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Sex-ed activist promotes enthusiastic consent

By Emily Sorkin Smith

Section: News

November 13, 2015

Jaclyn Friedman, author of “Yes Means Yes,” spoke to community members about consent, advocating a culture of enthusiastic consent to replace the existing rape culture. Her presentation, “Beyond Consent,” to an audience of mostly women, was sponsored by the Brandeis Rape Crisis Center and the Psychological Counseling Center on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

Before creating a culture of enthusiastic consent, people must understand the existing culture surrounding sexuality. Friedman explained what she called the “commodity model,” in which women are objectified and valued primarily for their virginity or sexual innocence. This model, she argued, is inherently sexist, denying women agency in making decisions regarding their sexuality. Not everybody is valued equally in the commodity model. Race can play a role in how much a culture values a certain person. “We don’t value African American women’s bodies the same way we value ‘innocent’ white women,” Friedman argued.

In the current model, responsibility lies with women to protect their value as a commodity. This concept can excuse the perpetrators of sexual assault, Friedman argued. “Women have to be modest in order to prevent men from losing control of their bodies and taking women’s virginity,” she said.

Throughout her talk, Friedman emphasized the lack of need to involve gender in enthusiastic consent, arguing that people of all genders should engage in healthy, enthusiastic consent with their partners. Friedman avoided using gendered pronouns in the hypotheticals she described, preferring to say “person A” or simply someone’s “partner.” Stigma for male victims of sexual assault is a detriment to all, regardless of gender, and furthers the sexism of rape culture.

Pressures to say yes to sexual activity, Friedman explained, affect both men and women and keep people from expressing sexuality in a healthy and safe manner. Men may feel pressure to engage in sexual activity and conform to the conception of masculinity in which men must always want to have sex. Women, on the other hand, can feel pressure to use sex to make their partner interested in them romantically or to keep up with their peers’ sex life. Many other social pressures can impact an individual’s ability to maintain a healthy sexuality.

Alcohol, often brought up in the context of sexual assault, can be used as an excuse that gives men “social license to operate,” Friedman argued. This allows predators to continue violating their victims. Victim blaming affords the same license, making others feel safe given that they follow certain rules, like abstaining from alcohol or dressing modestly, while excusing the perpetrators of sexual assault. This “social license” is, in Friedman’s opinion, equivalent to rape culture, which “is just creating social license for perpetrators to keep perpetrating.”

The question of alcohol and its role in “hookup culture” can be especially difficult for college students, who are, as Friedman described, relatively inexperienced with alcohol. When people are unable to distinguish being “buzzed” from intoxication, they may feel that they or their partner are able to consent to sex when they are not. “If you cross that line,” Friedman argued, “you can profoundly hurt someone for the rest of their life.”

Women, by feeling liberated in their sexuality, can work to undo the culture of rape. “I believe that reclaiming our sexualities for ourselves is actual an act of political resistance,” Friedman explained.

Sexual assault has long been been an issue on college campuses. Responses to the university’s Campus Climate Survey, which was released in early October, indicated that five percent of responded students agree to the statement, “An incident can only be sexual assault or rape if the victim says ‘no,’” 12 percent of students either agree or strongly agree with the statement, “Rape and sexual assault happen because people put themselves in bad situations.” Similar surveys administered nationally by colleges and universities have sparked more concern about rape culture on college campuses.

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