“Consent is Sexy” read my classmates t-shirt. The campaign recently happened at CU, great turnout, so I was happy to see the message still circulating. “Neat!” I thought, “A fellow feminist to share politics with”. This was a class where ‘gender issues’ is written into just one week of the syllabus, and, so, I was pleasantly surprised.
I started thinking about safe space, definitely a hot topic right now – designing the spaces we want to see. In fact, this topic came up at a recent conference Sexting and Digital Media Conference. I took a lot of notes. And I’m going to use these notes to build on my ideas about what consent means in terms of our digital lives.
IMPORTANT LESSON – if you choose to take a private naked picture of yourself, and someone else circulates it over the internet without your consent; it is highly likely you will be blamed (Amy Hasinoff).
This advice did not surprise me. I even kinda expected it. It’s not as if I’m running home right now to take naked pictures, but I might at some point, and what if a mean ex gets hold of them? Or worse! What if I send them to current partner, then current partner decides to be an ass and circulate them online? Yet I’m told by producing it I’m responsible, that my privacy deserves to be invaded (Amy Hasinoff responded to this at the Sexting and Digital Media Conference with something along the lines of “Would we tell Warner Brothers not to make the next blockbuster hit, and, if they do, their work deserves to be pirated?” – No! And brilliantly put)
As a feminist, I’m hyper-alarmed by the shape of some online spaces. When I ask my thirteen year old cousin Megan (pseudo name) ‘Why does victim blaming seem almost expected online and abusive behavior downplayed?’ a blank stare is what I get. This is the wrong approach clearly. So, how can we start talking with each other about safe space online? How can we develop a clearer picture of what consent means online? It needs to be a part of a conversation that appeals to the population most negatively affected (teen girls being one example). Similarly, the Ottawa Sun reported on the issue of consent and teen sexting.
For those who can’t relate to the naked pict scenario, the underlying logic is transferable to any personal info. i.e. your online bank information. Every time I enter my personal bank information online do I deserve to be robbed? According to current privacy laws surrounding online sexting, yes I do deserve to be robbed.
Jessica Valenti’s book proved useful. She makes gender stereotypes so catchy…almost fun to find. She explains how to see them in everyday life, constantly playing out in different forms.
I think safe space requires openness from participants, a conscious commitment to not place shame on another. Thus, I can hear your viewpoint and agree or disagree, but your opinion always stands outside your value as a person. However, I also recognize that in our everyday lives we occupy spaces that don’t follow this logic. We occupy spaces that want to murder our personhood. For me, these circumstances demand partial consent i.e. I know these spaces are ok with breaking my boundaries but I participate anyway. most of us would agree partial consent just doesn’t cut it when it comes to what we do with our bodies. Our legal system would likely call this coerced consent. Yet online…we see a different story. Instead our online lives appear like ticking time bombs. Anyone of us could be next.
Furthermore, online sexual harassment brings up the inherent ’nature’ of the machine; the internet is described as a zone where information flows without control. As Judy Wajcman’s 2010 article explains, this prompted social and radical feminist to question the way gender is embedded in technology (page 146). If sexual harassment is primarily affecting women and girls, then isn’t the design of the internet what needs to change? How can we say Consent is Sexy when the definition of consent isn’t being applied to every space? The internet is not a mysterious landscape, and information is controllable. I would argue talking about consent and safe space can begin with accounts from the experience of sexual violence online.