Consent classes: From school to Parliament and beyond
#MeToo, #TimesUp and ‘I Believe Her’ have focused attention on behaviour between men and women in the entertainment industry, parliament and beyond. In the mix of accusations, we have heard many stories, from serious accusations of rape to the unwanted touching of knees. The controversy reinforced recent trends that have given a new importance to the question of consent. Whereas the feminist demand making headlines in the ‘80s and ‘90s was for men to understand ‘No Means No’, today, we are told, ‘Yes doesn’t always mean yes’.
Do we need lessons in consent? Caroline Lucas MP thinks so: ‘What we need is compulsory training for all MPs. How to understand what consent is.’ MPs are not the only people to be told they need lessons. Most UK universities now run consent classes, which are increasingly becoming compulsory. In April 2018, Rugby Players Ireland (RPI) announced it will include ‘sexual health and relationships’ workshops in its wellbeing programme. From September 2019, all school children will be taught relationships and sex education as the subject is renamed ‘to emphasise the central importance of healthy relationships’.
But has the conversation gone too far? Does no ambiguity mean no romance? Some are concerned even platonic touch is now viewed as a danger. Parents are warned not to make their children hug grandparents in case they learn touch without consent is okay. Primary and nursery teachers are warned about hugging children to comfort them and university lecturers are told to keep their doors open when conducting one-to-one meetings with students.
Is it just common sense that physical contact of any kind needs positive consent? Should we welcome the teaching of consent to MPs, students and school children, or are we in danger of overcomplicating and formalising personal relationships? Are we frightening children about sex before they even have a relationship?