Consent: (n.) permission for something to happen, or agreement to do something. (v.) To give permission for something to happen.
An agreement is an arrangement between parties regarding a course of action. An agreement requires all parties to be involved. An agreement is not one person making decisions based solely on his or her feelings and impulses and forcing those decisions on someone else. Consent must be given freely and not under pressure. Consent can also change — just because consent was given at one time, under one set of circumstances does not automatically generalize it to any other situation. Consent grants both parties autonomy over their own bodies.
St. Patrick’s Day is a day famous for leprechauns, green and beer.
This year, for most of the College of William and Mary’s population, myself included, St. Patty’s day also meant Aaron Carter. At 4 p.m., I put my tankard aside and stood in line to fulfill my 12-year-old self’s wildest dreams. Hundreds of students joined me. Aaron’s party took place in the Sadler Center on a little stage set up with glamour pictures of Aaron and a lone MacBook.
By the time the concert started, everyone was restless. I was bored and hungover. As I considered making my exit, Aaron reached off the stage during a song and kissed someone at the front of the audience. My interest was piqued enough to stick around through a few more songs. My enthusiasm quickly faded, however, as he had his backup dancers choose (with obviously scripted lines) two “lucky” ladies to come join them onstage.
I watched as two women were chosen and sat on chairs in front of five hundred of their peers, as Aaron’s manager talked about how the only rule was they weren’t allowed to take his clothes off onstage. I probably should have turned around and hightailed it out of there, but at that point, I still wanted to augment my childhood experience by seeing this pop star.
As the MacBook played the first few bars of yet another prerecorded track, Aaron Carter came out in a change of clothes, serenading the beautiful women in front of him. Cheesy, for sure, but harmless. As I watched, he got closer and closer to one of the women’s faces, and before I knew it, he was straddling her and kissing her as the recorded track played on. I left.
I found the entire experience unsettling, and I’m still sad my childhood self was let down to such an extent. I’m neither shocked nor upset Aaron Carter kissed women at the College. Let’s be honest, we are a bunch of extremely kissable women.
What distressed me was those women had virtually no chance to say yes or no. They were pulled up onstage in front of five hundred people to engage in an intimate act with a pop star. That’s a pretty high-pressure situation that often makes people behave in ways they otherwise wouldn’t. I am not saying those women did not want to, or did not enjoy kissing Aaron Carter. I am saying he should have asked permission.
Asking is the easiest and MOST foolproof way to gain consent from someone else. “Can I ____?” “Is this okay?” and “Do you want to?” are small sentences that can have a big impact. Admittedly, there are other non-verbal ways to express consent, but often times these non-verbal “go-aheads” form the basis of discrepancies between how two parties can view the same sexual encounter. An individual who is truly granting consent to a sexual act will be an active participant in that act.
Someone who isn’t saying a verbal “no” is not necessarily implying a non-verbal “yes.” And someone who can’t say no is certainly not saying yes. An individual who is unconscious cannot grant consent. An individual who is extremely drunk cannot grant consent. An individual who does not understand what you are asking cannot grant consent. We all deserve the chance to be an active participant in sexual agreements, and to have those agreements honored. Maybe Aaron should write a song about that.
Tyna H. is a Behind Closed Doors columnist and no longer wants to go to any of Aaron’s parties.