Recently the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne announced that the province’s new sex-ed curriculum will include consent. And to that I say a loud and long “AMENNNNN”. In fact, I cannot believe it has taken this long!
As a 21 year old girl attending university nothing frustrates me more than the “she was asking for it” narrative that seems to have taken over the way we speak about women, sexual assault and rape. In fact we spend so much time teaching our girls how to protect themselves, how they should be more cautious, “don’t leave your drink unattended”, don’t separate yourself from your friends”, “don’t dress too provocatively”, “don’t get too drunk”, that we have almost completely forgotten to teach boys the basic fundamentals of consent and what it means and why it is important. Now I’m not saying that sexual assault always takes place with a male perpetrator and a female victim, because we know that that is not the case, however if we look to recent happenings of sexual assault and rape we know that this is often how it goes down.
It angers me that there are still men out there that believe and preach that if a woman is dressed a certain way, she is in want of a certain type of male attention, as if the only reason we get ourselves out of bed in the morning and pick out an outfit and do our hair and makeup all nice and pretty is to garner male attention, which is usually unwanted or unwelcomed I should add. And I won’t deny having often picked out a blouse to wear on a date because I know my boyfriend had complimented me on it previously, but what I am trying to get across is that I do not dress for anyone but myself. Most girls do not dress for anyone but themselves. But regardless, and more importantly, what gives you the right to comment on what a girl is wearing in the first place.
Girls my age often will wear see through shirts, or backless bodysuits to the bar…. it is what girls my age are wearing to the bars, and simply nothing more than that. I once had a complete stranger come up to me and put his hand on my bare back, where my blouse cut open. He then leaned to my male friend, completely disregarding my existence, and said “she has a nice back”, flicking his head in my direction. I have never felt more dirty or invisible. So lets get one thing straight. At no point is it ok to ever touch somebody like that without their permission. I think of times where I have heard men I was either dating, related to or friends with make a comment about how a woman was a slut if she wore a certain type of outfit, that she wants men to hit on her or that she is looking for some sort of sexual relation. This is completely ridiculous and it is this mindset that perpetuates the types of conversations that both encourage and dismiss sexual assault.
And I’m not saying we need to drill the definition of consent into young men and women’s minds but rather we need to start talking about this issue openly and honestly. We need to stop perpetuating the steroptype and narrative that if a young woman is assaulted she was asking for it, she is a tease or a slut, because talking about sexual assault and rape in this way simply makes it ok for those acts to be committed again and again.
I am currently reading and loving Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, which I truly wish every male and female could read. There are some tough essays in the book surrounding the ideas of feminism and rape and sexual assault, and while they are the most difficult to swallow of the bunch, they are also the most important, the most infuriating and the most honest. Here is one of my favourite passages from her essay “Blurred Lines, Indeed”:
Men want what they want.
So much of our culture caters to giving men that they want. A high school student invited Kate Upton to attend his prom and he’s congratulated for his audacity. A male fan at a Beyoncé concert reaches up to the stage to slap her ass because her ass is there, her ass is magnificent, and he wants to feel it. The science fiction fandom community is often embroiled in heated discussion, across the Internet, about the ongoing problem of sexual harassment at conventions– countless women are telling all manner of stories about how, without their consent, they are groped, ogled, lured into hotel rooms under false pretences, physically lifted off the ground, and more.
But men want what they want. We should all lighten up.
It’s hard to not feel humourless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up anymore you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that just one of these things is happening; it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly.
These are just songs. They are just jokes. It’s just a hug. They;re just breasts. Smile you’re beautiful. Can’t a man pay you a compliment? In truth, this is all a symptom of a much more virulent cultural sickness– one where women exist to satisfy the whims of men, one where a woman’t worth is consistently diminished or completely ignored.
I don’t want to “lighten up” anymore. I don’t want to pretend that its ok for men to call women “whores” or “sluts” because they aren’t talking about me. I don’t want to tell myself that its ok to dress more modestly if it makes my boyfriend feel better even though its not what I want. I don’t want to convince myself that it is normal and acceptable for a man you are in a loving relationship with to demand a sexual favour from you and then belittle you in spiteful ways when you don’t deliver. I don’t want to sit back and listen to men continuously talk about how “she was asking for it” or “its her fault for getting so trashed” or “every woman is really just a whore” because quite frankly I’m tired. I’m saddened by how common accounts of sexual assault and rape amongst women my age have become. But I am happy that we are doing something about it. That the conversation is now going to begin in our schools at a very young age. That it will hopefully be the beginning of a shift towards focusing on the rules of consent and not victim-shaming. Because hasn’t it been long enough?