No

Radiolab aired an episode featuring Kaitlin Prest’s 2017 podcast miniseries No this week. Radiolab host Jad Abumrad prefaced the episode with a caution:

Just as a warning, there are scenes in what you are about to hear that are sexually explicit, very much so, at times, and strong language… probably not the kind of thing that you want to listen to with kids anywhere nearby.

I disagree with his suggestion: listening to No is something that people of all ages need to hear, especially young people. It is a powerful examination of desire, sex, power, consent, language, and behaviour. There is open and honest talk of sex, in real language, but falling back on euphemism would work against the series, adding cloudiness to a message that at its heart is about clarity.

From the first episode:

Come on, gimme a blow job…”

He’s gonna make me say it again.

Ah, no… I don’t want to”

[Sigh] “Come on… gimme a blow job”

It wasn’t easier the second time. At all. He puts my hand on his dick. This was the moment that I learned that saying no wasn’t enough. Someone could wear me down, little by little. That it would start to feel like a Twilight Zone moment. Where everything was normal before, and now suddenly the walls are bending in on each other and you learn that you’re actually a ghost. You start to think you’re crazy. You feel trapped. You’re having an argument about whether you’re gonna suck a guy’s dick, and even though the air is super-tense with this argument feeling, he still wants you to suck his dick. The only way for this awful moment to end is just to do what he says. And you do it.

Maybe you tell yourself that you’re enjoying it. Maybe you tell yourself that there’s something tender about this moment. At the same time, part of you is silently screaming. It’s like a dream: you open your mouth and nothing comes out.

This is only the first of many times that I will say no and it will be ignored.

Oliver and I listened to the Radiolab episode, and then to the first episode of No, in the car together this weekend. It led us to a conversation about consent, and how you know if and how somebody wants to have sex with you, and it led Oliver to email his high school principal “Need a Conversation with Students for #MeToo. We’re Living in a Different Age of Feminism.”

He is right. And No is one of the routes to helping us understand that more deeply.

(Prest has a new podcast, for the CBC, called The Shadows, released last month)