Last week, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh annoyed and disgusted millions of Americans who had previously managed to forget about his existence by implying that "consent" is something that only "the Left" cares about.
You know what the magic word, the only thing that matters in American sexual mores today is? One thing. You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it's perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there's no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left.
Yes, Rush Limbaugh. That is correct. Consent is precisely what makes sex not rape.
These stomach-turning comments came on the heels of the release of a 2005 video in which current Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump brags about sexually assaulting women, but this is not the first time Limbaugh has mocked the idea of consent. In 2014, he claimed that "'no' means 'yes' if you know how to spot it."
As many others have noted, keeping up with the news in this election cycle has been very difficult—if not utterly traumatizing—to survivors of sexual abuse and assault. Time after time, we have been forced to acknowledge the fact that making that horrific, dehumanizing comments about women and other marginalized groups does not disqualify a person from running for the highest office in the land. On the contrary; turning on any news channel, picking up the paper, even glancing at our social media feed reveals something sinister that we might have preferred not knowing: that there is, apparently and unfortunately, a significant contingent of people in this country who are aggressively, unabashedly pro-rape.
Here at Siren, we try to be optimistic about human nature. We believe that people are capable of treating each other with mutual respect—and we've built a harassment-free online dating platform to prove it.
How can we reconcile this optimism with the harsh realities we see in the media every day? Because we know that cultural attitudes like the ones expressed by Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh do not exist in a vacuum. Just as we know that behind every Brock Turner there is a Brock Turner's father, offering up excuses and victim-blaming rather than apologizing for his poor parenting, we also know that behind every Donald Trump or Rush Limbaugh, there is a transparent desperation to be seen as a powerful "alpha male." And behind this desire is a patriarchal lie about how the world works.
The silver lining is that the facade is cracking by the minute. It has become increasingly obvious that the lie is no longer tenable, because new technology has given us the ability to share our stories with each other on an unprecedented scale.
Conversations like the ones we are currently having around sexual assault are difficult but important because they bring what was previously hidden into the light. It is only when we can freely talk about these deep cultural traumas, giving names to shapes that appear just below the surface, that we can begin to heal, and build structures that reflect our new intentionality.
Another word for intentionality is "consent." When we introduce the language of consent to our interpersonal interactions, we are no longer forced to passively endure whatever happens to us. We are agents of positive change, building the culture we want to inhabit, together.