A movement towards consent culture
Last month, an email was released that openly advocated for “luring rapebait” at parties by the brothers of Georgia Tech’s Phi Kappa Tau. It was supposedly sent from the fraternity’s social chair, Matthew Peterson, to the members in order to encourage the men to get college women drunk, hook up with them, and make them leave. “IF ANYTHING EVER FAILS, GO GET MORE ALCOHOL.”
Georgia Tech’s chapter of Phi Kappa Tau has since been suspended, and the email received a lot of media attention. Peterson publicly apologized for the email, calling it “a joke for a small audience that understood the context.” Whether this was actually created as a joke is uncertain, but it is extremely telling of the rape culture that we live in.
Jamie Utt is a sexual violence prevention educator in Minneapolis, Minnesota who posted a video on CNN’s iReport in response to the Georgia Tech “rapebait” letter. According to Utt, a shift in our culture would allow for the prevalence of consent. Comprehensive sexual education can make a large difference in how our generation thinks about safe and consensual sex.
“Other things that we can do like normalizing consent and teaching the ways that consent can be really sexy and fun and really encourage people to think creatively about how they encourage consent in their relationships,” said Utt. “We can teach young men how to stand up to this kind of mentality and engage other men in building positive masculinity and building positive sexuality.”
Combating the dominant media narratives surrounding rape is difficult when these narratives are so prominent in everyday life. In spite of this, multiple organizations are working to combat the ideology that sexual assault is normal and has no real consequences.
In rape culture, victims are blamed for their assaults, which are both normalized and excused within society. In a consent culture, the opposite happens. People have the opportunity to learn about consent in their sexual education courses, as well as what is considered to be sexual assault or harassment. It allows for clarification and the right of women to choose what happens to their bodies.
Similarly, there has recently been a push for more sex education programs. The Chicago Public School District announced that they will be implementing a comprehensive sex education program in their K-12 curriculums. The hope is that these programs will provide more knowledge for the members of this district about sex and consent so that they can make safe and informed decisions.
Ann Pollender, a Health teacher at Mt. Abraham Union High School in Bristol, VT said sexual education is a very important aspect of health education for students. Throughout each semester, she teaches 10th graders about topics such as the function of reproductive systems, STI transmittance and prevention, birth control, consent, safe sex, and communication between partners.
“When I start the [sexual education] unit with each class, I always say that the information students will learn may be needed by some students in five years, or for some students in two years, or in two weeks, and some students may have needed it two weeks ago,” Pollender said. “It is important to use humor and work hard to make students feel comfortable talking, asking questions and working with the material.”
Pollender addresses consent in the unit about relationships in her curriculum. It encourages the discussion of boundaries between partners and what they are each comfortable with.
“I also have a police officer come in to talk about consent and sexual assault, acquaintance rape, sexual offender registry, etc,” Pollender said. “A guy from the State Dept of Health comes in to talk about STI’s and a panel of teen moms from the local Parent Child Center come in to talk about their lives.”
Showing students the potential consequences of their actions, as well as ways to be safe and comfortable in their own sexualities, can prevent sexual assault and discomfort. Knowledge, whether it be from students’ parents, teachers or older peers, can be instrumental in decisions when it comes to sex.
However, with the waves of media attention recently dedicated to highly publicized cases of sexual assault, it seems as though female bodies are constantly being either controlled, taken advantage of, or blamed. As female bodies are seen more frequently as objects of sexual desire and submission, sexual assault becomes painted as a punishment for women who do not adequately cover or protect their bodies.
Cyber feminists such as FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, an activist collaboration that seeks to upset the culture of rape and promote consent culture, have been hacking popular brands such as PINK and Playboy to get the message across that consent is sexy — and it has been developing a large following.
Rape culture, according to FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture is a cultural occurrence where “everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape” is pervasive. “Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “‘just the way things are,’” according to the FORCE website.
With the increasing popularity of consent culture, including more advocacy for comprehensive sex education programs, there is hope that the prevalence of sexual assault and rape culture will be diminished. If they are successful, emails like the one sent out by Peterson may no longer exist.
Kaley Belval is a documentary studies and production major who puts the sensual in consensual. Email her at kbelval1[at]ithaca.edu.