Get the head back on that chicken
In Canada, your first week at University is called Freshman Week.
This is for new students, orientation about what’s going on and what to expect.
Various events are organised by different groups to help new students acclimatise.
St Thomas University and the University of Brunswick were having their Freshman Week.
At one of the events there was a booth run by Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre.
They were handing out free condoms.
The condoms had a message attached: CONSENT IS SEXY.
The message was stapled to the condoms.
Shortly after the event, some female students explained that the condoms wouldn’t be much use, having been pierced by staples.
In fact they could actually be harmful.
The Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre, the university authorities, and the student-union, immediately set about trying to recall the condoms that had been handed out. Before they could do any real damage.
Now what we see here is the headless-chicken effect in action.
Some well-meaning people had a good thought: “Let’s do something to make students aware that sex should be consensual.”
Fair enough, but then it went wrong.
“I know let’s attach the message to condoms. Students will all be anticipating lots of sex. This will make our message young and hip.”
And that’s where it went wrong.
Not just the stupidity of stapling through a condom, that’s a symptom of the bigger issue.
Where the head came off the chicken was when they came up with an answer without investigating the question.
They knee-jerked straight from sexual assault to condoms, just because it felt hip and young and daring.
We know that because it was girls who called attention to the problem, so lots of the condoms were given out to girls.
Why would girls need to be told that consent is good thing?
Surely the problem is boys forcing themselves on unwilling girls, not vice versa.
So point one – no real thought given to the audience.
Secondly, why would a message about consent be attached to a condom?
Handing out free condoms to freshmen (kids straight out of school) pretty much says: “There’s so much sex here we’ve got to give away condoms to everyone. Don’t take it seriously, everyone’s at it all the time.”
So there’s a lot of encouragement to have lots of sex, and a feeling that you’ll be a bit weird if you don’t.
Is that really the message the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre wants to give out?
I doubt it.
But the thrill of having an answer that they loved stopped them thinking about it.
They went straight from question to answer without bothering with any logic in between.
Condoms are very good to hand out to students if your message is about unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases, after all that’s the reason condoms are made.
But by using them for the wrong purpose they send out the wrong message.
Simply because, like a headless chicken, they didn’t think.
But the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre is a volunteer organisation, they fell in love with an idea and didn’t think it through.
They can be forgiven, they are well-meaning amateurs, this is something they do on the side.
But we get paid for this, this is all we do.
So when we behave like headless chickens, we have no excuse.
This piece first appeared on Dave Trott's blog here