We can look up the dictionary definition of consent, but what does it mean for us personally – as living, breathing sex-having humans? The music is over, but the conversation continues.
Written by Lucy Coulson
Consent at Roskilde Festival. It’s no new topic. But this year’s festival saw arguably the biggest discussion the theme has ever evoked. A year after Politiken’s “Roskilde uden samtykke” (Roskilde without consent) series and the #MeToo revolution of 2017, where are we with the subject? Have we made any progress?
Well, it would be reasonable to think we’re on our way to a more consensual Roskilde now that we’ve begun the conversation, because to talk means to make people aware. And the more people are aware, the more people know how to recognise this kind of behaviour – at least in theory. Which is why we wanted to continue the conversation, get more ideas out there and keep the momentum going. Still, it is a difficult topic. Something as seemingly simple as the word ‘consent’ easily spirals into an extremely complex and multifaceted issue when you start discussing the grey areas: the yes’s, the no’s, the maybe’s. The silences.
After we began talking to people, it became clear that maybe it actually isn’t so intimidatingly complicated after all. That there are a few little rules, simple ones, that people should start living by at Roskilde (and definitely also every other day of their lives). And if we all manage to do that, then maybe in the next few years we’ll find a new problem to debate, dissect and tackle to the ground… like finding a girls’ equivalent to a pissoir. Sigh.
We decided a good place to start our discussion was to define these vague, jargon-like terms that are being thrown around the conversation so nonchalantly. Namely: Consent. What does it actually mean?
Well, in the dictionary, it’s something along the lines of: permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. But that doesn’t mention anything about reading between the lines, or “he said she said”, or the colour grey, or certain indirect and discrete signs blurred or ignored because of the influence of alcohol and drugs. So what does consent mean on a more anecdotal level? For real people with real feelings and real sexual experiences?
We walked around Roskilde Festival and posed one question to the masses: How do you personally define consent? Here are the answers, thoughts and stories we were very lucky to have heard, along with the people who were awesome enough to share them:
“There are so many aspects to it. So many grey areas. Because if you’re thinking, ‘okay I’m really drunk’. But then the other person is also really fucking drunk… then who’s responsible? Who’s in charge? Alcohol plays a huge part.”
It’s definitely not obvious. It’s about reading between the lines. It’s about reading signals. Personally, I’m the kind of person who can figure out how to say no; I will set my foot down more than many of my girlfriends would. There are many of my friends who have had sex with someone and because they couldn’t say no.
And it’s hard when there’s this game between men and women – the kind of cat and mouse game – which makes it really hard to know when there’s been acceptance to something, because a lot of the time the guys are chasing the girls. So then it becomes like, when does this person actually want this and when does the person feel pressured?
“I think it’s hard because you don’t ask a person ‘Do you want to have sex?’. It’s not a dialogue, it’s a feeling. And that feeling, it’s not black and white. Especially at Roskilde.”
In terms of Roskilde, people are more open minded down here. And people can easily mix up the signals they get from the girls. We spoke about it on Wednesday actually – we were at a concert, and there were these two girls in front of us just in bras. And I think if you’re coming here as an 18-year-old guy, just out of high school, all the hormones running around… I think it’s difficult for them to figure out what’s legal and what’s not legal. You get confused, you know? They think that if a girl is standing in front of them in a bra, well, I think they assume she’s up for anything. Especially here in the heat. Last year it wasn’t an issue because everyone was wearing clothes, but I think that’s where people get confused.
Nikoline, 57 and Pia, 57
“You don’t need to ask ‘Should we have sex?’, but if there’s someone who says ‘We’re stopping now’, then that needs to be respected.”
Nikoline: Sexual consent, that is when someone says ‘yes’ and wants to do whatever it is they’re doing.
So someone needs to actually say yes?
Nikoline: Yes… well no. No. But if you say ‘no’, then it’s a no. Then the other person needs to stop. It’s a respect thing. You don’t need to ask ‘Should we have sex?’, but if there’s someone who says ‘We’re stopping now’, then that needs to be respected.
Pia: I was thinking about it the other day because there was a man walking past a group of young girls and as he went past them, he slapped one of the girls’ asses – and they didn’t say anything!! If it were me, I would have whacked him and said ‘what the hell are you doing?!’.
Do you think it’s because they’re too scared to say anything?
Pia: Nope. I think it’s because it’s Roskilde and that’s how it is here. And that’s what the problem is… it’s hard to find those boundaries when it’s so accepted here. It’s hard to be a girl. It really is.
