WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN? BY PETE WALLIS, THALIA WALLIS, AND JOSEPH WILKINS
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Summary
WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN? provides a nonjudgmental and straightforward discussion about sexual boundaries and expectations for teens.
93 %
AN HONEST AND IMPORTANT READ
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Consent isn’t easy for everyone to talk about, and let’s be honest, sometimes it can be awkward to use in practical applications. However, just because consent can be a difficult subject to broach doesn’t mean that it’s not important. The notion of consent is especially important to impart to teenagers, as they are vulnerable and more inexperienced. Learning healthy sexual behaviors as a teenager can save lives, and yet so many schools are reluctant to teach sex education. The comic WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN?, however, dives right in without an ounce of condescension.

This story, written by Pete Wallis and Thalia Wallis, is the perfect conversation starter for adolescent girls. The comic opens with a group of girls talking about a classmate who has recently been raped. Though some of them start from a place of judgment, the girls — eventually joined by a group of boys — have a discussion about the different applications of consent, pulling from their personal experiences. WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN? defines consent as, “[getting] permission for something to happen.” It goes further, saying that consent is “feeling in control and doing things because you choose to, not because someone is pressuring you to.”

READ: Check out this article on the problem of defining TV women with rape!

Diversity Galore

The best part of WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN? is the diversity. Among the four girls, one of them is black and another appears to be Muslim. There also appears to be a multiracial kid among the boys. In fact, the inclusion of boys to begin with is particularly interesting. A lot of times, there is a belief that consent is something only women need to fight for. This comic makes it clear that boys need to know their right to boundaries. Additionally, it addresses problems that specifically affect males, such as unrealistic male body standards, and the stereotypes that boys need to be more sexually experienced and less emotional than girls. While some struggles might be different and some may be the same, the struggles of girls and boys are given equal importance, rather than brushing off the anxieties of boys as lesser.

WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN?
Image from WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN?, courtesy of Singing Dragon.

Another major plus is that this comic addresses consent in queer relationships as well. While no one ever explicitly says their sexuality, there’s a heavy implication that at least one of the characters is gay or bisexual. However, there does happen to be a lack of representation of transgender individuals, as well as those in the disabled community. Diversity is incredibly important in a comic about sexual boundaries and consent because marginalized communities are often treated as though they have less of a right to such boundaries. This comic has already worked so hard to be inclusive, it would be nice to see the point of view of some of those who are most vulnerable to non-consensual situations. 

READ: For more diverse teens, check out THE BACKSTAGERS VOL. 1!

Busting Myths

Another strength of WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN? is that it goes beyond merely defining consent. This comic makes an effort to address misguided notions that teens (and often adults) have about sexual boundaries. It debunks misconceptions, such as the belief that consent cannot be withdrawn once given. The comic makes it clear that consent is necessary every step of the way.

WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN?
Image from WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN?, courtesy of Singing Dragon.

It’s important to include misconceptions along with the things teens just don’t know, as these misconceptions lead to the spread of harmful misunderstandings. WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN? makes sure readers know that victims of rape are never at fault, no matter what. Knowing this could not only help teens come forward but also aid in changing future attitudes to combat rape culture. I also love that the comic addresses the lack of realism in pornography, which often leads to unattainable expectations or even violence.

READ: Get your feminism fill with this WONDER WOMAN roundtable!

Accessible Artwork

The artwork in WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN? is simple, lending to the comic’s incredible accessibility. Joseph Wilkins not only captures a natural unease in some characters while discussing consent, but also a very important self-confidence in others. Throughout the comic, there are inclusions of demonstrative panels that visualize common examples of unhealthy sexual boundaries. Even better, the end of the comic happily portrays proper usage of consent.

WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN?
Image from WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN?, courtesy of Singing Dragon.

Final Thoughts on WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN?

WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN? is set to be released this November. I think it should be a staple of sexual education. A lot of schools refuse to teach any form of sexual education. Plenty others rely on an abstinence-only curriculum. When a teacher does acknowledge sex, it usually centers around disease and pregnancy. Furthermore, these discussions are almost always heteronormative. 

Overall, I think this is a fantastic educational comic. It doesn’t judge or talk down to its target adolescent audience. It understands that conversations about consent and sex are uncomfortable, and it aims to make learning about boundaries as casual and easy as possible. Most importantly, WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN? doesn’t vilify wanting to have sex, which I think repels a lot of teens from sex education. The comic is honest and straightforward, and it even includes statistics and resources in the back. I recommend it to anyone who is curious or uncomfortable having real discussions with others.

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