The young women in this YouTube video call their poem “Consent”. It’s a word too often used by young men who pressure their dates into “consensual” sex.
Most women will understand first hand. They will remember a time their refusal was ignored, when their body and spirit were violated.
One incident that stays painfully in my mind happened at the University of Idaho in the mid-60s. I was a dormitory assistant at the time, acting as shepherd and occasional monitor for the young women who lived there.
One night I was awakened by a frantic knocking on my door. A young woman had been raped. A student she didn’t know invited her for coffee. They sat and talked. He walked her home and demanded payment. She knew—we both knew—her rape would be viewed as her fault. She had, after all, left with a stranger. She had “asked for it”.
“Consent” reminds me that young women are still victimized, around the world, by the power imbalance between men and women.
These three young women—Lauren Banka, Lucy Gellman, and Fiona O’Leary Sloan (the talented daughter of a friend)—performed their poem, “Consent”, at Bout 2 of the 2010 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. Read the poem first, and then watch the video.
©2010 Fiona O’Leary Sloan, Lucy Gellman, and Lauren Banka
The bed is still unmade.
He was my boyfriend.
He was my late nights in the library.
An old friend.
I don’t call him anything else.
I knew him.
He called me pretty like a bicycle was, spindles of fingers, loose legs of tire,
Pedal-driven, human powered…
But I was all brakes when he climbed on.
Nobody ever warned me about poets,
They want to take you apart just to see how you are made.
And every time I go to the sheets I see him laying there, all legs and white bedclothes on the floor.
We were in his car.
His TV room.
I remember the leather seats.
The way his fingers opened me.
I can’t get the smell of animal out of my pores.
He said: “You’re shaved.”
Is this doing anything for you?
Smooth as a bicycle seat.
He liked that he had something to teach me, and
The longer I lay there the more he unbuttoned
His second finger ripped the skin a little.
The tissue tore when he dismounted.
He said he was trying to find the right spot.
I was leaning in to kiss him goodnight.
I was telling him to go when he started to undress.
Toying with the button of his jeans.
Pulling me onto the leather seat
Pressing his face into the pleat of my pants
Pushing into the small of my back
The way cyclists do, hard and all muscle against a seat that won’t budge.
I was caught between gears, unable to disentangle.
And then he mounted
Ripping me at the seams
Riding as hard as he could.
All I remember is the rubbing,
Like nails on the bone.
Leather rubbing bare skin.
Skin rubbing bare skin.
When he was inside
He opened and closed his fingers like chopsticks
I was dry and distracted.
His fingers were branches stuck through my spokes.
I can see him rocking over me afterwards,
A cyclist dismounted,
Still erect, and cocked like a rifle at my breasts.
He was heavy breaths and palms and fingertips.
I was a popped tire.
Deflated. I held my breath.
I did not say yes.
I did not say no.
I did not say anything.
In the morning he called to ask
“Are you still wet?”
Did you like being with a man?
I never told him
That I checked my jeans to see if I’d bled through.
That the tandem frame caved in handlebars first and pedals,
That he broke clear through the breaks.
I stick to low gears now,
Don’t look at the ripped brakes and pedals much.
When I told my cousin
There were mouthfuls of assumptions
Did you say no?
How were you dressed?
Were you drinking?
How could you not say no?
What do you mean you couldn’t find your voice?
If it sounded like consent
If it happened in your room
If he was your boyfriend
If he didn’t hit you
If you kissed him back
If you didn’t say no
You must have led him on.
Don’t call it assault. You just weren’t having fun.
I thought you were smarter than this.
Bicycles move on a center of gravity
And I am trying to find mine again but at night
He is still a sour taste on my skin and in the mornings
He is relief at empty sheets.
We stayed together for four more months.
We didn’t talk for a year.
I see him on campus and my innards curl inward.
I saw him buy a bicycle lock.
I carry a rape whistle.
But I told myself it wasn’t so bad.
I have two legs.
My life is footpaths and tire treads away from where he is
And I am moving forward,