Consent is Sexy. Consent is Mandatory. Always.
As a camp counselor, I recently had the privilege of watching some of the women that most inspire me perform a poem about the dangers of being female to a room of high schoolers. Let me tell you, IT. WAS. AWESOME.
The poem itself is fantastic…a woman in a dark parking lot hears a noise and the listeners get a glimpse of her inner monologue while she tries to figure out exactly how afraid she should or shouldn’t be. All the maybes and what ifs that so many women know so well run through her head…and it was Earth-shattering for many of the 65 youth that sat in stunned silence.
Afterward, my small group had a discussion in which one young man had his mind blown! I applaud his bravery in asking a group of mainly females why it was offensive for a man to ask/tell a woman to smile or that she looked nice, when he only meant it as a compliment. (Before you get appalled, cut this kid a break & remember he is only 14-15ish and asked the question so he could better understand how his actions might affect those around him.)
The discussion that followed was perfection! The young women answered him honestly and without judgment. They told him about times they each have felt violated or assaulted by these kinds of “compliments” and they were able to voice – several different ways – how they have felt time and time again while being accosted by “compliments” through exchanges in which they had not agreed to participate.
The bottom line, for this group, was consent. When anyone (but especially an unfamiliar man) offers an opening for interaction the simple act of waiting for reciprocation before just assuming they have the authority/privilege/right to comment on that pretty dress, gorgeous smile, nice eyes, etc. changes the whole interaction. That simple act of obtaining consent makes the interaction a choice instead of an assault.
Consent makes all the difference! When the choice is mine to smile or to enter a conversation (or not to), then I am still human and I am still a sentient being. If, however, anyone decides they have the right to choose for me…well then we’ve got problems, baby.
As an office manager and “front of house” point of contact, I am routinely called sweetheart, honey, sugar, or my “favorite” – pretty little flower. It makes my skin crawl. Every. Time. I am not here to decorate your world more beautifully. In fact, I am not yours! I belong to no one other than myself.
The thing is my experiences at work were not all that different from many of my campers’ experiences. These high schoolers have been labeled as property when they introduced as ___________’s girlfriend (or boyfriend). They have been deemed merely ornamental when they are rated on 1-10 scale or referred to as hot. There is still hope though. All is not lost and, in fact, when discussions like the one I had with my campers happen, we make progress!
My hope lies in that post-poem conversation where a dozen or so high schoolers had an open and honest conversation with each other and with me about what consent can do to improve our interactions. When that 14-15 year old young man asked how he can compliment a pretty young woman, he was given concrete examples! Smile in her direction first, and wait to see if she responds. Say “hi” and then wait for her to respond before you say anything else. Wave at her once and then wait and see if she chooses to waive back. Before you comment on how beautiful she is, get to know her first and earn her respect.
It was a “proud counselor” moment for me! My campers were able to treat each other with honesty and respect while discussing something that many grown people do not yet grasp. It inspired me to be more directly honest about how I am willing to be treated and to do that without losing my temper over it. This meaningful conversation inspired me to be myself in a more unapologetic (but still contentious) way.
My name is Sarah. I am intelligent and funny and I like baseball. I enjoy cooking and baking, I love to sing, and I’d rather dance for days than ever run another 5k. I am a mother, daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, and cousin. I am a whole person and to reduce me – or any other human being – to a pet name you do not have permission to use is rude. Don’t be rude, get consent.