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The Fourth Wave – Issue 1: Consent

Eliza Komisar smiles for a photograph after a Highland Echo newspaper meeting. – David Peters

Throughout history, gender issues and the patriarchal society in which we live have created conversation and social change. Fourth Wave is meant to address the issues and topics most pertinent to modern feminism. In today’s culture, with everything being posted on social media and talked about world-wide, women’s rights issues are unavoidable. Pieces from our past that have been brought forward coupled with rising tensions, have led to the fourth wave of feminism. This column will attempt to make sense of the never-ending and controversial discussions over feminism as well as the effect the long-running patriarchal culture has on everyday life.

Recently, the topics of sexual consent and sexual coercion have been at the forefront of media attention. With accusations of celebrities and politicians, as well as the rape and sexual assault cases across the U.S. – an average 321,500 per year against women 12 years or older according to the website for RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. With numbers such as these, people are beginning to talk about these issues with new context.

The modern discussion of consent extends past the words “yes” or “no,” as people are beginning to recognize that, while non-verbal consent is harder to interpret, it is still not on the burden of the woman to begin the confrontation.

People are social creatures. As social creatures, we can read social cues. We know when someone is uncomfortable. So, why is it ingrained in women to give the verbal “yes” or “no,” but it is not ingrained in men to ask?

Verbal consent is the best way to communicate whether or not you are comfortable doing something. So, why is consent not always verbal? The issue with verbal consent lies in the fear of negative confrontation. When a woman wants to say “no,” she has to consider all the possible reactions of her partner. Will her partner laugh, leave or yell? Could her partner possibly turn violent? Could her partner ignore their boundaries entirely?  

Men, on the other hand, often claim they had no idea what they were doing was not consensual. Part of this mindset stems from the predatory idea that men can turn a “no” into a “yes.” This is what leads to sexual coercion. Sexual coercion is a gray area in the debate on consent and sexual assault.

Many argue, “well if she didn’t say no, that means yes.” It does not. It is not always physical coercion, but is often verbal. Men’s Fitness posted an article in 2015 by “dating expert” Nick Savoy that detailed four ways to get a woman into bed even after she’s given her “no.” This idea has been around in the pickup artist community, and our culture as a whole for decades.

If a woman says “yes” because she feels like “no” will not be accepted as an answer, or because she’s been beaten down by incessant pestering for sex, that “yes” does not count as a form of consent. What this does is set unbelievably low standards for consent, and put an even heavier burden on women. Saying “no” is not a battle. Men should not make it one.

Arguments such as “I’m not a mind reader,” and “do I need a written contract to kiss a girl?” are often lobbed at discussions over the problems regarding consent and sexual coercion.

Good news! You do not have to be a mind reader, or a Bar-certified attorney to have consensual sex! What you do have to be is a person willing to communicate, and most importantly, willing to listen. “No” means “no.” The only way a “no” can become a “yes” is when both parties feel comfortable and ready to have sex.

Remember, there is no shame in setting boundaries. It is your body, your life, and your choices. Also, if it seems like someone is uncomfortable, ask them if they are. Equal communication is what gets rid of whatever mystery seems to be surrounding consent in today’s society.

 

 

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