"NO MEANS YES"
By: Madison Sneath
This was the first encounter that I had with this rape insinuating response, or joke in their eyes. I laughed at my friends as they failed to land the water bottle properly on the ground, but the whole time “no means yes” echoed in my head. Days became weeks, weeks became months, and nearly every day that passed I heard this joke repeated as a way for these guys to do whatever they please. It started with simple things like taking my water bottle and escalated to slapping a girl’s butt or not respecting the one they were in a relationship with. Although I knew that this joke and these actions were wrong, I couldn’t find the words to explain why. I also didn’t have the confidence to ruin the joke those boys seemed to find hilarious.
It wasn’t until I was in ninth grade that I was able to put into words why the joke “no means yes” was so wrong. That was the year that I was taught the word consent. I realized then that how I had been treated by males, in situations much deeper than my water bottle, was so wrong. Now, after making my connections to consent, I wish that I had learned that word much sooner. Every student should have the opportunity to make those connections to consent, whether sexual or not, at an age much younger than high school.
In order to learn more about the opinions in Novato, I created a short survey to share with students at Novato High School. This survey revealed when kids in high school were taught the word ‘consent’ and how this has affected them. With over one hundred responses to the survey, an accurate spectrum of 9th-12th graders from Novato High School was represented. It was interesting to see that 45 percent of students remember being taught consent in middle school. Even though this is slightly better than my experience with learning consent in high school, our society has to realize how early rape culture is introduced.
In an article by The Atlantic, Julie Beck describes how kids are introduced to rape culture at a very young age through pop culture. This happens by showing extreme, creepy, and stalkerish “romantic” gestures or lyrics in movies and songs. They may show a girl being taken aback by the utmost acts of romance in a movie, however, the girl will always forgive the guy and accept his love. In songs, lyrics about “blurred lines” or drunk sex is what anyone who turns on the radio will hear. This teaches children that if they show their love towards others in an extraordinary way, they will get a beautiful person to love and will always be forgiven. But what if that person doesn’t want their love? Well, they must just try another act to win them over, right? No. Kids are not taught to take no as an answer. As the saying goes, if you don’t try you’ll never succeed, but at what point does the try become badgering?
This is what we need to teach our children. ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are some very common first words that kids will learn, but learning the definitions to these words is a whole other task. Schools cannot rely on the assumption that parents will have ‘the sex talk’ with their kids. Schools need to provide support for all students, especially those who may not have parents that would have those serious conversations. Also, talking about consent does not necessarily mean talking about sex. Teaching a kid to just accept that some people say no to certain actions or words in their day to day lives is the most valuable lesson they could learn.
To define consent, the Webster Dictionary definition is “compliance in or approval of what is done or proposed by another” This is what kids should be learning as soon as kindergarten. Movements such as Me Too and Don’t Tell Me To Smile are teaching people that saying no to sex or faking to be happy are okay. These movements are influencing education and social media in a positive way. However, now there are jokes quoting these movements that people use to make fun of others sharing their stories or to continue doing whatever they please. This shows that we still have a lot of work to do to change the way people view consent.
Consent is a word that should be acknowledged every day of everyone’s lives. This one word taught from an age as early as preschool or kindergarten, could change everything about how we are viewing each other. Jokes made about rape and harassment may stop, movies will show plots and romance that isn’t stalkerish or accepting of a rape culture, and in our daily lives we will learn to listen and respect each other.
Those boys who snatched my water bottle from my hand while I was in seventh grade were not taught well. The rape insinuation “no means yes” was a joke that spread too far, and too fast amongst children. Now, I prompt you with just one question. What will you do to teach youth and adults that no does not mean yes?