By Sarah Lehr
An 1816 London Times editorial decried the waltz as an “indecent foreign dance” rife with “the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs.” Today, popular panic no longer rails against the waltz but rather against grinding. Kenyon’s Title IX office recently placed fliers in Peirce which read, “Grinding: good for making coffee… not good for meeting new people at parties.” Grinding may seem salacious to those unfamiliar with us crazy millennials, but the issue has nothing to do with grinding itself and everything to do with consent. A person or perhaps multiple people recognized just that and took it upon themselves to scrawl notes on the fliers such as “This is shaming!,” and “Don’t police my body! I [heart] to grind!” Kenyon’s Interim Title IX Coodinator Linda Smolak remarked in a statement published on the Thrill that “We are not trying to ‘police’ consensual grinding (or other sexual behavior that is consensual).”
That may be the Title IX office’s true belief, but the fliers are counterproductive. The original fliers present a textbook example of slut-shaming, which is making a person (usually a woman) feel inferior because of her sexual choices. Grinding may not appeal to all Kenyon students, but for those who choose to grind, the experience can be enjoyable and even empowering. It is paternalistic, insulting and frankly creepy for Kenyon to tell adults what kinds of consensual activities are and are not acceptable.
Too often, people use so-called “hookup culture” as a scapegoat when explaining sexual assault. Relatedly, Smolak said of the posters: “I did not want to include people who know each other and who want to grind in the message.” In other words, grinding is only OK and consensual when the two parties know each other, and not ever OK between strangers. This is specious reasoning, given that knowing someone is no inoculation against sexual assault. Rape can and does occur within committed relationships. Though I am sure that the Title IX office did not mean to send a victim-blaming message, a potential reading of the fliers might be that a person who is raped by someone they met at a party was “asking for it” because they consented to grinding with a stranger earlier in the night.
Smolak did cite complaints from students about nonconsensual grinding as the impetus for the fliers and she rightly perceives how far-reaching that problem is. Though a person of any gender can be a sexual aggressor, virtually every Kenyon woman is familiar with the deeply gross experience of being at a party and having some dude suddenly start rubbing up against her. To be clear, that type of nonconsensual contact is unacceptable. So how should a prospective grinder approach a potential grindee, particularly a grindee who is a stranger? Ask first. Know that consent cannot be given if either party is too intoxicated to think clearly and that consent can be revoked at any time. It may seem daunting to risk verbal rejection, but it’s infinitely worse to subject another person to feeling violated. It’s not too difficult to say, “Hey, do you wanna dance?”
Sarah Lehr ’15 is an international studies and Spanish major from Wilmette, Il. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.