Is the movement around teaching consent rooted in preserving, while ameliorating, heterosexual patriarchal culture?
Framing rape prevention primarily around teaching men to ask for consent reinforces men’s (hetero) sexual prerogative. It completely ignores what we know about gender relations, relations of power and sexual assault. It ignores the research that shows that rapists chose their victims based on vulnerabilities such as age, impairment eg intoxication, disability and previous intimate/sexual relationship (which makes it very unlikely to get a rape conviction). Instead, this focus on consent favors the narrative that men simply have not been taught to ask for consent and do not recognize the verbal and non verbal ways in which women and girls say no or may be unable to give consent; have not been taught that consent can be revoked at any time.
There is value in teaching everyone consent as persons of all genders and sexualities can and do sexually assault others. My concern is that we can’t fathom telling men not to “ask” for, expect or feel entitled to sex under any circumstance including marriage, dating, love or just because someone accepted your invitation to watch TV or is walking alone etc. [Think here of Brutal Crankstar’s Why Yuh Come By Me For i.e. accepting an invitation to a man’s home is taken as consent to sexual activity.]
There’s a report in a Caribbean newspaper about the driver of a church bus who “asked” a teen with a disability for sex after refusing to drop her off at her home as expected after a church event. She slapped him, because she rightly recognized his “ask” as a sexual violation in and of itself. He raped her. Which was always his intention. He did not rape her because of some innocent ignorance about consent. He made the decision to rape her after considering all the ways in which she was vulnerable. Again, one of the ways people are pushing against the anti-immigrant sentiment in the wake of Mollie Tibetts’ murder is by arguing that the murder is evidence of men’s inability to “take no for answer” (and therefore symptomatic of patriarchal and rape culture). If you’re jogging and a man stalks and abducts you, he is not interested in your answer. His intention was always to do harm.
Even our attempts to respond to men’s violence against women, to expose and dismantle rape culture struggle to escape sexist, heterosexist and patriarchal logics. Men don’t have the right to expect, demand or ask for sex or attention in the first place. Period. Men don’t have the right to expect, demand or ask for sex or attention from girls AT ALL. Our responses to sexual violence have to take seriously the fact that the vulnerabilities that rapists exploit are structural. And cannot be addressed by “real men don’t rape” messages steeped in toxic misogynistic bro culture and delivered by problematic, rapist bros themselves because “men listen to men”.
I wrote this years ago but worth re-sharing now in light of The 2 Cents Movement recent statement: “When the allegations were first made in 2017 we took the matter to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service as we take such allegations very seriously. The contractor was suspended from the organization on the basis of the allegations received to facilitate independent investigation from direct complaints to the police. […] After one year and six months, when no complaints were made to the authorities and after consultation with our team, we re-engaged the contractor on a project basis.”
This is a case study in supporting and enabling sexual violence against girls. An absence of reports is not an absence of violation. Rape is under-reported to the point of being effectively decriminalised. Men’s sexually predatory behavior toward girls is normalised. Predators can expect support, protection and complicity. Girls are condemned as fast, force-ripe, wutless, asking for it.
If you are not actively unlearning your own misogyny and working to end men’s violence against women and girls, you are complicit. And if your gender-based violence prevention interventions require coddling men’s feelings and preserving male privilege you are doing more harm than good.