THE BLOG
04/13/2016 04:06 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2017

My "Hips Don't Lie," but They Do Demand Consent

Tetra Images via Getty Images

Chances are, if you were born in the last twenty years or so, you've heard about (and probably experienced) the phenomenon known as grinding. Out in the chaotic sea of bodies in bars, clubs, and frat houses, grinding is the primary dance between men and women. While some may say this extremely intimate physical contact is "all in good fun," many young college-age women, including myself, fail to see the fun in subtle sexual harassment.

While calling a type of dance subtle sexual harassment may seem extreme to some, let me explain what the real problem with grinding is by painting you a picture of a typical night out for young women.

The end of the week is finally here; after days of sitting in class, late night study sessions, and way too many trips to Starbucks, you're determined to have a great night out socializing, drinking, and dancing with your friends. You go through the whole ritual of getting ready; you've found the perfect outfit and your makeup is flawless. You're looking amazing and, more importantly, feeling confident. You're ready to just dance the night away.

Your uber finally pulls up to the bar. Your giggling group of girlfriends is ready to hit the dance floor and lose yourselves to the beat of the bass. After a few songs, you really get into it, busting out those moves from the Justin Bieber 'Sorry' video that you tried to teach yourself in your bedroom mirror. Suddenly, you're aware of someone behind you; hands grab your waist as some man's crotch 'grinds' into your backside. Like a cornered animal, you feel trapped. In a split second, a million questions run through your mind: what should I do? Who is this guy; is he attractive? Should I be flattered that he came over and wanted to dance with me? Should I let this go on?

You decide to politely tell him you're happy dancing on your own. He doesn't accept that answer, asking why. He keeps pressing, insisting that it's just a dance; it's a compliment, you're beautiful and he wants to have fun with you. You try to be polite until he leaves you no option, so you finally tell him to leave you alone. At last, you can start enjoying your night again. That is, until you feel the next set of eyes watching you, circling you like a shark does its prey until he finds the right moment to make his move and attempt to "grind" on you or one of your friends.

As the club is winding down, only you and a few people including your friend are still dancing your hearts out on the floor. A guy walks up to you and tries to dance with you saying it "looked like you were asking for some attention." On that note, sweaty, tired, and sort of violated, you and your friend call it a night.

Sadly, this experience is quite common for young women; a study by Kate Graham revealed that 50% of the women involved experienced unwanted sexual contact and persistence.

Grinding is also not new to us, an experience which I can remember as early back as middle school. Having a guy come up behind you and grind on you to "Don't Cha" by the Pussycat Dolls was like a badge of honor. From this early age, boys learned that approaching girls from behind was not only appropriate, but applauded and admired. However, this is not middle school anymore and there is definitely something not-so-innocent about the way that the culture around grinding has not really changed.

Back in middle school, we didn't have conversations about consent. As college students, consent is a concept that is everywhere: from lectures during orientation to campaigns that try to tell us that "consent is sexy." But, for some reason, this culture of consent that many college campuses try to create does not make its way into one of the most important environments for consent: bars, clubs, and parties.

When you go out to a party, it is often assumed that you are "asking for it," but entering a bar or party environment does not mean that you are automatically consenting to having your body touched. If you consider how grinding is initiated, often with a guy coming up behind a girl and grabbing on to her, you realize that there is no opportunity for consent. You would never come up behind someone while waiting for your coffee and touch them inappropriately, but for some reason the same cannot be said for party environments. It can be assumed that physical contact is sort of a given when dancing in groups of people, but intentional non-consensual touching should not be.

While some people argue that grinding is simply "all in good fun," even the definition of the word grind, "to oppress," leaves me wondering if other women are having a hard time having fun in this culture of no consent.

"I used to be comfortable dancing with a group of my friends at a party, but not anymore," said Rebecca, college senior, "if you are dancing provocatively, some people may view this as an invitation to grope you or dance inappropriately with you, when in reality it is not."

Out on the dance floor, a lot of assumptions are made. Guys assume that girls want to be danced on while girls often assume guys need to make the first move. Let's challenge these assumptions. Guys, don't assume that a girl wants to dance with you (or anyone!) just because she is out on the dance floor; ask her first! And girls, remember the rights you have over your body; don't let anyone make you feel uncomfortable in order to be polite. As women we need to be confident to define and defend our personal boundaries. We need to challenge the sexist culture and assumptions of heteronormativity that pervade social interactions in club culture in order to make a safer, more comfortable environment for everyone.

So just remember: have some class, ask before you grab that ass.