I want to make myself painfully, abundantly, astronomically clear. I am not one of those crazy “men’s rights” activists. It’s one thing to feel a little insulted by a stereotype, but something entirely different to play the victim when your demographic has regrettably been the aggressor throughout history. I am fully aware that my half of the population has historically had things much easier. I am not denying this or trying to illicit sympathy from the very people I should be trying to collaborate with.
That being said, I have mixed emotions whenever I see the “Consent is Sexy” posters plastered across the campus. On the one hand, I completely and wholeheartedly agree with the message that is trying to be delivered: A sexual or otherwise romantic partner must be willing and able to give consent before things move forward, and any implication or use of force or intimidation tactics to take advantage of an unwilling partner is disgusting and deplorable.
But on the other hand, I find myself taken aback by how the message is delivered and how the men in this campaign are portrayed. Each one seems to be an overly-macho, sex-crazed man-child who has to be constantly reminded to keep his lusts under control. Granted, there are men that need to hear this message and to hear it as bluntly as possible, but the language of the campaign paints men in broad strokes, assuming that each man looking at the poster just put away his favorite Snoop Dogg album, crushed a Four Loko can on his forehead, and literally howled his approval of a strange woman’s physique—“Awooooooooo!”—before walking in the building.
The name of the campaign sends a bit of a mixed message as well. “Consent is Sexy” seems to imply that giving your consent is the cool thing to do, as in, “You’re not sexy anymore if you decide not to give consent.” A minor gripe to be fair, as I would like to think most people are smart enough not to misinterpret the message that way, but with messages of this nature, it never hurts to be clear about your stated objective.
I’ll be careful to note that I don’t think the campaign is a bust. AdlibStudio, the South Africa based company who developed the campaign has been combatting tough social issues like human trafficking and date rape all over the world since 1995. AdlibStudio points out that one in four women and one in 20 men are victims of sexual assault, which is shockingly high on both counts. It has done a great job of shining a light on what are surprisingly prevalent evils and starting a very necessary conversation about safe sex, gender relations and ultimately human rights. For this I applaud them. Even here, in the supposedly safe Utah Valley, these issues occur all around us every day.
However, due in part to our school’s execution of it, the message that I have perceived from this campaign doesn’t seem like the message they meant to send.
Consentissexy.net specifically states that the campaign, “strives to speak equally to men and women – by recognising the right to respect and consent for both sexes,” further saying that it, “Does not demonize men: it avoids focussing on men as the only gender capable of abuse, by recognising that both men and women can be abused and abusers.” [South African spellings used]
The promotional materials shown on the “Consent is Sexy” website are exceptionally evenhanded. An effort is made to show that a man’s default setting isn’t “SexSexSex!” and from time to time find themselves the victims. Consent in LGBT relationships is also addressed. By and large, the campaign endeavors to let us know that regardless of your gender and who you’re attracted to, your partner’s consent is essential if you have any intentions of taking things further.
However, “Consent is Sexy” is customizable for each school that wishes to participate. The site offers more than 20 different posters and leaflets that can be used or modified to fit each school’s specific needs.
While UVU has made a great choice in bringing this discussion to our campus, I submit that we could definitely go about it in a better way. Portions of the campus population have been overlooked, and what could be a very informative conversation tends to make me, and I’m sure others, feel ashamed for our gender.
Though protecting women from predatory men is a very significant part of this issue, it isn’t the only part, and acknowledging this can make our conversation much more productive.