Of all the many things still wrong in Western societies, public attitude to sexual consent is something that manages to disproportionately shock me everytime.
I cannot believe that in the year 2017, the concept of marital rape is still denied by some people; that laws like this one in North Carolina still exist and that there are people who think that joking about non-consensual sex is ‘just boy talk’.
So although I’d like to believe the following is common sense, here’s the definition I like to keep in mind: if someone involved did not explicitly consent, you’re having non-consensual sex.
It’s not that hard, is it? Feels like the kind of thing you could teach every kid without much strain. Maybe, like, mention it in sex ed? Well, I don’t know about where you’re from, but where I go to school, nobody taught me the basics of rape or not-rape.
Which is what I believe desperately needs to happen. Until that is mandatory, though, can we please at least try not to glorify rape??
Cause yes, that’s something that happened. In 10th grade German class, our curriculum includes reading the 19th century play ‘Frühlings Erwachen’ (‘Spring Awakening’) by Frank Wedekind.
Now, don’t get me wrong. That’s a great play and I massively enjoyed studying it. It shows the sexual awakening of a group of teenagers in late 19th century Germany and very openly critizises the sexual education and taboos of its time. We talked in detail about how that lack of open conversation caused the tragic results shown in the play, and most of the discussions we had in class were liberal and brilliant.
Which is why the following shocked me so much. In our final exam, we were given a scene in which two of the characters have sex, initiated by the male character who has managed to educate himself quite well, while the female character is simply clueless. She excessively protests the act, but is ignored by him.
Asked in our exam to judge whether the scene portrays a rape situation, I relativised this definition with circumstances, but insisted that sexual relations in which one partner protests verbally cannot be called anything else, even if she ‘did want it too’.
I got detracted points for an interpretation mistake. Given hints in other scenes that she did enjoy and want it too, I was supposed to classify the scene as consensual. Which the rest of my course did.
This is not me whining about a grade. I have discussed that intensely with the respective teacher; the only thing we could agree on being that we disagree.
This is me telling you how fifteen people went out of that German class having learned that no can also mean I secretly want this just as much, don’t you mind my protesting. That’s shit, man.
I genuinely believe that a critical approach to literature cannot just consist of contextualising it historically and socially to explain character’s behaviour. Keeping in mind problematic attitudes on sexuality and gender in many renowned classics, we have to keep applying contemporary thought and not excuse everything as ‘of its time’.
Our norms and morals aren’t a thing taught from textbooks in one specific class. They have to be the framework of everything we’re taught – which is why revolutionising the way we talk about sex has to happen in biology class, but it cannot stop there!