Consent (noun): Permission to have something done or to do something. (verb): Give permission for something to happen.
Recently California became the first state to take action on consent lessons being taught in high schools. Beginning next year they’ll be teaching consent to those wide-eyed and eager students. As a feminist, a woman and a human being in society, I feel as though this is great news!
The news of this becoming law in California has had my head reeling with thoughts of my past, stories that friends have told me and the consent workshop that I helped organize in the Fall of 2013. A lot of people have an idea of an assumed consent – that because they know you, it’s okay to do things. The simple action of hugging someone or rubbing their back can be a true invasion of space and make the receiver feel violated.
Think about the way we talk to little kids. When they don’t know someone very well or feel a bit uncomfortable with a situation of seeing someone new, we coerce them into greeting them usually with a hug. I can personally remember being a small child and not wanting certain people to touch me. One cousin would always tickle me and force hugs on me, he was much older – almost my mother’s age. I was expected to just accept him and allow him to tickle me, tease me and hug me; even if it left me feeling uncomfortable. I recently, as a thirty-something year old, had the talk with my mother about it and explained how uncomfortable he made me feel. She recognized that I usually expressed that I didn’t want him to come near me, that I hated being tickled and because of that I didn’t want to interact with him. My cousin isn’t a malicious person, he’s playful but doesn’t really know the meaning of consent – at least not every day consent. My mother actually told me that looking back on it now she would have done things differently, she would have told him to respect my boundaries and wishes not to be tickled.
All of these thoughts are running through my head when thinking about the recent California law and what good it can do for those with young minds. It reminds me too, that consent is not just about sexual interactions. Consent is something we give, time and time again. Consent is also something we don’t give out freely. Assumed consent, regardless of our age, should not be a reality. We should always treat one another as the autonomous beings we are.