The news that TCDSU has decided to bring in mandatory (although participants can leave as soon as it starts) workshops on sexual consent has reached official Ireland. And just like clockwork the traditional Irish media response is one of ridicule and derision.
Fionola Meredith in the Irish Times is one of the worst culprits of this twisting of facts. “Should young men have compulsory lessons on how not to be a rapist?” she opens her piece, leaving out the fact that the workshops are for all students regardless of gender and that the lessons doesn’t deal with just rape but the issue of consent in itself. For someone who purports to have knowledge of the concept of consent, she does a good job of reducing it to a laughable level of simplicity.
Genders and sexualities
Someone should inform Fionola, if she’d care to listen, that consent is also in important topic for queer women. Rather she is the one “implicitly diminishing and patronising men, treating them all as potential sex offenders” by placing them as the supposed only target of the consent workshops.
Men can be assaulted by women. Men can be assaulted by gay men. Straight women on some occasions have groped me, a gay man. Where is the treating of men as sex offenders in that case Fionola?
Maybe me being a gay man means that I am approaching this issue from an angle that would not come naturally to heterosexual men. When I am in bars and clubs I can recognise men who are bigger than me, and stronger than me, and who do aggressively offer me drinks or grab me to dance with them. I know how quickly hurt can come to me.
Straight men on the other-hand, might feel like these consent workshops only target them and their sexuality because of how obsessed our media is with masculinity. Men are made to feel that they have to always be in control and have an attractive woman by their side. They’re told that they always have to be successful.
It’s one of the reasons why young men have such poor mental health, because what they are taught does not always bear out their experience in life.
All articles like Meredith’s do is perpetuate the myth that these lessons are only for those men. This in turn fuels ignorance over the damage and pain people of all sexual orientations and genders can inflict on others when consent isn’t there.
Why don’t I automatically assume that I am being treated as a potential rapist when I hear about these lessons? Because the media and life experience tells me that as a gay man I am a potential rape victim. Pieces like Meredith’s tell straight men that they should never consider that possibility for themselves and that these initiatives only exist to demonise them.
It is puzzling to see that while Meredith is happy to classify students as politically correct trigger-warning obsessives, she can’t get her mind around the proposition that this might mean we don’t treat men like potential rapists.
Since we are so PC, we would never dream of “diminishing [a woman’s] status as morally autonomous agents of their own destiny, and recasting them as quivering victims” as she puts it. But this is what we are blindly accused of doing.
Nowhere in the piece does it mention that these lessons are not coming from College authorities, but in actuality from the students’ union. It leaves out the information that they were a measure voted on at council, which students are invited to attend and where their elected representatives vote on issues.
It was a motion proposed by a male student which passed almost unanimously and it was a motion voted on by students who at one stage did or still do live in Halls, who might have been in situations which the lessons hope to avoid.
It was passed by the same male students who – to believe Meredith – have been brainwashed into thinking that they are potential rapists, rather than young men who feel that sex and consent are difficult and that some guidance could help.
Meredith states that these lessons should have started early and been part of regular sex education. Although who is to say whether that would also be described as infantilizing, seeing as so many second level students receive sex ed in 5th or 6th year. To give lessons on consent a year after that, in the first year of university, is too late according to Meredith. No basis for that is given, it is just stated.
In that case, Halls might as well not have a fire safety talk, or ask students to be respectful of the apartment they have been given. After all if they haven’t learnt by age 18 – when it’s the first time that they’re living on their own with unsupervised access to alcohol and drugs – then it’s really to late to try and impose any new life lessons, isn’t it?
Or it might actually be a good idea to have a demonstration in front of the large group of students and maybe open their eyes to some things they wouldn’t have known before, because they were too busy studying for the leaving cert to go out on the pull every night.
It might be worth telling them little things that might help them enjoy themselves. It might help to tell that if someone says they don’t want you to buy them a drink, don’t get hung up on it, don’t take it as a slight against you and just accept it.
Or we could just not bother, because as it says at the end of her piece, “these are boundaries that students must negotiate and define for themselves, hopefully experiencing pleasure in the process”. This comes at the end of an article where the author admits that “undoubtedly there is a problem” with sexual assault on campus.
That problem doesn’t start or end at the College walls but having an inclusive, all encompassing approach which treats everyone as someone who might need support is a better boundary to have then to perpetuate a myth about men to the detriment of their safety.