The issue of consent in our society is problematic at best, and mostly one sided.
This is because our society has a established a long history of supporting male dominated stereotypes for nearly all interactions, personal and professional, across all aspects.
Even with our language we assign male attribute descriptors to discussions of strength and bravery.
“Take it like a man.”
“Grow some balls.”
We expect strong, tough, capable, brave men to be devoid of empathy, compassion, and personal feelings other than anger and lust.
“Real men don’t cry.”
“A real man wouldn’t let anyone talk to them that way.”
We assign feminine attribute descriptors to discussions of weakness, while we treat compassion, understanding, and nurturing as additional forms of that weakness.
When men are being perceived as weak, we attribute female descriptors to them. When women are perceived as strong or forceful, we attribute male descriptors.
“Don’t be a pussy.”
“You punch/throw/run like a girl.”
“She’s got more balls than the lot of them.”
“She’s twice the man you are.”
Now, obviously, there has been much recent improvement on these issues with the rise of the #MeToo movement and the increasing acceptance of non-binary gender identities slowly guiding change to our daily discourse. But there’s a long way to go. Especially with the Evangelical far-right pushback to the shift attempting to return us to an error of legalized spousal rape while stripping away all the civil rights gains of all women and all people with non-traditional gender identities and relationship roles.
Meanwhile, much still hasn’t improved at all. Sexual assault victims and sexual harassment victims are still “slut shamed” and subjected to the additional trauma of having their own lives torn apart with character assassination attempts for coming forward with accusations against their abusers.
Laws are being passed all over the country to either reinstate or protect the right of a man to force his wife to have sex with him when she doesn’t want to. Laws are in place to give rapists the right to sue for paternity in states that won’t allow their victims to seek an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape and/or incest.
The Brock Turners and Brett Kavanaughs of the world continue to do whatever they want to whomever they want with little or no serious consequence even when the extend of their deeds are made public.
This carries over into our entertainment as well.
The classic holiday song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is nothing less than a date rape anthem for men attempting to continue to pressure and coerce women who have already said “No” multiple times into spending the night with them rather than helping them get home safely or just allowing her to leave.
Chris Pratt famously exposed himself to Any Poehler and everyone else on set on the set of “Parks And Rec” during a scene because he wanted to get a more surprised reaction from her on camera. The exposure was not scripted and was not consented to by any other person present. Her reaction is the one that made the cut for the show.
Meanwhile on “Friends” it was scripted for Matt Leblanc’s character Joey to expose himself to the entire cast and a guest star’s character whom his character had literally just met. This was played off as normal behavior for the people in the show for the era it was filmed. But it was handled much differently. Leblanc wore boxers under the robe he was supposed to open during the scene, and showed less than he likely would have in a bathing suit to them. In one outtake of the scene he actually had one of the other actors pictures attached to the front of the boxers. Despite the scripted scene, he still didn’t have consent to truly expose himself to them, and he took steps not to.
Movies and television productions are starting to have intimacy coordinators and counselors on set to prevent anyone being improperly exploited, pressured, or forced into something they are not completely comfortable with.
The need for this is becoming more and more apparent due to the abundance of cases like the one above.
Just this week it was announced that the stars of the 1968 “Romeo and Juliet” movie are suing paramount for the nude scenes they feel they were forced into while filming the movie. The actors were 15 and 16 at the time, roughly the same ages as the play’s tragic characters. Both are now in their 70s. There was no recourse at the time for them, there is now. For years, the version of this film with their nude bedroom scene was shown in public school English classrooms around the nation despite containing nude images of underage actors. Setting aside the power dynamics in play. Minors cannot legally consent.
As a father of multiple daughters, as a brother, a son, a husband, an uncle, a nephew, and a friend to the various women in my life, as a father of a son, I feel it is my responsibility to both teach and advocate for them whenever I can. I won’t even make my kids give “hello” or “goodbye” hugs to family friends or relatives if they don’t want to. Because it will never not be their choice who gets to press against them and wrap arms around their body.
It is important for all women and girls to learn they control their body, who they allow to see and touch it, and how and when that happens. It is equally important for all men and boys to learn that same truth and to honor it.
What is oft overlooked is that the opposite should also be true. Boys and men also have the same control over access to their bodies and women and girls should also honor that. This, despite the fact that society and entertainment want to portray all men as always ready and willing, even if they are already committed to a different person. Not only ready and willing, but completely incapable of having the strength to say “No” even if they wanted to.
It is dismaying how casually and enthusiastically Margo Robbie recently admitted she forced an unscripted kiss on Brad Pitt during a scene filmed for their recent movie, “Babylon,” just because she didn’t know when she’d ever have another chance to kiss Brad Pitt.
Millie Bobbie Brown made a similar excited announcement about her own behavior and cruelty with costar and supposed friend Louis Partridge while filming “Enola Homes 2.” Brown admitted she grabbed his face during rehearsals and kissed him to his surprise. “It was so cute really seeing her take the lead,” she said about the scene. “And also seeing a girl just make the first move is just really exciting.” Additionally, she admitted to punching Partridge while mingling on set. “Because Louis is a good friend I just kept punching him, I wasn’t doing stunts, I really was hurting him,” she said. “By the end of it, he said: ‘Millie can you just fake punch me,’ I was fully just getting him right in the stomach.”
I am not sure if such behavior should be considered expected or unexpected from a child star who, just like Emma Watson, was subjected to a social media “countdown clock” tracking when she would be of “legal” age to be sexualized.
Regardless of whether we use male or female descriptors for the behaviors; regardless of who is the instigator; regardless of how it is portrayed on screen for storyline entertainment purposes, consent is vital for all parties.
Non-consensual contact is assault. Additionally, most forms of such assault are at best unethical and at worst criminal.
Be better. Teach better. Demand better.