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Consent and Flirting

By Tina Clausen

I am sick and tired of the many ignorant comments by all genders that I keep coming across in the current climate of discussions around ‘consent for sexual activity’ and ‘flirting’.

Firstly regarding ‘consent for sexual activity’: Unless you have a very clear, happy and enthusiastic consent expressed to you (in whatever way) then you must automatically assume that you do not have consent.

If you feel uncertain or confused about consent in any given situation then, very simply put, you do not have consent.

Someone asleep, severely impaired or incapacitated by alcohol, drugs, illness etc is incapable of giving consent which means you do not have consent. At this point, whatever type of sexual activity you may proceed to engage in is sexual assault or rape.

Secondly, regarding flirting: I am over seeing ordinary behaviours which all people engage in (eg smiling at, looking at, talking to, making eye contact etc) getting falsely interpreted by recipients as you obviously flirting with them or somehow leading them on. No! Unless there is a wider context where corroborating evidence and behaviours exist then you do not have the right to assume that any kind of flirtation or expression of sexual interest is taking place.

As for comments about how everything is now confusing and nobody dares to flirt anymore, all I can say is this: If your ‘flirting’ gets ignored, rebuffed, maybe judged as inappropriate or gets an angry response then it is because you have either forgotten or ignored one of the core tenets of flirting; namely, ‘mutuality’. Flirting is a two-way street that both participants are taking part in and enjoying. If only one of you is enjoying it then it is sexual harassment.

People have the right to choose whom they want to flirt with and whom they want to respond positively to. Don’t just launch into what might be unwanted flirtation. Talk to people normally and nicely and try to establish a connection. If they rebuff that approach, then assume they are not interested. If they are happy to talk to you at that level but then non-responsive to subsequent flirting attempts, then they are very likely not interested and are just being friendly or polite. Either way, it’s time to back off. And no, you do not have the right to get pissed off or abusive for being friend-zoned.

If you are at all uncertain about anyone’s level of interest, then you need to assume that you do not have the go-ahead for anything even remotely sexual.

It must also be noted that just because someone engages in playful flirting it does not automatically mean that consent is given for anything more than that to occur. Nor must an assumption be made that any kind of interest in taking things further must exist purely based on that bit of flirtation.

Oh, and one last thing: Don’t ever tell a stranger in a pub or club (or a colleague or casual acquaintance for that matter) to ‘smile’. Nobody owes you a smile, especially not a stranger. Besides, you have now put that person in a really shitty situation. If they don’t smile, they get judged as rude or stuck-up, and if they do smile out of politeness, they leave themselves open to being seen as receptive to further interaction when that may not be the case or, even worse, the smile is falsely interpreted as flirting or showing interest in you. Telling a stranger to ‘smile’ is patronising and demeaning however way you look at it. Just don’t do it!

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  1. Graham

    There is a very simple rule men can follow: Would you do it or say it if someone from HR was standing next to you?

  2. Tina Clausen

    That’s a good rule for both men and women, Graham. 🙂

  3. Kangaroo Jack

    Or if your mum was standing there.

  4. DrakeN

    K J my Mum always claimed that: “Faint heart never won Fair Lady.”
    Make of that what you will.

  5. Kaye Lee

    A man I worked with, whose desk was next to mine in a small staffroom, once asked me if I ever fantasised about workmates. I said “No” and quickly left the room. I wasn’t scared of this man and he never said anything like that again but I was then ALWAYS uncomfortable in my place of work. It was a small thing comparatively but it still makes me shudder.

  6. Josephus

    Drake she meant , just as a peacock shows off its tail feathers , so it pleases a human if the other human and potential mate is considerate , witty , shows interest in the other , is polite . Certainly a psychopath can fake all that … so ensure contacts are public for a while.

  7. DrakeN

    Josephus, please do not presume to understand what my Mother meant – I’m not too sure that she did so herself, her being a bit of a fan of “Knights in Shining Armour”, “Maidens in Distress” and all that.

  8. Kerri

    The Victorian comedian Em Rusciano did a show, pre-covid, called Rage and Rainbows in which she re told a story that happened whilst she was well pregnant with her third child and crossing the road with her first.
    A truck driver leant out of his window and asked her to smile.
    Her response is not reproducible here but let’s just say it involved his fist and one of his fundamental orifices.
    She described her utter furore as she was doubled over from anger and exertion on the other side of the road after the male platitude of “give us a smile”.
    I totally agree with her.
    Give us a smile is the 21stC equivalent of “show us your t*ts”.
    Inappropriate. Patronising. Insensitive. Superior. Objectifying. Belittling and beyond contempt.
    She goes on to describe leaving hospital after the birth of this child where a nurse commented on her husband who, at the time, was carrying the bub “ooh he’s a keeper!”
    Em’s response “what? Because he has arms?”
    Men expect so much from women.
    We are expected to read their every intention and hurt whilst “smiling” and giving them everything they need.
    Sod off!

