I was chatting to a feminist friend recently and she said something that really stuck with me: that having comprehensive and inclusive sex education would help so many feminist causes, from anti-domestic violence campaigns, to anti-homophobic/biphobic/transphobic efforts, to tackling rape myths, to improving young people’s body image… That really chimed with me. I and most of my feminist-inclined friends learned about feminist issues through reading blogs, social media and books, or – if we were lucky – hearing about it from feminist family members or friends. Imagine how much more of a head start we’d all have had if someone had sat us down in school and, for example, taught us about the signs that indicate a relationship is abusive, or that shock makes people react in unpredictable ways, so there’s no one “right way” for a rape survivor to behave during or immediately after the attack.
We never got taught about consent at school – we were never told that no-one else has a right to our bodies. It’s utterly terrifying, in retrospect. No-one ever said, if someone touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to put up with it. I know it sounds really simple when you put it like that, but we were never sat down by an adult and given this basic information. Instead, in my school as in many others, we girls were viewed by many of the lads in our year as a kind of communal property, to be manhandled as they saw fit – and we let it happen, as that’s just the way things were.
I think a really good session or two (or preferably more!) on consent, on bodily autonomy, and on respecting others could have made a big difference. I’m frankly amazed that schools aren’t
obliged to teach all their pupils what consent is
– surely, in terms of schools’ duty to safeguard pupils, letting them know their own rights is a must? Imagine how powerful it would be for a group of 13 year old pupils to hear that – for the 13 year old girl whose older boyfriend wants her to do things she doesn’t feel ready to do, or for the 13 year old boy who’s being abused at home but hasn’t told anyone because he thought he’d somehow brought it on himself.
Teaching about consent is a no-lose situation: there is literally no downside for anyone – apart from abusers, that is, and excuse me if I shed no tears for them. If the government really wants to protect children, it should stop wasting time looking into technological “solutions” – as if any 13 year old with a smartphone won’t work out how to bypass age-limited controls in five seconds flat, in any case – and instead put consent on the curriculum. Tell children and young people flat out that they are entitled to full control over their own bodies – it’s a lesson they need to hear. It’s the only right and moral thing to do. Are you listening, Messrs Gove and Cameron?