Friday FREAK OUT! Consent, just like a cuppa tea

“hey, would you like a cup of tea?”

In the last week or so, I’ve seen one particular blog post about consent pop up several times in my Facebook feed, Twitter, and  yep, it made it to Buzzfeed. In this post, Consent: Not actually that complicated, blogger Emmeline May compares seeking consent to offering someone a cup of tea:

…imagine instead of initiating sex, you’re making them a cup of tea.

You say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they go “omg fuck yes, I would fucking LOVE a cup of tea! Thank you!*” then you know they want a cup of tea.

If you say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they um and ahh and say, “I’m not really sure…” then you can make them a cup of tea or not, but be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then – this is the important bit –  don’t make them drink it. You can’t blame them for you going to the effort of making the tea on the off-chance they wanted it; you just have to deal with them not drinking it. Just because you made it doesn’t mean you are entitled to watch them drink it.

If they say “No thank you” then don’t make them tea. At all. Don’t make them tea, don’t make them drink tea, don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting tea. They just don’t want tea, ok?

And so on… (you should definitely read the whole post!)

Her post, written in a very approachable, colloquial, conversational tone, has people freakin’ out a bit- mostly in good ways.  (And from her follow-up post, seems like she’s had a bit of a freak-out, too, given the attention her blog is suddenly getting in response to her tea analogy post- from an average of 13 views/day to 30,000!) Emmeline’s blog, Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess, isn’t focused on sexual assault prevention, it’s not a bog about sex/sexuality specifically, it’s a blog written by a young woman sharing her voice. Her posts vary in topic, but often discuss feminism, intersections, bodies, and she actually started her blog as part of her journey to not drink alcohol for a given period of time (initially 3 months, then it shifted to a year). So I think that her post on consent, which she wrote as a “short one” not imagining that it would go viral, appeals to people’s need to talk about consent as an everyday activity, in everyday terms. Much of the recent dialogue about consent has been shrouded in controversy, legalese, and policy debacles, and her post is more about understanding the concept of consent and how to apply it in real life. It reminds me of peer-to-peer messaging (she even shares that the post was inspired by her conversation with someone else!), helping others to realize that practicing consent can be straightforward.

However, sometimes life really isn’t that simple. As my friend and colleague Meredith White shares, “Where consent becomes complicated is when you factor in power, which this analogy does not address. A power differential can make “no” difficult or terrifying to say. A lack of power can quash a person’s agency, which is necessary in order to articulate desires.” As more and more people encounter Emmeline’s tea analogy, it’s important to encourage further critical thinking about the context and relationship of the tea drinkers, especially considering power dynamics and individual agency.

In a perfect world, consent would be as simple as having tea, however it’s going to take more education and skills development, with consistent messaging about how consent is essential, mandatory, ongoing, and also best when enthusiastic! So let’s still freak out about tea, but maybe with a grain of salt.


consent- just ask

Friday FREAK OUT! Is Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” really ‘rapey’?

Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines”, has been listed #1 on the charts in the US and the UK two weeks in a row, but that’s not what the ruckus is all about. This song, and accompanying video (especially the explicit unrated video that was banned from youtube), has been criticized as being ‘rapey’ on blogs such as Vagenda and Feminist in LA, and even a Canadian model who made her own video, “Robin Thicke is a D*CK“. The hoopla has made it into CNN’s nightly news, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast, to name a few.

So, what are people freakin’ out about?

– A recurring song lyric, “you know you want it”, whispered into girls’ ears
– The use of various “nonsensical” props in the videos, including a needle, a bicycle, and farm animals??20130621-012143.jpg
– Depicting ‘good girls’ as really wanting wild sex
– Showing scantily clad women dancing around/with fully clothed men
– The domestication of women (this is my biggest problem-I can brush my own hair!)
– An announcement that “Robin Thicke has a Big D…” (shown, ironically, with balloons)

While Thicke’s song does depict pressuring women to engage in sexual activities assumed to be wild and outrageous and the assumption of an internalized yet not actualized crazy sexual desire, there is no demonstration of a forced sexual encounter. It does show ‘blurred lines’ of sexuality and clearly omits any depiction of consent; however, I would not go so far as to call it ‘rapey’. Just because a sexually charged experience does not explicitly demonstrate consent does not mean it is not consensual.

Remember, this is not the first song with sexually suggestive lyrics or the first music video with scantily clad women being objectified by men. I agree with Tricia Romano, that “Thicke’s video would barely register on the outrage meter when compared to most garden-variety hip-hop videos featuring bling and babes.” And someone at SPIN, a super trendy music magazine, finds lots of the parts that have been criticized as problems in the video downright amusing. In addition, it’s important to acknowledge that many couples are in fact inspired by this song…I just last night heard a story of a couple that performed a choreographed dance to “Blurred Lines” as the entry to their wedding reception. And while it is entirely possible that their relationship has not yet included a conversation about consent, I, as the optimist, like to think that it has, and that their well-received, playful expression via this song represents some ‘fun’ in their relationship. And it is unrealistic to think that actual sexual encounters in any relationship are completely void of ‘blurred lines’. Thicke may not be demonstrating the most politically correct sexual values, but what may make people uncomfortable is the reality of what is presented. In addition, attaching a ‘rapey’ label to a song that resonates with the masses may in effect ostracize an audience that needs to hear the message about the importance of consent.

