Project Consent and Maynooth’s Vagina Monologues: The Power of Choice

In recent years, the word “consent” has been transformed from an unassuming dictionary look-up into a cultural buzzword. If you happen to pick up on someone dropping it into conversation today, there’s a high probability that this person is referring to sexual consent – that is, an enthusiastic, clearly-communicated, and unwavering “yes” in response to a proposition to engage in sexual activity with another individual. Sound complicated? The sexual security movement Project Consent doesn’t think so – and they’ve illustrated the core principles of consent in a 20-second Youtube video to prove it.

 

The cartoon itself is about as playful as it gets. This is probably one of the only times you’ll ever see a penis and vagina that it’s impossible not to call adorable (in fact, let’s get that out right here: look at the little squooshy ball-sack! Cute lil’ inner labia, aww!). However, the whimsical look of the piece isn’t intended to undermine the seriousness of its message: consent is mandatory. To put it plainly, sex without consent isn’t sex – it’s assault, and this is a fact which simply can’t be repeated enough.

The suggested introduction of consent classes for first year university students has generated some very significant discourse in recent months. While there have been many who have voiced praise for the idea, it has also been met with resistance from differently-minded individuals. The core argument has revealed itself as whether or not Irish students need to be taught how to respect the consent of potential sexual partners. It is wrong, after all, to presume anyone’s natural state to be that of a rapist – but while not all students are sex offenders, a staggering number will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, be it verbal harassment or physical assault, continuous or one-time. Despite the gendered nature of the Project Consent video, it’s also important to acknowledge that females are not the only victims of sexual offense; this is a problem that affects those of all genders, and to consider it a “women’s issue” is to ignore and invalidate the experiences of countless survivors.

In a move to bring awareness and understanding of sexual violence to Maynooth University, the Feminist Society held a production of The Vagina Monologues on Thursday the 11th of February in the Venue on North Campus. The show has been a mainstay in the Feminist Society calendar for several years now, and has been performed at the same point in the year by women in colleges, community centres, and acting groups worldwide since its conception in 1996 by playwright and activist Eve Ensler. The Vagina Monologues is comprised of a series of individual and ensemble pieces that provide a dizzyingly raw look into the female experience. This feminine focus is not intended to overshadow gender-related struggles pertaining to men, but simply lend a voice to a particular demographic which, throughout history, has all too often been forced into silence.

The subjects of the monologues range from pubic hair to the lives of transsexuals, from hypothetical conversations about what clothing a vagina might choose to wear to the military rape of the women during the Bosnian War. Much like the aforementioned Dancing video, The Vagina Monologues strives to communicate an incredibly simple message about sexual safety: it’s perfectly fine to say no. “No” does not necessitate excuse-making, and “yes” is not shameful or indecent. The ability to exercise choice is one which makes us human, and Maynooth’s The Vagina Monologues provided an uproariously funny, acutely tragic, and truly meaningful look into that humanity.