by Eric Ginsburg
Why is it that I didn’t explicitly learn about consent — at least the name for the concept — until attending college? And even then, it only arose thanks to my peers, and not the curriculum. Worse, how can it be that someone can pass through 17 years of formal education and, in many cases, still never come across the idea?
When consent is raised, it seems to generally happen in the context of an attempt to acknowledge the difference between willing participation in sexual activity and unwanted assault (often called “sexual assault,” but considering that sex and rape are mutually exclusive categories, we kind of need better terminology here). But consent is about so much more than that.
Through the framework of consent, we can more intentionally approach so many fundamental parts of human interaction. Asking the eternal internal question, “Does this person accept and welcome what I want to do to them?” and analyzing the various forms that consent can and should take will make us better friends, partners, colleagues and just people in general.
It isn’t that consent looks the same in every scenario. Consent isn’t possible in plenty of circumstances — the point is that it would enhance countless others. Learning about the principle and exploring what it means will allow for greater clarity in our actions, it will reduce harm and will foster an outlook that more regularly takes into consideration our impact on others.
Consent could easily be incorporated into countless existing subjects taught in our schools. Teaching kindergarteners about unwanted touching, be it hitting or hugs, would address consent. A middle-school history lesson about the Louisiana Purchase could dig deeper if students were asked to think about who did and did not consent to the deal, and what the implications are. And it sure as hell should be part of high-school health and sex-ed classes.
If we were raised to consider consent, maybe people wouldn’t use photos without giving credit to the photographer as often, maybe people would ask before touching someone else’s hair or grabbing someone’s arm to examine tattoos, and maybe white hipsters would think more about how moving into Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn and trying to remake the historically black neighborhood in their own image might violate their new neighbors’ wishes.
Or maybe not. But I have a hard time believing that incorporating an understanding of consent into mandatory school curriculums wouldn’t lead to fewer people committing “sexual” assault, and wouldn’t foster a culture that was more intentional and mindful than our current one. We need it desperately.