On texting, boundaries, and consent

FORCE fundraiser panties and thank you note

The panties seen ’round the world

A few months ago, I received a Kickstarter perk for being a contributor to FORCE’s fundraising campaign. As someone deeply passionate about feminist, anti-sexual violence efforts, I was proud to be a supporter and was excited to not only get my perk, but to also share it with others in hopes to spread the word about an organization that does admirable work. While I was excited, I do remember having a small bit of hesitation sharing an image of the perk — it is underwear, after all – but I felt that the people in my networks would see why I would share this photo, so I did. In short, I felt safe in doing so. Unfortunately, I later came to regret sharing it.

A few hours after posting it online, I was on campus finishing up my work day when I got a series of text messages that literally stopped me in my tracks.

George*: Lol jus seen ur fb post about those force undies
George: I’m tryna see those in person
George: And subsequently remove them
George: With my teeth
George: Only with CONSENT of course lol

A myriad of feelings and emotions ran through me. Disappointment. Nausea. Disgust. But finally, anger. I was infuriated that consent was the last thought he had in response to a post against rape culture. I was insulted by the “lol” as if the idea of asking for consent was some sort of joke. And worst of all,  I felt violated because something that I did as a public declaration in support of consent culture was used as a catalyst to create a moment that literally sucked every positive feeling out of me

I tried to remain calm because I was out in public and I did not want to further upset myself. In an attempt to be diplomatic, I expressed my surprise at his uncharacteristic texts, emphasizing how they came seemingly out of no where. He explains:

George: I logged on to fb n saw the pic and jus text u wut came to mind
George: Kinda forward but thats jus how I am…hope I didnt offend u
Me: it isn’t my thing to talk that sexual with someone when i have no history of that nature with them
George: I feel u
Me: Yeah…next time probably best to ask for consent to talk that way first…it def makes me feel uncomfortable
George: Asking before hand jus makes it awkward…but my bad for make u uncomfortable

Awkward? We don’t truly know whether he would have felt awkward if he had taken the time to establish whether he could speak to me in that manner. However, in this case that really doesn’t matter. What I do know is that I was stunned by his decision to essentially place his personal desire to share his thoughts about undressing me over my own feelings. In short: thanks for making me feel uncomfortable and violated just so you can avoid feeling awkward. The idea that an individual *has* to share certain thoughts by any means necessary is problematic at best and truly harmful at worst. And no, saying that you are a “forward” person is not an excuse. One can be forward and still choose to respect boundaries and other individuals – even ones that you are attracted to.

Just a few days later as I was heading to bed, I received a text from an ex-boyfriend out of the blue. “When was the last time you masturbated?” The experience with George quickly came to mind; it helped me realize why I was so upset at the exchange a few days ago. This ex-boyfriend is the same person who has continually ignored requests to stop contacting me. He is the same guy who reminded me that the restraining order I had against him had expired a few months prior. During and after our relationship, this person continually refused to respect personal–and legal!–boundaries established between us. George’s texts and the subsequent exchange replicated lack of acknowledgment of boundaries, lack of respect, and the feelings of violation in result of these.

One of the most traumatizing parts of being a survivor on a college campus was the violation of my safe spaces–my body, my room, my campus. A place that I thought was a place of growth and joy was revealed to be yet another place that was not safe–and now I realize my phone is not exempt from that unfortunately reality, too. Consent isn’t just about sexual physical activity. As we are in a new digital age and we see new laws arise to protect individuals, there is one thing we need to remember regardless of the technology available the presence of consent is not the default. This is why the model of enthusiastic consent is so valuable: instead of avoiding the awkward no and offending (or triggering) someone, we know the person on the other end is just as into the exchange as we are. Are these feelings about the texts an overreaction because I’ve connected them to my experience as a survivor? Maybe. But getting unsolicited, sexual messages seems like it’s able to have an impact on people in all walks of life.  Just ask this man who deleted his fake OKCupid profile after two hours. These type of messages can really wear on the soul.

One organization of which I’ve been a longtime fan, Hollaback, supports the right to navigate in public space without being harassed. I just want to right to look at my own damn private cell phone without feeling like I am going to be violated.

*name has been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

”Wagatwe’s Wagatwe is now less fearful of the text message inbox on her cell phone.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I am not a rape survivor, yet my own feelings upon receiving texts such as those mirror what you’ve written here. Though I would assume the degree of my feelings is probably lesser than the degree of yours given the differences in our backgrounds–but that’s only a guess.

    That’s why people say, “I feel ya. I can only imagine,” isn’t it?

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1031794101/the-outernet

  2. Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    That just shows how misunderstood consent is. Asking for permission to discuss such issues IS ‘being forward.’ Discussing consent involves being much more open and honest and shows respect for the person you are talking to/getting it on with. How is that not forward?
    To me, by throwing such a comment out there and avoiding “getting awkward” this guy wasn’t being forward – he was being self serving.

    • Posted January 18, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      Well said! It really was all about him and being self-serving. And to add insult to injury is that I know he was emboldened by being behind a phone screen. He would never speak like that unprompted to my face.

  3. Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Yuck. Here you were trying to start a conversation about consent, and you’re met with sexuality aggressive messages, and the aggressor pushed the topic of consent to the back burner for the sake of keeping things from getting “awkward”. I’m appalled. You can tell from the conversation that George felt he didn’t do anything wrong, that he was just being flirty or whatever; the boy can’t even see the line he crossed.

    • Posted January 18, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Definitely his way of flirting, which is a problem is in and of itself. If his technique is the kind that would make someone literally sick to their stomach, it is definitely time to go back to the drawing board.

  4. Posted January 17, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    This is so fortuitous! I had not read this yesterday but last night I was in a skype call with several internet friends and one female college student started talking about snapchat. She said that she dislikes it when guys will send dick picks, and then said “it’s almost a consent thing”. I was not talking but rather typing while others were discussing this and I agreed with her wholeheartedly. Then I went on to briefly explain that consent involves both people asserting their simultaneous interest (in more simple terms than that :P ) After I said this, she told us that some guys have sent her so many dick pics, and she has asked them to stop but eventually had to block them. I do not have a smartphone and havent dealt with the same thing directly but I can still commiserate. Anyway even linking this spurred another debate with my friend -who i will continue to argue against despite that he has bad debating skills. I am happy to learn how to refute my arguments. Anyway, as I said, what a synchronicity that my friend brought this up so close to the publishing of this article. :3

    • Posted January 18, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      UGH. Unsolicited dick pics. Those are the worst. Goes to show that necessary conversations about consent will not be going out of style any time soon. Keep fighting the good fight!

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