In her new guide Consent Culture and Teen Films: Adolescent Sexuality in U.S. Movies, simply out final month, unbiased filmmaker and scholar (and Ms. contributor!) Michele Meek engages in an accessible and trenchant evaluation of consent tradition in modern teen movies. In it, she challenges the thought of consent as a simple idea and questions the messages about consent and teenage sexuality mirrored in movies of the final 20 years.
Crucially, Meek broadens her scope to incorporate each common Hollywood and streaming movies like Superbad (2007) and To All of the Boys I’ve Liked Earlier than (2018), in addition to lesser identified indie titles like Boy Meets Woman (2014) and The Story (2018), the place writers and administrators are sometimes extra prepared to discover tales past the everyday cis, heteronormative scripts and delve into extra sophisticated narratives.
Aviva Dove-Viebahn: What made you wish to write this guide?
Michele Meek: For a lot of, a few years, I’ve been eager about sexuality research. I really had been finding out consent earlier than #MeToo. Once I was doing my graduate work, I used to be actually eager about ambiguous moments of sexual consent. I feel it comes from my very own experiences and understanding that there’s much more grey space than we discuss in phrases sexual expertise. I used to be fascinated by that in the first place. After which when #MeToo went viral, I needed to suppose extra about what’s it that I’m making an attempt to say on this present period as a result of that basically solidified the truth that we’re in a consent tradition.
We perceive that, ideally, ‘Sure means sure.’ However there’s nonetheless these complicated negotiations that occur, and it may be far more complicated and ambiguous in observe. Taking a look at that via teen movies was a method of adolescent sexuality with out instantly adolescent sexuality as a result of it’s not really adolescents enjoying, for essentially the most half, the teenagers [in these films].
Dove-Viebahn: Why deal with teen movies particularly or movies about coming of age? And also you do draw that distinction. Not all of those movies are even made for teenagers.
Meek: For me, the problems round company are extra intriguing for younger adults as a result of they’re negotiating company in so many sides of their lives, particularly once they’re not thought-about authorized adults but. So, what does it imply to have company if you’re not of age? But I do know from my very own expertise that I felt very strongly that I had company—and I had sexual need and curiosity and I had all of these issues.
I feel I’m nonetheless sort of fascinated by making an attempt to reconcile what feels just like the absence in our tradition of an acknowledgment that youngsters don’t simply get up at age 18 and now have sexual company and need. That’s not the way it works, and everyone knows it.
Teen movies turn into this attention-grabbing space to have a look at: all proper, what do adults take into consideration youth sexuality? As a result of actually that’s what it’s about. It’s not even a lot about what youth are occupied with their very own sexuality. What are adults placing out into the discourse within the bigger world and what’s the story we’re telling about youth sexuality? That’s what youth are rising up with. So, how can that story be modified and who adjustments it?
Youngsters don’t simply get up at age 18 and now have sexual company and need. That’s not the way it works, and everyone knows it. … So, how can that story be modified and who adjustments it?
Dove-Viebahn: You describe within the introduction of the guide a transition from rape tradition to consent tradition and use the instance of two SNL skits and the response to them: one making enjoyable of date rape from 1993 [a spoof about Antioch College’s ahead-of-its-time affirmative consent policy] and a 2015 skit that means boys are all the time consenting [roundly criticized by viewers].
What do you suppose has modified that accounts for the distinction in response to those two skits?
Meek: When that first affirmative consent skit got here out, the entire concept of affirmative consent appeared type of ridiculous. The concept it’s important to give me permission for every act, that simply appeared so preposterous. You realize, it doesn’t appear preposterous anymore. Affirmative consent is the coverage on many faculty campuses at this level, and it’s understood extra extensively that you need to be getting consent earlier than you do something—and that somebody can consent to completely different actions they usually can say no at any level and consent will be revoked. There are all these points of consent that we simply didn’t settle for extensively as a tradition [in the 1990s].
The second skit to me turns into extra consultant of the truth that we’ve made this error as a tradition of simply switching the gender roles as if that solves the issue. “Oh, okay. I see we’d like consent from women and girls, however we don’t want consent from males and boys,” which can be not the way it works.
To talk rapidly to the thought of rape tradition [transitioning to] consent tradition: The primary intuition was to eradicate sexual assault. That was the impetus initially within the conversations round consent. So, this concept of “No Means No” turned a mantra of types. The shift got here when a pro-sex motion happened the place they wished to guarantee that girls and women felt like that they had company and will say sure and that they have been driving sexual interactions. That’s the place “Sure Means Sure” comes from. Each completely well-intentioned. There’s no downside with “Sure Means Sure” or “No Means No” so long as we perceive that there’s 1,000,000 interchanges in between these two mantras we have to additionally cope with.
Dove-Viebahn: Within the guide, you discuss utilizing a “intercourse crucial method.” Are you able to talk about what meaning by way of occupied with consent?
