The federal government has launched a new online educational resource for “teaching respectful relationships in schools”.
‘The Good Society’ website contains hundreds of videos for school-aged children, with the year 10-12 content focusing heavily around the issue of consent.
One particularly strange video features a young woman smearing a milkshake all over her boyfriend’s face and is meant to teach about disrespect, abusive relationships and lack of consent.
Commentators have slammed the material as “bizarre”, “confusing”, “cringeworthy”, “damaging”, “lacking nuance”, “infantilising” and as “trivialising a serious issue”.
In relation to the ‘milkshake video’, particular criticisms have been levelled at the focus on “maintaining” an unhealthy relationship, the decision to make a female the perpetrator when in reality it is females who are largely the victims of sexual assault and males who are the largely the perpetrators, downplaying the victim’s experience and the perpetrator’s responsibility, and underestimating the ability of young people to discuss sex and consent in real terms.
The video has since been removed in response to the backlash received.
Concerns about the video format aside, the deeper issues that are the real drivers of sexual violence against women have not been adequately addressed, and as yet have failed to gain traction in the national conversation about this issue.
Teaching consent in an attempt to encourage respectful relationships and avert the problem of sexual assault is of course a good start, but of itself doesn’t go nearly far enough in tackling this complex and urgent issue.
Firstly, it is pointless to talk about consent without addressing the underlying issue of pornography and the devastating impact it has on normalising sexual violence and conditioning boys and men to view women as sexual objects.
As articulated by feminist campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist:
“All the best intentions and efforts cannot compete with the world’s biggest department of education: pornography. If we don’t address pornography’s conditioning of boys, which trains them to accept rape myths – that “no” in fact means “yes” – and which normalises aggression, coercion and domination, these girls and all those that follow don’t stand a chance.”
And secondly, as our Research Fellow Dr Emma Wood recently argued in an article for ABC, teaching students consent in a culture that views sex as a trivial, recreational activity, without a deeper understanding of the significance and profundity of sex will only lead to more confusion and harm.
This government-funded education program would have been an obvious place to at least begin the conversation on some of these deeper issues and thus represents a missed opportunity. It is encouraging to read however that the education department secretary Dr Michele Bruniges has stated that the Good Society website is “designed to be a live and dynamic resource, with content added, removed and modified, to ensure it remains current and appropriate.” There may yet be an opportunity to include these more fundamental issues as part of the program.
Either way you look at it, teaching consent is simply a band-aid solution to a much larger set of cultural problems. Young people deserve truthful and meaningful education around such a serious and important issue.