1.permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.
“no change may be made without the consent of all the partners”
1.give permission for something to happen.
“he consented to a search by a detective”
It is a simple word with a seemingly simple definition. Or, at least it is at first glance. Perhaps I should say by definition the word and it’s meaning are pretty basic and should be easy to comprehend. However, in practice, this word is quite confusing and difficult to comprehend. Why? I am sure there are many reasons and depending on the situation in which consent is required, different interpretations of “yes” or “no” allow for some confusion – especially when no verbal answer is given.
This is often the case when it comes to sex. The heat of the moment doesn’t always give way to the simple question of “do you want to have sex?” Our senses are jumbled and our actions often take control and we don’t get the words out. In other words, we rely on nonverbal communication to convey consent. The problem with this? Not every one interprets nonverbal communication or cues the same way.
Another reason? Perhaps this is where I will lose some of you. When it comes to sex and relationships and especially sexual desires, women have often been taught to let the man lead. Let him call you first. Let him ask you out. Let him plan the date. Let him pay. Let him make the first move. Don’t be the one to initiate. Don’t speak up about your sexuality. Don’t embrace your desires and wants. Be ashamed of wanting sex. Be timid. Let him take charge. Don’t be a slut. Ugh. Just typing that gives me the heebie jeebies.
This is damaging in so many ways, but I am going to focus on the question and issue of consent.
It is so important that we shift this way of thinking and encourage women and girls to embrace their sexuality and to not be afraid to speak up when it comes to their needs and wants. We’ve been silent for far too long. And, I may be wrong here, but I believe that most men want us to speak up. They don’t want to be the reason we have bad sex or bad dates. Contrary to what society wants us to believe, most men want their partners to enjoy sex and intimacy. They want to know when their moves aren’t working or their kisses are sloppy or when their partner doesn’t want any of that. (Unrelated to the topic of consent … for the love of all women, please stop faking orgasms, women).
We, as women, are responsible for our own consent. We own that communication – no one else can or should. We cannot hide behind centuries of relationship “rules” or norms. Men aren’t the sold owners of sexuality. They also aren’t mind readers. They, like us, get caught up in the heat of the moment and they often don’t speak the same nonverbal language we do. Expecting them to only blurs the lines of consent even further.
I want both my daughter and my son, to be proud of who they are and I want them both to be empowered to speak up with it comes to their bodies. While it is often uncomfortable to even think about my children in their future relationships, I hope that I can instill in them the confidence to speak for themselves and to express their desires and needs.
Over the last week, I have had this conversation more times than I would like to … I am not going to mention the story that has sparked these conversations because, while it inspired the dialogue, it is not productive to link it to this particular conversation. Yes her story is important and yes her voice matters, but we need to have this dialogue without the potential implications of victim blaming or shaming (neither of which is my intent).
In these conversations, some have felt that the burden of consent and interpretation of said consent rests on the shoulders of the man involved. This is not even remotely true. As I said above, women own their own consent – allowing a man to own this doesn’t change our norms or attitudes and it opens the door for even further exploitation of women. If we continue to encourage women to be timid about sex, we cannot change the norms or the conversation and we don’t make progress.
Do men play a role in consent? Absolutely. It is their responsibility to receive and appropriately respond to their partner when consent is given or not given. But, if our partners are not responding to our consent, or lack thereof, the way we need them to, it is our responsibility to reassert our position and speak up. Men should also play an active role in the two-way communication of consent. If you, as a man, are confused by a nonverbal cue, ask for direct consent or clarification. Stop what you are doing and ask. Engage in conversations about consent and listen. Actually, just listening is a great first step. Take the time to listen to the women in your life, especially your partner(s). Pay attention.
Feminism is not about women overpowering men or taking revenge on all men for the shit and sins of the past. Feminism is about equality and equal access and ensuring all women have the same opportunities, access and treatment as their male counterparts. We cannot use feminism to blame men for our own mistakes and it goes against every fiber of feminism to expect men to take control of the conversation around our consent. This is a conversation that we must own and lead and initiate.
We own our own consent. Period.
A few friendly reminders about the basics of consent – I don’t speak for all women, just myself, but there are some basic norms that cannot be shouted loud enough.
When it comes to sex, consent is not given when:
- We wear a revealing outfit
- We accept an invitation to your home
- We drink too much
- We wear makeup
- We shave our legs
- We let you pay for dinner
- We say yes to a date