May 15, 2017

European Consent Culture

By Claire Porter, USC junior majoring in Communication with a minor in Marketing. VOICE year 2 rep with RSVP.

Since January, I’ve been studying abroad in London and traveling – and, frankly, partying – as much as my budget permits. Through my international interactions, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the men I have specifically been surrounded by seem to care more about consent than men back in the states.

I spent all night at a club talking to an Oxford grad. He invited a friend and I to get Duck & Waffle afterwards and he even paid for it. When I offered to call us an Uber home and he suggested we go the route that would drop him off first, his intention for the remainder of the night — well, by this time, morning — was made clear. I anticipated the “do you want to come inside?” gesture, and he did not disappoint. He offered to show me the stellar view from the rooftop of his apartment, with the obvious implication of what would follow. And I politely declined, explaining that it was much too early and I was exhausted. I then began brainstorming other ways of saying the same rejection, as I was used to doing back home.

But he said, “Okay.”

Just okay? I was baffled. He didn’t try to ask it another way? Beg on his knees? Make a deal for another free meal if I agreed to join him? No — he understood I didn’t want to, and respected my decision.

Although a seemingly normal interaction, this is quite abnormal for the average female college student (especially speaking as someone who is a member of Greek life). The idea that he respected my decision against going into his apartment the first time was foreign to me. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been excused so quickly from a sexually implied request back in the US.

While in Paris, my friend and I spent a night at a bar befriending a group of Parisians. We laughed, compared political climates between our respective countries, and learned more about Parisian life. After a while, I felt one of the guy’s hands on my lower back. My immediate thought was that he was trying to make a move. My mind became full of ways to politely reject him for the advances that were sure to follow. This was no problem — I had been trained on how to do this.

I was surprised to realize about 0.5 seconds later that he was merely trying to walk behind me.

Not only had I been trained on how to handle unwanted male advancements, I had also been socially conditioned to assume that any physical contact would be a sexual advance — even something so innocent as touching someone lightly when you’re trying to move behind them.

For the most part, I’ve noticed that in the places I’ve traveled around in Europe, and especially London, instills a strong sense of consent in social settings. This is not to say that all European cultures foster such a strong attention to consent, but I have been shocked by how respectful men have been here. From my observations, there’s no congratulating a boy for respecting a girl’s decision to say no — it’s an expectation that he would behave that way. Since being abroad, American men are the only ones who have danced with me without paying me the respect of knowing what their face looks like. On the other hand, and from my specific experience, British men won’t approach you unless you look interested. My friends and I have learned that, depending on where we are, we often have to motion for a guy to approach us to prove we’re interested. I definitely appreciate it, but it’s still taking some time to get used to.

I took a 12-hour self-defense course taught by DPS called RAD (The Rape Aggression Defense System) back in December in preparation for going abroad. I wanted to make sure that I could defend myself from unwanted sexual advances if the worst possible scenario occurred. Given the strong consent culture here, it looks like the skills learned will be more handy back in the states.