The Murkiness Around What Constitutes Consent

This is a very important article for both men and women to read. I think everyone reading it will recognize either themselves or someone they know from past experiences of "agreements" made that did not feel as if consent was actually being given...or that consent was actually heard. But first I have a few things to say:

Not long ago, when a colleague’s daughter was just entering her teenage years, I was told that she noticed her daughter’s friends wearing different colored beaded bracelets on their wrists, commenting about how pretty they were. Her daughter, given the open relationship that they have, told my colleague that the bracelets were not worn for aesthetic purposes, but that they were signifiers of having engaged sexually in some way or another with similarly-aged boys. Each colored bracelet represented a different “activity.” For example, pink for kissing, blue for letting a guy feel her up, green for giving a guy a blow job, etc…Understandably my colleague was horrified at hearing about this, as was I learning that this was going on in a very upper-middle class suburban area – there’s my naiveté. 

I wonder, in the context of our current climate of discussing variants of sexual abuse and harassment, how did these sexual activities get negotiated? Is there consent between pre-teens? When it’s an adult and a minor involved, there is no such thing as consent. Of course, we need to assume there was peer pressure involved. Some coolness factor? Badges of success gotten amongst the group with greater admiration derived vis-à-vis the more bracelets you got. And who bought the bracelets? The parents? Did they know what they were contributing to by purchasing a pretty trinket that served to BRAND their respective daughter? Is that implicit consent? Complicit consent? 

In college, I knew a girl whom I referred to as “peach jacket.” Yes, she has a name, but her peach leather jacket was so fabulous that it became her identifier. But she had another identifier amongst the guys….and the girls: Blow-job Queen. As I understood it at the time, and not from her words, this meant that, if she was hanging out with a guy, either he would ask or she would offer, and down she would go. I don’t know if she knew that this is what people thought of her. In all other respects, this was a young woman who seemed confident and fun, with many friends and without struggle. But I bring her up because I now wonder how she agreed to enter into such an a priori known with these guys? Was she actually consenting? She was of age, so consent, legalistically pertains. But was she consenting WITH also having DESIRE? Or because she felt she HAD to in order to, I don’t know, be popular with the boys, elicit envy from the girls because of her popularity? Was she re-enacting some earlier trauma that had not gotten respectfully and compassionately addressed? I’ll never know. 

But read this article and ask yourself these questions about why YOU might have participated on either side of this dyad once, twice…. many times. What was going on for you that, while you didn’t want to do something, you did it anyway to be liked, for example, or for many other possible reasons. Why you seductively pressured a woman into a sexual situation that, on some level, you KNEW she didn’t want, but because she didn’t outright say “no,” you negotiated your way into her pants? Not caring before, during, or afterwards that this woman might one day reflect back on that occasion and not see it as a “stupid thing I did,” but rather as an assaultive experience about which she feels shame and guilt and anger.