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The #SVYALit Project: When Yes is Not Really Yes, Coercion is Not Consent (part 2)

The #SVYALit Project Index

The other night at karate, the sensei was passing out lanyards and the 5-year-old wanted one even though she wasn’t a student there. So she went and asked if she could please have one. His reply was this, “if you give me a hug, I will give you one.” I suddenly appeared from across the room, panicky. I realize he thought nothing of this simple statement, but it sets such a dangerous precedent. You see, he was withholding something she wanted and suggesting that the only way she could get it was to do something to him physically. He was, in fact, coercing a hug out of her. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a hug – when it’s freely given. But coercion is not consent. In order for true consent to happen, it means both people have to have a choice in saying no and that they instead choose to say yes.

Coercion is defined as “the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats” (Dictionary.com) Sexual coercion is “the act of being persuaded to have sex (or some other sexual activity) when you don’t want to.” (Sexual Coercion Resources, this is a really good resource that outlines sexual coercion) “Coercion is a tactic used by perpetrators to intimidate, trick, or force someone to have sex with them without physical force.” (from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center discussion Coercion and Consent)

is the act of being persuaded to have sex (or engage in other sexual activities) when you don’t want to. – See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf
Sexual coercion is the act of being persuaded to have sex (or engage in other sexual activities) when you don’t want to. – See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf

When we talk about sexual violence, the current cultural discussion suggests moving away from the idea that no means no to that of enthusiast consent, the idea that yes means yes. But the truth is, sometimes yes isn’t always yes. Sometimes, that yes is born out of coercion and manipulation, sometimes it is born out of a threat. It may look like a yes to an outside observer, legally it may even hold up as a yes, but ethically it is not truly a yes. That’s why when we talk about consent, it is defined as someone who is willing and able saying yes out of their own free will. Free will, self-sovereignty, is an important component of true consent.

Which brings us to Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir

I read Bleed Like Me some time ago and have been waiting for months to talk about it. And that time is finally now. Bleed Like Me is a strong and powerful book because it plops us into the midst of one of the unhealthiest relationships ever and asks us to consider what that would look like and what it means – for both parties. And tucked inside there is a little nugget of truth about what many would consider the “gray areas” of consent.

Amelia Gannon, “Gannon”, is somewhat lost. Her parents adopted three younger boys from Guatamela and ever since then her life has not been the same. She’s been pushed to the outside as her parents deal with the myriad of issues that her brothers come with. She is lonely, her family is broken, and she seeks solace and comfort in the edge of a razor blade. Gannon is a cutter, she cuts to help deal with her emotions.

Michael Brooks seems to really see into the soul of Gannon. At first he seems to love her, but as the relationship develops he seems to have an almost obsessive need for her. It’s not so much love as it is a need to try and take Gannon and use her to fill up the broken places inside himself.

Neither one of these two teens should be in a relationship, and yet that is exactly where they find themselves. And there are moments where Michael manipulates Gannon into having sex with him. He doesn’t assault her, she is in fact saying yes – but she is not saying yes out of her own free will, she is saying yes because Michael insists that her saying no will somehow damage him further. He puts the burden of his emotional health and well being on her, and since she is so broken in her own ways it is so easy for him to do.

That sex that happens between Michael and Gannon is not, in any legal sense of the word, rape. She has in fact said yes. But as we see the process play out and see into Gannon’s point of view, it is also clear that this is not, in fact, what she really wants. She is not saying yes out of her own free will, but as an end result to the extremely destructive emotional coercion that Michael uses against her.

Emotional coercion occurs when one party tries to use guilt or other forms of manipulation to force the other party to consent to sex when they really don’t want to. Emotional coercion is a type of power play; it is not born out of both parties free will and it is therefore not true consent.

There are more extreme examples of coercion in both Plus One by Elizabeth Fama and The Program by Suzanne Young. In Plus One, a male police officer threatens to jail a female unless she does a sexual favor for him. In The Program the main character, Sloane, is in a treatment center for “therapy” that will remove her memories; a male attendant promises to give her pills to help her keep her memories if she will kiss him, promising that the next time it will cost her more than just a kiss. On the outside, these scenes looks like consent, but they are not true consent because the party saying “yes” is only doing so because the other party is holding something over them – whether it be emotional coercion (if you don’t have sex with me you will lose me or if you don’t have sex with me I will somehow be hurt) or some other threat (I will make sure bad things happen to you or I will permit this bad thing to happen to you).

