it's a word that has come up a lot in recent weeks, as we have talked about things like a person being drunk not being able to give consent, about revealing clothing not giving consent, about being too young to give any meaningful consent.
there has been plenty written on this blog about issues around consent over the years. about forced sex & coerced sex, about the various ways in which women are pressured into sex. we are still trying to fight the battle to get acceptance of the notion that silence is not consent.
pressure can come in the form of an expectation. it can come in the form of sulking or the silent treatment when someone says no to sex. in its worst forms, it can take the form of intimidation and direct threats of violence.
sometimes, pressure can come from the expectation that a relationship, particularly one in the form of marriage, involves sex on demand. it can come in the form of the notion that the provision of sex is a duty, to withhold sex is a grave sin. this kind of pressure can often exist outside the actual relationship, in cultural norms and long-held traditions, in sermonising and in the casual judgement of people who are close to us.
pressure can come from a culture which presents women as always willing and available. which gives us images of women as powerless within sexual relationships, images of women expected to please rather than to be pleasured. these constant messages can create a situation where women have expectations of themselves, because they haven't yet understood their right & the power they have to say no. once i've gone this far, i can't stop, i have to take this sexual encounter to it's full conclusion. because that's what society is telling me is the right way to behave.
it's a culture that treats men as having unstoppable urges, and women as having no agency. and it creates pressures and expectations that reduce the ability to give meaningful consent.
i've been thinking about these things, because i've been thinking about ways forward. ways to combat rape culture. and in particular, ways to have these conversations in ethnic minority communities. communities that often think very differently about sexual relationships, and communities where expectations and pressures around relationships can play out in very different ways.
i've been thinking that i don't really know how to start such a conversation, particularly a public conversation, but knowing that we desperately need to start one. the time is now, it's urgent. it's overdue.
but i don't know how to create the space, the place, the time. how to create an environment where people are prepared to listen and to be receptive to messages that are very different to the ones they are used to. it's not that this task is in anyway easier in mainstream culture. but maybe because there are so many more people involved, and the conversation started a while ago, it doesn't seem quite so daunting.
although i had an exhausting week last week, in an online debate which probably wasn't worth the energy or the time i gave it. but it reminded me of how emotionally taxing it is to try to fight against a cultural norm that is strong and pervasive. and how very inadequate i feel when confronted with such a task. after all, this was only a couple of white men, and i was drained and shaken. what will it be a like when it's a whole group of people who feel defensive & vulnerable about their cultural positioning in a society riddled with discrimination, being challenged on some fundamental beliefs that have a strong basis in cultural (& religious) traditions?
but the thing is, the conversation does need to happen. now. it's urgent. it's overdue. we need to be talking about active, positive consent. about the removal of all kinds of pressures and expectations around sexual interactions. about respect, and agency. about basic human rights.
and i really don't know where or how to start.