Friday, December 1, 2017

Russell Simmons and the Meaning of Consent

It all started when I was 5 years old. After lunch, we had to go back to our classroom, sit at a shared round table and rest our heads on the desk. The little boy across the table whispered my name, “Faunya.”  He motioned for me to look under the table and I did. I was shocked and appalled at what he had to show me. I grimaced and rested my head back on the table, avoiding eye and physical contact with this little boy for the rest of the school year. 

20 years later, I had brought my first home.  I was a single women in NY with a good job and a property in her name. The one problem was that my expenses doubled. Luckily, I was a single woman in NY, so it wasn’t very difficult for me to find a way to make extra money on the side. I trained to be a tax preparer and was hired by Jackson Hewitt to work in a newly opened office on the upper west side of Harlem. My boss was a minister, a husband and a father of 5 children. He was also a cheater.  During the slow days, we had plenty of time to talk and our conversations ranged from work to God to marriage and everything in between. He always made small innuendos that let me know that he found me attractive and would be interested in more than just work-related interactions with me, but I would always pretend that I didn’t notice or just otherwise let him know that I was not interested. 

However, one night after a long day of filing taxes, he offered to take myself and few of my other colleagues out to dinner.  Unfortunately, I am horrible at turning down free food. We had a fun night of eating and conversation at a soul food spot in Harlem. He then offered to drop me off and I agreed. Once we arrived in the front of my building, we talked for a little while in the car and then he tried to kiss me. I pushed him away and said that it was time for me to get going. He offered to make sure I made it into my apartment safely and I agreed. As foolish as it was, I agreed. He didn’t just walk me to my door, but also found his way into my apartment. Again, he started to come on to me physically by touching and kissing, etc. While I was clearly the weaker being, I exerted enough strength to push him away or at least make it difficult for him to continue. While I did make it verbally clear that I was not interested at all and that he should be at home with his family, I chose my words (and actions) very carefully. I had no intention of leaving or losing my job. He tried to smooth talk me some more and ‘make it difficult for me to say no,’ but after realizing that it wasn’t going to work, he lamented and left.  

Were there moments in our interaction where I felt pressure? Yes. Were there moments in our interaction where I felt a pang of fear? Yes. Was I foolish for letting this man in my house? Yes. Did I want to have sex with this married man? No.  If I had not pushed him off and allowed him to have sex with me, would that be considered rape?

According to many of the accounts that have been released lately, yes. According to my personal account, I’m not so sure.  I would have gone along with something I really didn’t want to do and I’m sure that I would’ve felt ashamed and deeply regretted it. However, I don’t know that I could say that I was raped. 

I recently shared an article on Facebook about how we need to teach our sons how to NOT rape. This is true, but more importantly, we need to teach our sons about respect and mutual desires. In my opinion, Russell Simmons is not guilty of rape. He is guilty of being a jerk and not caring if the woman he had sex with was mutually desiring to engage with him.  
There is a very thin line and I think that if we teach our boys (I don’t have any sons, but you get the picture) to respect themselves and to value themselves enough to not have any interest in having sex with someone who is less than interested in having sex with them, then there wouldn’t be any confusion in knowing if they raped someone or not. 
We need to teach our girls how to make wise decisions, how to respect their bodies and the meaning of consent. When someone is trying to do something to you that you do not want, it is our job as women to make it clear that you are not consenting to their actions. If we are passive, then we are allowing these men who have no respect for us and our bodies to take advantage of us. Our inaction is our consent.