Youths Learn from Media Portrayals, by Bridget McAlonan and Molly Nelson, via The SunJournal:
(Article 4 of 4 for Sexual Assault Awareness Month)
The media storm surrounding the “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise is enormous and varied. So many opinions and beliefs are swirling and social media is clogged about the actions of main character Anastasia Steele.
Did she consent? Could she consent? Is this a portrayal of domestic violence and sexual assault, or two adults engaged in a consensual relationship?
During the hype, the educators at Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Center have used these questions to engage young people in dialog around sexual assault, healthy relationships and defining consent. Indeed, using media both maligned and loved is an important tool in sparking conversations with the public, especially teens and young adults.
In light of the ever-expanding technology waiting at our fingertips, engaging youth in critical thinking about media is an important tool in helping them understand and develop healthy relationships.
For instance, we encourage youth to analyze the ads they see on TV and to ask these questions: What are the selling tactics? How is sexuality used to sell a certain product? Does that make any sense and does it go too far? What roles do men and women play in this ad and are those appropriate or stereotypical?
That helps young people develop critical thinking about what they are being sold.
Those media portrayals help us educate young people while providing them with the tools to look at the world through a lens that examines what a healthy relationship looks like, how to achieve healthy relationships and also what an unhealthy relationship looks and feels like.
For the past year we have been handing out “I CONSENT” stickers to teens and young adults. This campaign has been hugely successful in educating others on what consent is and what it looks like in a sexual relationship. We also use movies to help young people further explore these concepts and illustrate healthy behavior.
One of those movies, “The Other Sister,” has a scene between the main characters that effectively demonstrates the idea of obtaining consent before becoming physically intimate. The characters in that movie have a conversation about their different comfort levels. One expresses the desire to engage in sexual activity right now, while the other is unsure and would like to wait. The partner who wishes to become intimate respects the other’s feelings and does not push or pressure them, thus providing a perfect model for respect in a healthy relationship.
These types of media examples can be helpful to young people who may not know how to start conversations about consent. Perhaps they are unsure what consent is. Perhaps they had no idea that they have the right to say “no” to things they may not want to do even when their partner would like to.
Offering education around consent by using the media often creates a safer environment for participants because the focus of the group is on the screen, not on the participants in the educational setting.
Our education and presentations around media are always followed up by an opportunity for participants to further explore those issues. Participants are given time to engage critical thinking skills in a safer environment.
That type of education can be greatly rewarding to the individuals we serve. Students often approach us later about a show or advertisement they saw and say things such as “Can you believe that guy in the movie who never even checked in with his partner before having sex with them when they obviously looked uncomfortable?”
Hopefully, these conversations also happen between peers — kids challenging their friends to think about what they are consuming in the media and how that affects their perceptions and behaviors.
While many people had strong opinions on the “Fifty Shades” series, SAPARS educators have opted to keep talking about the issues we always have: healthy relationships, sexual assault, gender issues, consent and how to think critically about the information, images and concepts presented to us through the multitude of media we encounter.
Bridget McAlonan and Molly Nelson are educator/advocates at Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.