Creating Consult Culture: A Handbook for Educators
By Marcia Baczynski and Erica Scott
Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2022, 240 pages
Creating Consent Culture earns its name as a “handbook for educators.” Over the span of 15 short chapters, sexual communication coach and cofounder of Cuddle Party, Marcia Baczynski and creator of The Consent Culture Intro Workshop, Erica Scott present a grounded understanding of what consent culture could and should look like, along with questions about its complexity including, “What if I’m a maybe?” and “How do I make amends when I mess up?” Each chapter is accompanied by a clear exercise and discussion outline that has been used effectively in workshops with adults and young people alike. Recommended for educators who want to go beyond health curriculum checkboxes and lay the foundation for a cultural shift towards positive relationships and restorative justice.
I recently mentioned going on a date while I was at my friend’s house. His 13-year-old son perked up. “Was it fun?” he asked. Before I could answer, he added: “Did you kiss?” I told him we hadn’t. He proceeded to give me surprisingly detailed advice on how to lean in for a kiss, how to subtly take things to the next level, and how to “tell” if a girl is interested.
“Couldn’t I just ask?” I suggested. “No way!” he exclaimed. “That would ruin the whole vibe.”
“So how did you become an expert on dating and relationships?” I teased him. He raised his eyebrows at me. “Movies and TikTok,” he replied. This matters. Boys pick up stereotypes like dominance in relationships from representations of masculinity in movies and television. Frighteningly, more than half of all boys think porn presents a realistic depiction of sex. In Canada, data suggests that one in three girls will experience physical sexual violence in their lifetime. One thing is clear: we need to do a better job teaching young people how to understand and practice consent in their lives and relationships.
Creating Consent Culture transforms the narrative on healthy communication in relationships. As Marcia Baczynski and Erica Scott explain, the dominant culture is one of coercion: a culture that exists wherever someone feels entitled to access to or control over others; a culture that minimizes, trivializes and denies harm. Many educators seek to challenge this culture with an oversimplified and ultimately harmful understanding of consent, which Baczynski and Scott call the “Gatekeeper” model. This stood out to me because one of the most deeply felt issues within this framework—for boys and young men in particular—is that it inevitably risks rejection: “In the old Gatekeeper model,” the authors’ write, “where one person is asking for permission, and the other says yes or no, a ‘no’ means one thing: rejection.”
Baczynski and Scott say “consent culture offers another way to interpret a ‘no.’ Because we are coming together to find an agreement about how we want to play or interact with one another, a “no” is not necessarily a rejection. Instead, it becomes information. The other person is not rejecting you. Instead, they are telling you where they are at.”
I also liked their exploration of the “enthusiastic yes,” which can be a nebulous concept for young people who are just beginning to explore sexuality and relationships. Baczynski and Scott suggest three different kinds of enthusiastic yes: really wanting something, being unsure if you want it but being excited to try and find out, and being wholeheartedly willing to gift someone else with what they want. That was a new concept, a breakdown I had never heard before, one that resonates with real-life experiences far more than the outdated consent is like a cup of tea model (medium.com/fearless-she-wrote/ consent-is-like-a-cup-of-tea-7339b247e566).
Creating Consent Culture’s framework for talking with boys who mess up in the #MeToo era
Talking proactively about consent is great, but it’s not my main reason to recommend this book. What stood out to me the most was the chapter on restorative justice in consent culture. As they explain, young people need a bit of extra room to make mistakes without experiencing irrevocable consequences, or feeling like there is no way back from what they’ve done wrong.
“The fact of the matter is that many, if not most, consent violations are accidental, particularly among young people who are still learning to navigate the world,” the authors remind us. “‘Accidental,’ however, does not mean trivial. The impact may still be monumental.”
I recently spoke on a panel for a theater company’s social issues initiative, where I wrestled with the complexity of not completely writing off a young man who had committed sexual assault. “How can you call it an accident?” an audience member challenged me. “It’s a crime.” I tried to speak about the limitations of a punitive justice system and the problems with vilifying and ostracizing boys as perpetrators, but mostly I just stumbled over my words. I wish I had read this book before that conversation.
Baczynski and Scott explain that if we want young men to behave better, we need to give them ways to get there. That means teaching them how to take accountability, apologize, and make amends—the hard work between letting them off the hook and calling them criminals.
“In coercion culture,” Bacynski and Scott write, “there are two primary outcomes when someone messes up: either acknowledge that it happened and someone gets punished, or else ignore that it ever happened at all. But there is a third possibility in the path of restorative justice.” We need resources like this to chart a new path forward.
Grassroots groups like Students for Consent Culture Canada are picking up the cry led by actions like the walkouts at Western University in 2021. Organizations like Bad Subject (badsubjectorg.wordpress.com) and Curiosity Labs (Ryerson.ca/sexual-violence/ education/curiosity-labs) are providing education on the ground. Yet every single one of us is in touch with boys in our lives. As I wrote in the Fall 2021 issue of Voice Male, if the boys and young men around you aren’t speaking with you about this kind of thing, then you are part of the problem.
In the first season of Netflix’s critically acclaimed Sex Education, high schooler Liam attempts a grand gesture at the school dance—a hopeless romantic-style attempt to win over a young woman who had already rejected him multiple times. When it falls flat, he exclaims, “What’s the point? Lizzie doesn’t love me.” His voice drops in volume. “Nobody loves me.”
Jonathon Reed is program manager for Next Gen Men.