The Government’s Terrible Milkshake Ad Misses The Point Of Consent Education

Young people in Australia right now are looking for a comprehensive understanding of consent and sexual assault. These videos do not provide that.

government milkshake consent ad

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When a government authority shares information, it should be appropriate, tested and reliable. However, as we’ve seen in recent years, the Australian government has a poor track record regarding resourcing information about consent and respectful relationships.

We’ve seen un-actioned national plans, the gutting of community services that provide consent teaching and training, and a very haphazard promotion of primary prevention materials. There have been endless promotional materials. While we’ve had the answers for a long time, the series of sexual assault allegations within parliament have renewed focus on conversations around gender equality and consent. These events have brought about heightened attention and protests from those who see sexual violence and harassment as preventable.

To wipe up this mess, the Morrison Government has created a new resource to structure the national curriculum about healthy and respectful relationships. Launching the Good Society website through Respect Matters, the platform provides about 350 videos, podcasts, and digital activities for teachers, students and families interested in these discussions. Soon after the launch, some of the videos created for The Good Society started doing the rounds.

The government-produced content establishes a ‘field model’ of consent throughout the episodes, and results in two people having milkshakes. One person crosses the “boundary” of the other by grabbing the ice cream from their shake and smashing it into the face of their friend. The Attenborough-like narration explains this transgression by making euphemisms about sexual assault and food.

The video has been widely panned as nonsensical, and more importantly, completely missing the point.

What’s The Problem?

The content created by the Morrison government for The Good Society aims to promote an approach to discuss sexual consent. It applies this approach to humorous scenarios with food and friends — which is meant to be approachable for the young audience, but ends up avoiding the specifics of sexual consent. The video misses the opportunity to support educators in becoming adept at talking to young people about their sexual lives and relationships.

Young people in Australia right now are looking for a comprehensive understanding of consent and sexual assault. They are more than likely finding out about these matters through public discussions in the media, conversations with friends online, or their own searches. While the personalised discovery of information is unlikely to end, such practices can be less harmful when trustworthy resources are out there. While we might not get that information from the government, there are other great self-created resources online empowering young people to create change and end gender-based violence.

Media scholars have found that when social marketing campaigns aim for humour in their content, the audience often stays waiting for the joke to land. In this case, the joke is on us.

It is generally good practice to allow content to be adapted for communities into more culturally appropriate materials and to lay off the jargon. But to rely on satire and retro commentary makes this package look like a flashback.

MP Alan Tudge says the government developed this content with the eSafety Commissioner, the Foundation of Young Australians and OurWatch. However, one of those organisations, OurWatch, has already released a statement saying they only provided advice and did not endorse the materials. OurWatch has piloted whole-of-school approaches for respectful relationships in Victoria and Queensland, supporting staff through professional learning and long-term practices towards change.

“We have not been asked to use or endorse the materials subsequently,” the statement said.

At the moment, many schools apply respectful relationships education as a once-off, without support staff to incorporate the knowledge required to challenge the drivers of gender-based violence at an ongoing level.

Missing The Point

For many, the necessary conversations about consent are happening too late — and are often awkward for parents, teachers, and students.

Young people who reach out about their experiences of violence often seek others like themselves to build support. This can be difficult, as there are often many who see this as shameful or have never seen the attitudes they have so explicitly challenged before.

A framework to discuss gender-based violence through consent and prevention can encourage the attitudes that contribute to those behaviours. Without the appropriate words, the results are harmful. A tool that relies on euphemisms instead of naming sex, or harassment, assault and abuse when it takes place can lead to shame, blame and confusion when students experience these behaviours.

As End Rape on Campus founder Sharna Bremner says: “The resource makes it feel like the government is mocking that harm. They’re not taking it seriously and there’s nothing funny about that”.

A common selling point for using digital content for public health initiatives is that when shown to work, it’s usually cost-effective. Content can be customised, shared, and applied in an uncomplicated way, that reaches younger demographics directly.

However, this series of videos were created as educational resources, not advertisements and are now being shared online through their lack of insight. This is unfortunate as the Australian Government did have a popular social marketing campaign about primary prevention for young people. The Line, programmed by OurWatch which was linked at the bottom of the Respect Matters website is now off-line — just one of many false references claimed by the resource.

There is a pattern of this Commonwealth government and its commitment to preventing violence against women. The Australian government has invested $7.8 million into Respect Matters. There has been no insight into how schools will implement The Good Society to give teachers and communities the expertise they need to prevent violence. At the very least, we can hope the young actors involved in the project were decently reimbursed.

The content provided on the Respect Matters fails to describe how abuse in relationships can happen and the ways that our attitudes support violence. Using innuendo and disregarding the influences of inequality, the content cannot provide full answers to the questions that students could be likely to experience in their relationships. At worst, the content can turn the discussion of this behaviour into a joke, rather than a starting point for understanding.

So what does a GOOD consent video look like? It should be age appropriate and include the legal parameters of sexual consent. The law says you can only have sex with someone if they consent to it. Free agreement to sex means that they feel comfortable to say yes or no, and that you are free to stop wanting sex at any time. A good consent video will show that there can be situations when we change our mind, or that someone might coerce or trick us into engaging in sexual activities. Not only is this against the law, but this can end up being traumatic.

A good consent resource will allow students to have conversations about what they like, and don’t like with the people that they choose to have sex with. It can help them to think about what a more pleasurable experience for all concerned.

As journalist Jess Hill says, “The milkshake ad is what happens when you have a government that can’t talk about sex, and a powerful religious lobby that sets the parameters on sex education.”

In launching The Good Society as a platform to share poorly constructed original material, the Morrison Government again disappoints on engaging with expertise to act against gender-based violence. If the government wants to Stop it from the Start, they need to show they know what it is.

Léna Molnar is a sociologist, singer, and is sassy. She tweets at @lenaidamolnar and is completing her PhD on how young people prevent gender-based violence through social technology.