From 1990s multiculturalism fights to Bush-era scuffles over abstinence-only education to modern arguments about rape and consent, the secondary school classroom has always been the place where culture war victories are ratified. So it’s a major win for third-wave feminists and campus progressives that another blue state legislature has voted to implement “yes means yes” training in its public schools. The Washington Post reports:
Maryland’s House of Delegates on Saturday approved legislation that would require public schools to teach a “yes means yes” standard for sexual consent, moving the state one step closer to becoming only the second to adopt such a mandate.
The “yes means yes” bill, which passed with bipartisan support in a 115-to-25 vote, would require sexual-education classes in all Maryland public schools to teach a concept known as affirmative consent, defined by the legislation as “clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed and voluntary agreement between all participants to engage in each act within the course of sexual activity.” Local education officials would decide how to tailor the lessons in an age-appropriate way.
So far, two deep-blue state legislatures—California and New York—have voted in favor of “yes means yes,” the intensive standard for sexual consent that makes it easier for students to be found guilty of sexual assault, though only California has required that it be taught in the K-12 schools. No states have yet enshrined affirmative consent in their actual penal codes, where it would surely face sustained challenges in the courts for violating defendants’ due process rights. (Judith Shulevitz has pointed out that holding someone’s hand without their explicit permission could be grounds for punishment under the letter of most affirmative consent policies.)
The changing definition of sexual assault pushed by campus feminists made headlines in 2015 after California’s state legislature became the first to give “yes means yes” its stamp of approval. These debates were sidelined somewhat by the presidential election, which pushed other social issues to the fore. But it’s still worth paying attention to the progress of this swift and ongoing cultural revolution, which promises to redefine how we think about such core concepts as sex, love, and autonomy.