Under the Moonflower Tree

Under the Moonflower Tree

A lot of discussions about rape culture and consent have been happening  lately. This story, though, was I think the first I’d read written intimately from the honest (though not very redeeming) male perspective about the subtle nature of consent. It made me think about situations I’ve been in, and how appreciative I’ve been about the boys/men in my life who understood boundaries, however confusing and passively enforced on my part…but also how overly-forgiving I have been about some men who have not been so understanding. How easy it is to take the blame. And how fucked up it is that I walk around feeling appreciative of people for NOT violating the most basic boundaries, rather than feeling absolutely freaking outraged about those who have.

I want to be clear, this is not regarding any experience I have had in my recent past. Lest anyone think of accusing anyone (or themselves) of wrongdoing. I’m pretty sure those who have overstepped are well aware of who they are, even if they refuse to admit it to me. BUT…to be fair (probably more fair than I need to be, but considering I am the mother of two young boys – probably necessarily fair, if only as a cautionary tale) what occurred to me today is that our culture sends so many messages to men and boys that tell them silence is consent, as a parent it is imperative to actively counteract that culture. NO MEANS NO, for sure. But so does “I don’t think so,” so does shying away, and so does silence.

This is why I’m so thankful for a post that I read on the blog Silence is not Consent about talking to children about consent. This morning, after I read that short story, the kids and I had a good discussion about consent. We talked about consent not being limited to the first time you have sex with someone; that it’s something that needs to be renewed before (sometimes even during (thanks for that reminder, K.)) each encounter. We talked about the fact that long term relationships, including marriage, are not implied consent. We talked about how “talking someone into” sex is not consent. We talked about safe words. We talked about enthusiastic yes(!) And I was reminded by a friend later in the day that most of us can perceive when someone is not enjoying him or herself. Sex should never be a compromise. It should never be “giving in.” It really should be something fun and eagerly approved of by all participating parties for the duration of the act.

My children responded: Mom. We are the children of a feminist single mother – I think we know all of this stuff.

But I didn’t let that stop me. hahaha. Because I would really hate to be the feminist single mother of a son who managed to grow up without a VERY CLEAR understanding of consent. So we also talked about validating the experiences of those who approach us to communicate difficult feelings about sexual encounters with anyone, including ourselves…and seeking to heal, rather than defend. In my opinion (and this might be difficult for others who have had any experience on the spectrum of what I’ll call sexually questionable behaviors) it’s entirely possible for someone to inadvertently violate the rules of consent. Or at least ignorantly. We live in a culture that so frequently projects fucked up ideas of what is and is not healthy communication with regard to sexuality, and within which so little is offered in the way of useful sex education, is it a wonder that we are confused about healthy boundaries? As difficult as it is to do so, I find myself empathizing for men who have crossed a line, almost as much as I empathize for women who aren’t experienced enough to understand that not saying no is not the equivalent of saying yes, and therefore blame themselves for whatever emotional damage they incur from not only the non-consensual experience, but the ensuing self-doubt that often occurs.

In short, as the mother of boys, it is MY responsibility to continue to make sure all of this is absolutely crystal clear. It starts with me. And that responsibility is where I start to heal.