It takes more than education on consent to stop rape, but it is a vital chapter in a new story of what we all want: a world without rape.
“During the fight, every time Heracles chopped off one of the Hydra’s nine heads, two more grew in its place. So Heracles asked for the help of his nephew Iolaus, who would cauterize each stump when Heracles chopped off a head, preventing the regrowth of two heads. Because the last of the heads was immortal, Heracles was forced to bury it under a large boulder.”
We live in stories. Narratives are powerful but we have the power to change them because we are the ones that write them. In the past, we trusted the earth was the center of the universe, the earth was flat. New facts changed history, though there were bitter fights along the way.
I believe we have the opportunity to change the story of sexual assault. We can work together towards a world where rape is rare and sex is easy and natural to discuss, to do, and to share without shame.
It’s not just Steubenville, or India, or Brazil or Scotland. There have been many cases over the past few years from boys being assaulted with bottles by other boys, to young girls being blamed for a huge group violence incidence . Kids with mental disabilities, here, and and here, girls beating up other girls, young women walking home and getting swept up by men in a van, and now we have Torrington, CT in the news.
How does this relate to rape and the importance of teaching consent and sexual education? Thomas MacAuley-Millar of Yes Means Yes Blog links to a petition in his piece “Teach Consent!” here. In his piece, MacAuley-Millar states the important question, “What good would it do?”—this consent education, to stop predators who are prone to predate—and he answers it very well.
“Even if you believe, as I do, that the predators are not confused and can’t be educated, there are two good reasons to believe that consent education can make the climate better. First, because there are rapists who are not that small percentage of predators. Second, the predators absolutely depend on what I call the Social License to Operate, the climate that explains away or excuses what they do in certain circumstances, calls it not rape, calls it the survivor’s fault, minimizes it and lets him get away with it. “
This intervention attacks the Hydra. It’s a cultural inoculation making it harder for predators to do their nasty business, creating conversation about sex itself. For when we talk about consent, we talk about sex. When we talk about about sharing, generosity, and giving we create a model (exemplified here by educator Karen B.K. Chan) for recognizing the opposite: non-consensuality, dominance, greed, aggression.
While this conversation is happening, and we’ve done posts here at GMP on teaching consent that have gone viral, we need more, on more levels, and in more areas from school to church to business. Given the lack of comprehensive sex education in our schools across the nation, and knowing others don’t always have the same POV on how sex education and consent should be taught, I’m concerned. Still, I recommend working consent into every conversation from babyhood on, and do that work currently. I’m happy to promote Thomas’ piece and Karen’s video from here until the end of time.
It is more than consent, though, it’s a system, much like the multi-headed Hydra. Good Men Project just posted a piece on Steubenville and our US culture of war. I found this paragraph especially chilling.
“When we invite Violence into our house to do our bidding, we shouldn’t be surprised when Violence decides to stay awhile, and have its way with our young children when the mood strikes. We want the two things to be separate. We want to remote-pilot the Reaper drones from afar, and drop the Hellfire missiles with clean hands, then go home and hug and kiss our 4th-grade son and 16-year-old daughter. But the next day the Reaper will come home to roost. Our 4th-grade soon will be sprayed with automatic weapons fire at school and our 16-year-old daughter will get drunk and fondled at a party.”
And there are more dynamics at work. Here’s one—we do not have a culture of play, collaboration, or of working to live, but living to work, individualistic, focused on status.
Here’s another—magical thinking that blames the victims. Got raped? Your fault. Got drunk, wore a short skirt, walked too late at night? Your fault. Kids will be kids, it’s just what happens, should have known better.”
Finally, biology—women are not, by default, temptresses, passive, selling sex. Men are not, by default, beasts unable to have self control, buying sex. This sells all of us terribly short of our potential.
All these Hydra heads seem daunting. It’s a system that contains all of the above and more, plus as mentioned, a complete dearth of sex education, erotic literacy, and yes, consent education. The sheer complexity can leave us fighting against each other, as some take one head and chop away, others attack different one, each time yelling at the other, blaming and fighting online and off, creating gang violence in miniature as if it is some basic human trait.
Perhaps power and dominance as part of our species, is the one head that we have to find a way to sever and bury. We have violence in us … at times, we even like it. Some say it’s natural. But there are lots of natural things we work hard to eradicate. The smallpox virus. Tooth decay. Tetanus. We do our damndest to protect and prevent those things. As does MacAuley-Millar in offering a tool to shift the story, and it’s needed.
Here are other powerful tools to make that shift:
Viewing men as fully human including their own fear of assault, giving up the stories that they are ravenous beasts unable to help themselves.
Viewing women as fully human and as agents of their own sexuality.
Reducing the reliance on spending, shopping, drinking, drugging, to disconnect. Finding our way to embracing vulnerability as a true strength.
Teaching people to stand up for each other in person and online.
Seeing sex with less shame, something easy to communicate fully about.
Pushing the media to stop using tropes of victim blaming, magical thinking, and sensationalism.
Reaching for a culture that values peace, pleasure and collaboration, more than money, power, and self-centeredness.
Acknowledging how we live with violence and oppression all the time and teaching non violent responses to that.
And yes, consent. Absolutely, consent.
This system of narratives can seem overwhelming and complex. As we learned the world was round, and that the earth was nowhere near the center of the universe, we can learn not to hurt each other sexually. Here’s the best part: we don’t have to go it alone. Just like Heracles, we need each other. We have to work together even when we disagree, even when it feels as if our attempts are clumsy.
We’ve changed the story before. We can do it again.
Rape is wrong. We can end it.
Read more On Rape and Sexual Violence.
Image credit: screenpunk/Flickr