Consent culture. Sounds normal, sounds chill… Sounds like something you’d consent to.
Rape culture. Not so much. It doesn’t sound fun, doesn’t sound like something you’d want to be a party to, right? Well, if you’re an American, you live in one.
We live in a society where the stories of survivors of sexual assault and abuse go unheard and are even trivialized; that’s what’s known as rape culture.
Consent culture is the opposite of rape culture. It requires more effort on everyone’s part to achieve, but it’s worth it. In consent culture, everyone’s autonomy is respected, not just in sexual situations (though that’s very important), but in every aspect of life.
When you go to scoop your little sister into your arms or kiss your nephew, what do you do if they clearly don’t want it? Do you say, “That’s okay, how about a high-five?” Or do you impose your affection on them?
Consent culture demands the former. Even if it’s been okay before, they need to learn that they have bodily autonomy, and that anyone can revoke consent at any time.
When a child doesn’t want to hug someone, do you rebuke them and guilt them into doing it anyway? Or do you respect their decision? Consent culture demands the latter.
From a very young age, children need to be taught that they decide what happens to their bodies. They must also learn that the same rule applies to other people.
A young teenager (about thirteen) asked a girl in his class if she would go out with him and she said no. His mother asked him if he knew what to do next. “I know, I keep trying,” he answered. “No,” the mother replied. “You leave her alone. She gave you an answer.” The boy was shocked.
The above is a prime example of a young person who has not been properly educated about consent culture. Another example is found in sex education classes.
The boys are taught that “girls have the right to say no.” While that is correct, it is not taught that men have the right to say no. Men get pressured into sex because they are taught that they must always want it, and this is incredibly harmful.
It disregards men who are asexual, men who are waiting for marriage for religious reasons, and men who are simply not “in the mood.” Not only does this contribute to toxic masculinity (societal masculine “norms” that harm all genders, including men), but it can detract from the narratives of men who have survived sexual assault. It often ends in victim blaming and dismissal.
In consent culture, there is no toxic masculinity; men can cry and show emotions, they can be nurturers, and they aren’t expected to be overly dominant in every situation. Another benefit of cultivating consent culture is that there is no stigma surrounding sexual assault. The survivor, regardless of gender, is believed and cared for, rather than blamed, dismissed, or ostracized.
Consent culture is not thought of as easy, but it can be, if we start small. If someone is upset, asking before you give them a hug, and not getting offended and upset if they refuse that hug are simple ways to promote consent culture and respect the autonomy of others and their boundaries.
Consent is not just about sex. Consent culture can be attained if we all simply commit to respecting others and ourselves.