The Importance of Language and Consent in the Media

Content warning: mentions of sexual assault and other possibly triggering related content/language. 

Disclaimer: everyone’s experiences are different and not every example can accurately describe what these experiences are like. 

 

There are many degrees of assault that can occur–and DO occur. Trauma is a result of this. From a young age, people who are raised as women are taught how to keep themselves safe–causing them to live in constant fear. Society has normalized this.

I’m currently taking a course on the philosophy of love, sex, and gender, and we’ve been focusing on sexual violence in our last unit. The other day, I went to an event on campus to honor the survivors of sexual assault. While the topic has been on my radar as of lately (and April was sexual assault awareness month) this is still an ongoing issue that continues to happen.

 

According to RAINN, every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. 

So, how can we stop this from happening? How can we stop something that has been normalized and even romanticized in our society?

 

How The Media has Promoted Sexual Violence

I grew up in the age of Disney, listening to “Kiss the Girl” and watching countless of toxic relationships performed on the screen in front of me. At a young age, our brains are like sponges and we are constantly absorbing all the information that is available to us. We are internalizing the behaviors and societal constructs without realizing it.

People who are raised as men are taught that they should just “go and kiss the girl” because when she is silent, she is saying yes. They are taught that they should not have emotions and that they should never express themselves. 

People who are raised as women are taught that if they are the victim, they are the ones who did something wrong. It is their fault they wore that. It is their fault they didn’t carry pepper spray.

The media has romanticized sexual violence and toxic behavior. Girls are being shown that if a boy kisses you unexpectedly you should like it. And if someone is jealous it means “they care.” I can’t even recall a film that has shown a verbal exchange of “yes” before kissing or having sex. The media has convinced us that this moment of “yes, I give you consent to enter my space” is not sexy. That it’s not “normal.” 

 

Can We Fix This?

Starting with the media would be the biggest contribution in changing the way our society thinks. Media plays a huge influence on humans. But what exactly can we change in the media? 

 

Language is how we communicate with each other. Language is all around us and plays an even bigger role in how we think. And when I talk about language, I’m mostly referring to media language and the way linguistics plays a role on how a person’s narrative is conveyed. 

I heard a therapist use the word “violated” when talking about a sexual assault victim. I thought this diction was a good way of describing a person’s traumatic experience and not gaslighting. The words we use control the way the story is told and is important that we use words to stop victim blaming. Phrases like “but did you like it” and “you must have sent mixed messages” are examples of victim blaming.

Even the word “victim” can also belittle a person’s experience. It can even force the person to revisit their triggering experience by being solely associated with that word. 

 

Consent is an example on just how important language* is when it comes to putting yourself in someone’s bubble. And the media does not highlight consent. In fact, it promotes the lack-of. The media portrays aggressive behavior and “the unexpected” as sexy and exciting. Think about the difference it would make if they included a very explicit moment of “yes, I give you consent.” Instead of an unclear head nod.

Two of my former professors once told me about how they were teaching their child to ask before giving a hug. This was intriguing to me because never, in my life, did it ever occur to me that you should teach your child to ask someone if they can hug them. It’s something this small that actually makes a difference. I recently saw a TikTok about the ways you can teach your child at a young age about consent. Like, “can I brush your hair?” or “can I help you brush your teeth?” are examples on where we can start teaching people about consent.

 

*And when I say language, I also include visuals and gestures.

 

In Order for Change, We Must Recognize

The way we internalize what is being marketed to us is astounding. We are constantly consuming media–whether it’s a movie, a book, or even an advertisement. Think about what this media is conveying to us and how we are unconsciously absorbing it.

 

xx Kenzie