Donald Trump’s antics remind us about sexual boundaries

Women's Equality Day

With all the talk about groping random female nether-regions, and yes-he-did and no-he- didn’t, perhaps it’s time for us to return to school, where college campuses nationwide are already familiar with the idea of affirmative consent.

Affirmative consent means that all parties to a sexual encounter are on board with the business at hand. Agreement abounds. So does talk. You talk first and then you act. No one is surprised to find a stray tongue down his/her throat, or a hand where it isn’t wanted. You get a vote in precisely what is happening with your body.

“Affirmative consent” is a relatively new term, but grown-up sex has been around forever.

Anything else is sexual assault or groping or rape.

{mosads}In the last few weeks, multiple women have accused the Republican candidate for president of forcing himself upon them. That includes groping, grinding, and kissing, and there’s a tape of Donald J. Trump describing just what behavior he believes he’s allowed when it comes to women’s bodies, given his celebrity status. 

Perhaps you’ve heard the tape. 

The behavior Trump describes as being within limits for him would, in fact, get him hauled into any regular police station – or, if he was in my hometown, he’d get a trip to the backwoods where justice would be meted out by the victim and interested family members.

But I digress.

However these accusations turn out – and one can only dream at least some of them would go to court, because discovery would be delish – we can all benefit from a review of appropriate sexual behavior.

Though men and women have been saying no thank you to sexual activity forever, most historians trace the modern affirmative consent movement back to Antioch College, a private liberal arts college in Ohio. It was the early ‘90s – which is sad, because you’d think, with women being nearly 51 percent of the population, the conversation would have arisen sooner. Founded in 1852, the college’s earnest motto was “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

Early on, the college distinguished itself by admitting two African American women, but other than financial struggles that in the 2000s briefly closed the place, Antioch entered the national consciousness little, if at all.

But then there was the time two students’ dates reportedly ended in rape. The college quickly took action with a Sexual Offensive Prevention Policy. Based largely on suggestions from a campus feminist group, the Womyn of Antioch, the policy was listed in the student handbook, and included the statement that each “new level of sexual activity requires consent.”

This was not a list of suggestions, but hard-and-fast rules. A hearing board was established to decide on remedies when sexual conduct was ruled less than consensual. Expulsion was an option.

Back then, we were on the innocent side of the Bill Clinton scandals, so though they shouldn’t have, the jokes wrote themselves. In 1993, a “Saturday Night Live” skit, “Is It Date Rape?” included late actor Chris Farley playing a frat boy who asks, “May I kiss you on the mouth.” Actor Shannen Doherty (who, in the skit, was a Victimization Studies major, ha, ha) replies in the affirmative, and then Farley asks “May I elevate the level of sexual intimacy by feeling your buttocks?” and so on.

The New York Times weighed in, saying that laying out the rules in no uncertain terms for adolescents is good, but “legislating kisses won’t save them from themselves.” When the college briefly closed in 2008, under the headline “Who killed Antioch?” a Los Angeles Times columnist, bless her heart, put the blame squarely on “womyn.”

In practice, students didn’t seem to mind much. As Kristine Herman, Antioch alumnae and one of the architects of the policy told NPR a couple of years ago, “There are absolute wonderful steps on how to address those allegations and what questions to ask and what protections and what issues of confidentiality need to be respected.”

Maybe that’s what’s missing from news reports about Trump’s purported assaults – respect. I’ve lost any I might have had for him, but then, I never had any so no great loss there. The election can’t come too soon.

Campbell is a journalist, author and distinguished lecturer in journalism at the University of New Haven. She is the author of Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl and the upcoming Searching for The American Dream in Frog Hollow. Her work has appeared in the Hartford Courant, Connecticut Magazine, The New Haven Register and The Guardian. Follow her @campbellsl


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Tags affirmative consent Bill Clinton college campuses Donald Trump Election presidential election Rape Republican sex tape Sexual assault Women's rights
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