Marks: Why can’t we figure out consent?
Two main causes are at the root of many of the sexual assault and harassment allegations littering the news. One of them, more difficult to control, is people not listening to “no.” The other, which everyone has perpetuated, is miscommunication.
The latest story that’s been circulating is of a young woman’s encounter with comedian Aziz Ansari. Grace, whose name was changed to protect her identity, went on a date with Ansari. After rushing her home, Ansari repeatedly tried to initiate sexual contact with her. Grace used both verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate discomfort, asking if they could just hang out. After Ansari kept pushing Grace, she left.
The vast majority of the replies to the article on Twitter, which called Ansari’s actions “sexual misconduct,” argue that Ansari never did anything nonconsensual and that Grace was sending “mixed signals.” Men, women and sexual assault survivors alike agree that this situation is just bad sex and a misrepresentation of what sexual assault actually is.
What Ansari did was not okay. But some of the “mixed signals” that readers indicated could have been perceived in a different light from his point of view. In fact, he released a statement a few days later, claiming that the sexual activity they engaged in was “by all indications. … completely consensual.”
What happened to Grace was sexual misconduct, and she is not to blame. She was not playing coy, she repeatedly gave both verbal and nonverbal cues of discomfort, and she was met with unwanted sexual contact. Luckily, she was able to get out of the situation without something worse happening.
But the “mixed signals” that readers interpreted is a symptom of a much larger issue that persists in mainstream media and influences everyone. Think about sex scenes you’ve seen in a movie or a TV show. One person kisses the other suddenly, passionately — they rush to the nearest place available to have sex, tearing off each others’ clothes, often not saying a word. This is what we as a society consider sexy.
Mainstream media never taught me about consent. Asking somebody if you could kiss them was awkward and unromantic. We are being influenced from a very young age to not ask about these things — and that it’s never needed.
I can think of plenty of personal situations where communication would have made things a lot easier and more comfortable for everyone involved, and I know I’m not the only one. At times, I’ve been nervous and reluctant to communicate, and I was lucky enough be with someone who was attuned to what I was feeling and checked in. That’s not always the case. Some people ignore signals and others are merely unaware.
We all have a responsibility to stop perpetuating these TV and movie tropes. Pay attention to your partner’s body language and attitude. If they seem uncomfortable or say no, then stop. In fact, ask about initiating sexual contact beforehand. It’s not going to ruin the moment; it’s going to make everyone involved a lot more comfortable. It goes the other way, too. Be sure that you want to do what you’re doing. If you change your mind, say something. If everyone communicates effectively in situations where they were not in danger, I doubt there would be as many #MeToo stories.
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