She's not wrong. While it's already common knowledge that relationship dynamics shown onscreen often set unrealistic expectations, what you might not have noticed is that some of these relationships appear to normalise problematic, and in some cases, criminal behaviour.
Take The Devil Wears Prada for example. In one scene, Andy travels to Paris where she finds herself several drinks deep with Christian, a writer who helped her out with Miranda's unreasonable demands. In this particular scene, he goes in to kiss her, but Andy repeatedly turns him down before saying she's run out of excuses as he kisses her. The music swells and the scene cuts to the pair waking up in the same bed. The scene is meant to be romantic, in a way, but what people might not realise is that legally, a person cannot assume consent is given if their potential partner is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs.
Similarly, a problematic scene in viral Netflix series Bridgerton depicts the Duke of Hastings asking Daphne to stop while they have sex so he can pull out before reaching climax. Aware of this and desperate to have his child, Daphne ignores him and continues to have sex with him until he ejaculates. By law, consent can be revoked at any point during the act, even if you originally consented to it—so what viewers witnessed in Bridgerton was technically a rape scene, but it wasn't treated like one.
"Consent is often never asked for and always assumed [onscreen]," Wan continues. "And often a character will actually say 'no', but then the person still goes in for the kiss anyway, and it's all romanticised and then there's sexy music behind it, and then it turns into a sex scene—and that's just played off as fine."
Another alarming example occurs in two prominent children's stories: Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.
"There are cartoons and animations where the main character is asleep and they'll be kissed to bring them out of their sleep—but legally you can't consent if you're asleep or you're unconscious," Wan points out.
She reiterated that the new campaign, and this potential addition to the classification system, isn't necessarily about "cancelling" these famous movies, rather, it would point out and educate more Australians about the definition of consent.
"It isn't about cancelling or censoring these films, this classification is like any other classification that exists—we're just informing viewers as to what they're seeing on screen," she tells us.
It's clear that this additional element of education will not go amiss either. Per research commissioned by Consent Labs, nearly two-thirds of Australians have never been taught about consent, with 25 per cent learning about what consent is on their own.
"Three in five Australians are unable to recognise consent when seen onscreen and a quarter are unable to define it," Wan continues.
The campaign coincides with major progress to consent laws made across several Australian state governments. In June, New South Wales officially passed the affirmative consent model into law (this requires a person to take active steps to ensure they have established whether another person wants to have sex before they engage in the act). In August, Victoria also passed the affirmative consent bill, with the model set to come into effect in 2023.
"For us, seeing the really positive changes around consent has been a sign that attitudes are changing, and more progress can be made," Wan says.
She and her Consent Labs co-founder Dr Joyce Yu launched the campaign, #ClassifyConsent on September 7, and they're asking for support via pledges to the website classifyconsent.com.au. They are planning turn this into a Federal Petition to the Classifications Board. With any luck, "lack of consent" will be a classification for all relevant films and television shows moving forward.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, ELLE Australia.