On Consent and the lack thereof
What I wish someone had taught me at 14
I woke up this morning to a social media stream of posts starting with #metoo. Stories of sexual harassment and assault, one after the other. It is heartbreaking to see and know that this is the world we’ve created for our mothers, sisters, daughters, brothers, sons, father, and everyone. This culture we keep and promote and—until seemingly recently—have largely ignored. This disgusting aspect of our global culture once again brought to light through the courage of victims.
I’ve been blessed to have very close relationships with women who have shared with me just a little bit of the secret world they navigate (along with trans/non binary people and men who don’t fit our culture’s ideal of men). The constant harassment, power imbalance, fear of simple things like bus rides and walks home, the leering gaze and touch and comments, the broken trust of lovers and friends.
It is shameful and I am full of shame for my part. I’ve kissed without permission, I’ve laughed at the rape jokes, I’ve made inappropriate comments, I’ve questioned victims, I’ve dismissed and diminished, I’ve not been the ally or advocate I could have been. I try everyday to do better, to model consent, call out the jokes, stand up to misogyny, to name the fucking problem in no uncertain terms.
Rape culture is the problem. It is the superstructure of our global culture. The rotten core of it all. It is a dark fractal pattern. Victims question if they are even victims, and wonder if they did in fact “ask for it”. Structures and institutions dismiss, diminish, create excuses, and blame the victims and forgive the rapists: “boys will be boys” (which in its perverse logic teaches boys that this is how they are expected to act). Our “justice” system enslaves, murders, and strips the rights from the vulnerable. The corporations and nation states quite literally rape mother earth. And all of us a — mostly — silent audience to this. This is the ever present truth of our culture, a culture where non-consent is the norm.
A culture of consent
Somewhere in my late twenties I learned about consent culture. A lesson that probably would have saved me the shame of being a perpetrator. A lesson that was so simple it’s scary that we don’t teach this to our children. This is what I want to add to the conversation, this is what I want to share with young people before it’s too late and to the men—like me—who can still turn this around. I am by no means perfect but I hope my story can reach someone and set them on a better path. The core of the lesson is easy.
You can ask for what you want and you can always say no.
Asking for what you want
As a young man I was attracted to people and struggled to express it. I thought that there was a game and I just didn’t know the rules. That if I played the right moves the person of my desire would notice and reciprocate. This is a fallacy. Romance is like dance. You start a dance by asking “would you like to dance?”. It’s as simple as that.
“Can I sit with you?”
“Can I hold your hand?”
“Can I cuddle with you?”
“Can I kiss you?”
This was mind blowing for me. I didn’t have to be coy, I didn’t have to trick the other person into something. It isn’t a game where you have to treat the person of your desire as an adversary to best but rather as a participant you can invite into a dance that is fun and wonderful.
Celebrate the no
Asking for what you want is an act of inviting an answer. It is the answer that’s important, not what the answer is.
When I was young I’d find myself attracted to a friend. I’d struggle with this attraction and become resentful, why couldn’t she read my mind, why was she putting me in the “friend zone”. Looking back it’s absurd, as if friendship is sub par or I was somehow entitled to more. My discomfort wasn’t really from fear of rejection it was from not knowing. It was avoiding a possibly awkward conversation to find out if it was “yes” or “no”.
The no is to know. Once you ask then you’ll know. The no, just like the yes, relieves you of the ambiguity. There isn’t some magic moment when the answer will be revealed. Life isn’t like a movie where there’s that one romantic instance where both people just know, you have to ask and maybe fumble through it.
By celebrating the answer rather than the desired answer you can co-create space to explore what you and your partner want. Then the goal isn’t to move things forward, it’s to find out how y’all want to dance.
Boys, there is something you might not know but women are taught by our culture to serve and protect the egos of men. Often not explicitly but through subtle hints and whispers. “No” can be hard, “no” can feel mean, “no” can feel impossible in certain situations, “no” can feel useless in a culture that ignores “no” so very often.
So it’s often not enough to receive a yes. You want to a yes! a YES! a YES YES YES! OH YES!
This is enthusiastic consent. The absence of a no isn’t enough, a begrudging yes isn’t enough, an “okay, fine” isn’t enough, a “yeah sure… I guess” isn’t enough.
And why would you want anything less?
Something I’ve overheard culture tell girls is this:
“be careful, boys only want one thing”.
The subtext here is that boys only want sex. This is such a disturbing lesson we teach our kids. As if women don’t want sex just as much as men but also that men are like a single focus animals.
I want to be held and loved, I want emotional support, I want intimacy too. This idea that all boys want is sex was terribly hard for me to get over. When I was with a women I was always confused when I didn’t want sex, I thought something was wrong with me for not becoming a knuckle dragging caveman.
When a woman expressed romantic intentions I thought I was suppose to always want it. I thought I was broken for wanting to wait or slow down. I didn’t think I could say no.
You can always say no.
Stay in touch with yourself and your body and check-in. Do you feel good? do you want to? It’s okay to say no, not right now, not today, maybe later. Just like it is okay for your partner to do the same.
Check for consent
Consent isn’t like a rip cord on a parachute, once pulled irreversibly deployed, never to be taken back.
Consent is a conversation. It can be revoked at anytime without need for reason. You should always be watching for enthusiasm and the lack thereof. You should check in often (which doesn’t break the “mood”) and stop if in doubt.
Trust your instincts.
Fuck our culture’s narrative
You aren’t a mindless animal like our culture tries to tell you. Your base nature is not one of domination and disrespect. You are human and what it means to be human is to love and care for your fellow humans and to be loved and cared for. It is not our fate to dominate or be dominated.
This culture is not a reflection of our humanity. Have no doubt that the way we treat each other is not normal. Those who dominate in our culture want to convince us that to be human is to dominate. The idea that you have to be “alpha” is a distortion, it is a lie.
Our culture isn’t on a path to overcome our brutish animalistic nature, our culture annihilates our humanity so that it can replace it with racism and rape for the benefit of those who wish to dominate the world.
In the US we’ve elected a known sexual offender as our leader, this is not normal. This is not our natural state. What we see is our culture not human nature. The hashtags #yesallwomen and #metoo are not normal. 10,000 years of domination of women and all marginalized people is not human nature, it is a perversion of our natural state.
What a shame it would be if this were human nature, for we would be stuck with it.
No, this culture of non-consent is not normal and it is culture. Because it is our culture and not our nature we have an opportunity to change it. That change begins with me and it begins with you.