Today, even with the burgeoning #MeToo movement, there are few examples of openly discussing consent and sex depicted on TV. Luckily, there have been more and more shows taking it upon themselves to give examples of positive ones.
Below are two examples of family-geared shows that aired in 2019 tackling the difficult topics of consent and sexual assault that may help you and your family open up this important conversation.
One Day at a Time
Netflix’s family drama, One Day at a Time, centers around the Alvarezs, a Cuban- American family living in Miami, Florida. ODAAT is known for bringing up social issues in their episodes including veteran services, coming out, immigration, and gender identity. In the third season episode, ‘Outside,’ the show addresses the topics of consent, harassment, and toxic masculinity.
The episode begins with Penelope, the mother of two children, Elena and Alex, discovering her son’s Instagram account with pictures of him touching his girlfriend’s body in public with captions such as ‘I got hoes in different area codes.’ This leads into the discussion for the majority of the episode where the Alvarez family and their social networks explore what consent is and its importance.
Elena, pictured below, pushes the conversation to its core. In response to her mother’s statement, “I hate to admit it, but I feel sorry for men. This consent thing is tricky,” Elena reframes the conversation by calling out the need to address the actions of perpetrators/men instead of placing the burden on victims/women. She questions why the conversation surrounding sexual assault often turns to placing the responsibility on victims to watch how they dress and where they go, instead of addressing why perpetrators are causing harm. In the public health field, we recognize tactics that focus on altering a potential victim’s behavior to reduce their likelihood of experiencing a crime as risk reduction strategies. This differs from true primary prevention tactics, where the focus is on preventing the perpetrator from committing sexual violence. Primary prevention can include providing comprehensive sex education to youth and having discussions about relationships, consent, and healthy sexuality from an early age.
Throughout the episode, the Alvarez family continues to discuss the problematic societal views on sexual assault. Elena and Penelope share stories about harassment they have both experienced. Elena, in a queer relationship with her significant other, Syd, discusses being followed home and harassed through the city by a group of men. Penelope shares a story about being sexually harassed by a superior while in the army and her difficult decision to not report it.
One of the biggest teachable moments of the episode is educating Alex about his actions and his intent versus his impact. By listening to the stories of his sister and mother, Alex recognizes how his actions perpetuate a culture that allows sexual assault to happen. He is a symbol for how necessary it is to educate young boys about healthy masculinity and the concept of enthusiastic, affirmative consent
Grown-ish is a spinoff from Freeforms original series, Black-ish. It centers around Zoey Johnson, one of the main cast members of Black-ish, heading off to a California university. In the season 2 episode ‘Messy,’ the main cast discusses a new policy that the university has put forth in response to a possible sexual assault in the campus community. This new ‘Enthusiastic Sober Consent’ policy states that there must be “mutual voluntary consent, communicated clearly before and during any sexual activity.”
During the episode, the viewer witnesses the students’ realistic conversations about sexual violence. The cast break down the ideas of what it means to give consent, who can give it, and whether or not they would continue to have sex while under the influence.
One character, Vivek, discusses a male friend of his who was assaulted by two women. He is met initially with laughter and statements essentially stating that men can’t be assaulted, especially by a woman, and if they are, it isn’t “that bad.” Zoey responds to this, stating, “this type of talk is why dude felt like he couldn’t say anything in the first place, and the fact that we’re legit sitting here joking about it is super problematic.” We know that men, and people of all genders and backgrounds, are assaulted at high rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017), 1 in 3 women, 1 in 4 men, and 1 in 2 trans people will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
Later in the episode, another character, Nomi, asks the group “…how is this policy even enforceable? I mean, who here is actually gonna stop drinking and hooking up?” Eventually this discussion leads to the statement,“If this policy stops one incident from happening, I’d say it’s worth it.”
By the end of the episode, we as the audience do not get clear answers to the questions that the group brings up. Instead, what we get is a real conversation of people trying to figure out where these lines lay, how they may have crossed them in the past, and how they can do better in the future. It is clear that many of these characters have never thought about consent or had a safe place to discuss its meaning. This policy therefore becomes a way for the students to educate themselves and normalize talking about consent, healthy relationships, and communication.
Recently, STAR’s blog posted an article regarding sexual assault on college campuses which can be found here.
Both of these episodes create space for the characters to speak openly and learn from each other. They dissect critical issues that have been considered “taboo” topics in the past. Because of this, the conversations are not necessarily linear and they do not present full formed answers, just as you would not necessarily receive in real life. Both groups can agree that it is important to talk about sexual assault and it is important to talk about relationship dynamics, biases, and communication. In 2020, we hope to see more positive depictions of these conversations about consent and sexual violence.
Center for Disease Control. (2017, April 28). NISVS Infographic. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/communicationresources/infographics/infographic.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fviolenceprevention%2Fnisvs%2Finfographic.html.