“You’re on your own, sister. Figure it out!”

by Samantha Campbell

Consent is one of those simple-looking words that give many of us pause when asked to describe it. It seems an explanation should simply roll off the tongue but as I learned over the years, you can’t fit ‘consent’ and ‘sex’ into one tidy box.

When asked to write this piece, my mind raced back to the 11 year old girl who was alledgedly gang raped last year by at least 18 boys and men in a tiny Texas town. The girl’s neighbour horrified many by telling reporters that she was often seen unsupervised, wearing   makeup and provocative clothing, as if to suggest that she had it coming, never mind she was too young, in the eyes of the law, to agree to such acts.

Such half-baked rationalisations are shameful and far too common in sexual assualt cases, where some victims are hastily judged to be sending out the wrong signals or worse yet simply dismissed as sluts. For the record, no girl asks to be raped or otherwise assaulted. PERIOD. But this idea of sending right and wrong signals got me thinking. If consent is not often verbalised, how can we ever be sure that our partners were willing participants? 

I’m guessing this amibiguity leaves some women and men, maybe, ill-prepared for the next step. Maybe, I’m reaching but I’m reminded of stories where women intitally thought they were okay with having sex, didn’t necessarily give consent, didn’t necessarily offer any objection but felt crappy afterwards, sometimes even believing they were taken advantage of. How much of that is because we assign different roles for boys and girls in relationships?

On one side, boys are told  to ‘be the man’, ‘make it happen’ but our girls are fed the confounding drawl of “you’ll KNOW when it’s time, which I’ll bet translates in the head of a 12 year old girl to “You’re on your own, sister. Figure it out!”. And in many ways they are on their own, when at 12, 13, 14, 15, they make (or are forced to make) the decision to ‘go all the way’.

I often wonder how many teenage pregnancies were the result of girls actually saying YES to sex or girls not thinking or knowing they could say NO. It’s a scary thought that seems to get lost in our oversexed, underprepared definition of today’s youth. But I fear, very little will change if we continue to tell our young boys to ‘take the lead’ and our young girls to ‘follow the leader’.

 So lets hear from you. Do you think that we give boys and girls different messages with regard to sex? Are boys told to “make it happen” while girls are given vague messages about “knowing the right time”? What makes it difficult for girls to say “NO”? Why do half of Caribbean teen girls who’ve had sex report that their first sex was forced or somewhat forced?

Graphic by Lynette Leid