Meek: There’s two elements to it. One is the half coming from a “radical” feminist perspective: How can girls and women even consent in a tradition the place they’re so objectified and sexualized at each flip proper there? How can there ever be any consent? We take what we will from that method and say, we hear that, but in addition, we’re not going to simply accept the concept that girls and women then don’t have any company in interactions with ladies and men. The intercourse crucial method is knowing the critiques of a radical feminist method whereas additionally ensuring that we acknowledge the pro-sex motion’s have to acknowledge girls and lady’s sexual company.
The second half for me is that every thing needs to be critiqued—within the sense that the way in which we take into consideration intercourse comes about via scripts we have a tendency to soak up from establishments, popular culture, motion pictures, after which we enact via interchanges with others. That signifies that even the way in which we negotiate consent shouldn’t be one thing we simply take as a right as reality or true or simple, that we must also be considering, “What does it imply to say that is what consent seems like?”
Dove-Viebahn: I actually like the way you embrace a historic overview after which transfer between Hollywood/mainstream productions and unbiased productions. Why did you select to combine Hollywood and unbiased movie in your alternative of subjects?
Meek: I used to be actively searching for media exterior the normal Hollywood narrative for a number of causes. That’s typically the place we discover essentially the most groundbreaking work, the place filmmakers are testing out other ways of occupied with issues. And youth sexuality isn’t any exception to that.
Additionally, we’re persevering with to reside in an period the place mainstream media is very dominated by white cis males. To focus solely on [Hollywood] can be telling just one sort of story. The guide I did earlier than was Independent Female Filmmakers, and I actually take critically my very own name to motion, which is that as students we needs to be participating with work by a wide range of folks. It’s onerous although as a result of it’s very easy to discover a good through-line for the white, cis, heteronormative adolescent sexuality story and never really easy to search out something aside from that.
Dove-Viebahn: What would you say your favourite movie to put in writing about was—which doesn’t must imply your favourite movie, however one that you simply discovered most compelling or maybe most difficult?
Meek: The filmI discovered most difficult to put in writing about was Adam. The entire concept of the movie is that Adam is a cis heterosexual boy who disguises as a trans man to get a woman who really identifies as a lesbian, however later identifies as bisexual. That movie actually had me in a head spin. I ended up hiring two separate readers, along with the guide’s peer evaluation course of, to learn that chapter and supply suggestions. They helped me suppose via a number of the concepts about that movie from a trans particular person’s perspective that I couldn’t fairly wrap my head round and was perhaps slightly afraid to even discuss. That was essentially the most difficult.
I actually, actually loved engaged on the chapter on Diary of a Teenage Girl and [The Tale], as a result of I feel to me, that basically will get at one thing that feels prefer it’s been all however erased in our tradition. This concept of women’ curiosity, even with older males, that we all know is deeply disturbing. However the place do they find their company in these tales? These two filmmakers [Marielle Heller and Jennifer Fox, respectively], the way in which they addressed their particular person tales, I feel was so highly effective. I simply loved considering via the distinctive work these movies are doing.
Media exterior the normal Hollywood narrative … [is] typically the place we discover essentially the most groundbreaking work, the place filmmakers are testing out other ways of occupied with issues. And youth sexuality isn’t any exception to that.
Dove-Viebahn: That additionally will get at a few of these nuanced questions you have been speaking about earlier, proper? Looking for a through-line between other ways of occupied with consent and sexuality. What do you hope folks will take away from this guide?
Meek: Can I’ve a couple of hope? [laughs]
Dove-Viebahn: In fact.
Meek: The very first thing I hope is that we will do some reflecting on what it’s that we’re making an attempt to perform via a consent tradition, as a result of I do worth consent.
I additionally acknowledge that oversimplifying consent is as problematic as ignoring consent. Proper now, the framework that we’ve devised is very gendered in that it prioritizes women’ consent over boys’ consent. It additionally doesn’t actually take note of queer teenagers who’re navigating complicated conditions the place they’re forcing themselves into heterosexual interactions once they clearly don’t have any need for that. What does that imply? And for trans people, this concept of disclosure.
We have to be cautious about what we’re saying as a result of it impacts folks throughout the board, and I don’t suppose we’ve completed the work to suppose via a few of these points of consent and what we imply by disclosure. So, I would love us to do much more reflecting on how consent operates in the true world.
The second factor is that we have to cope with how we actually really feel about youth sexuality and ways in which we will acknowledge it as a normative expertise. For many youth, they’re rising up turning into sexual people. I feel we’ve completed a lot work to guard youngsters via anti-child pornography laws that we’ve erased all normative childhood sexuality from our visible tradition. We’re so threatened by the thought of youth sexuality that we assume that it’s engaging to adults, which suggests youth are rising up in a vacuum round their sexuality, particularly understanding that we don’t have actually good intercourse schooling. So, what are we actually telling youth about intercourse? How are they studying about intercourse? And what do our deeply ambivalent emotions as a tradition round youth and sexuality as being this poisonous mixture imply for precise youth?
Dove-Viebahn: Thanks a lot for speaking to me!
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