Very few YouTube videos struck me to the point where I [will] never forget the exact words I heard and the exact images I saw. During one of our training sessions at Safe Passage, they showed us a video of a large group of male students from a fraternity at Yale University, chanting:
‘No’ means ‘yes’! ‘Yes’ means ‘anal’! ‘No’ means ‘yes’! ‘Yes’ means ‘anal’!”
At some point during training period (last October), a story of a white male student from Warwick University went viral on the Internet. He wrote an article for his school’s online student paper titled “Why I don’t need consent class.” He included a picture of himself holding a sign where he handwrote with a thick marker, “This is not what a rapist looks like.”
One of the men who tried to rape me (on a college campus) looks exactly like him –tall, young, blond, short hair, white. I can’t remember the color of his eyes because he tried to rape me in the dark. ‘Looks’ are not what’s important here, but you get my point.
What does consent mean? What does it entail? In what ways is it relevant to discourses of sexual violence, sex education, gender violence, patriarchy and misogyny? How have I experienced consent? How have I asked for sex and how have I not? How have the dynamics of consent affected my body, my choices, my feelings? Consent is a loaded term –with loaded stories behind it. And like author, editor and blogger Rachel Kramer Bussel says, “…we do everyone a service when we recognize that consent is not simply a legal term, and should encompass more than simply yes or no.”
One of the most important pieces of consent that we need to consider and (re)consider every time we engage in an intimate encounter, is, that, “each new level of sexual activity requires consent” (p. 44). This clearly didn’t happen to one of the students who took my survey, who said, “I came onto him first, but he didn’t stop when I wanted him to.”
Consent, to me, has sometimes become about “owing” a man something. Even in my most healthy physical relationships and when I feel very comfortable, I still feel like I owe them to say yes –even when I feel like saying no. What does this feeling of owing a ‘yes’ even mean? What has led me to think that it’s OK for me to feel uncomfortable, just to please someone I may or may not even care about in the first place? Why do women constantly feel in debt to men and to society? I’ve been asking myself lately. I’ve been reflecting on every single partner I’ve had, and it’s scary. It’s scary to realize that many times, I didn’t consent to it. Many times, it happened without me wanting it. Many times, it’s a blur.