The connection may not seem so obvious. But, let's take a moment to consider.
- We have seen a significant increase in concern about the impact of domestic violence. High profile cases in sports and the entertainment fields have heightened awareness of the problem. Several post secondary institutions have found themselves in the spotlight for failing to address the issue. A quick look at The Huffington Post illustrates the point.
- In Canada, we have watched as the question of consent in sexual relationships has derailed the career of broadcaster Jion Ghomeshi. While he still awaits trial, he has several accusers. Presently on trial in Europe is former head the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn for what he apparently acknowledged to be a proclivity for rougher sex than might average man. At the heart of his story are again issues of consent.
- Sexual abuse is a high profile concern. The Roman Catholic church is burdened with working its way through years upon years of such abuse to children. In Australia at the moment, a Royal Commission is hearing about a variety of institutional sexual abuse stories. The BBC reports on the recent conviction of former rock star Gary Glitter for abuse of teenagers some years back.
- Domestic violence, including sexual assault is a significant issue in child protection matters.
At the heart of this is the question of what chidden are exposed to and what is consent. Does a woman consent to be beaten by a partner? Does a child consent to sex with an adult? Does a drunken woman consent to sex when she is too impaired to really consent? These are complex questions requiring careful consideration but those in a powerless or subordinate position are really not able to consent.
Thus, how the media plays out the issue of consent matters to society at large. 50 Shades of Grey sets up a standard for consent that suggests it might not be so voluntary and yet still acceptable. Fox News and The Atlantic have both offered thoughtful pieces on how the books and the movie are really depicting non consensual sex which must then be characterized as some level of abuse. I'm pretty sure that view will not be welcomed by the millions of followers. It's also worth noting that the BDSM community is not welcoming this movie as exemplary of what they perceive to be voluntary, consensual activity in this sexual arena.
But if we want to create safer families and communities for children, should we not be connecting the dots between the various forces the impact how that safety is defined and created? When we make a media sensation out of non-consensual sex, and do so in a way that says this is ok, then we are enabling sexual and gender based violence. That's a problem.