The theme this week in the news and on discussion forums has centered around the ideas of consent and respect. Here are some of the interesting articles on this topic we’ve come across this week:
- First up, in “Beyond ‘no means no’: the future of campus rape prevention is ‘yes means yes,'” Jessica Valenti discusses a new California bill that may shift the discourse and law on consent to requiring the presence of a ‘yes’ instead of the absence of a ‘no’ before sex and which also requires that both people must be awake, conscious and not incapacitated from drugs or alcohol. This discussion comes in the wake of a federal complaint launched in April by students of Columbia University over the mishandling of sexual assault and misconduct cases. While I agree that an affirmative consent bill will encourage shared responsibility for consent, rather than the unwilling party having to say no, I’m not sure exactly how this would realistically play out. As the article points out, quoting writer Amanda Hess, sexual education needs to focus on consent but in a much more sophisticated nuanced way:
If we can admit that enthusiastic consent is often communicated in body language or knowing looks, then we must also accept that the lack of consent doesn’t always manifest itself in a shouted ‘no’ or ‘stop,’ either. It shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the uninterested party to speak up during a sexual encounter.
Meanwhile, as a brave and brilliant form of personal protest, Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz is starting the new college year with a project called Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight, in which she is carrying her mattress around campus to every class every day until the student who raped her in her bed moves off campus. Sulkowicz explains, “I want people to see how it weighs down a person to be ignored by the school administration and harassed by police.”
- In Malaga, a judge has also shelved the case against five young men who were accused of raping a young woman at a fairground. Although one of the youths even videoed the incident, the judge sided with the men’s argument that the sex was consensual and now the men are planning to take legal action against the young woman. Spain’s government has also come under attack this week for it’s anti-rape guidelines that include suggestions such as: closing your curtains at night, not writing your first name on your letter box, and not getting into an elevator with a stranger.
- In a comprehensive analysis for the Lowy Institute, Jo Chandler discusses the devastating situation of violence against women in PNG. The report calls on the Australian government, as PNG’s main aid donor, to do more about the issue and highlights the importance of engaging men and boys in violence prevention. For anyone working on gender-based violence in Australia, PNG, or elsewhere, this is an excellent read.
- In light of last week’s internet hacking scandal in which nude photos of celebrities were leaked online, James Fell has written this thought-provoking piece, “Why I Don’t Want to See Jennifer Lawrence Naked.” Looking at the scandal from the perspective of consent, Fell writes,
Were I to search them out and view these photos, I’d be participating in the violation. I’d be part of the problem. I’d be helping to perpetuate this kind of theft. But they’re already out there, you think. What harm can it do now for me to go look? Yes, you looking won’t make things any worse for Jennifer and the others. The damage is already done. To them. I want to prevent damage to you…If you have a peek and consider it no big deal, it normalizes the behavior for you. It makes violating people’s privacy, in a sexual way no less, something that you don’t worry about. It makes it feel like you have the right to do so. This is not a good mindset to have.
Lena Dunham, actress and creator of the TV series Girls, similarly spoke out against the release of the nude photos, tweeting, “The way in which you share your body must be a CHOICE…Remember, when you look at these pictures you are violating these women again and again.” But it’s the incredibly offensive responses to Dunham’s statements that really show us how much work we still need to do on promoting respect and gender equality. One commenter, who, no doubt with a massive ton of wishful thinking, calls himself The_King_Dirk_Diggler after the famous porn star, writes, “This ditch pig only wishes someone would leak pics but she too fat and ugly for anyone to care. Except for maybe black guys. They like fat white girls,” while another writes, “Lena Dunham is U-G-L-Y, with a capital Ugh! If she tried to share photos with me, I’d send them back,” and yet another commenter adds, “Not enough beer in the whole world to ever make her look hot!” Sure, these guys are just attention-seeking trolls but, offline, they are the colleague on the computer next to you at work, they are your best friend writing on his phone while he meets you for coffee, they are your husband, brother or son. It is misogyny like this that feeds rape culture and abuse – if you hear it, call it out.
- And, now for something completely different, to cheer everyone up after quite a heavy week, here’s a delightful project that gives voice to the women in art.