narrative of sex to include consent, every time. When parents give the sex talk to their children, they need to make consent one of the main points, not an afterthought. It needs to be taught in schools early, before high school and definitely before college, and we need to give young women and men the courage to say something when they know it is wrong.