It’s interesting to note that earlier this year I stumbled across a review of Plus One by Elizabeth Fama where the reviewer began slut shaming the young lady who was being coerced by the police officer, calling her a slut and a prostitute. The reviewer didn’t recognize that this was not truly consent but a form of sexual violence. After some discussion, she amended the review to reflect that it was not consensual and it changed her opinion of this character. But this moment demonstrated to me how deceptive sexual coercion can be, even when clearly outlined in the pages of a book many readers will still not recognize that sexual coercion is taking place and they will blame and judge the victim as opposed to the perpetrator.

Sometimes, it’s really hard to identify if you’ve been, or are being, sexually coerced. You ARE being sexually coerced if the following behaviors are noted:
  • You don’t feel you have a choice 
  • You’re being pressured constantly
  • You’re being pressured even after you’ve said “no.”
  • You face possible social consequences if you don’t engage in a certain type of sexual behavior.
  • Someone uses their authority or power to get you to engage in sexual behaviors.

– See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf

In contrast, there was some very interesting dialogue that happened on an episode of Glee involving the characters of Sam and Mercedes. Sam wanted to have sex, Mercedes was unsure. They have several conversations throughout the show about the topic, both of them having competing interests. Sam is experienced and he is ready for more. Mercedes is a virgin with a strong religious background and she is not sure that she is ready for sex. Although you can clearly see Sam’s frustrations at times, he does a pretty good job of respecting her and her right to wait until she is ready.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcH8cwxS4C0]

Or, to use YA literature in our comparison, we can look at the scenes in This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready. Here, it is the girl that is experienced and the boy who wants to wait. And wait they do, until the boy finally states that he is ready and both teens have a healthy, satisfying sexual encounter that harms neither of them physically or emotionally. We see a similar scene play out in the one healthy relationship that Anna has in Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. There is healthy conversation, there is respect, there is true consent. The relationship in Uses for Boys is particularly interesting because there are so many other clearly unhealthy relationships in Anna’s life that have preceded this one for readers to contrast it with.

Think of how beautiful it is in If I Stay when Mia asks Adam to play her like a musical instrument, both of them at a place in their relationships where they feel safe and valued and choose to share their bodies with one another. Or in The Fault in Our Stars when Hazel Grace and Augusts decide that they are ready to have sex with one another.

It is the subtleties of consent that often get lost in our conversations about sexual violence because it requires that we talk about the dynamics of a healthy relationship, which many sexual education courses fail to do. But YA literature can help us do this. As we read, we can ask ourselves if this is a healthy relationship. And when sex occurs, we can ask ourselves if it was truly consensual sex. And yes, we can use these titles to discuss the issue with teens. We can ask our boys, “do you want to be the guy that has sex because you manipulated a girl into it?” And we can ask our girls, “do you want to be the girl who has sex just to get it over with or because you finally decided to give in?”

Sexual coercion is part of the reason why the culture is asking that we shift from “No Means No” to the ideas that “Yes Means Yes”. And then we have to have discussions about what a true yes means. It has to come from a place of free will, without guilt, manipulation, or any type of threat. Only then is a yes truly yes. Only then is it real consent. If you’re not willing to accept their no, then it isn’t really a yes.

Talking with Teens About Consent
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
This is What Consent Looks Like
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent 

Sex/Romance in Fiction (including a Ted talk on Making Sexing Normal) by Carrie Mesrobian
The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 (the Good Men Project)
Why Talking with Teens About the Age of Consent Matters
On Teachable Moments and Consent 
Sexual Violence, Drinking and Date Rape Drugs  
Voice Against Violence has a good list of some resources that discuss consent

Booktalk This: Teary Reads

As a teen (way back in the early 1990s), my friends and I sighed over a story about one our crushes when he was in 4th grade: that was the year his teacher read Where the Red Fern Grows to him and his classmates (including our storyteller). The whole class was overwhelmed by that books’ ending, including our crush, who put his head down on his desk to hide his tears. Sigh. Actually, I don’t know a single soul who has read (or been read) this book who hasn’t cried. Unless you are me, and have successfully avoided reading it simply because I don’t often want to sob through books if I can help it. I do know, however, that there are many readers out there who love a good book-induced cry, so this list is for you! 

