Consent is mandatory, not sexy

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Jenn Oswald, Columnist

 

We have all seen the buttons and posters that promote IWU’s newest campaign. “Consent is Sexy” opened the door to making sexual assault something to be talked about.

The title “Consent is Sexy” has its own problems. Consent is not sexy, it is mandatory. However, college students automatically perk up a little every time that they hear the word “sex” and the key to any successful campaign is to know your audience.

Plus, it asks students to integrate consent into every sexual encounter – acknowledging that sex is not always within the constraints of a relationship; and it still makes your (consensual) Friday night hookup sound like fun instead of being an important human rights issue.

Whether or not you consider discussion of social inequality to be a turn on, students have integrated the phrase “Consent is Sexy” into every day conversation and refocused how IWU students talk about sex.

The posters represent a diverse collection of multi-racial and mix-gendered couples in suggestive positions, subtly and successfully working against stereotype. Several posters feature a picture of a heterosexual couple with the caption, “Be sure he wants you as much as you want him” embracing sexuality as a human trait, not assuming that gender dictates desire.  I commend the attention to diversity, making consent a two way street.

But, as a society as a whole, we already have a huge slew of problems surrounding the phrase “man enough” that didn’t need to be perpetuated in an otherwise politically correct, inoffensive campaign. Masculinity is predominantly tied to dominance and the ability to be unemotional.

If used creatively, (what would a “woman enough” poster say?) the use of gender in relation to getting consent could have worked. Yet focusing specifically on defining respect for a sexual partner as a male conversation, the campaign has ultimately perpetuated stereotype.

The posters play into masculine expectation of rape and borderline violence, should they be denied sex. They reassure the average man, “It’s not always easy, but you don’t have to make it personal.”

What exactly is it about consent that is difficult? Is it the asking? Or the accepting of the answer? Neither seem to be particularly challenging, in my opinion, and validating anyone who struggles with accepting “No” as an answer is infuriating.

As the Consent is Sexy campaign advertises, it’s estimated that about three percent (or one in 33) of American men will experience rape – attempted or complete – in their lifetime. That is so often juxtaposed against the numbers we see much more often – one in four women will experience sexual assault in college (or one in six women in their lifetime, according to a National Violence Against Women survey).

Despite the fact that sexual assault is obviously more common for women, it becomes a habit to reduce rape to only being something that women experience. This reinforcing the taboo of men showing/admitting vulnerability, causing men to not come forward with their own experiences.

The campaign has done incredible things in the past four months, which is not to be ignored or discredited. But, language is important, especially when it comes to how we talk about gender, and the “man enough?” posters hit on a connotation that I am not entirely comfortable with, and I think that more people need to start recognizing.

Instinct is not rape. Instinct is not force. Like the poster says, it is about respect. We cannot reduce rape to being an urge based upon a body part. It is a choice.

These posters play into the idea of men being unable to possibly control themselves, so they (as manly men) must work against that.

Rape is not a men’s issue, it’s a human issue. Anyone can be susceptible to sexual violation and abuse; if we are going to talk about it, we need to talk about it entirely, holding everyone, regardless of gender, accountable.