Words: Pip Keogh
Consent is a word you have hopefully been hearing more lately. You may have tuned into the Academy Awards and seen Lady Gaga’s emotional performance of Til Happens to You where she was joined on stage by fellow survivors of sexual violence. US Vice President Joe Biden introduced her and encouraged people to pledge to end sexual violence on university campuses.
Here at home, you may have heard disconcerting stories from our own campuses about alleged ‘revenge porn’ rings and more positive actions like the piloting of mandatory ‘consent classes’. If you haven’t been hearing about any of these events, then all the more reason that we need to have this conversation.
Consent has a murky history in Ireland. Sex education has been relatively non-existent until recently, save for ‘ironic’ moralising from Catholic priests and cringe-worthy videos presented by a typical Irish mammy named Angela.
We may laugh now but this type of education and the stigma associated with talking about sex has been immensely damaging to our psyche as a nation. Unfortunately our approach hasn’t changed as much as we may imagine. Many schools still fail to implement comprehensive and positive sex education, instead leaving the issue to ‘questionable’ outsiders who come with their own agendas. Often, the word consent is never even mentioned.
Last year, we witnessed the positive impact of the Marriage Equality campaign on Irish society. At the core of the equality conversation were personal stories that impassioned us to change our country for the better. Young people talked to their grandparents about love. Couples shared their life stories. We cheered and cried with joy in celebration as a nation. Now, we need to continue the momentum of that empathy and compassion in our everyday lives and talk to each other about consent.
We have a duty to ourselves, to our young people, to men and women, and the countless survivors of sexual violence to talk about consent. It should not be something you ignore “til it happens to you”. Consent is everyone’s responsibility. It is not about sitting down and having ‘the talk’. It’s about having lots of talks and continuing the conversation.
So what does the ‘consent conversation’ look like? In reality, it’s simple. We have conversations about sex everyday and don’t even realise. We make comments on women’s clothes as we pass them on the street and passively consume advertisements with half-naked models slathering themselves in baby oil. Consent is about questioning and challenging people on the impact of these actions and images. We sit in bars and talk with our friends about the girl or guy we fancy, commenting on what we would like to do them or have them do to us.
Consent is about considering that person with empathy and respect, not as some kind of quest for to be conquered. You may be in a long-term relationship or just met someone in a dusty basement bookstore and bonded over your mutual admiration of some obscure Russian author that neither of you have actually ever heard of. Consent is about asking ‘Do you want to…?’, clarifying, and respecting the answer. Sometimes ‘Netflix and Chill’ literally means Netflix and Chill!
We need to be empowered to talk positively about consent. “No” means “No”, end of conversation, there is no argument to that and rightly so. It is positive to say “No”, and equally positive to say “Yes”, whenever you want. Consent is about asking for permission and expressing your desires, what you do and don’t want.
Consent is about guaranteeing you control of your body and ensuring you take responsibility for supporting other peoples wishes. Consent is about self-care, well-being, and empathy. Consent is important.
Talk about it everyday. Talk about it in class. Talk about it at the water cooler. Talk about it online. Talk about it in bed, in the backseat, or wherever you happen to ‘Netflix and Chill’. Talking is sexy, consent is mandatory.
Positive Consent is a student-led campaign that aims to create these kinds of conversations and promote a positive language of consent. Positive Consent will be presenting a creative action in Cork City on Friday March 11th. If you are interested in learning more about the campaign and joining the conversation, see www.positiveconsent.com or www.facebook.com/positiveconsent for more details.