So, given the controversy about “Blurred Lines” being a rape song, or a love song, or just a song, what can educators (or parents, or any adult for that matter) do with this poppy, admittedly catchy piece of culture that is topping the charts right now as this year’s ‘summer anthem’? The observations about the problems with “Blurred Lines” are an important part of media literacy – something that should be an essential component of everyone’s education. We NEED to examine lyrics and think critically about what music is telling us and what videos are showing us. Each and every one of us should be thinking about…

– what does the song say about desire- both female and male?
– what does the song say about how men attract women, and how women attract men?
– what does the song say about expectations of gender roles?
– how does the song address the idea of consent?
– how might the song/video contribute to rape culture?
– how might this song influence someone’s idea of sexual performance?
– what do YOU think of this song?

Because maybe freak-outs about songs like this give us an opportunity to sit down and answer these questions, rather than just dance and sing along to yet another a fun, yet creepy song.

Tweeting about Consent for #Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Hey folks! April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month (#SAAM). Early on in April I decided to raise awareness about sexual assault by focusing on key messages about CONSENT on Twitter. For anyone looking for a summary, or who isn’t on Twitter, here are my April #SAAM tweets:

In response to the overwhelming media coverage of rape, it’s time to talk about consent

Lately it seems as though every other news article, radio show, tweet, or blog post is about rape or sexual assault. Steubenville, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, Halifax, Saratoga– it is clearly an international problem (and those are just five examples), and this important issue has gotten an overwhelming amount of media coverage recently. I have done a lot of work in violence prevention, and it can be challenging to hear story after story about serious violations and despicable acts of sexual assault. The increased media attention can push this issue to the forefront of policymakers agendas and inspire effective educational campaigns, but it can also be confusing and draining for young people to absorb. (I mean, it’s tough for even the most experienced professionals.) A parent recently asked me…

There’s so much going on about rape in the news these days, what can I say to my teens?

This is a very important question, that many may be overlooking. As much as we may want to shield our young people from the horrors of life, they will undoubtedly be exposed to something about rape these days. We need to see this overwhelming attention to rape as teachable moment to discuss ways to prevent sexual assault and encourage young people to gain and seek consent as a strategy to prevent sexual assault and rape. It’s a way to tell people what they should be doing, instead what they should be avoiding.Java Printing

Adults need to engage in critical dialogue with the young people in their lives about what it means to seek and give consent. Parents, teachers, family members, faith leaders, etc can all take a moment to reflect on all of these cases in intentional conversations. Ask what they have heard/seen about the various cases being covered, and what their peers are saying about how teens have reacted. Here are a few suggestions for key messages to focus on and conversation starters:

  • Consent is when one person gives permission to engage in a particular activity. How do you think consent can help in a relationship?
  • Always gain consent for any physical interaction. How do you know if consent has been given?
  • Give consent in clear ways. What’s an example of giving consent?
  • Respect the boundaries that other people establish. What is a boundary, and how can a boundary help someone feel safe?
  • Accept no for an answer. What can you do if someone says no? What might happen if someone does not respect another person’s no?
  • If you are unsure whether or not consent has been given, stop and ask. How might you ask someone if they have consented?
  • Sometimes a person is unable to give consent, like when they are unconscious, intoxicated, or under a certain age. How would you know if a person is unable to give consent?
  • If someone engages in sexual activity with someone who has not consented, that is considered sexual assault, or rape. Sex without consent is not OK! How can you help create a social community that is respectful and honors everyone’s right to consent?
  • Someone who has experienced sexual assault needs support and understanding. What could you do if you know someone who has been hurt?
  • Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter should be used carefully and conscientiously. How might Facebook or Twitter be a negative influence on teens’ attitudes about rape? How could they be used to bully another person after they have been sexually assaulted? How might social media be used in a good way?
  • Be a role model for others. How can you help your peers understand consent?

A few other posts and responses to the recent flurry of media about rape have stood out to me as great resources for helping young people understand this issue:

Laurie Halse Anderson: Another Hard Thing About Being a Parent

Huffington Post: A Letter to My Sons About Stopping Rape

The Good Men Project: The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21.

King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, 100 Conversations: Conversations about Consent

And there is a whole bunch more out there too. The point is, do something, say something, and make it stick. Be consistent in your messaging, and the youth around you will learn consent from you.