Consent by Donna Freitas is a rough book to read. Detailing the account of a young woman pursuing a PhD in her early twenties as she is subjected to the unwanted attentions of a Professor in her program. It is a very personal story to the author and yet it is a story that, while some pieces are changed and some have come out worse than others, many women in the world have experienced at one point or another. Whether it is the case of a stalker, as with Donna Freitas or sexual harassment that takes darker turns. But what they all have in common, and something I believe many people have a tendency to ignore, downplay, or forget is that they all leave a lasting and deeply traumatic effect on their subjects.
Reading the account of a woman who spent a large and rather important portion of her life dealing with the unwanted affections of a stalker, especially when it has been something that you experienced yourself, is deeply troubling and difficult to read. And it unveils a rather disconcerting truth that many of us are aware of but have not consistently fought until recently. It breaks my heart to know how prevalent it has been for men to take advantage of women in this society, particularly those men in power.
Consent was a troubling account, dark and uncomfortable to read. It was thoroughly brave for Freitas to publish and was an especially important commentary on the disgraces of the systems that were meant to protect and help women in these situations but only ever really served to protect the abusers and their institutions. The memoir discusses the long-lasting effect that such horrifying events leave upon their victims and the difficulties with which victims consistently have in placing blame solely on those who have hurt them.
While it doesn’t quite get into the intricacies and horrors of rape, for consent does not begin with sex, Consent does touch deeply on the intricacies of what we consent to and what we do not, when we avoid in order to be polite and what we put up with because we are fearful of the things someone with power over our lives–whether that power is over our jobs, our futures, our families, or something else entirely–can take or destroy.
Freitas’ abuser destroyed much in her life, left her with a deep trauma that took years of therapy to manage and still has not been repaired. No amount of retribution could really ever make up for the losses suffered on account of the fear and damage that such an event has on one’s life. So much ignorance exists around these subjects that I genuinely believe the existence of books that account these events have the very real potential to change the course of societal thought on toxic masculinity for what and why men feel entitled to ignore consent and coerce until they get what they want.
While I would definitely recommend this book, I will say that it could be traumatic for some and is one to seriously consider prior to reading as some bits may be rather triggering.
I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.