By Shari Chase
My first experience in a club was traumatising. I was fresh out of university, barely 22, and had decided to go out with some friends. I had never been big on the party scene, but I figured one night out couldn’t hurt. I was wrong.
I wanted to sit, people watch, sip my drink, enjoy the music, and mind my own business, but the men in the club had other ideas. Sweet at first, they would approach me with a smile and a compliment, but the minute I said no, I didn’t want to dance or I didn’t want to go anywhere with them, they switched. Smiles were replaced by snarls, and tones that made me cringe, as they disparagingly told me that, ‘I wasn’t that pretty anyway’ or asked what was wrong with me for not wanting to entertain them.
To top it all off, the friend that I had come with, simply shrugged it off with a smile and a comment about how “I was killing all of the men there.” What he didn’t realise was that the men were making me really uncomfortable. It was an adult version of “they’re doing it because they like you,” and it wasn’t okay.
Women don’t exist solely for the pleasure of men. Women aren’t sex objects. Women don’t dress for men, women don’t wear makeup for men, and women don’t make every decision of their lives based on the desires of the men in their world. None of these actions is an invitation to engage in sex, and no has always meant no. Still, too often, I find myself wondering if men really understand what that means.
We Need to Talk About Consent
Nearly 1 in 5 women have experienced rape, and more than 1 in 3 women have faced some sort of sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. These crimes have been happening for centuries and will continue to happen until we all truly understand what consent means.
Talking about consent is not enough on its own, but it helps foster an environment in which the idea of consent becomes more commonplace. Talking about consent ensures that no one person can say that they didn’t know what it was or that it matters. Talking about consent allows women and men to live in better harmony without perpetuating cycles of violence for years to come. Talking about consent is important.
What is Consent?
Consent, in basic terms, is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. It is about communication and has to happen every single time that people engage in sexual activity. Consent is invalid if one person is intoxicated, if one person is under the legal age of consent, or if someone has been pressured into sexual activity by the use of fear or intimidation.
In other words: When someone says no, it means no. When someone says stop, it means stop. Silence does not mean yes. Yes means yes, and it is only when that affirmative and enthusiastic consent is given that any sexual activity should ever occur.
We Need to Do Better
In recent years, we have tried to do better with the creation of the ‘me too’ movement and the public condemnation of male figures who have failed to follow the rules of consent. Although a great first step, that alone is not enough, because a true revolution requires consistent effort to create change. Here are some other ways that we can continue to promote consent:
- Remember that change starts with the youth: Engage with children in ways that stop reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes, and instead model the basics of consent, kindness, and respect.
- C.A.R.E for your friends: We have to keep each other accountable and take responsibility for our personal role in preventing sexual assault when we can.
- Listen empathetically: Too often, we play the blame game instead of listening. Listen to and learn from past experiences.
- Believe that men can do better: “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” was a Gillette ad that ran last year, and despite the controversy surrounding it, I still think the message behind the video was crucial. There are too many toxic behaviours in this world. It is not enough to simply ignore them, live with them, blame a specific demographic, or hope that they will go away by themselves.
Talking about consent isn’t always easy, but it’s crucial. That night in the club, I wish that I had felt safer. I wish that someone had told that man that it wasn’t okay to grab at women because they aren’t doing what he wanted.
Women need consent. Men need consent. We all deserve better, and as the Gillette ad reminded us, “it is only by challenging ourselves to do more that we can get closer to our best.”