My Sister’s Keeperby Jodi Picoult (Washington Square Press, 9780743454537). This book is an older read, but it’s a good one. Anna’s older sister, Kate, has leukemia, and as Anna was purposely born to be a genetic match to her sister, she’s spent all of her 13 years undergoing the same surgeries – when Kate needs bone marrow, Anna goes under the knife, too. But then, one day, Anna decides she’s had enough, hires a lawyer and sues her parents for control of her own body and any future medical procedures. But what does this mean for Kate’s health? Now, I sobbed through this book from a mother’s point-of-view, but making the sorts of decisions Anna does are pretty painful from a flat-out human being’s point-of-view. Fact: Picoult’s own son read this book, and was so devastated by the ending, he refused to talk to her for hours after. 
Anna is alive for one reason, to save her sister’s life.  Year after year she undergoes surgeries, tests, needles and more to save her sister’s life.  Until the day she decides she can’t do it any more and hires a lawyer.  If you knew that you could save your sister’s life, would you choose not to?
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press, 978-0763639310).  Todd is pretty miserable, living in his noisy, all-male town. When you can hear your neighbors’ thoughts, day and night, and quite a few of them seem to have gone more than a little crazy…it’s no wonder that Todd would rather wander the swamps with his annoying pup, Manchee, whose thoughts, unfortunately, are also audible. And then, one day he hears a pocket of nothing in the swamp. When he investigates, he discovers that pocket of silence is a girl. The Knife of Never Letting Go is one of those books that everyone everywhere seemed to be telling me to read, but I just didn’t. And then my book club read it. And I couldn’t put it down. And it made me SOB. It’ll make you cry, too, but it’ll also make you laugh, and make hold your breath with fear and tension. This one’s a keeper, for sure.
There are no girls. None.  And the men who live can hear one another’s thoughts.  The animals too.  One day Todd enters into the swamp and hears nothing, glorious silence.  It turns out this means only one thing: Todd has found a girl.
The Fault in our Stars by John Green (Dutton, 978-0525478812). Hazel is dying. She’s 16-years-old, she has cancer, and she is definitely going to die young. This she’s managed come to terms with, but it’s the people she’s leaving behind that weigh heaviest – how will her parents get through this? Her friends? That adorable new guy, Augustus? And, why, exactly, does she have to deal with all this? What good will a cancer support group do her, really? Why does she have to have cancer at all? Hazel is a completely lovely character, funny and heart-breaking, and the journey she takes you on WILL put a major dent in your Kleenex-fund.

Pretty much any book by Lurlene McDaniel (Delacorte Press). Lurlene McDaniel books have been around for a LONG time, and there’s a good reason for that: these books are depressing. Someone is dying of something in nearly every one of her books, and it’s often right after the main character falls deeply in love with his/her one true love. Now, I’m not spoiling any endings for you, since the point of her books isn’t necessarily the plot twist: it’s the very cathartic sob-inducing situations of the characters within. And I don’t have a particular title to suggest. I just recommend sitting down with a shelf of her books and reading the back cover blurbs to get a sense of which will make you cry the most. Just last week I asked one of our teen volunteers to pick out the saddest Lurlene McDaniel she could find. She came back with four.

And finally, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (Bantam Dell, 978-0-553-27429-5). Seriously. If what you’re looking for is a cry, and haven’t yet read this classic about a boy and his two beloved hunting dogs, do it. Just make sure you’re in a safe space with plenty of tissues for your tears.  It’s a book with a dog, you know what is probably going to happen.

Karen would add Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson and If I Stay by Gayle Forman to this list.

Note: for some reason the graphics button isn’t working at the moment on Blogger.  I will go in and add pictures when it is fixed.

Top 10 Tuesday: Top 10 Recs of the Week

Every week here at TLT we declare a book our REC OF THE WEEK.  These are our favorites that we recommend you check out ASAP.  And because I like to pretend I am an artist (“I’m not an artist, I just play one on my blog.”), I like to come up with a unique pic that somehow captures the spirit of the book. Or at least makes you want to look into it further.  For our first Top 10 Tuesday, we bring you our Top 10 Recs of the Week.

