The federal government’s milkshake failed to bring any decent consent lessons to the yard.
The Good Society offers a series of resources including videos and talking points designed to facilitate ‘safe, healthy and respectful relationships’ amongst school-aged students, commissioned by the Morrison Government.
At first glance this seems like a desperately needed initiative. Unfortunately, its execution massively missed the mark.
The now-infamous (and withdrawn) ‘Milkshake’ consent video illuminated the government’s clear disconnect with a younger audience.
The old school set was probably intended to create a lighthearted, fun scene to deliver information about a topic which is the antithesis of the environment it was being delivered in. Ironically, the set seemed to only reflect the outdated values the video perpetuated through its confusing and laboured metaphors.
A female offers her male companion a taste of her milkshake, taunting that she ‘knows [he] really likes it’, reminiscent of Robin Thicke and his ‘Blurred Lines’ hit.
Despite his clear discomfort, she smears ice-cream across his face, topping it off with sprinkles later on.
It’s unclear how far the audience is meant to carry the metaphor.
As the narrator commentates the on-screen action, he shares information about the ‘field model’, where one person breaches another person’s boundaries without consent.
Within a breath, the video juxtaposes someone wanting pizza more often than you’d like with someone asking if they can ‘touch your butt?’.
Something’s not right when you’re comparing the first-world problem of pizza afflictions with uncomfortable interactions as a way to demonstrate boundaries with 15-18 year old students.
Worse still, how is anyone meant to find the words to talk about sexual harassment and assault when they lack the words to even define it?
By talking about consent in euphemisms, we disempower anyone who has experienced sexual harassment and assault.
It shrouds the experience in shame and confusion.
Yes, discussing sex can be tricky and awkward, but it doesn’t need to be exacerbated by infantilising and bizarre metaphors.
“An important thing to keep in mind is that young people are really mature and they like to be engaged and spoken to in a really mature way,” says Brandon Friedman, co-founder of sexual education provider Elephant Ed.
Elephant Ed’s small-group classroom workshops facilitate discussion about various topics related to sexual health across Victoria and New South Wales.
“The tone of delivery and the mode of delivery is so important to really open up the conversation and get them actively engaged,” Friedman said. “That’s the only way that they’re actually going to digest the information rather than those barriers being put up.”
Friedman noted that whilst there was a need for content to be presented in an engaging format to aid the conversation, there is a risk of trivialising grave issues.
The classroom discussions surrounding consent include topics like the meaning of informed consent, legalities and where students can seek help if needed.
The Milkshake video did advise where young people could seek help but issues around legality are explored in another section of the website.
Alarmingly, though, the video did seem to imply that the now elusive line could be crossed once, with an apology facilitating the restoration of the damaged relationship.
Of course, there is merit contained within this – it would be unreasonable to not forgive someone who was genuinely apologetic for an offhand unintentional comment that made someone else uncomfortable.
But in more serious circumstances, an apology is not going to magically cool that part of your skin that scorches from uninvited contact.
A darker reading of the message, though, may leave someone wondering if they could get away with crossing the line with multiple people, because of the bandwidth for redemption. There is a place for restorative justice, but a victim should not be pressured towards it post violation to placate the other, or to view sexual assault and harassment as a one-time ‘mistake’.
As women, though, we are conditioned to tolerate bad behaviour and even wrongly conflate coercion and violence with romance.
The kid who pulls your hair in the playground?
“Oh, he must like you!” some adults would coo.
It’s in the minutiae of interactions that our expectations of ourselves and our relationships are formed.
So, when we grow up hearing that the boy who treats us poorly is the one who likes us, compounded by aggression being presented as romantic or passionate in pornography and pop culture, it’s no wonder that we have a culturally ingrained consent problem.
Whilst The Good Society does provide resources on social pressures and consent, as well as its relationship with alcohol and drugs, a risk with a video like Milkshake is that one could view it as a complete blueprint to consent.
Elements of the program seem as ill-conceived as the now revoked ‘consent app’ idea, proposed by NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the content delivered in the program, given those who commissioned it.
In the Milkshake video, the woman is the aggressor. Yet, the statistics tell us that women are significantly more likely to be the victim of sexual assault.
It isn’t unreasonable to wonder if the presentation of flipped gender expectations is an attempt to strip gender from a largely gendered problem.
This resource was mandated by a government whose leader was reluctant to concede that we are saturated with gender issues.
Is it really any wonder that it was so tone-deaf?
Naming a solution to a multifaceted issue is difficult.
But surely, as the famous Thames Valley Police ‘Tea and Consent’ example demonstrates, teaching that consent should be freely given, enthusiastic and continuous doesn’t take a near $3.8 million over-produced project.
It takes a mature, ongoing and open conversation.
Imi Timms is a university student and freelance writer.