Respect, consent and Aziz Ansari

Violet columnist Charley Barnard takes a long, hard (pun definitely intended) look at the way society respects consent.

Charley Barnard

That’s it, that’s the view from orgasm bridge. I always deliver, folks!charley barnard

Consent is, and should always be, a freely given, continuous and enthusiastic ‘yes’. Like any sexually active woman, I have experienced varying degrees of respect from sexual partners, whether that be in regards to sex or pretty much any aspect of my life. Additionally, like many women, I read the account in Babe of a woman’s experience with Aziz Ansari and found it struck uncomfortably close to home. (Read the article here – content note for graphic descriptions of sexual assault). A lack of respect for consent and sexual autonomy comes in many forms, and I have experienced most of them. Thus, I take nothing for granted, least of all consent. Perhaps this gives me a different view of Ansari’s behaviour than other people, such as Bari Weiss, who controversially wrote in her New York Times opinion article “I’m apparently the victim of sexual assault. And if you’re a sexually active woman in the 21st century, chances are that you are, too.”

As wonderful as it is for Weiss to feel entirely happy with how she’s been treated by her partners, I am not so happy, and neither is Grace, the woman who was pressured by Ansari.

“To me, respect is a sliding scale, from complete disrespect, to passive respect, to active respect”

It starts with a slurry of messages on Tinder, someone asking you to come over and not taking no for an answer, until you unmatch them. The disregard for consent can be as simple as that. This moves up a notch when it’s someone you know or is on your course, and you feel impolite unmatching them or ignoring their messages, and your autonomy and control of the situation is taken away from you. You find you start creating excuses for your ‘no’ because simply not being into it isn’t good enough.

Then, you’re in someone’s house, or car, or bed, and you don’t want to sleep with them, but since you’ve come that far you feel like a ‘no’ would be impolite. In every other aspect of their lives, women are taught to be polite and caring and say things like ‘maybe’ or ‘we’ll see’, avoiding anything which could hurt anyone’s feelings – why, all of a sudden, is it expected for us to be able to confidently say no in the bedroom? So, you do what Grace did, you move your hand, you ask to slow down, you say ‘maybe next time’ and hope to god your partner gets the message and doesn’t get aggressive. But what if they don’t get the message? What if you then firmly say no, and they do get aggressive?


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A passive respect for consent is how I’d judge my average casual sexual encounter: I sleep with someone, and I have a few emotional hiccups that I don’t let on, and that’s that. The consent is clearly given, and the way my partner touches my body is respectful, but it’s passive. If I said stop, they’d stop. But if I just wasn’t into it but kept going, would they? There have been several occasions lately where I have felt actively respected. The first time I experienced sex at Cambridge, I was getting jiggy with a guy, and while I was into him, I was feeling tense because he was a new partner, it was a new place, and I wasn’t feeling entirely confident with myself. In the average sexual encounter, I would push through this and keep going and probably end up enjoying myself. On this occasion, my partner stopped, and said “You seem like you’re struggling, shall we just stop and chill?” I felt like thanking him. Thankful and relieved isn’t something you should feel when sex stops, but it highlighted something about the way I’ve felt in the past. The respect this guy showed for me was active. He was paying attention to my reactions, knew that I wasn’t as into it as I could be, and was proactive in suggesting we stop.

Another time, I was asked if I wanted to have sex (getting consent really is as simple as that, folks!) and when I replied, “I’m not sure,” they said, “Well, if you’re not sure, that’s a no.” Again, I was shocked, but I was relieved. It may seem like a tiny thing, but having been in the position where my consent has been ignored, it meant a lot to me.

When we consider consent as a continued, freely given and enthusiastic ‘yes’, the lines can’t be blurred (looking at you, Robin Thicke). I would encourage everyone reading this to consider how you’re treating the people you’re sleeping with: how in tune are you with their bodies? Are you aware of how they’re feeling? Are you creating an environment where it is safe for them to say no?