I recently read a story about a college student in the UK who was so insulted by a Facebook invitation to attend a class on consent, he wrote a blog post where he tells consent educators to "get off your fucking high horse," and "have a little respect for the intelligence and decency of your peers."
Lawlor argues that consent classes change nothing because actual rapists won't show up to them. He makes the assumption that "no new information will be taught or learned" in such a class, and that consent educators are only "pointing out the blindingly obvious."
Let me break this down.
The one point that George Lawlor gets right is that people should already understand the concept of consent by the time they get to college. That lesson should be included with everything else students learn in sex ed in middle school and high school, as I discussed in another one of my blog posts a few weeks ago. However, the reality is that consent is often absent from schools' sex ed curriculums, and some students don't even get sex education at all, depending on where they go to school.
So it's entirely possible that a student never encounters a class on consent until they get to college. I imagine George Lawlor is experiencing a fair amount of cognitive dissonance when faced with this reality--"I've been having sex for years. And people want to teach me consent now? That means they think I've been raping people all this time."
There's a "better late than never" approach going on here with consent education, and I agree, the timing is strange. But while I'm sitting here waiting for middle schools and high schools to come to their senses about their sex education curriculums, I'm going to continue to advocate for consent education wherever we can feasibly make it happen.
George Lawlor says he does not "have to be taught not to be a rapist." And while I do believe that people are born inherently good and decent, there is an awful lot of media teaching our sons to be rapists. Consent education does not start with the assumption that all boys will turn into rapists with no intervention. But it does aim to counteract the influence of the rampant violence against women in the movies, television and video games that our children consume. Consent education does not just teach you the definition of a word--it aims to replace rape culture with consent culture. And it should, I believe, be taught to everyone, regardless of their gender.
George Lawlor argues that rapists will not show up to consent classes. But one astute college woman in Limerick pointed out in her response to this incident that many men have an overly simplistic view of what a rapist is: "When they picture rape they probably see someone holding their victim down and watching them struggle as they forced themselves upon them. But rape can be so much more complex than that..."
What George Lawlor does not realize--and what everyone who has not experienced a sexual trauma does not realize--is that consent is not as simple a concept as it might seem. For some people, it takes a lifetime to learn, and to relearn.
Before I was sexually assaulted, I never gave much thought to the concept of consent. My understanding of it never went beyond, "If you say 'no,' he has to stop." I never thought about the strength that is sometimes necessary to say "no," the internal conflict and the fear in the moment when you are not sure if you will say "no," the price of saying "no," the ways you can say "no," why it is always up to me to say no, and why "yes" was never discussed. The person who hurt me did not think that "I can't" qualified as "no." He kept asking me for reasons why I couldn't. I had none.
I began to re-learned consent post-trauma, and every night I whispered to myself, "I do not need a reason. I do not need a reason. I do not need a reason."
And I've learned a lot more than that. I've learned to separate my desires from social influence. I've taken note of how "no" feels inside my gut, and how "yes" feels. I've learned to cope with the fact that even though I might have a fiery burning passion for someone, I might still get scared when he starts to touch me. I've learned how to navigate those situations, and it's to listen to my body, to give deference to my fear, and to talk to my partner about every little thing that I can and cannot do.
And when I feel that fear the first time I kiss somebody whom I'm absolutely enamored with, I hope he's taken a consent class, so that we can more easily navigate that road together.
I don't ask "Have you taken a consent class?" before I sleep with someone. But if I found out someone who was interested in me vociferously refused to take a consent class and told the consent educators to "get off their high horse," I would refuse to let him touch me.
The only person someone who refuses to take a consent class deserves to have sex with is another person who refuses to take a consent class.
Consent is about humbling yourself--never assuming that you are worthy. I think you need to get off your high horse, George Lawlor, and humble yourself. Consent is not a slanderous political weapon; it's a tool of healing. Have some respect for the work that your peers are doing to improve your community. Because from where I'm sitting, I don't see you doing anything to prevent sexual violence.
And everyone knows: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.