If you haven’t seen the Tea Consent video (above), there is probably some gaping vortex in your social media life snaffling away viral content while you’re none the wiser. With over 5 million views (over a few different video versions), it has rocketed its way around the world, shared on social media, picked up by the mainstream media and heralded for its simplicity.
It compares the act of making a cup of tea to someone to having sex. The basic idea is this: If someone says they’d like a cup of tea, and you go away and make it for them, but in the time that it takes to boil the jug they decide that they don’t want a cup of tea anymore, don’t tip it down their throat.
The same goes for sex.
As brilliant as the video absolutely is, it also makes me sad. How have we come to the point where our best tool for educating people about how not to rape is a YouTube video about tea? Why is the idea of enthusiastic, conscious and soberly given consent such a revolutionary concept?
Generations of entrenched rape culture have led us to this point, and while progress is being made in how society views sexual assault – as can be seen in jury’s unanimous guilty verdict in the Stanford rape case – it is slow and circuitous. In that same case, the judge’s decision to hand Brock Turner a mere 6 months in county prison for his disgusting crime shows just how infuriatingly roundabout that progress can be.
Part of the Tea Consent video’s brilliance is the way in which it simplifies the complexities of human relationships. But if drinking a cup of tea has to be used as a stand in for putting one’s penis (or finger, or tongue, or some other object) into another’s vagina or anus or mouth (or for any of the many other sex acts that may not fit into the heteronormative penetrative paradigm), what does that say about our squeamishness and anxiety when it comes to real human beings with real bodies? What does it say to young teens that we’re using a metaphorical stand-in for a lesson that should be all about respecting our fellow human beings?
There is a definite place for the Tea Consent video – it provides the very basics of the concept of consent. Basically – don’t make someone do something that they don’t want to do, don’t assume that just because someone has done something before they’ll want to do it again, and people who are unconscious can’t make decisions. It is an easy entry point for those who really are clueless. But it cannot be the beginning and the end of the conversation.
Because the conversation, when you boil it down, is all about respect. So rather than just telling our young people to watch the Tea Consent video, we should be sitting down with them to talk about the real, complex, confusing and wonderful dynamics of real human relationships. Maybe over a cup of tea.