Consent Culture and Its Absence in Our Lives

Many people I know have been re-traumatized these past few weeks by Judge Br*tt K*vanaugh’s nomination and televised hearing. Survivors of sexual violence had to relive their experiences and confront memories of their abusers because of the pervasive media coverage of the nomination. Too often, survivors find that issues of consent and sexual violence are under-addressed or swept under the rug. But everyone is talking about this.

The nomination and potential confirmation of Judge K*vanaugh represents the plausibility of overturning Roe v. Wade, criminalizing abortion. Many women feel the weight of this decision, and their autonomy once again hangs in the balance. Their fate could be decided by a man who, if we judge him by his actions, has no regard for a woman’s self determination.

But, culturally, how did we get here? How did it become acceptable for a man in the public eye to commit violent acts against women, yet face almost zero consequences? It seems, at times, we have taken one step forward and two steps back. Our everyday decisions work towards upholding the status quo of rape culture or it antithesis: consent culture. Many researchers argue that consent culture is severely lacking in American society.

Consent culture starts with small choices we make in our daily lives. I asked some of my friends to respond to how America understands consent.

My friends from my Dungeons & Dragons campaign had a few things to say:

Boys are raised on thrones and told that their masculinity and authority is more important than anything else. And even the legal system protects them. And this isn’t to say that parents are the causes of this, but society as a whole. From school to government to popular culture. They all reinforce the idea that men are superior, that a woman is their property.”

“The horror is that Everywhere becomes a dangerous space when you cultivate a precedent that this brand of violence will consistently go unpunished. That a society could call itself civilized when any percent of its population suffers this injustice routinely is infuriating, yet the scope of the problem leaves me feeling hopeless.”

“To be honest all of this just increases my fears of going out alone anywhere. Even in the middle of the day.”

Other loved ones commented on how American society clearly does not prioritize the bodily autonomy of vulnerable populations, including women and children. These norms are drilled into our minds from a young age—parents, teachers, and peers often fail to teach children important lessons about consent. One friend addressed the direct connection between upbringing and rape culture. She told me the following:

“When I was growing up, I was always taught to be polite to everyone, and I feel like women especially are trained from childhood to be accommodating to men, even at the expense of their own comfort or safety. When men make sexual comments or make me feel uncomfortable, there is still a part of me that tries to justify their behavior and feels I must be nice to them anyway because I was raised to be polite. This is a harmful and toxic norm for our society to enforce because you shouldn’t have to be nice to people who are making you uncomfortable or threatening you. Our society would never tell someone who got robbed that maybe the robber didn’t understand that you wanted to keep your money or that maybe the robber is just awkward and couldn’t resist your wallet. When I was assaulted I wracked my brain for weeks trying to figure out how my behavior could have instigated the assault…The truth is that no woman has ever asked to be assaulted, and men make these choices consciously and with malice because they know that they will likely never be held accountable.”

Consistently, people shared with me how the thoughts, feelings, and power of men are prioritized over the autonomy of the women in their lives. My girlfriend told me about their experiences with men in their life neglecting consent at almost every opportunity. They told me

“I feel like some guys literally thinkg whenever you compliment them or say anything nice, that’s consent. It’s totally depraved… some of my friends even make me feel obligated to hang out with them, as if they are entitled to my time.”

Statistically speaking, many people at Boston College probably know someone affected by sexual violence. Some readers of the Heights might even be affected themselves. If you or a loved one has been affected by this issue, remember to reach out for help this week. K*vanaugh’s confirmation would impact all of us, and his nomination has already impacted my loved ones. I believe it is important to exercise self determination and authority over your body always, but in a rape culture that is impossible for many. Consent culture promotes the freedoms and joys that our flesh prisons bring and never denies anyone their autonomy.

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor