On societal implications of "Netflix and chill"

The newest Internet joke “Netflix and chill” has been tweeted, Tumblr-ed and “meme-ed” hundreds of times in the past few weeks. Merchandise is on sale. It’s being superimposed on images from Shrek to Renaissance art and BuzzFeed even contributed with a “Are you Netflix or are you Chill?” quiz.

It is a funny concept and very relatable to many college students. Television is a casual and easy first date—you aren’t pressured to make difficult conversations, you can turn off the lights and it’s a simple way to be alone with somebody. The phrase’s changing meaning, however, adds a subtext that can blur lines and place people in positions they are not ready to be in.

Dating in college is extremely casual by nature and many students are very comfortable in relationships that are loosely defined and noncommittal. A hookup on the first date in the 21st century should not be controversial, but it also should not be expected. Not everyone is comfortable with sexual relations on a first date and the new implicit meaning behind “Netflix and chill” is making a platonic first date less and less accessible.

According to the new State University of New York sexual assault policy, the official definition of consent is “a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity.” An important factor of this is that, for one thing, affirmative consent does not automatically mean the party is consenting to related actions.

These blurred lines reveal an ugly side to the Internet joke of “Netflix and chill.” It implies that by agreeing to watch television with someone—usually at night—a woman is agreeing to sexual activity as well. Even if she does not actually engage in it, she can worry about being called a “tease” for agreeing to watch television with someone and then committing the travesty of not giving him or her oral sex during the season finale of The Office.

To those who might think this is an exaggeration, it still can’t be denied that this culture promotes a new expectation for the first date where the woman simply cannot win. It’s not common in 2015 for first dates to be a 7 p.m. reservation at a seafood restaurant—and that’s fine. Dating culture is constantly evolving.

While it has, however, become acceptable for the asker of the date—typically a male—to lower the bar on the occasion, it still is not culturally OK for a female to feel pressured to “put out” on a first date with a guy. That leaves women with two options for the casual dating scene: she can submit to “Netflix and chill” expectations, casually hookup and be accused of disrespecting herself; or she could agree to a casual setting for a first date, then choose to not hookup and possibly be accused of being too prude or of leading the guy on.

Throughout all this rhetoric, the male initiator’s actions and motives are rarely judged or questioned and instead accepted at face value.

While the circulating jokes are admittedly funny, they have an undeniably harmful underlying message with a no-win result for girls. It leaves us in a situation where casual sex is still considered disgraceful for a woman; yet the pressure to participate in it at an all-time high.

To ensure the health and safety of all participants, consent has to be taken one step at a time instead of implied through a colloquial phrase in a text message.

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