Consent: Our Role in the Interruption of Rape Culture

Sophie Hess, Contributing Writer

Trigger Warning: This article contains references to sexual violence.

This week marked my weird public debut as a feminist hacker. I’ve been working with a group called FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture since August, helping to facilitate a viral internet event in which a fake Playboy website released a list of party commandments emphasizing consent and sex positivity. Since news of the hoax hit on Wednesday, I have been given the most amazing platform to actually talk about sexualized violence. Most of the time I have trouble convincing people that this issue is impor- tant. So let me just take advantage of my 15 minutes of internet fame and preach to you now. It is really, really important.

Here is the statistic that I find blows folks’ minds. “One in four college women will experience sexual assault.” One in four. I said this to someone the other day, and they said, “But wouldn’t that mean it would’ve happened to someone I know?” To which I replied, “It has.” This issue has the ability to affect anyone, regardless of gender, sexuality or political bent. As humans, we are capable of both being violated and of violating others. Every one of us.

I find that this is the hardest part of talking about sexualized violence. People understand that it’s terrible, but we don’t understand that it is something that we could be a part of. For me, though, it’s an issue that’s been hitting (literally) close to home for a long time. My mom works as a SAFE nurse, meaning that she does forensics examinations when a person comes to the emergency room after a sexual assault. When she first started working at this job, she used to say how shocked she was at how the majority of her cases were drunken hook-ups gone wrong. “Don’t drink so much that you black out,” she used to say to me and my brother. “Please, just don’t do it.”

To me, my mom was absolutely not saying that if we black out we are to blame for what happens to us. She was saying, “Hey, you, my children, you are more vulnerable and more powerful than you think you are. I may have raised you relatively well, what with all the whole grain bread and respect for women, but you could just as easily end up in my exam room or my court room. This is your issue too.”

So, this is where the “tool” of consent comes in. When we think of risk factors to sex, we might think unwanted pregnancy or STIs, right? But we don’t just shrug and say, “Oh well, it won’t happen to me.” We use a condom, take birth control or get tested. Sexualized violence is, as much as we all hate to admit it, a risk that currently exists in sex, and so we need to start putting consent in our toolkits along with condoms. Think of it this way: If you are hav- ing sex with another person, you are sharing each other’s bodies for physical pleasure. You need to make sure that the other person is OK with that too.

Here’s the beautiful thing about this. Consent is more than just a way of addressing rape. It’s also a way of having better sex. It’s a way to facilitate saying, “I like that,” or “I don’t like this,” when otherwise you might have just shrugged and been like, OK, whatever, guess I’ll just let them bite my X even though I don’t real- ly like it, and I would much rather they touched my Y or Z. You can use consent for more than just the meat of sex—you can use it for every step of the process. The logic that consensual sex makes for better sex is why the Playboy hoax was so believable. Even though it talked openly about the threat of sexualized violence in college, it framed consent as a way to have an all-around better time. It’s totally reasonable that a corporation known for dictating what is sexually appealing would hop on the bandwagon of consent as a “sexy” thing to do. It’s the whole theory of catching more flies with honey than vinegar. I, and the folks at FORCE, can talk to you all day about why this is a serious issue, but when the infamously sexy Playboy says that consent makes for better sex, it inevitably sounds more appealing. That is what has been so powerful about this experience for me — I’ve realized that just as we are willing to ac- cept the negative messages of the media, we are just as ready to ac- cept positive ones. So if the media isn’t making them, we just have to make the media for ourselves. That’s what FORCE does and what I helped to do this week. As the point person here at Oberlin, I created information and graphics and helped coordinate the story’s spread through social media. Our message was serious and subversive, but our method was funny, colorful and accessible. Sexualized violence has remained silent for so long, and if we need to use bright colors and pranks for people to notice it, then we’ll continue to do that. The issue needs to be visible if we want any chance of fighting it.