Why there is a need for education around consent
Fiadh makes the argument for the need to re-educate people about sexual consent
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"Some people seem to think that by ‘commenting’ on a girl’s appearance as they pass is something that we should be appreciative of and thank."
I walked around work with a knot in my stomach for hours, not able to get my head off the book I was reading. I complained to my co-workers who had already read the book. I wanted to know the end, but I also didn’t. There couldn’t be anything good at the end of it and I’d heard from reviews and the author herself that the end was purposefully left to make the reader unsettled and ultimately furious.
I won’t give spoilers, don’t worry. The book I’m talking about it is Asking for It by Louise O’ Neill and brings up the age-old debate of consent. If you’re reading this article, you need to read this book. I can’t say it’s an enjoyable read, it’s more of a get-you-thinking-about-how-twisted-society-can-be read (and, how not to be a parent). The reason the book affected me so physically is because of just how real and present the issues and characters in it were. Victim blaming is such a huge part of the problem and it’s a sickly reminder that people’s view is skewed. In society it’s normal to see a woman as nothing but a sexualised product. It’s what we see in advertising it’s what’s been ingrained in society for generations.
I’ll give an example.
Just the other day I was walking by Brown Thomas when a man—who was well out of his mind with drink, but a man nonetheless—decided I was to be prey to his words. He began by muttering to himself—it wasn’t really to himself but I pretended that it was—about how I looked and that I shouldn’t run away from him. I’d like to point out I was simply continuing to walk in the same direction I’d walked for the past fifteen minutes. Either way, it shouldn’t matter. He then got more aggressive, calling across the street that I was running from him and then got to his ripe vulgarism because in his eyes I was rejecting him. “If I was going to rape someone, I wouldn’t rape you anyway.” It was as though, that by simply walking past this man, I was insinuating I was—please excuse the pun—that I was asking for it. Eh, no. Just no.
This is isn't something that happens once in a blue moon. Once in a blue moon you’d accept and you’d deal with. But this is a frequent problem. And yes, I say problem. Some people seem to think that by ‘commenting’ on a girl’s appearance as they pass is something that we should be appreciative of and thank. When these things are bleated and repeated daily and hourly it becomes old and oppressive and doesn’t feel anything like a compliment. Saying ‘hi’ in a genuine fashion and speaking to us like humans is a better way to go about it.
Trinity College has implemented consent workshops, which will begin in the coming academic year, and this is a massive step in the right direction. Does this mean college campuses are going to be a safer environment and girls can feel safer on them? It’s been sprawled all over social media about the 200 boys in UCD having a group sharing pictures of girls they’d had sex with. There was insufficient evidence, according to investigators, to prosecute anyone. That’s not entirely reassuring. So while there are steps in the right direction, it almost feels like yet another case of one step forward, two steps back.
Lady Gaga released Til it Happens to You last year, tied to the documentary The Hunting Ground and has now been nominated for an Oscar. A song and video about sexual assault on campus grounds. There’s a conversation starting to pick up speed and we need to keep it flowing and growing so we eradicate this as a problem. With the help of prominent celebrities like Gaga, society’s focus will hopefully begin to shift from victim blaming, to a more open and help orientated society.
The issue of consent and sexual assault has finally blown into headlines and circulation but many seem to still numb themselves to it. What can we do to step it up and really make the world pay attention? When is consent given and when is it assumed to have been given? There’s a fine line that most people don’t know the difference between.