There’s a fabulous web comic that compares consent to tea; and like tea I can’t get enough of it! The fact that York now has mandatory consent talks for freshers has been a long time coming and it’s something that I couldn’t be prouder of. Unfortunately, however, others are not as keen. Warwick student George Lawlor recently sparked controversy by writing an article for the Tab titled “Why I don’t need consent lessons”.
“I already know what is and what isn’t consent,” Lawlor writes, “Yes means yes, no means no.”
The issue is that he clearly doesn’t know what constitutes consent to boil it down to a black and white rejection of advances. His article casually mentions “nuance[s]” but does not explicitly take into account, for instance, the fact that consent cannot legally be given if the victim is intoxicated, drugged, asleep, unconscious or underage. It must also be enthusiastic on everyone’s part (which is hardly a bad thing, since to me; there are few things sexier than a lover who growls in your ear for permission or one who begs you to keep going!). Whether you attend a Russell Group University or not, it’s hardly patronising to state that there is so much more to consensual sex than a simple “yes”.
Too many people seem to under the mistaken impression that consent classes are some kind of “feminist witch hunt” attempting to tarnish all men as potential rapists. Of course, it must be taken into account that gender plays a massive role in terms of structural power dynamics. Nothing exists outside of patriarchy and it is true that men are usually the aggressor in assaults against women. It is also true that men are more likely to be the aggressor in sexual assaults on other men. What is often not taken into account is the fact that not all relationships are between cisgender heterosexual couples. Consent applies as much to the LGBTQ community and this rarely touched upon by critics of Lawlor’s ilk.
Not only does consent apply to everyone but it goes beyond the realms of sexual relationships and nightclub etiquette. People get very defensive every time it is suggested that we live in a “rape culture”, but if you think about it, breaches of consent are normalised every day. How often do we see little children having their cheeks pinched or being forced to “give grandma a kiss” even when it’s clear they’d rather be left well alone? What about the unfortunately termed concept of “fraping” which has become rampant with the explosion of social media? These may seem to be trivial examples but they show that as a society we could all do more to respect other people’s boundaries. Is it not disturbing that a four-year-old taken to hospital over a boy hitting her was told, “he probably likes you”?
There needs to be a greater level of discussion and understanding of consent and these talks are just the tip of the iceberg.
Evie Brill Paffard is co-LGBTQ officer for the University of York Students’ Union.