Consent on film
Trigger Warning: consent, sexual assault, sexual harrassment, coercive relationships
Print News Editor Chloe Pumares discusses the importance of explicitly showing consent on our TV screens in order to influence our attitudes and beliefs towards sex.
Today, consent has become more relevant than ever, with the MeToo movement bringing to light sexual harassment most prominently in the film industry. For years we have watched films that have uncomfortable scenes painted as romantic but often bordering on sinister. It is a trend that we need to replace with TV shows and films which have crucial conversations about consent.
Recently, the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s book ‘Normal People’ was released and has been met with high praise, particularly in relation to its explicit showcase of consent. The show follows the main characters Marianne (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell’s (Paul Mescal) relationship, with many sex scenes, yet unlike usual shows, the scenes have a gritty realism to them, and does not forgo the realistic awkwardness of sex. The conversations Marianne and Connell have during sex is more relatable to viewers, and in particular the scene where Marianne loses her virginity to Connell is particularly important. While many shows and movies paint a glossy view of sex, ‘Normal People’ aims to highlight that consent is incredibly necessary, and an open conversation about it ensures that both parties are comfortable and agree on what is about to happen.
Disney is one company with some of their classic films not only lacking consent but pushing the narrative of damsel in distress
‘Normal People’s’ portrayal of consent is refreshing, after decades of films forgoing consent and in many cases portraying “romantic” or sex scenes that are incredibly coercive and unhealthy. Even as a child there are films which do not teach consent. Disney is one company with some of their classic films not only lacking consent but pushing the narrative of damsel in distress. ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ are particular offenders, with two unconscious women being “saved” by the kiss of a man who is acknowledged as a hero, despite the women not consenting.
Many Hollywood cult classics are also offenders. A scene in the James Bond movie ‘Goldfinger’ come to mind, when Bond (played by Sean Connery) forces himself upon Pussy Galore (played by Honor Blackman), despite her fighting off his advancements and attempt to kiss her. This scene completely disregards a woman’s consent, and suggests that no doesn’t mean no, it just means that you have to keep pushing. This ideology borders on sexual harassment, and very much perpetuates rape culture. A popular trope in many films is that of a woman playing hard to get, which is not only incorrect but dangerous.
Our understanding of consent is thankfully beginning to progress, although perhaps not as quickly as we would like
Consent is so important in films and TV because they can influence our attitudes and beliefs. If from a young age a person sees that consent is not necessary or a character pursuing an uninterested love interest, it can add to their own attitudes towards sex, relationships and romance. On the flip side, seeing some characters being coerced into relationships, and relenting because they should feel lucky to be desired, is also an unhealthy narrative which can cause people to feel their feelings about sexual harassment they may have faced in real life is not valid.
In society today, our understanding of consent and sex is thankfully beginning to progress, although perhaps not as quickly as we would like. Consent is slowly morphing, gone is the idea that simply ‘no means no’, which although it does, can lead to problems surrounding the inability to say no, such as intoxication, and has been replaced with ‘yes means yes’. This firmly implements the need for verbal confirmation as well as non-verbal communication.
A popular trope in many films is that of a woman playing hard to get, which is not only incorrect but dangerous.
As shows like Sex Education and Normal People are normalising the conversation around consent, hopefully we will begin to see these conversations appear on our screens more and more, and fewer sinister scenes painted as romantic.