When The Everyday Feminist Project asked Writer and Cartoonist Alli Kirkham to sum up sexual consent through the medium of cartoons, she jumped at the challenge. Some might claim that the use of cartoon imagery to discuss such a troubling issue is too simplistic. However, that is because the notion of consent is, well, pretty simplistic. Her candid cartoon has now gone viral and has attracted worldwide attention. Bizarrely, even in our increasingly equal society there are still many people who have worryingly limited understanding surrounding the nature of sexual consent. This has led to a nasty and misinformed culture of victim blaming where women who have been sexually coerced are afraid to come forward for fear of being accused of lying.
Consent needs to be discussed more widely. It needs to be taught as a compulsory element of secondary sex education. It is insane that we drum into teenagers the possibilities of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases but we do not bring up a full and frank discussion surrounding issues of consent, which is just as much of a vital topic. As a society, we still discuss rape as being something outside of the perceived safe zone of relationships and friendship groups; of homes and beds. By doing so, we are inadvetently keeping certain acts of sexual abuse in a socially acceptable sphere.
We still see rape and sexual abuse as something that happens down a dark alley, committed by a shady stranger who one might spot a mile of as being “dodgy”. Not only is this dangerously reductive, it also belittles the very real experiences of those who have been made to have sex against their will. It is easy to forget that marital rape has not long since been recognised as being sexual abuse; that not long ago it was considered acceptable for Bill Cosby to publicly make jokes about date rape. We live in a society where many young men see it as acceptable to delibrately get a girl drunk so that she will be more susceptible to his unwanted advances. We need to start examining the grey areas which are not actually so very grey after all.