I am first going to start by saying that this post has nothing to do with the book “50 Shades of Grey”, I have not read the book, nor have I watched the movie and I have no intention of doing either thing.
This post is about consent. Consent in general and then more specifically sexual consent.
In my mind consent is pretty black and white. “Yes I would like a cup of tea” or “No I would not like a cup of tea”, pretty straight forward and easy to understand. “I would really rather not meet you for coffee” or “A coffee date sounds like a great idea”- the first response is not exactly black and white anymore, I could be swayed to be genuinely excited to meet or I could decided I absolutely want nothing to do with coffee.
Growing up I was fortunate to have family that I loved and no one that I felt unsafe around. I remember when we would leave family functions the rules were that we needed to go and say goodbye to everyone. This meant that we would start at one end of the room and go around giving each family member a hug and two kisses (one on each cheek- I grew up in an Italian and Egyptian family two kisses is normal). I also remember that sometimes one of my aunts or uncles would call out that we had missed them on our rounds and we would be required to start all over again (although everyone knew that we hadn’t actually missed anyone).
Why am I telling you about my random saying goodbye family traditions? I promise it’s relevant!
What would have happened if I hadn’t wanted to hug or kiss one of my family members? (This was never the case but I’m making a point) Would my parents have made me because it was the right thing to do? What if one of those family members had said something I disapproved of during the visit and I didn’t want to pretend like that was an okay thing to say? Or what if I didn’t feel safe with one of them?
I am part of a team of facilitators that will be giving sexual consent and bystander intervention workshops to university athletes soon and when we met to talk about the workshops it triggered this train of thought for myself.
One of my co-facilitators spoke about consent in the context of Santa Claus. Her mother had brought her to see Santa and like any normal parent, her mother wanted a picture of her on Santa’s lap. However, she was wailing before she even got close to sitting on his knee. Her mother turned her around and took her home. When her father asked why her mother why they didn’t have a picture of his daughter with Santa her mother explained that there was no way she was about to make her crying child to go sit on someone’s lap that she was not comfortable with. This story may seem small but in the context of giving a child power to say no it’s HUGE!
In hearing this story and in thinking of my pervious story I made a decision. I will ask. For me, right now I though of my niece. I will ask my niece if she would like to give me a hug or a kiss. I will ask and I will be okay with whatever answer she gives. It’s not easy! I love her so much that the first thing I want to do when I see her is give her a hug and kiss! However, her feeling respected and having the ability to make her own choices is more important to me. I am also requesting that no one, not my parents or her parents try and force her to come and give me a hug or kiss. I feel like I am doing my part to build her confidence and ability to stand for what she wants.
Sexual consent can be very black and white… when it’s in the hypothetical world.
Here’s a video that I personally really enjoy that covers consent and tea…
In the real world, from my own experience it really can be 50 shades of grey.
I went on a date. The date was going well, although I already knew there wouldn’t be a second date. We were having a decent conversation when he asked if I wanted to keep talking at his hotel. (He lived in Ottawa, we had been talking for a few weeks, he was in town of a business meeting.) Hind sight is 20/20 right?!
I went to his room. We chatted a bit, he offered me wine, I said no thank you. He kissed me. Totally fine. I like kissing and he was cute. Then he says, “I’m just gonna go turn off some lights” He goes to turn off lights and go to the washroom. He comes back out and he only has his boxers on.
I am in a state of shock. What the heck just happened? One second we kissed and the next he is assuming we are about to have sex? What step did I miss?
I ask, “Can we just make out?” his response is, “Why?”
Enter the grey zone.
I stumble on my words and cannot find my footing. I don’t really want to sleep with him. I don’t really feel like I can just walk away. I am the most confused I have ever been in my life. My mind is racing and I am paralyzed. I have never slept with someone that I did not want to sleep with. Until this date.
In my paralysis I just shut down. I put up more walls than I ever have in any other relationship I have ever been in. I consciously shut myself out and down. I just wanted this night to be over with.
Consent is about asking and having a clear answer as to wether or not someone wants to do something. If the answer is in the grey than the answer is NO. If at any point in time you check in and the answer is not a resounding yes then the answer is NO. If at any time you look at them, without actually asking anything and you see hesitation, STOP.
Consent can be black and white, without any grey, as long as we are all well versed in it and are all willing to play by it’s rules.
I felt disempowered in my situation. I felt like I couldn’t say no. I felt like I was on a train headed right for a cliff and there was nothing I could do to stop it. None of that is true of course. At any point in time I could have said, “Stop. This is not what I want.” Somewhere deep down it felt safer to just be in the shitty situation than stir the pot when I am in a room with a guy I just met and I do not really know.
I have had about a month to sit with the situation and like I said before, hindsight is 20/20. There are a million and one things that I would do differently if I were there again. That being said I know that I had to experience that situation so that I could talk about it. It sucks! It’s not at all something I want to talk about. I am ashamed that it happened. I feel like I should have been able to stop it. I am incredibly embarrassed because I honestly have no idea who that girl was in that hotel room- she sure as hell isn’t a girl I know!
I believe that everything happens for a reason and this time it was clear as day for me. I went through this shitty experience so that I can actually talk about what a lack of consent looks like in that ’50 shades of grey zone’ during the workshops I have coming up.
Sexual assault and sexual harassment are not easy topics to cover or talk about. They are however very very necessary. I’ll be honest, I do not think that the guy I went on that date with had any idea that what happened was not the way it’s supposed to go down. I don’t think he has any idea what that situation looked like from my side of the room. I was clear with him that I no longer wanted to continue our interaction- I never communicated that things could have and should have gone differently.
I am now very acutely aware of why the conversation of consent is so important to have with men and women. How different life could be if we all went into a sexual relationship feeling empowered and respected by the person we were with.
If you are someone who read this post and one of the first things you thought was, “That was brave” I will first say thank you and I will then say I certainly do not feel that way.
If you were someone who read this post and one of the first things you thought was, “Well you said yes to going to his room. That’s pretty much the same thing as saying you were going to sleep with him.” I will say that you my friend are a part of the problem. I am not saying it to be mean, I am saying it because I am being honest. That line of thinking is EXACTLY why people who have experienced sexual harassment and sexual assault do not come forward. Suddenly they are the ones to blame. They get told, if you weren’t wearing that skirt or if you hadn’t been so drunk, or if you hadn’t held his/her hand, if you hadn’t done this or that or the other thing than this never would have happened. Let me be VERY VERY VERY VERY clear: yes it takes two to tango however non-consensual sex IS sexual assault and there is a perpetrator and a survivor.
As society as a whole we are all responsible to creating a more aware and conscious environment. If someone comes to you who has gone through and experience like this PLEASE just listen to them and offer them support. If you would like some resources for what to do you can check out the Concordia University Sexual Assault Resource Centre’s information. The LAST thing that someone who has gone through this experience needs is for you to judge, blame or shame them- they are already doing that to themselves, all on their own.
I am still very much in the learning phase around the topic of consent so there are likely a ton of things that I have missed. I am in no way pretending to be an expert, I am simply talking from my own experience and what it feels like on the other side. I sincerely hope that reading this post has made you think a little bit more about consent; not just sexual consent but consent as a whole in every area of your life.