July 11, 2014

Consent Is Not the Absence of a No:
Jada shows us that there's still a long way to go, and hopefully we can borrow her strength to get there

Sometimes, a moment hits you, and you realize that this world is even more horrible than you had hitherto imagined. Today I had one of those moments. I ran across the story of 16-year-old Jada.

Jada is a young woman in Texas. She attended a party, where it is alleged that her drink was spiked and she was sexually assaulted while unconscious.

That alone was enough to make my breath catch and my heart go out to her. She's so young to have such a long road ahead.

And yet, that's not even the end of Jada's story.

You see, Jada's assault was documented in photographs, and video. This documentation was uploaded online, and as if the depths of human depravity just weren't deep enough in this story, her picture--the picture of her violated, unconscious body--was turned into a meme.

Yes, you read that right. There are people out there that believe it is perfectly acceptable to take a rape victim's photograph and turn it into a meme for their own sick and twisted enjoyment.

Jada is not being beat though. "I'm angry," she says. And who can blame her?

In addition to this violation, Jada has now taken to media to try to "clear" her name. She's publicly identified herself, in order to make a statement.

And what a statement she has made.

Jada's situation reveals a fatal flaw in the way we currently phrase consent. "No means no" we say. "No means no, whenever it is said, whatever reason it is said, however it is said, no means no."

But Jada's story shows that "no" is not always an option.

It's honestly a trend that's been going for a while. I'm sure you have seen, as well as I have, the idea of "she can't say no to this"--the idea that there exists a type of man, or certain behaviors, or mannerisms, or ideas, or pickup tricks, or whatever the hell you want to call them, that a woman simply can't resist. That, in fact, no woman can actually resist.

This perfectly illustrates that limitations of "no means no". If a woman can't say no, then what's the problem?

It's a perfect example of why "yes means yes" is what we need to focus on. As a parent of boys, I absolutely have adopted this as my idea of consent. Yes means yes.

We have to reframe the conversation. We have to flip the switch. We have to say, "Sex is collaborative. It's not something to be won, or conquered, or gain. It's something to be shared."

The idea of sex as something to be taken permeates our culture. It's pervasive and tenacious. It's a script that will be difficult to rewrite.

But for young women like Jada, it's crucial.

"Yes means yes" isn't about denial. It's about control--the idea that each individual is in control of their own body, and that each individual should collaborate in the sex act by consent. Explicit consent.

I know, it's crazy talk, y'all! But yes, you should never ever ever have sex with someone that isn't actively and enthusiastically saying YES I WANT THIS!

The idea of consent as "no means no" is deeply steeped in our own cultural ideas that women don't enjoy sex. Women withhold sex to be petty, or to punish males. They have headaches. They are devious and self-centered in their withholding. No means no plays into the idea that women aren't sexual beings, and thus are inherently predisposed to saying no.

Yes means yes is positive consent, affirmative consent. It makes each partner an active partner in the act. Each partner is involved and each partner is important.

Not only can we see the benefits of less sexual assault in this idea--we see the benefits of better sex. More enjoyable and enthusiastic sex, when both parties are actively involved and happy to be at it.

Rape culture is disgusting, but tenacious. Undoing it starts here, by changing the conversation about consent and making women active partners in the act.

Young women like Jada? They need this from us. It's the very least that we can do.

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