  9. Kaye Lee

    And look pretty while you do it Kerri. Woe betide the woman who “lets herself go” by not spending endless hours and countless money trying to make herself look younger because we all know old women are useless.

  10. pierre wilkinson

    I have often suggested to people that they should offer a smile to the world, as it makes a difference to all who see it, never once thinking it was suggestive, demeaning or patronising and have found that the majority of people to whom I have suggested that they smile, do so, though some blokes advised me to perform a sexual act upon myself which would require a greater flexibility that I possess…
    I apologise to any who are offended by my attempts to spread a bit of happiness and cheer in an otherwise glum world

  11. Tina Clausen

    Pierre, if you want to spread happiness and cheer then YOU do the smiling. Telling other people to smile and forcing them to be a part of that doesn’t really cut it. I would suggest that most people who ‘complied’ did so out of politeness. Personally I don’t see how telling someone to smile spreads cheer and happiness, it’s just a facade. Plus you don’t know their circumstances, and ordering people to stop looking how they currently are and put on a grin instead is patronising. Might make you feel better but not the other person. Just don’t!

  12. pierre wilkinsonp

    Tina, I did apologise for my unintentional faux pas, honestly believing that I was doing nothing annoying, as I was once a miserable bastard who went through life with a scowl until an older lady remonstrated with me that my poor attitude brought other people down, so now I wander around like a demented clown trying to infuse a little happiness with my smile…
    and yes, I will no longer presume it is my right to try and lift the spirits of others

  13. leefe


    Thank you for this piece. It sums the whole thing up in unambiguous language. Everyone should read it and absorb its lessons.

  14. DrakeN

    On the smiling topic, I was always told that if I met someone who did not have smile to be generous and give them one of mine 😉

    Kaye, on the “looking pretty” factor, I have noted that it mostly seems to be a competition between females of the species themselves.

    Another wierd thing is that, on most formal social occasions, the men dress up to the neck and many women down to the nipple – or beyond.
    I do appreciate that hursuite chests are not especially appealing, but flaunting your physical attributes in displays of large areas of skin – often artificially uplifted and coloured, is really a bit unfair to the weaker (male) sex.

    It seems to be a reversal of the bird-of-paradise process.

  15. Kaye Lee

    “I have noted that it mostly seems to be a competition between females of the species themselves.”

    I could speak at length about that. Since we can’t see ourselves (unless we spend our lives in front of a mirror) whose approval are we seeking?

    Do you think it may have anything to do with the fact that we are EXPECTED to look pretty?

    There are many jobs that require us to look pretty and sack us when we get past pretty age.

    As for being “unfair to the weaker sex”, if you came across the most stunning woman in the world naked on the beach, would it be ok to sexually assault her? Would it be her fault if you did?

    What we wear and how we look is irrelevant. Personally, I would like to blow up the beauty industry. But that too is irrelevant.

  16. Tina Clausen

    Thank you Leefe.

  17. Tina Clausen

    DrakeN, what? Males are so weak that if they see naked skin they find attractive then they can’t help themselves raping someone? That’s insulting to both men and women.

  18. Fredblogs

    Traditionally the est solution was, Don’t have sex unless you’re married to the person. Consent established beyond doubt.

  19. DrakeN

    Tina – reading between lines is a sign of fear and weakness, likewise verbalising.
    That was not what I said nor what I meant so please desidt.

  20. DrakeN

    Kaye: “Do you think it may have anything to do with the fact that we are EXPECTED to look pretty?”

    Maybe, but by whom?

    For my part I find fresh faced unadorned people nicer to look at and the more intelligent people better company.

    The cosmetics, fashion and rag trades have a lot to answer for, likewise the womens’ glossy mags with their distorted values and venal predations on the insecurities of the young and innocent.

  21. Tina Clausen

    DrakeN, don’t even try to gaslight me.

    This is what you said. “Flaunting your physical attributes in displays of large areas of skin – often artificially uplifted and coloured, is really a bit unfair to the weaker (male) sex.”

    Pathetic comment no matter how you look at it.

