A revolution has taken place over the past year, spearheaded from the allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein that invoked the voice of thousands of victims globally. From the influx of reports of harassment and assault within the Hollywood industry as well as blue and white collar workplaces, the #MeToo movement emerged, followed by the equally invigorated Time’s Up movement.
Back in the seventies, sexual promiscuity was practically a norm. Because most of the cases that have been reported of late occurred during that time, many have been explained, though not excused, as a part of the culture of the seventies. That particular decade was a time for freedom and revolution—particularly when it came to vices. The seventies embodied the movement of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. A sexual revolution that began in the sixties continued on to the next decade. Wealth was flaunted in a glamorous but sleazy way, and power was often misused. Alas, the fun and fame that came with that era also involved corruption and misogyny. Today, cases being revisited from the seventies are serving as the foundation for the new wave of action against sexual assault.
With changing times, there are also changing rules.
Undoubtedly, times have changed. Victims lacked voices and support back then, but further developments in the feminist movement are encouraging those who have suffered to speak up. The world has a voice now. Most people, hopefully, know right from wrong. The problem lies with the blurred lines – when harassment is in a gray area, how do we determine the appropriate boundaries? Controversy festers in the offenses that are less definite, the ones that may not be offenses at all. There is a precarious barrier between consensual and non-consensual sexual counters, one that we need to learn how to navigate.
Take flirtation, for example. Can the graze of an arm or a hand on someone’s waist be considered harassment? Or is it just a form of human contact, a way to connect with someone? Maneuvering the multiplicities of flirtation opens up a world of potential accusations of harassment. We need to consider them on the basis of giving perpetrators what they deserve and also avoiding casualties of the wrongfully accused.
Case in Point: One of the most prominent legal battle shedding light on these blurred lines is the accusation involving actor Aziz Ansari. Grace, a photographer in New York City, went on a date with Ansari and ended the night back at his apartment. After engaging in certain sexual acts, she didn’t want to go further, and Ansari ignored her “‘nonverbal cues’”, according to the New York Times. She left his apartment feeling regretful and violated.
It is important here to recognize that Grace’s resulting trauma from her experience with Ansari is valid. It is understandable that she felt she couldn’t say no, that she felt like she was being coerced, though not attacked. It is also important to understand that in the world we live in today, it is imperative that the “victim” be as assertive as they can in what they want and what they don’t. ‘Nonverbal cues’ simply don’t cut it. Feminism has given us a voice, and we need to use it. It’s okay to be in charge of our own sexual encounters. It’s okay for us to be vocal about what we want and what we don’t.
Feminism has given us a voice, and we need to use it.
With changing times, there are also changing rules. Consent needs to be redefined. We are being forced to think of assault and harassment as a matter of prevention, not termination. For decades, the world has been trying to change the deeply rooted mentality when it comes to inequality in sexual assault. While we should continue to alter the twisted, inherently traditional values that are instilled in our society, we also need to take matters into our own hands. We must think of assault and harassment as the norm, essentially. As sickening as that may be, unfortunately, this is what it’s come to. By doing this we set the stage for ourselves to be in control.
I articulate my thoughts on the basis that women are the main victims of these cases, but I don’t dispute the cases in which men face the same behavior as women. The New York TImes introduced the idea of ‘Gray Zone Sex’, a concept we are all familiar with, now with a label. Modern citizens of the planet need to maneuver through sex in the ‘gray zone’ by finding a balance between their desire to engage in sexual acts and their hesitance to accept what they are doing and with whom they do it.
Often times, the sexual encounters that leave people the most wounded are the ones that we think we want to engage in but regret afterward. This doesn’t constitute as sexual violence, but rather a constant internal battle that leaves us questioning the idea of consent. Without explicit, verbal communication, sexual encounters result in the crossfire of mixed signals and ambiguous feelings.
As I move on to college, and the whole of my generation moves forward—through high school, university study, or the working world—it is imperative that we embrace the ability to both read and express the language of consent. Being verbal is everything. It’s time to take control of our own experiences as we navigate a new era in which love, intimacy, and sexual violence are all players and need to be recognized with a clear degree of understanding and preparedness.