How to give and understand consent in 23 ways. https://www.ditchthelabel.org/consent/

Are we complying to societal pressures, are we choosing to ignore it, or do we simply not understand consent?

Consent is still such a vague concept (whereas it should not be), furthermore, people often label it as lame, irrelevant and a buzz kill. I want to explore consent through looking at traditional gender norms, misinformation and misreading, and just understanding what it is and how it is very important for our encounters to be mutually enjoyable and safe.

What is consent and how does it work?

Oxford dictionary defines CONSENT as:

NOUN

Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

‘no change may be made without the consent of all the partners’

VERB

Give permission for something to happen.

‘he consented to a search by a detective’

PHRASES

by common consent

With the agreement of all.

‘it was, by common consent, our finest performance’

ORIGIN

Middle English: from Old French consente (noun), consentir (verb), from Latin consentire, from con- ‘together’ + sentire ‘feel’. [1]

        Consent is the freedom to agree, it is cool and sexy! Even though the definition is so straightforward, the concept is simple,  people think they understand it, it keeps being misinterpreted and a lot of times ignored. I find it important to write about it because I myself and my friends have experienced so many ‘blurred line’ situations. Some comical, some annoying and some dangerous.

       Consent is respect, listening, communication and can be a prerequisite to good sex (although that is not a definite). Consent is necessary for both (or more) people involved to be on the same level of agreement for what is going to happen. Consent is not just a ‘Yes’, it should be reading the signals, it should be connection and asking along the way. Consent is not something you have, it is given to you and previously agreed upon either by clearly reading the signs (implicit) or expressed/informed. Consent can be withdrawn at any moment and the other person should respect that.

      If your partner is not as engaged anymore – ask. If your partner is not feeling it – stop. If you have had alcohol or drugs and the other person is not responsive anymore – end of story! Consensual encounters mean that you have control and agency over your own body and the line between consensual interactions and felony can be very slim. For more information you can check out some of the websites I have listed in the resources section.

What affects consent?

 

Consent can be affected by many factors, such as ability to give it, if a person is suffering from a mental illness, learning ability or if the person is too high, drunk or already passed out, then the capacity to make and communicate a decision can be influenced. Age of consent is a prospect of legality; however, legality does not always equal morality. Someone younger can be influenced and threatened by authority and the power dynamics, also fearful of them too. Larry Nassar, former US Olympic doctor is a great example of abuse of authority and power, furthermore, his lack of accountability due to his status. Most of his patients were kids and too scared and powerless to object or sometimes understand that his practices were immoral. Moreover, all his accusations were dismissed, as 'he couldn't possibly do anything like that, he's a good doctor and person'. "Shy little girls who briefly found self-confidence through sport became deeply self-loathing teenagers and adults because the man who was supposed to help them do the sport they loved instead molested them, over and over again" [2]. The girls have their childhood stripped away into a lifetime of overcoming trauma, whereas most of the people involved will never bear any consequences, as the USA Olympic committee did not even bother attending the court hearing. Watch Aly Raisman's heartbreaking court testimony in the resources section (under 'Rape Culture'). 

Assumptions and misinterpretation of consent goes hand in hand with rape culture and myths and victim blaming. It is still a common issue to believe consent is given, if people (specifically) women are dressed in a certain way, come from a certain place or do a certain job, etc. (the list is endless in what we use to justify the feeling of egoism and entitlement), which can be classed as provocative in our societies. And boys are expected to always want sex, where women can become perpetrators in using this pressure against them. These are not truly consensual situations. Moreover, we can go into intersections that race, sexual orientation, physical ability and class play in consent and abuse. I have written a separate article discussing this instance, due to the complexity  and multi-relatedness of it.  

Traditional gender roles can play a massive part in how we look at, give and understand consent. “The traditional feminine gender role is a social orientation that emphasises closeness and solidarity, whereas the traditional masculine gender role is a social orientation that emphasizes the power of status” [3]. Furthermore, independence is another aspect of gender dyad, as men are conditioned to be more self-sufficient, where women are expected to be the opposite and more co-dependent. It is not to say that women do not seek independence, power and status and men do not aspire to closeness and nurturing, these are anticipated and projected behavioural ideals of society. They are reinforced by our families, communities and media from a very young age, so it is not surprising that we internalize and apply them in various parts of our lives (households, relationships, jobs, etc.). According to the Children’s Society, traditional gender roles “have a clear impact on young people’s well-being as a whole. Children who chose ‘being tough’ as the most important trait for boys, or ‘having good clothes’ as the most important trait for girls, are shown to have the lowest wellbeing across the group” [4]. Numerous studies have implied that traditional binary relationships illustrate a lower rate of happiness and success, than the ones where one partner is androgynous (have the characteristics of both sexes), furthermore they emphasize the importance of a connection to femininity, especially for men [3].

 

The statistics are saddening, because we are discouraging half of the worlds population to chase their dreams, just because ‘traditionally’ they are seen differently and are imagined to disappear behind kitchen doors, not engage in education and the future of our world. We are caging the other half in toxic traits and pushing them away from their natural vulnerability and humanity, whilst telling them they can do anything, and they should, and if they don’t it’s a disgrace and they’ve failed in society.

