To begin at the beginning. Consent is only possible where a question has two possible answers. "Would you like a cup of tea?" enables consent - yes, you'd like to participate in some consensual tea-drinking. But that's only consent because you could say no. "You will have a cup of tea, won't you?" is coercive and thus reduces the scope for consent. From there, it's a slope to holding people down and forcing tea down their throats. Refusing an offer of tea made by an enthusiastic would-be tea-drinker requires careful handling, on both sides, as does refusing an offer of tea from a friend who just somehow isn't in the tea-drinking category.
Empathy matters, but so does self-control, Questions can be asked and answered clumsily - and finesse (or the lack of it) doesn't indicate good or bad intent or indeed authenticity. If we get a lot of practice at this, that doesn't make us any more sincere. Exclamation mark. Clumsiness is often a feature of these situations, and if it expresses vulnerability, it can be a foundation for intimacy.
There's a shared obligation to respect each other's boundaries with regard to invitations to tea drinking. We learn that by growing up - don't we? There's also a need for some kind of agreement on the behaviour that can be part of a properly conducted tea ceremony (this metaphor has gone too far, but never mind). Children learn that part too by growing up, although there's so much input into their lives these days that guidance, counselling, formal education - would be just as useful for the rest of us as well, come to think of it. I was on a university campus recently where there were racks of booklets defining consent - I regret not picking one up. [Update: just discovered that there's a book called Debrett's Manners for Men: What Women Really Want by E Jane Dickson (Debrett's, 2007). Probably more reliable than that film; must get a copy*.]
But consent, in the sense of a question asked (within acceptable limits of clumsiness) and answered (ditto), really isn't the issue. There was a twenty-minute discussion on a Monday-morning radio news programme this week, about an incident that occurred fifteen years ago. The incident has become famous by now: a "senior politician" put his hand on a "senior journalist"'s knee, and was told to remove it. The word "repeatedly" turned up in subsequent retellings, although I could swear it wasn't there at the start. Anyway - both parties have since played it down, as was acknowledged in the twenty-minute, prime-time discussion. We had journalists interviewing journalists, news editors giving their expert opinion ... until somebody from outside was brought in to point out that, actually, these were two adults and nothing much had happened, actually - and certainly nothing on the scale of Hollywood.
We could do with a booklet on how to tell the difference between incidents that fill airtime because they've got "senior" names in them, and incidents where real people get hurt. I don't know what the senior politician should have done, or refrained from doing, if all of a sudden he was minded to invite the senior journalist to tea, and I'm not here to defend him. I think perhaps a "senior politician" in late middle-age might bring a certain clumsiness to such a Q&A. But in other "stories" of the moment, people are being raped. Assaulted. Injured personally, physically, professionally, bullied, intimidated. Power is being abused.
We're all very shocked, in an undiscriminating way, about everything from knee-touching to serial rape. But are we indignant about all this because we're indignant, or because it's suddenly become available as news? The term "casting couch" has been in the language for as long as I can remember, but until a certain film producer became vulnerable, nobody said anything - no, that's not right. Nobody listened. Nobody listened.
Nobody listened. And now that we are listening, we're still taking the easy story.
* It's out of stock at Amazon. I couldn't see a "for Women" version, although there is Debrett's Etiquette for Girls by Fleur Britten (2006). The front cover of that - see Amazon, for example - gives you an idea of the age of the target audience. She's eating an oyster, if you can't quite work it out.
Let the record show that I have attended the course, heard the presentation, and can go forward into the future with a piece of paper. If some (un)foreseen emergency occurs, and you react by asking to see my certificate, I won't let you down.
It is not a convincing get-around to report the fact that a tabloid is reporting a story. The arguments for finding a way to pick up a piece of reader-bait nonsense - the term used to be tittle-tattle - may be convincing - readers are interested; it'll fill a gap; it's cheap - but they're transparent. You "serious journalists" are being led by the - I mean, you're following where you once led.
i remember, years ago, hearing a news editor explaining the likely dire consequences of yet another round of cost-cutting at his organisation. Journalists would end up interviewing journalists about the news, he said.
What we have now is not state-of-the-art news-gathering, vastly enhanced by the latest technology, blah blah, but the cost-cut remnants of an operational model that was taken for granted in the past, when we did things rather than talking them up in their absence.