Everyday consentism

'Clothes are not my consent' placard

Image source: The New Statesman

Despite what recent news headlines might lead you to believe, the issue of sexual consent and what constitutes it; is an issue that extends far beyond the murky and privileged waters of professional football. There are many lessons to be learned from the infamous Ched Evans case but you can read a previous post on the AND site for a more in-depth analysis of this.

Instead I’d like to highlight that undermining the concept of consent is a problem that faces all of us, regardless of background, profession or upbringing.

by Jamie-Lee Cole

It is remarkable that a grey area still exists and ‘no meaning no’ is not always enough. From the small screen, a recent episode of BBC’s Poldark saw the protagonist, and supposed hero, sexually overpower his love interest in a heat of passion after discovering she had committed to marrying someone else, until she stopped resisting.

A woman of 18th century England would have been expected to keep quiet about such a grotesque offence with her own reputation being brought into question if her peers were to find out.

Unfortunately, it is not just cases like Ched Evans’ that offer us a painful reminder that little has changed since then.

In the courtrooms, some judges have chosen to publicly humiliate rape victims – in one recent instance, a judge went as far as to ask the victim why she hadn’t just ‘kept her knees together’ and whether she was attracted to the alleged perpetrator. The victim was then subjected to questioning about her alleged attacker’s penis size.

And in politics, a similarly dismal example is set by certain elected leaders; who will ever be able to forget the US President-elect Donald Trump’s infamous p***y gate?

'Yes means yes and no means no' placard at a women's right's rally

Image source: olisa.tv

In some media outlets, a critical rhetoric towards victims who come forward, many years after being assaulted, or once someone else has made a similar accusation, unsubtly shines through.

This has been prevalent in cases of condemned celebrities and serial offenders such as Bill Cosby and Jimmy Savile. The victims, at best, have been branded as ‘convenient’ or ‘money-grabbing’. It’s little wonder that victims often don’t come forward and that sexual assault statistics are unreliable and unreflective of the true epidemic.

Physically coerced or emotionally manipulated, regardless of how you paint it, these acts are violations of a person’s mind, body and soul. Unwelcome. And non-consensual.

It is concerning and to be frank nonsensical that anyone could believe that a man or woman would make up a case of rape or assault for personal gain. Where there are a tiny minority of instances where this is the case, the plight those who have the strength to come forward face in the media circus, their communities and even the courtroom is nothing if not a deterrent to speak out for other victims.

In risk of repeating myself, the claimant in the Ched Evans case reportedly had to change her identity and move home five times to escape persecution from the footballer’s supporters.

One of my most hated phrases is ‘you have to earn respect’. My particular gripe is it’s often used in conjunction with the generic classification of women – insulting in itself – that a woman needs to act and dress modestly in order to be taken seriously and treated with dignity. The phrase is so passive-aggressive that it’s almost exclusively used when someone is trying to teach a hard lesson. It’s also a phrase that is used to victim blame and discredit those who come forward.

I recently saw a Facebook post that used this language:

Dear ladies,

There is one thing I want you to understand about us MEN.

When you post half-naked pictures of yourself on Facebook, doing a sexy pose, or showing us your boobs or lying seductively on your bed… The only thing you are doing is making us feel lust about you.

I know you will feel excited about the 500 likes, 120 sweet comments and countless inbox messages you will receive and you will feel so high more so to be on top of the world.

BUT ONE IMPORTANT THING YOU SHOULD KNOW in reality, none of those guys who will like and comment on your photo or send you messages in your inbox loves you.

They are just lust about using and dumping you. In fact they hate you because none of them would take you to his home to be his wife. Trust me they take you as a whore looking for cheap popularity on Facebook.

Men whether rich or poor admire ladies who dress decently and respect themselves.

Decent clothing that reveals less about your body makes us love and respect you.

It tells us that you are a virtuous woman and a wife material one would take home to be a mother. It tells us how you were brought up morally and gives us details about your good family background.

We don’t really care alot about your excessive make-ups and face paintings?? A good wife material remains no matter what. Value your body. Be real and Respect yourself. And a good man who will respect you will find you whatsoever.

A male's rant about women's virtue on FacebookDespite being terribly written, it packs a powerful punch and was shared by many in admiration on Facebook.

While it’s okay to project what one might be looking for in a partner, wife or a mother, it’s particularly damaging to put this into a context that, quite frankly, does not concern the man who wrote this post.

While everyone is entitled to have different values in a life partner, hijacking an image that is clearly not your own, without any context, to make a sweeping statement about the entire female kind and how they fail to live up to your expectations is not only ill-informed and inaccurate but likely to leave you single for a little while longer.

Ultimately the person writing this post, has chosen to align an partially unclothed female with the idea of spoiled virtue and implies that if you don’t dress like a nun you are inviting advances from men, wanted or not, as you have not earned his respect.

And this is where the root of rape culture overpowers the value of consent. ‘She shouldn’t have worn such a short skirt’, ‘She shouldn’t have walked that way, by herself, after dark’. She was violated because she dresses in a disrespectful way. It’s a constant carousel where failure to ‘respect yourself’ leads to sinister consequences on the part of excusable male urges.

We are failing to drum sex and consent into people’s heads from a young age as two harmonious things – how you cannot have the former without the latter.

The reality is, consent education needs to go beyond ‘no means no’. Firstly, because our culture tells us that women have to earn respect for their bodies with virtue. But secondly, because actual sexual relationships and encounters are much more complicated than that.

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