The C word: It Starts With Consent

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Please be advised that I write about sexual harassment and consent violations in this article.

Perhaps I have been oblivious to how messed up our culture is when it comes to consent. I’m a 35-year-old woman. I’ve experienced sexual harassment at work from my superiors. It happened at different jobs on several occasions.

I’ve been bullied and physically intimidated by men twice my size. One beautiful Christmas morning, my neighbors had to call the police on my dad because it sounded like a war broke out in my living room. I’m all too familiar with the violence perpetrated by bad men on women.

A Culture Shift is Emerging

Our culture shift of inclusivity, breaking down gender norms and stereotypes, and the #metoo movement has opened a lot of people’s eyes, including mine. We are finally talking about things that we should have been talking about already. This shift in ideals has also brought up an issue that I thought I understood: consent. But my eyes are opened up to the problems that I’ve had with men who ignore consent and downplay sexual harassment.

Why We Need to Talk About Consent Early On

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We aren’t taught about consent in schools. I don’t ever remember it being a discussion in my high school sex ed class.

I grew up Catholic, went to Catholic school, first communion and all that. After elementary school, I went to a public high school, where I was taught sex ed. And thankfully someone taught me because I was clueless.

My conservative parents never had “the talk” with me. I remember getting the child’s version of the birds and the bees when I was a kid from my mother. But as a teenager, I got no guidance other than one sex ed class in high school.

I had horrendously painful periods in my teen and early adult years. The pain was so debilitating that it would keep me home for days. I remember being stuck in bed for 8 hours at a time, unable to get comfortable because of the intense pain, nauseous, looking pale white, my hands shaking from the intensity of the pain. Endometriosis was ruled out. The doctor gave me a high dose of naproxen to take. In other words, I got a 3x dose of Aleve over the counter. Naproxen acted like a sugar pill for this type of pain. The only treatment for this type of period pain was birth control. Pain medicine was a placebo for this type of pain. I needed to get on birth control.

But my parents refused to let me go on it. They were afraid I’d screw all the boys in school. This idea is an old myth that my parents and many other conservatives still subscribe to. And has been proven to be false. (I finally got on birth control at 18 after I started college. I didn’t have sex until I was 22.)

As you can imagine, my understanding of sex and consent was already limited by the patriarchal dogma that was fed to me as a child.

But then I grew up. I broke away for that faith years ago. And yet, it’s only recently that I began to understand that sex has been a source of confusion. I realized in hindsight that there were times when my consent was violated. Thankfully, I’ve learned to stand up for myself since then.

Sexual Harassment On the Job

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I used to work in offices. All kinds of offices. And I’ve almost always had to report to men in charge. In my career, I’ve had to deal with wandering eyes and veiled advances from my managers. One manager had such a wandering eye problem that I always entered his office with a binder in front of my chest. I didn’t need the binder for work. It was empty. But I used it to protect yourself from being visually undressed again and again.

I’ve heard sexually charged and inappropriate comments from men in some of the offices that I’ve worked in as well. There were many moments where my bosses stared at my chest. Yes, more than one did this. And then there’s that time my boss was flirting with me out in the open in the break room. This is why I will never work in an office again.

Thankfully, I don’t have to work in an office again. But other women do. And none of us should be subjected to this treatment because sexual harassment is a consent violation. It’s phase one. And it gets worse from there.

Perhaps you think that’s too dramatic to say that sexual harassment is a consent violation. But our beliefs, thoughts, and values determine how we interact with each other. If men can’t understand that they shouldn’t sexually harass someone, what else might they do to make women uncomfortable or feel unsafe?

Dating and Consent

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I’ve been on dates where men say repeatedly that they prefer not to use a condom. Well, it’s time to wear a raincoat, pal, because the drawbridge closes without it.

I shouldn’t have to tell you more than once to use a condom.

You are trying to get me to bend to your will. Is this a consent violation? I think it is at least on the border, if not over the edge. Trying to pressure someone to do something they don’t want to do is trying to break down someone’s boundaries.

I’ve also had guys say they love anal sex. I don’t. I’ve had guys try it on me anyway, even after I made it clear that it was a no. When they did, I again had to firmly tell them to stop. Thankfully, they have.

I shouldn’t have to tell you more than once to not do something. And then you try it anyway.

Most men are not rapists. But a good number of them are consent violators. And some of them don’t even realize it.

And these consent violators are making it harder for you good men to be trusted. Each new consent violations adds to the general mistrust that we start to have

My conservative upbringing made it harder to figure out what I did and did not want, let alone how to vocalize it. I’ve had to deal with men who were in power over me. They had power over my livelihood, and in my father’s case, power over my sense of self and how I felt about where I fit in the world. I learned that you have to always please men or they become dangerous.

It’s taken time and effort to unlearn these messages that I’ve received. I’ve had to look at myself introspectively and realize that I deserve respect and safety. I’ve also had to look outside myself and into the world in order to find safe people and avoid the unsafe ones.

I’m not trying to throw every man in the world under the bus here. But I do want to open your eyes to evaluate your own thoughts and actions. And I want women to know that we CAN speak up, say no, and it’s not our fault when our consent is violated. Men and women can talk openly about consent. We can have happy relationships built on mutual respect.

I am just one person with one story. But I’m not alone. We need to keep talking about consent. We need to talk about it often and early so that women can speak up when something wrong is done to us. So those women who choose to report attacks to the police are taken seriously by police officers and the justice system. We need to learn to ask first, get a yes, then proceed. And when you get a no, it means no and you stop.

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