  22. Jen

    I come from a fairly strict Catholic family. Never had “that” talk at home. Never had sec education at school. At 17 after being verbally abused and belittled by declining the advances of some male I thought that meant i had done the wrong thing and I had to accept all advances.

    Looking back now as a married woman in her 50s I realise that I was raped multiple times during my 20s and 30s because I was either intoxicated or too scared to say no. Even now I am too embarrassed to admit this to anyone I know. 😢

  23. Tina Clausen

    Fredblogs. Unfortunately not as it was not unusual for women in those times to get pressured into marrying someone that they didn’t themselves want. Concurrently there was the issue of being married meaning that consent was now not a requirement as women were expected to engage in sexual activity with their husband whether they wanted to or not. A husband could not be charged with rape.

    Even today there is still a huge expectation that women married or in a relationship must ‘put out’ no matter what they feel / want and consent is usually never discussed.

    Today in many cultures, religions etc women get no say in who they are to marry and once married must submit to their husband at all times. Refusing to engage in sex is not an option. Let’s not even go into the horror of young girls/women who have been victims of rape being forced into marrying their rapists.

    No Fredblogs, marriage as an institution does nothing for women in terms of consent. It actually makes it easier to coerce women in to sexual activity.

  24. Tina Clausen

    Jen, so sorry to hear that. The weight of ‘expectations’ is still on us to this very day.

  25. Kaye Lee

    Myths and misconceptions

    That women cannot be sexually assaulted by their spouse

    This was the situation under common law—although significantly not the reality for many women—until the 1980s, when all Australian jurisdictions amended their law. Prior to this time it was generally not possible for a man to be charged with, and prosecuted for, raping his wife or, in some cases, de facto partner. The marital rape immunity was based on historical notions that women became men’s property on marriage, and that through marriage women consent, on a continuing basis, to sex with their spouse. It is the articulation of this notion by Sir Matthew Hale that is most often quoted:

    [T]he husband cannot be guilty of rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract.

    While this no longer holds true in the law across Australia, and in numerous overseas jurisdictions, it continues to hold some sway in community understandings about what is sexual assault. This influences the extent to which these cases continue to be less likely to be reported, prosecuted and result in conviction.

    History of activism and legal change

  26. DrakeN

    Tina – your responses to my posts indicate well balanced attitudes – chips on both shoulders.

    I neither said, nor inferred, that “…being unfair to the weaker (male) sex…” was an excuse for rape nor for unwanted assault – that was your one-eyed, myopic interpretation.

    But debating anything with people of strident narrow visioned and often ill informed opinion is a waste of my time and my years of reading, learning and observing.

    I give up.

  27. Tina Clausen

    DrakeN. I’m glad you give up because telling women that dressing in a certain way is ‘unfair to males’ shows that you have zero understanding about what we are trying to educate people about. Stop trying to make males the victims of female sexuality and take responsibility for yourself instead.

  28. DrakeN

    Kaye – “If the Law says that, Sir, then the Law is an ass.” – which, of course, it so often is.

    Most of it has been formulated and legislated by a particular class of menfolk, most of whom owe their positions to both historical and current acts of bastardy in one form or another.
    They are the men who have ‘ridden roughshod’ over the ‘lesser’ mortals in their communities regardless of sex, age or vulnerability.
    They were always with us, always will be and will always adversely influence other ‘wannabes’.
    I have not found them to be representative of even a small portion of the general population any more than the diabolical female ministers in the current Federal government are such.

    I dispair at the inequities in our society, in the uncaring, the unkindnesses, the disrespect, the opportunism, the greed, the hyper-defensiveness, et-bloody-cetera.
    But the joy that I feel at the occasional ‘act of random kindness’ which I come across engenders just a little hope for the world…

    …and the joy engendered by the warbling of magpies as they pick the bugs out of the lawn by my feet transcends any human created pleasure.
    I must go out now to say “hullo” to them.

  29. wam

    50-60-70 years ago mums and daughters were one side and boys and dads on the other so glances and smiles were ultra important to break the male to male bond a ‘straya’ copped a slagging and few cowcalls . The faint hearts stayed or moved a few streps and turned back the brave moved and asked for a dance. Brave because a rejection would have meant unbearable teasing.
    The situation is all aerobic organisms need oxygen and need to reproduce. An infinitesimal number of organisms have the mental ability to exercise some control over the second need.
    Current situation all men turn their eyes toward a swinging skirt, jiggling breasts or bouncing bum and it is probable all women have similar reflexes. Nature suggests this cannot be changed leaving the societal control of the effect of nature must reorganize how we are affected by the outcomes?

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