#Blogtober 21: Consent isn’t just for sex, it’s everything

Some men make me very uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure that isn’t news to any person who identifies as a woman, and even amongst my group of friends it’s a fairly regular sentiment. Overfamiliarity is something I struggle with from others, so there is nothing I absolutely abhor more than being “chatted up”. The second I feel someone has an ulterior motive to their friendliness it makes me very very uncomfortable. When I don’t react to a compliment in the way someone expects, and instead of backing off they keep trying to escalate it? All I want to do is run away. Maybe hide. With a cat.

Let’s get one thing straight. I don’t hate men. I do resent, however, having to quantify my statement that some men make me uneasy, just to somehow “prove” I am not a man-hating misandrist who wants nothing better to do than rid the planet of all cis men. I surround myself with people I like, who I can chat to and enjoy spending time with. The idea that gender should be an issue when choosing your friends is an utter load of rubbish.

I don’t expect my male friends to be card-carrying feminists, to go to rallies or proclaim how much they support the cause. On paper. What I do expect is common decency and respect. No one in my close group of friends would consciously overstep the mark, and even if they accidentally did with their words or actions, they have the self-awareness to stop doing these things when they are called out. If I tell them the phrase they used makes me uncomfortable, they are careful not to use it again. If I ask a friend not to touch me, or stand so close to me because it’s infringing on my personal space, they take a step back. They apologise. One of the best examples I can think of is when I was sitting between two male friends at a festival; one thought it would be funny to poke me in the side every time I lifted my arm, so after he’d jabbed me more than once I jumped up and shouted “Can you please stop pawing at me!” Unfortunately at that exact moment, the other friend had innocently put his hand on my shoulder. Guess which one took a step back and apologised, and guess who laughed it off as me not being able to take a joke?

As a woman, we are subjected to interactions in which our autonomy is taken away from us. We are told that if we react in a certain way, we are causing a fuss. Tickling someone who doesn’t want to be tickled is a “joke”, comments about our appearance are “compliments”, and let’s not forget the good ol’ unsolicited dick pic. If we speak up, we are considered to be full of drama, so we quietly sit and take these micro aggressions disguised as banter. We tell our female friends it makes us uncomfortable, but we know that every day we can expect more. It never bloody stops. We get inappropriate Snapchats from people we barely know, men grabbing our hands in clubs trying to dance with us despite our protests that we aren’t interested, strange arms around our waists when we lean over to order a drink at the bar. I don’t feel it’s my right to intrude on someone else’s space, I don’t touch people without asking, or stand with my face inches from theirs, chin on their shoulder. These things are creepy.

We need to realise as women that we shouldn’t just discard these thoughts as an overreaction. No one can tell you that your reaction is right or wrong, and if someone is making you feel uncomfortable, they need to stop. Consent doesn’t just become important when it comes to sex, it is ALWAYS important. The lines are not blurred when we talk about affirmative consent in sexual situations, so why do some men consider it ok to invade our personal space in public places? It isn’t cute. It isn’t endearing. It just makes us want to stay the hell away from people who just won’t accept that what they are doing is ultimately 100% not ok.

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