How does this relate to consent? Pressure from these norms transfers into our sexual encounters and relationships. To think that it does not and would not is silly, due to the importance we still give these norms, which is not always a conscious, as these are learnt beliefs and manners. There are various types of consent, such as implied, expressed and informed. Expressed and informed would be based on conversation and agreement, but implied is the one where we would see the most misunderstanding and problems. According to the law dictionary implied consent is “consent when surrounding circumstances exist which would lead a reasonable person to believe that this consent had been given, although no direct, express or explicit words of agreement had been uttered” [5]. This is where the correlation of gender norms and consent can become problematic, as if we follow these lines of conduct then women are supposed to be less assertive and more passive, whereas men are understood to exert dominance and status. Leading to situations based on assumptions and misinterpretation, because we are not always reading the signs clearly, we are wearing glasses tinted with societal norms and expectations.  Boys feel the pressure to be ‘the man’, to not be seen as weak (therefore feminine). In a lot of cases it can mean peer-pressure, hypermasculinity and exertion of power through dominance, where you give little chance to consent. ‘Getting what you want’ is a common belief between boys and men, further, boys who fail to recognise the damage of this type of mindset grow into men, who upkeep these dangerous behaviours. Thinking this way only concentrates on the end goal - to have sex, and can erase the consensus, as nothing else matters during the process. Also, can include manipulation, such as ‘if you’d love me, you’d do this’ (common in youth relationships), convincing to have sex (which is close to pressuring), use of guilt tripping and peer-pressuring are very common. It is important to note that men are not the only ones who ignore consent, women are also perpetrators under these circumstances, yet it is notable that there is far less possibility of danger, violence and aggression than in a reverse scenario.

Consent education and workshops in UK’s educational institutions have been protested against and some even rejected [6]. This is not a problem only in the UK, but across Europe (I am taking Europe as a reference point, as this is a part of the world, I am most familiar with and I find it wrong to point fingers at others, whilst we ourselves still have so much work to do), as the UN has criticised government’s legislations regarding consent and rape, further Amnesty International is working actively across the continent to help bring understanding and justice to victims of sexual assault and regulate consent more. [7]. A number of countries we see as progressive still have outdated and incomplete legislations regarding sexual well-being and safety. "Only 8 countries in Europe have laws that state it is rape to have sex with someone without their consent", further "In the other European countries, for the crime to be considered rape, the law requires for example the use of force or threats, but this is not what happens in a great majority of rape cases" [8]. This is why consent education is so important, as according to the statistics (see picture on the right) people in Europe still believe rape myths and engage in victim blaming. 

A lot of the times women just give in because that’s what we as a society have thought them. To just ‘go with it’, to ‘not say no, but not say yes either’. In these cases, it is hard to determine the actual lines of breaching consent, as it is more conditioning than malice. In addition, boys can feel the same, as they cannot bare to be seen as 'overpowered' by a women. I think, this nonsense (in my eyes) takes away from what sex is about and it transforms it into yet another way of exerting power and our selfish individuality. 

In the resources section you can find multiple videos on consent and interviews with people, where an alarming number confess that sometimes when pressure and fear are present, they ‘just let it happen’. This has also been a familiar ground in my life (and the lives of my friends), where I have given into persuasions and ‘gone with it’, which afterwards leaves me feeling disgusted and gross. Further, after these situations I felt a loss of agency over my body. It felt, as if I was not in control over it anymore, but there was no actual physical force. The only way I can find to explain it is that it felt like I was voluntarily doing something that I knew I would not like and enjoy, yet I could not let the other person down (whatever that means).

“Consent would be implicit, if you would see the other person as an equal human being. The only situation in which you would keep going after someone says ‘no’ is when you feel like you own them” – Terry Crews (link to interview in the resources section)  

Sexual interactions should not occur just because one person has made a move and it is happening now. You can and need to be an active part in it, that is everything consent is. The amount of times I have said no to a man, yet he has taken it as a ‘maybe’ or ‘convince me’. A thousand times I’ve smiled and had a great conversation, which was mistaken for flirting and the other person expected sex of me. I do not owe you anything and, plus, wouldn’t it be more enjoyable when both people are truly sexually attracted to each other.

 

Consent is crucial and, if consent is not given or received, then not only is it immoral according to me, but according to the law it is also illegal. So be respectful and have great consensual sex where the both of you are equally as engaged and committed.

Sources

1. Definition of consent in Englishhttps://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/consent 

2. Freeman, H. 2018. How was Larry Nassar able to abuse so many gymnasts for so long? The Guardian, January. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/jan/26/larry-nassar-abuse-gymnasts-scandal-culture

3. Ickes, W., 1993. Traditional Gender Roles: Do They Make, and Then Break, our Relationships? Journal of Social Issues, 49(3) , 71-85.  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227614660_Traditional_Gender_Roles_Do_They_Make_and_Then_Break_our_Relationships

4. Lucy, 2018. Traditional gender roles and stereotypes: How they can affect children and young people. https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/news-and-blogs/our-blog/traditional-gender-roles-and-stereotypes-how-it-can-affect-children

5. Implied Consent. Legal terms and definitions. https://dictionary.law.com/Default.aspx?selected=904

6. Iqbal, N., 2018. Has Britain’s attitude to sex and consent begun to change? The Guardian, May. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/may/26/confusion-in-age-of-consent-rape-law-sweden

7. Blus, A, 2018. No consent, no fairytale. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/ether/no-consent-no-fairytale

8. Let's talk about Yes! Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2018/11/rape-in-europe/​

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