Comment & Analysis
Nov 13, 2019

Consent is a Human Right. It Should Not be an Issue for Debate

Consent, writes Aoife Kearins, is a fundamental thing we are all entitled to. It's not something that should be up for any debate.

Aoife KearinsOpinion Editor
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Sinéad Baker for The University Times

I absolutely adore coleslaw. This opinion has proved more controversial than one would expect – in an increasingly panicked and polarised world, surely a simple love for coleslaw would be accepted and even celebrated, a shining example of finding joy and purpose in life’s simple pleasures. I think that mayonnaise is the most redemptive invention of the human race, and the fact that coleslaw gives me an excuse to consume the stuff by the spoonful is nothing less than pure bliss.

It has it all: the creaminess, the crunch, the ability to turn a bad day into a mediocre one. I’d eat it for every meal if it were socially acceptable, or pile it on top of whatever other food was going: why does no one else buy into coleslaw on pizza like I do? It’s a blank canvas, ready to take on whatever you throw at it – from peanuts to chilli to even more mayonnaise, coleslaw is the perfect vehicle for flavour, and for happiness.

I hope I’ve sufficiently established my feelings regarding coleslaw – because in my daily life, I don’t think that I have. For something that I love so much, and so deeply, I spend very little time talking about coleslaw. I rarely take the time to effuse about a particularly delicious encounter, or to try to convert the non-believers to a new and better life. Coleslaw is definitely on my list of the top three things I love most in this world (along with myself, and Riverdale). So why have I stayed so notably silent on the topic?

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It hasn’t been a conscious decision. I never actively decide to shy away from difficult, controversial topics like coleslaw. It just seems to come down to time – I spend too much time talking and arguing and debating about things that I don’t love. Up until recently, I would have considered myself an outspoken person on feminist issues, and specifically on consent. I’ve written countless articles, participated in even more arguments and generally always had one ear open, ready to jump into a conversation on the topic at any given time.

This is a sort of eulogy to the opinion pieces I’ve written in the past, because I won’t be talking about consent anymore

I’d like to think that the words I’ve written and the points I’ve made have meant something. But then again, maybe they haven’t, and I’ve wasted all this time and energy talking about something I’m not passionate about when I could have been riffing about coleslaw instead.

So this is a sort of eulogy to these opinion pieces I’ve written in the past, because I won’t be talking about consent anymore. There have been no monumental events that have led to this decision, no eureka moments and no change in what I believe. A simple realisation about my silence on coleslaw led me to rethink my stance and my values and my actions, and here I am, arriving at the consequences.

I don’t talk about what I love enough, but also, I am so tired. I am tired of acting like I am passionate about something that should be a basic human right. I am tired of getting into debates about whether feeling safe is a luxury, and I am tired of dragging myself through past trauma and present aftermath again and again all for the sake of being a spokesperson for something I never wanted to understand.

I am tired of sympathy, tired of questioning myself, tired of this pantomime of oh yes he did, oh no he didn’t, oh yes he did. I am not passionate about consent, just as most people aren’t passionate about sneezing or yawning or not being murdered: consent is a fundamental thing we are all entitled to, not something for me to enjoy or feel strongly about.

So the next time there is a high profile case, or a debate about consent – because there always is a next time – I will be stepping aside. I will be leaving the conversation to someone else, and hoping that they are okay with putting themselves through that. I will be allowing myself time away from the media, and I will be telling my friends that I don’t want to discuss it – not this time. I will reconcile the part of me that feels an obligation to shout, with the bigger part of me that is realising that I am allowed to take care of myself, and that some experiences are too close to home to debate on.

I am tired of sympathy, tired of questioning myself, tired of this pantomime of oh yes he did, oh no he didn’t, oh yes he did

I will write opinion pieces and enter debates on things that I am actually passionate about, like coleslaw, but also about Carly Rae Jepson and empress grey tea and my new fluffy coat – rather than a human right that too many view as negotiable. I don’t have the stamina for any more rants, and I don’t have the capacity to worry about letting anyone down. Maybe someday I will start shouting again, but I doubt it.

There is so much to shout about, and in the end I just end up hurting my own ears. Maybe some will say that this is coming from a position of privilege, that I don’t understand what it’s like to need to fight for legislation and systematic change. And to that I say that I truly feel as if I have tried. I have given away my deepest pain, time and time again, in the hopes of changing something, however small. And although I can’t know whether any of that has made a difference, I know the toll it has taken on me – and it’s a toll that I can’t keep putting myself through for much longer.

So I will write for myself, and not for the sake of debate or consumption. This might take a while: instinct is a powerful thing. But choosing not to speak is not the same thing as staying silent. Reminding yourself that you have a voice has as much to do with allowing yourself the option of staying quiet as it does with speaking out. And the less time I spend talking about consent, the more time I have to prioritise how I’m feeling, and of course, to convert the masses to the joy of coleslaw.


If you have been affected by, or would like to discuss issues concerning sexual assault or non-consensual behaviour, you can contact the Welfare Officer of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union by emailing [email protected] Emergency appointments with the Student Counselling Service are also available. You can phone Niteline, the student listening service, every night of term from 9pm–2:30am on 1800 793 793, or the Samaritans at any time on 116 123. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre can be reached at 1800 778 888.

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