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Will Our New Gods Repent and Seek Consent?

Let me be dramatic for a moment to consider the sacrilegious idea that celebrities have replaced our gods, at least for those of us who are more heathenistic. We idolize them, envy them, feel as though we know them.

The curtain is being dropped in Hollywood; first with Harvey Weinstein, then a steady dribble to incriminate seemingly all our idols. It seems that consent matters less than we imagined in the world of riches and fame, at least to those who have been around long enough to gain that corrupting power. If you’re a mortal attempting to break into that top tier, Heracles-style, you’ll have to put up with the old gods demanding, shall we say, a fee.

But it seems that the second, quieter Good Ol’ Boys Club is slowly being disbanded.

Ask: Building Consent Culture, a collection of explorative essays about consent and it’s importance, stresses that consent is absolutely mandatory. Unfortunately, consent is a concept lost on some people (not all of them rich and powerful, by the way), including those who we’ve awarded deity status. Books like Ask are hugely important in such a world.

It isn’t difficult to believe that a mortal the likes of Brock Turner is a rapist. After all, he’s human. Humans are tempted by evil all the time. Turner’s evildoing is apropos of humanity’s innumerable failings. But why is it that the same moral corruption that afflicts our everyday man pervades those we’ve placed so much more faith in?

Have we been betrayed by our own religion, our own lifestyle? We excused Zeus forcing himself on mortal women. Do we excuse Kevin Spacey groping young, vulnerable men? A god’s power comes from the support of his followers and how we react to the abuse of power determines whether we undermine our religion or fuel its power.

It’s these conundrums that are the exact reason that we need books like Ask. It’s right there in the title; Building Consent Culture. We are a society that is lacking consent culture and it has spread throughout Hollywood like a disease. Our job now is to look at books like Ask and take its message to heart.

As reviewer Claire Foster notes in her review of Ask, many essays critique power structures that allow sexual assault to continue without consequence. Turning a keen eye to this particular issue is how we dismantle Hollywood’s so called “Harvey-Weinstein Problem.” (Although, if we are honest with ourselves, the problem did not start with Weinstein, he is simply the most infamous right now.)

Have our gods toppled from their pedestals? Is the teachings of Ask yanking them from their divine status? After all, it condemns these actions. No, say those who are desperately attempting to shove them back up onto their stone platforms while more and more revelations make that increasingly difficult (though not impossible). Let’s not perform backflips to keep our gods above us; let them be knocked to their proper placement below us as those who harmed others. Am I harsh or, gods-forbid, falsely superior in putting those who have contributed to the arts, to culture, to a new wave of thinking below myself and others? Let’s not kid ourselves; doing that is just building consent culture.

Now let’s say that we all agree that consent is mandatory. Let’s say we’re all disgusted and horrified by the revelations washing through Hollywood, and we’re vowing to protect our men and women from predators and those who think “no” is foreplay, from those who think drunkenness is an open invitation.

I would bet money that not everyone included transgender people in that protection. Which, if you think about it, is overlooking an enormous issue; “30 percent to 50 percent of transgender people experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetime” according to No More, an organization designed to stop sexual assault.

Which brings us to a second important book; I Am, Therefore, We Are is focusing the limelight on trans women’s difficulties, like the sexual violence many experience in their lifetimes.

Why, with the overwhelming evidence that trans women need the same if not more protection from the, let’s call it, anti-consent movement, do we ignore them?

There are a few trans women among the ranks of our new gods; Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner come to mind. Are they adequately protected? Do we have a modern-day Heracles (preferably without the Hera-driven madness and wife/children slaughtering) to come to their rescue? For that matter, do they need him, or do they need us, their admirers to put our foot down?

We don’t look at these women that appear on our screens as victims, potential or past. But I Am, Therefore, We Are proves otherwise. Maybe those in the limelight are not in harm’s way but our lack of consent culture has endangered others, like those that appear in I Am.

Perhaps we should exchange our rose-colored glasses for crystal clear ones and look at celebrities for what they are: human. From now on, we should build consent culture, change our ideas of who needs protection, victim, not assaulter.

Let us not apply divinity to these all too imperfect mortals. Let us not hold their up their work as our religious texts.

Let us not do the same to our books, Ask and I Am. They should not be our new bibles, though their messages are important. Let us simply read them and gain knowledge and hopefully build a better understanding of consent and protection of those who may be susceptible to harm from those who refuse to learn the ways of a changing world.

Hannah Hohman

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