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.