Debating recent attempts to clarify sexual misconduct.
If you’ve used social media recently, or even watched the news or listened to the radio, chances are that you are aware of a certain cartoon involving stick-figures. It was blogger Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess who initially wrote about the issue of sexual consent using the analogy of drinking a cup of tea. Back in March 2015, the post ‘Consent: Not actually that complicated’ generated untold shares as people discussed the sometimes contentious issue of sexual consent in terms of something we can all understand; that great British past-time, drinking tea.
For anyone unfamiliar with the cartoon, the principle is simple and uses tea as a metaphor for sex. If you offer someone a cup of tea and they enthusiastically accept with ‘Yes, please! I’d love a cup of tea’, you can be sure they really do want a tea. But if you make it for them and they change their mind, you can’t make them drink it. If they’re unsure if they want tea, you can make them one but you should realise that when it comes to drinking it, they might not want to. Even if they enjoyed drinking tea with you in the past, that doesn’t mean they want a cup now. And if they’re unconscious, don’t even make them a cup of tea; unconscious people don’t drink tea.
Collaboration between the blogger and Blue Seat Studios resulted in a video campaign adopted by Thames Valley Police. Generally seen as a humorous way to illustrate a serious point, the video has prompted honest discussion of what it means to gain consent from a potential sexual partner. There has of course been some backlash from those who argue that it trivialises rape and that anyone inherently decent should have an automatic understanding of the difference between consensual sex and sexual assault. Although most people would agree that violent or forceful sexual attacks are clear-cut cases, the cartoon seeks to clarify the grey area that exists in the idea of sexual consent.
A key factor in exploring this grey area is the issue of whether someone is capable or conscious enough to assert themselves. That’s where the tea drinking analogy comes into its own as the idea of pouring tea down someone’s throat is as ridiculous as it is incomprehensible. In an age where consent workshops are now routinely offered at universities, although this discussion is far from new, it is undoubtedly an important and very necessary one. A series of investigations by The Telegraph into sexual assaults at university has shown as many as one in three female students are victims of inappropriate or unwelcome sexual contact. That is a shocking figure and a disturbing indictment of an ongoing problem.
As a university graduate from the year 2000, I feel partly blessed to have grown up in an age before social media and smartphones. There are thankfully few images of my attempts at cutting my own hair or experimenting with bold fashion statements. We could also drink bottles of 20/20 and down tequila until we could no longer stand and there would be no evidence plastered over Facebook the following day. It was a heady time of complete unaccountability; we were carefree in a way that the class of 2016 are simply too self-aware to understand. Sorry kids, but you just don’t get to mess up like that anymore. I can speak only from my own perspective, which is a female one when I say that it was a post-feminist time which no longer respected respecting yourself; young women could do what we wanted and that meant doing anything men could do. We were part of the ‘ladette’ culture; we drank pints and had casual sex and genuinely believed that we were enjoying ourselves. It is only now, looking back that I realise the flip-side of this freedom were boundaries so blurred that you would need a prescription to even see them.
In an admittedly non-scientific survey of my similarly-aged friends, there is a clear pattern of sexual behaviour that probably seems quite self-destructive. Sex with strangers while semi-conscious was par for the course and having to piece together hazy recollections of these encounters was part of the fun. Yet it doesn’t sound like fun, does it? I am pleased that today’s youth are becoming more accountable than we were and that they are more aware of the potential repercussions of their actions, even if this is partly as a result of being scared of social media shaming. Perhaps it’s sad that we need to discuss sexual consent in terms of drinking tea but ongoing attempts at clarifying the issue are absolutely necessary while there are variable interpretations of how drunk is too drunk. If it helps equip people with the ability to make better decisions for themselves and use common sense in their interaction with others, the tea analogy can only be positive. Everyone drinks tea but it doesn’t mean you want to drink one all the time. Sometimes what you really need is a glass of water and a lift home.