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  • Sun, 12, Jun, 2016 - 5:00:AM

The problem with the Tea Consent video

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.


  • Tea Consent Video /
  • Consent /
  • Brock Turner /
  • Sex /
  • Sexual Violence /
  • Sexuality Education /

Comments ( 1 )

  • audi alteram partem's picture

    audi alteram partem - Sun, 2016-08-07 18:29

    Hi Lizzie, I would like to try and walk a fine line here. I would like to able to disagree with some of your contentions but to do so in a deeply respectful manner. My hope is, that should you choose to respond, you will likewise be respectful to me. At the outset, in the interests of full disclosure, I would like to advise that I no longer consider myself to be a feminist. So perhaps in that regard we are on opposite sides of an arbitrary fence. However, my premise is that I can learn more by engaging positively with those who disagree with me than by simply engaging in group-think with like-minded others. One issue at hand is consent. I agree with everything in your item above, and the tea analogy seems to be a useful educational tool. My concern is that you may have inappropriately drawn the line between what is and what isn't consent in your NZ Herald column published 6 August 2016. From what I've read in the papers: A boy meets a girl at a party. They flirt. She grabs his crotch and tells him that she likes penis. She invites him back to her place and into her bedroom. They take off their clothes, get into bed and fondle each other. He proposes intercourse and she says no. On hearing no he stops suggesting intercourse and they fall asleep. The next morning they wake up and start kissing and fondling again. He proposes intercourse and unlike the night before she does not say no. They have intercourse. Whether that intercourse is consensual will eventually be determined by a Court, but in your Herald article you imply that this is a simple case of no meaning no. It doesn't seem to be that straight forward. Someone can change their mind about wanting tea and that must be respected. But if later they change their mind back again and willing partake in some tea, the tea maker surely shouldn't be blamed for forcing her to drink tea when she seemed willing but he simply failed to read her (it would seem confused) mind. My concern is about her sense of agency. She is capable of asserting her wishes the night before, but then somehow loses agency the next morning. You suggest in your article the abject hell of a woman having to go through a rape case. No doubt that is very difficult. But have you given any thought to what sort of hell it would be for a man to have to defend a false rape allegation? My experience is that our society today is, for the very most part, highly sympathetic to rape victims and utterly disgusted by rapists. For an innocent man to be cast as a rapist and then suffer opprobrium from friends, family and colleagues must likewise be an horrific experience. Men need to be more sensitive. However, in the highly nuanced and emotionally laden sphere of commencing physical intimacy women also need to be assertive. No means no, but what does silence mean? Perhaps an increase in emotional intelligence, empathy, and respect for people of all genders might lessen the incidence of both rape, and false rape accusations?
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