Pop Punk and Feminism: Consent
Posted on June 25, 2015
June 25, 2015 | by Kayla St. Onge and Jonathan Diener
These next few weeks, we’re going to be dealing with some sensitive topics. There are times when this column is going to be uncomfortable. This is one of those times. Before getting started, I would like to preface with a warning to any survivors of sexual assault who may be reading—this column will feature references to sexual assault and rape. If this is triggering to you in anyway, please do not feel obligated to read any further. My contact information will, as always, be at the bottom if you want to reach out to me regarding this matter.
It’s easy to say that you would never force someone to have sex with you. Ask any person on the street and there’s almost no chance someone would say “yes, I would rape someone.” Well-intentioned as the general public may be, the truth is a little bit murkier. If someone is fooling around with you and changes their mind about having sex, do you get annoyed? Have you ever tried to get someone a little more drunk so that you can get them to agree to perform sexual acts with you? When someone has firmly told you no, have you tried to convince them to give you a different answer?
All of this has to do with consent, how it’s defined, and how we understand it. In the past, the most important idea behind consent was “yes means yes and no means no.” In recent years, as the third wave of feminism has evolved, we have come to rest at the pass of “enthusiastic consent.” Simply put, YES means YES, and when I say YES, I mean an enthusiastic and willing given permission to perform sexual acts. A huge, huge problem with the way sexual dynamics work lies in the fact that a yes can be coerced. A yes can be given because someone is too afraid to say no. If the person you’re with is not 100% emphatically on board with what you’re doing, you are guilty of sexual assault.
Our scene has been rocked with revelations of alleged sexual abuse in the past year. The problem seems to be a lack of understanding and an unwillingness to learn. In each instance, the alleged abuser has maintained their innocence based on the supposed willingness of the accuser or stated that they just didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. This is a huge problem, especially considering many of the accusers have been underage. The first thing I want to make very clear: regardless of how willing an underage participant may be, it is up to you as the adult (of any gender) to say no. There is a power balance that you cannot ignore as the adult in this kind of situation. Even in instances where the person is not underage, the power balance between a popular musician and the average person can make it very easy to coerce someone into sexual acts.
Letting young people who are passionate about music be hurt like this is despicable, and it can’t continue. At a certain point, it boils down to accountability. We have to hold the abusers accountable for their actions. We have to hold ourselves accountable for turning a blind eye. We all must take it upon ourselves to learn about these issues and protect those who are less informed.
—Kayla St. Onge
Let me start by saying that engaging in casual sexual acts is not a bad thing, almost every single person does it, but the problem with the touring world is the “collecting” mentality and trying to prove to your friends that you’ve had a successful night hooking up with someone. The road is monotonous and when you’re gone weeks or months at a time, people start to look for other forms of primal entertainment. It turns into a game and if you didn’t succeed that night, you are a failure and were actually made fun of by your peers. Literally treating someone as if they are a piece of meat, they do whatever it takes, whether it’s harmful to the person or not. What people seem to forget is how much an interaction, especially a sexual interaction, with someone can affect the rest of their life and at the very least, their outlook on you.
When I was single on tour I fortunately didn’t have this mentality, but had to witness way too many people who did. Almost to the point where it wasn’t even about music or seeing friends, but securing the hookup for that night. I actually did feel pressured some nights where I felt I should be acting on things, but I’m so happy I didn’t. I made some amazing friends out of it too. Casual sex is not a big deal, but manipulating someone into agreeing when they really don’t want to is a big deal. Confident people in bands are able to use their star power, whether it’s playing an arena or a coffee shop to five people, and attract someone enough to hookup at least for the night. Sometimes being a fan of the band can cloud your judgement and you are able to get taken advantage of pretty easily.
A major problem is when someone isn’t communicating and thinks the proper way to proceed is forcing themselves on someone else. Whether it be forcibly kissing someone without their consent and hoping it’s endearing, or actually holding someone down like you see in movies leading into some hot, erotic daydream, it could just as easily be hell for that other person. Without getting a definite “yes” from the other person, there’s a very large chance that the only way for them to get through the awkward experience is by playing along enough for it to go away. The person pursuing most likely doesn’t realize what is happening and thinks everything is all good. They never hear from you again and vice versa. The long term effects of this is something people need to talk about. Casual hookups can exist and be an awesome experience, but it’s all about communicating and getting consent before anything happens, whether tradition tells us to or not.
I’m a white, straight cisgender male and I honestly should be the last person talking about these kinds of situations, but I hope at the very least that I can get those in the band world to start thinking twice before they act. It’s a very interesting and exciting time because it seems the dialogue is growing about subjects that matter and can lead us toward real progress. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and looking back, I know I can just better myself and hopefully help others in the process. I don’t want anyone to feel attacked. I know for a fact a lot of people will feel a bit awkward reading all of this. I’m also sure Kayla and I will be corrected by people who know more on the subject, and that’s all fine. We encourage discussion and want to learn just as much as everyone else.