Calling consent 'sexy' is not enough

With a video published by King’s declaring that “consent is sexy,” it’s clear this past week’s frosh chants have heralded a need to declare autonomy from schools like SMU and UBC. While the efforts are fast and appropriate, it still conflates consent with sexuality.

In 2012, my frosh experience was an opportunity to develop an understanding of my academic and social endeavours for the upcoming semester. Frosh was important to me because it allowed me to make friends and get a feel for an environment I was investing personal money into. It was my chance to gauge the climate I had committed to and have a safe and fun time.

Last week, I was appalled but not surprised to learn of SMU’s frosh fiasco, where a chant glorified raping underage girls. It was performed by 80 student leaders to 300 incoming students — apparently as an introduction to university.

With the women’s liberation movement, the ratio of men to women attending post-secondary institutions in North America has been balanced, but the powers in play remain heavily male-centric. This is evident through the recent events transpiring during Canadian frosh events, not only at SMU, but across the country.
Similar frosh cheers were performed this year at the University of British Columbia, courtesy of their frosh leaders:
“Y-O-U-N-G at UBC We like em young/ Y is for your sister/ O is for oh so tight/ U is for under age/ N is for no consent/ G is for go to jail.”
These chants reinforce stigmatization and makes victims feel as though they are the problem.
“Those who are in position to lead such chants are usually men [and] are usually in favoured positions in society, and so there’s a reason to want to bond with them and show you get the joke,” said Scott Anderson, a UBC philosophy professor.
With that in mind, “How can I be a female-identified person and still access this province and its education system without being subjected to unwanted sexual advances or commentary? How can I do this within a system where my words are not taken at face value?”
This is a national issue. When I leave campus, there are many who do not adhere to university standards of respect and decency. Even with sparse laws, there is still the barrier of silence felt by everyone who has ever reduced to a body, instead of a person.
Speaking out against the shaming and sexualization of women at Dalhousie and King’s has landed me with the titles of “bitch,” “cunt” and perpetrator of misandry. It stuns me that to fight for equal rights means that many privileged people will be angry. To fight for your fellow classmate’s safety means that you are a target for unwarranted prejudice and harassment.
With a video published by the King’s Students’ Union (KSU) declaring that “consent is sexy,” it’s clear that these events have heralded a need by many universities to declare their autonomy from schools like SMU and UBC. While the efforts are fast and appropriate, it still conflates consent with sexuality.
Consent is important for reasons other than “self-respect” as stated in the video, as an individual can respect themselves and be disrespected by people who respect themselves but fail to respect others. While “we want all frosh to feel safe” is a great sentiment, it lacks reality. There are ways to discuss consent without sexualizing the issue at hand which is an inherently violent, not entirely sexual, issue.

The King’s Students’ Union filmed a video on the importance of consent. (Photo: King’s Students’ Union)

“I think consent is important because our sex is way better!” sounds positive, but if you are truly looking to instigate change, a video is purely media content, not social reality.
As a frosh at King’s I was not privy to anything of this nature, but it still does not mean that there haven’t been situations where people forget I am here for education, not objectification.
As a feminist, a rape survivor and a former sex worker, I understand far too well that rape and sexual assault are very real and in the minds of far too many men. To them; I am not a human, but a pleasure to which they have every right to enjoy, regardless of my preferences or human rights.
It’s up to each individual to know that bodies are human and everyone has the right to say ‘No’—and be heard.
Last edited 10/09/13 at 12:09 p.m.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

4 replies on “Calling consent 'sexy' is not enough”

I’ve read this, thought about it, and have decided I strongly disagree, particularly with the suggestion that a video is “purely media content, not social reality.”
A video is no more or less “social reality” than the chant that sparked this conversation. Each are actions that set the tone for a community and teach newcomers about its values.
Furthermore, I recognize that “consent is sexy” is not the ideal message–consent is mandatory whether you personally find it sexy or not. That said, however, it’s crucial to understand where “consent is sexy” came from. It was a response to familiar tropes about feminists and anti-sex-assault activists. You know these ones. “They’re buzzkills; they’re not sexy; they’re not fun.” If you’re a young woman who enjoys the company of men and having fun at parties, are you really going to be jumping queues to get into that camp?
Consent is sexy was a way to challenge that, to change the culture proactively instead of railing against it.
It may be “up to each individual to know that bodies are human.” But it’s up to us all as a culture to change the structures that make the dehumanization of bodies so easy to get away with. Our cultural scripts for sex are based almost entirely on the idea of “implied” consent. We have to give people a new cultural toolkit for intimacy, one that looks like fun to open up and play with, so that explicit consent is the norm and assault is not apologized for or tolerated.
That’s what stuff like this video does, and that’s why I’m so proud of Anna et al for doing it.
Katie Toth
BA(H) ’13

This was a really interesting opinion piece to read, and I think presents some really valid and valuable points. That said, I believe I’m in a
position to extrapolate upon some aspects of the video presented by the King’s Students’ Union (not King’s) that can contribute to discussion.
When we were trying to decide what the prefix to the whiteboard would be, I remember grappling with a number of different options. For a while we were going to go with “I think consent is sexy because…” but ultimately decided not to for the very reasons laid out in this article. That consent can be sexy is a component of this discussion – not at the heart of it. We wanted to hear why people thought consent was important, and allow them to substantiate the claim for themselves. Finally, I think it is a little near-sighted to expect every action – like a 2 minute video – should encompass every single aspect of a social movement. Like the bringing together of perspectives (which
I am about to comment on) I believe it is the bringing together of discussion, different forms of actions, and a variety of tones that make a movement whole, and allow change to happen.
I’m also curious about the two quotations from the video that were pulled for discussion. They were good examples of a more positive perspective on the topic of consent, but I found other comments such as “because dehumanizing other deprives you” and “because everyone deserves and has the right to be safe” to be quite poignant. It is, in fact, the bringing together of these perspectives in a common space that I think is crucial within the broader discussion of consent.
Finally, can someone explain the argument of ‘social reality’? I honestly just don’t understand it. Thank you for writing the piece!

Hi Anna (and others who have asked about this concept in different places). Thanks for your comment.
What Lucy’s “social reality” argument means is not that media has no effect, but that the consent is sexy campaign (which is a few years old) is not, in her experience, translating into reality — the media is changing but the reality isn’t. Further, she means that educating students with a sexualized approach to consent is still better than nothing, but there needs to be more done to make schools safe spaces.
I hope that made things clearer.

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