Jacob, Mikkel, Lukas (left to right) 19
“If she’s physically wasted and can’t say no because she’s too drunk, then it’s a no.”
Lukas: It’s a difficult question. But I would just say when she says it’s okay. Like doesn’t say stop or no or anything like that. She doesn’t need to actually say yes, but if she says no then it’s not okay. You probably also need to take into consideration how drunk she is. If she’s physically wasted and can’t say no because she’s too drunk, then it’s a no.
“Consent is when you give permission to something that’s happening – regardless of when it’s happening, even if it’s already happening.”
Consent is when you give permission to something that’s happening, regardless of when it’s happening – even if it’s already happening. If you don’t want it anymore, then that’s okay. Even if you’ve already said yes. I guess that’s where there’s a grey zone. If you’re too afraid to say no, then well yeah, it gets tricky. That’s where our work comes in.
Lasse, 33 and Martin, 36
“You need to have respect for people’s boundaries, even if they don’t tell you them. It’s not about them saying no, it’s about knowing where the line is. It’s not a game where you wait for her to say no and then you continue anyway.”
Lasse: First and foremost: respect. That is the most important word. It’s completely irrelevant where you’re from or what your experiences are. When you meet yourself in an intimate situation, you are automatically vulnerable, so it’s very important to be respected. There are many people who come here with different views and different everything, but I think the word everyone can agree on is respect. That counts for sex but also generally at this festival. Respect for each other.
Martin:If you are a real man, you will be able to feel on a woman when she doesn’t want to. Proper gentlemen can feel that kind of thing.And you might be thinking: I am someone different than I was last week when I was at work. But you’ve got to remember that next week you will be back at work and that same person you were, and you will take those experiences home with you. And then you come home with bad experiences, and ruin [the festival] for everyone.
“The most important thing is that you should always be able to say no. You can be just about to have sex, and then someone says stop, and then it’s over.”
Well there’s direct and indirect, right? The most important thing, in my eyes, is that the person is in the right mindset to give consent. They can’t be too drunk and they can’t be unconscious, for example. But it’s hard, because most signs are, in fact, indirect. The most important thing is that you should always be able to say no. You can be just about to have sex, and then someone says stop, and then it’s over.
There’s also a difference between rape and misunderstanding. It can be that you wake up the next day and think ‘ah… that was not such a good idea’, but that doesn’t mean it’s rape. One person can think it was rape while the other thinks it was innocent and they didn’t do anything wrong. So it gets hard in those situations.
Sigrid, 16 and Nicolai, 17
“I guess it’s trying to be as clear as possible and not going too quickly.”
Sigrid: I guess it’s trying to be as clear as possible and not going too quickly.
Nikolai: Yeah, that you both agree with what you’re doing along the way. I have a girlfriend here so it doesn’t really affect me at Roskilde.
What about your friends here?
Nikolai: I don’t know. We don’t talk about it.
Astrid, 16 and Sara, 17
“If you can’t say yes or no, then it’s a big no.”
Astrid: I think it’s easier to know when it’s NOT consent, than when it is. Because you know when it isn’t. It doesn’t need to be a ‘yes’, but you can just think of it like, is she too drunk? You just need to be a good person.
Sara: Yeah, you can see it on someone if they want to, or when enough is enough. It’s 100% not fair if there’s one person who’s too drunk and can’t take care of themselves. If you can’t say yes or no, then it’s a big no.
Astrid: It’s happened to me twice at this festival. Where guys have taken advantage of me because I’ve been too drunk. And it’s something that happens. If it can happen to me, it can happen to my friends – it can happen to everyone. You let your guard down and you don’t think it will happen. Even with the sweet boys. You can be used. I’ve been one of those girls thinking: it won’t happen to me. That was me a week ago. But it fucking does. And it’s not that all boys that are idiots. I know that. I don’t want to be all like ‘fuck boys’ but seriously… fuck boys!
“How do you actually ask someone if you’re going have sex?” – part of Roskilde Festival’s consent campaign this year.
A lot of thoughts and a lot of experiences, almost all with a common thread: if there’s a no, stop. If there’s a yes that turns into a no, stop. If a no for whatever reason can’t be said, stop. And when you look at it like that, maybe these ‘grey areas’ are not so grey after all. Maybe they are bright red. Or purple or whatever.
For now, we hope that the conversation continues, or even better, amplifies, between now and next year’s festival. Because an issue so pervasive and destructive deserves more than a week’s attention.