TPN file photo
I’ve been thinking about consent more than usual lately. Part of it is the human sexuality course I’m taking, but another part is me reflecting on how the coronavirus has changed how my body interacts with other people.
Normally, I’d be at a party right now. A South O basement that smells like frat socks, string lights duct-taped to the ceiling — you know the scene. In situations like this, pre-corona, guys will occasionally just touch you without asking, a hand on your waist or back. Or, worse, you’re dancing with some cutie and he takes your sick moves as a cue to put his sweaty mouth on your mouth. This messes up your lipstick, which is so not cool — I spend good time on my lip looks.
I suppose it’s naive to think that men who would normally grope women would stop invading women’s personal space because of the coronavirus, but hear me out. In pre-corona times, a walk down the sidewalk for me most often entailed running into a man because he assumed that I would step out of his way. Now? A walk means most everyone will steer clear of you when they see you in their line of sight.
No longer do I worry as much about my bubble being violated. As a survivor of sexual assault who’s been using quarantine to work through my trauma, social distancing has helped me in ways I never thought it would.
The concept of social distancing is one of the only good things to come out of coronavirus. (And not having to wear pants, like, ever.) More people seem to be learning the concept of personal space. Granted, having signs everywhere that say “6 feet” serves as an omnipotent reminder, but still. It’s working, to some extent, and although the purpose of this social distancing isn’t to give me back control of my female body in male-dominated spaces, it’s a side effect I’ve discovered I love.
Of course I miss hugging my friends. Of course I miss dancing, mosh pits and the squish of people at concerts. But I finally feel in my everyday life that others take my body autonomy more seriously, as seriously as they take their own.
Any pandemic opens up millions of questions about how we relate and communicate with each other as a species. With this one, and from the vantage point of a college student watching some of my fellow students completely disregard distancing guidelines and getting chastised for it, I feel hopeful that maybe we’ll come out of this more respectful of other peoples’ spaces and bodies.
Unfortunately, of course, it is troublesome that I feel my body autonomy is only taken seriously when others are at risk of being hurt by not respecting it. Men aren’t invading my personal space because they know it’s the right thing to do — there’s the threat of me having a deadly virus. The outcome works for me, so the bigger structural issues regarding consent and how we teach it can be handled another day. (This will take lots and lots of days.) I can finally go on a walk comfortably knowing I won’t be touched. And thank God for that — I am very sweaty.