Hello everyone. This is the first of a monthly column I’m calling “Consent corner.” It’s where I talk about my own long road to Polyamory, and the lessons I’ve learned on understanding consent so that cishet men can take from my experiences. Any opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect on the publishers of this website.
I find this topic extremely important to make clear, because when applied to polyamory, consent is king. The rest of the articles within this column will focus more directly on how consent works within the context of relationships, but this is something I had to get off my chest first. Now that that’s out of the way…
Let me set a scene for you
‘A man approaches a woman who has told him at every opportunity that she’s not interested. He comes up from behind and presses his body against hers. She’s a strong woman, a fighter, so she physically shoves him off …
Him: What are you afraid of?
Him: You’re trembling.
Her: I’m not trembling.
Him: You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.
Her: I happen to like nice men.
Him: I’m a nice man.
Her: No you’re not. You’re …
And he kisses her. Note: Her head is pressed up against a metal wall… and all of this occurs in a sealed craft floating in the middle an empty void with no immediate escape. Even if she wanted to leave, she couldn’t (because of the implications). The result of this encounter is that she falls in love with this man and they spend the rest of their lives together.’
This was a scene out of a very influential movie to a lot of men my age…
That particular example (edited to prove a point) I took from an article by David Wong for Cracked.com, which I suggest you go read for yourself. Wong (like me) represents the demographic I’d like to talk about right now, and that is cisgender Heterosexual men. There’s plenty of think pieces on how we all need to change, and I agree with them 100%, but I think it’s important to know where we got the ideas of exactly how to get a woman’s attention in the first place.
Whether we want to admit it or not, all people soak in how to behave (at least in part) by the media we consume. As a kid and later as a teen I read those subtle cues that Han (that suave sonofabitch) showed me and understood that it’s not about what she says, but how she says it. And Han wasn’t alone. Everything from Gone with the Wind to Groundhog Day all taught me similar lessons: That sometimes “no” means “yes”. That lesson took a long time to shake.
Every man understands that rape is bad and that ultimately consent is needed. So what’s the problem? Well, as Han showed me, sometimes she doesn’t KNOW if she wants my advances yet. Maybe the right look will capture her heart. Maybe touching her just the right way will woo her. MAYBE, she DOES want it, I just need the secret PASSWORD. I could keep going, but I think the point is there. Culturally, we men were taught that the answer is no until you change her mind. “She’s just playing hard to get.” And this lesson is something that STILL permeates modern culture to some degree. Change is slow and not uniform.
In a paper in the Hastings Women’s Law Journal (HWLJ), Attorney Courtney Anne Groszhans states “The idea of consent is confusing because it is confusing legally, psychologically, and socially. The “Yes Means Yes” legislation is a hard concept to grasp because Americans rarely see it on the movie screen.”
She goes on to point out how movies have helped perpetuate the problem on a global level, and that these issues affect women too, helping to shift the blame on women for “not communicating what she feels,” and even within the text of the resolution points how legally for the first 300 years of the U.S.’s existence it was legally impossible for a man to rape his wife.
“The answers to these problems are not simple, and a more holistic approach is needed to combat them. Each person has the power to effectuate change, but perhaps with a problem as complex as this, it is one step at a time.”
This is up to us to fix, guys. There are really no more excuses for us to keep thinking this way, so we’re going to have to admit we were wrong and then move forward. Am I saying stop watching Star Wars? Absolutely not. Just maybe be aware of the lessons that it, and all movies, are instilling in us and our kids. Prescreen the movies you are showing the kids with this lens in mind and see which ones are perpetuating these ideas. Put some diversity in the list, and even set your kids down and talk to them about how consent works.