Join us each week to see what the new Rec of the Week is going to be and what original graphic we will create for it.  Want to learn more about the books mentioned above?  Just click on the picture and it will take you to our review.  Check in to TLT for new book reviews, library information, Why YA? posts and more.  Just because a book isn’t our rec of the week doesn’t mean we don’t love it.  Sadly, it turns out there are only 52 weeks in a year.  You can read all of our 2012 book reviews here and find more books we love and think you should read ASAP.

Harry Potter + The Fault in Our Stars = A fantastic Why YA? post by Leah Miller

As part of our ongoing Why YA? series, Leah Miller, author of The Summer I Became a Nerd, shares two titles that moved her and why everyone should read them.

Harry Potter is, as we all know, a beautifully written story. It will be with me for the rest of my life (not to mention my kids’ lives, if I have anything to say about it). Sometimes, I’m not sure how I ever lived without it. I know that might sound a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth. Rowling wove a story for us that could never be equaled. All sorts of topics are touched upon in the series; prejudice, love, hate, loyalty, and relationships between friends, family, and enemies, among tons of others. The way her brain works is spelled out on the page in plots, sub-plots, and even ghost plots (all my Pottermore people say, “Holla’!”). I doubt I’ll ever be as in love with a story as I am with Harry Potter and his many adventures.

Rowling’s writing is, well, it’s what I aspire to write. Her turns of phrases to suit the situation,  her characters who rip your heart out and lay them on a silver platter, the twists and turns, the gasps you make after just one sentence.
Harry Potter is one of those series I acknowledge as the reason I started writing in the first place. In my opinion, anything that makes one aspire to be better, to follow one’s dreams, is valid. Also, the fact that she has interwoven so much of herself into the books is wonderful. Who would Hermione be without Rowling’s own know-it-all spirit? As a writer, I pull from my own experiences and ideas about the world. I can only hope that one day I’ll be able to do it as subtly and ingeniously as Rowling.

Harry Potter also holds a place in my heart due a special connection with someone very important to me that was made because of it. I talked my father into reading the Harry Potter series back in 2001. I always knew he loved me and believed I could do anything, but up until that point, I never really knew he trusted my opinion.

Of course, he loved it. Here was this almost sixty-year-old man asking me for the next book only two days after I gave him the first. We even watched the first movie together in the theater. After Dumbledore said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” Daddy leaned over to me and whispered, “Remember that, Leah.” At the time, I brushed him off, sort of. “Yeah, Dad, watch the movie.” Unfortunately, he never got to finish the series. He died in 2002 from a stupid disease called pancreatic cancer. Which leads me to another book: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

I don’t know about other people, but that book affected me in a very personal way. It made me analyze how I handled the news about my father. It made me remember what is was like to watch him die when I had only just turned twenty, still practically a teenager. TFIOS forced me to think about a part of my life that I considered a black spot, something I very rarely want to think about. I would hazard a guess and say we all have spots like that. But TFIOS also made me think about life and death, in general. And thinking is a good thing no matter what genre is causing you to do it (noticing a trend here?). I learned a lot about myself while reading that book that I don’t think I could have learned from reading anything else.

The fact that Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars are forever connected in my mind might seem a little odd, but that’s the thing about YA. Sometimes it can be heart wrenching. Sometimes it can be fun and make you laugh until you cry. Sometimes it can be both. Sometimes it can be all that and then teach you something about yourself you never knew was there. That’s what Harry Potter and TFIOS were for me. And I like to think Daddy would have felt the same way despite him being an almost sixty-year-old man.
Nothing I could ever say to J.K. Rowling could ever encompass my love for her series, but to John Green I’d like to say, “Thank you, Mr. Green, for giving the world that book.” I’m not as poetic as Mr. Green, so I’ll just say that, for me, The Fault in Our Stars was “heavenly in its hurtfulness”.
P.S. I hope John Green doesn’t take offense that I was able to put my feelings into words for his book, but was unable to do so with Harry Potter, but as Hank Green says, “No matter what I read, I think, ‘This is not Harry Potter.’”

P.P.S. I know at some point in this post I was supposed to say why these books appeal to teens. To that I say, “They appeal to teens because they’re really, really good.”
 

Mother, wife, and YA author living on a windy hill in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I love fuzzy socks, comic books, cherry coke, and brand new office supplies. THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD by me coming Summer 2013 from Entangled Teen.  You can visit Leah Miller’s blog, Living the Dream, or follow her on Twitter (@LeahR_Miller).

You can also read our other Why YA? posts and learn how you can write your own here.