Wednesday, 27 November 2013

starting a conversation


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.


Anonymous said...

I find blaming some religious traditions for making wives available at the whim of the husband, as you hint at, confusing and feel the need to state the Christian position.

The bible says, among general comments on morality, husbands should love their wives like Christ loved the Church. You, being irreligious, will possibly have no idea how big a deal that was then and remains so today but its as big a deal as it gets. While I would accept that some cultural and historical traditions and some individuals continue to treat women very poorly that is not endorsed by Christian teaching.

I just thought I should clear that up.


stargazer said...

Me being irreligious? Wow.

Facts said...

Stargazer understands Christianity VERY WELL 3:16, as she has demonstrated many times

stargazer said...

ok. can we now please stop the personal attacks on me & focus on the topic of the post.

and i know that many things that happen in practice can be shown to not be "endorsed by" religious teachings. but the fact is that it continues to happen and we need to work on changing the reality that's in front of us.

Facts said...

...personal attack?

I've always admired your posts on Christianity, Stargazer.

I think you understand its true meaning way better than many self-proclaimed 'CHristians' who preach against choice or in favour of war.

stargazer said...

@ facts, i'd really appreciate if we could stick to talking about consent now. thanks.

Facts said...

Consent is 100% necessary. Anybody who has sex with another who is too drunk to give or understand sex has committed rape. It's bloody simple, and yet so many men just don't understand it. It's almost like they don't WANT to because if they followed this they might actually have to talk to women... and then they might not like what women say about them.

Lara said...

I agree with everything you have said about needing to have a discussion about consent in this article. Thank you.

As I read it a thought occurred to me. Men dominate in New Zealand within all our varied cultures in this country (please feel free to correct me if I am wrong here, if there is a religion or culture within NZ where men do not dominate). And because men dominate I often feel myself being almost apologetic when I discuss issues from a non male perspective. The backlash and condemnation is often strong and swift, and I do not like confrontation.

It is the dominance of the masculine in NZ which I think makes it really hard work to challenge the status quo. I think this is the crux of why we find it so hard to begin discussions about such important things as consent.

Also, if we're talking anything within the wider subject of sexuality and male / female sexual relations, particularly sexual abuse and rape, it gets really tricky. Most often social discourse in this area focuses on what women are doing wrong, not on what men are doing to women and transgender people. Which is completely the wrong way to have such a conversation because it will not solve the problem. I have come to the conclusion that it is like this because to point out to men that the vast majority of sexual abuse and rape is committed by men is very uncomfortable for them. They hear that as "most men rape" when what it actually says is "most rapists are men". They get defensive and shut conversation down quickly.

I'm over it. As a survivor of multiple rapes, the first at the age of 13 I'm completely f*****g over it. These last two weeks I'm so angry, I want to scream at them "put on your big boy pants, STFU and grow up" because rape and sexual abuse will not change until they listen to what we are saying and have some empathy.

And it has to start with conversations about what consent is and looks like.

Thanks for allowing the long rant stargazer! And thanks for continuing the struggle, and yes, it's exhausting isn't it.

Lash of Thanatos said...

I find the phrase 'put on your big boy pants' gender-policing and femmephobic.

K said...

Hey there,
It would be really handy if there were some kind of community fund that supported the creation of such a discussion. Anyone know of such a fund?

stargazer said...

@ lara, thank you for sharing your experiences. i know what you mean about not being heard, and being shut down through various means. the one thing i loved about our march in hamilton was the number of men who were present. i feel like we are making progress, but there is still a long way to go.

@ K, looking into that.

Lara said...

to Lash of Thanatos:

I used the phrase "big boy pants" because I was speaking only to white cis males. Because it has only ever been white cis males who have sexually abused and raped me during my lifetime.

As I see it the problem with rape of women and trans people in NZ is predominantly a problem of men. It is mostly men (although not exclusively) who rape. It is only ever men who have raped me.

I most certainly did not mean the comment as gender policing.

And finally, I have read your comment days ago. It has taken me ages to respond. Because this is so f***ing hard.

Lash of Thanatos said...

I don't have problems directing comments to men when they are the majority of rapists.

It is the 'big boy' thing, the implication that being a 'big boy' is the best thing to be, that is hateful to a lot of men who perform gender differently.

The term 'big boy' is associated with hegemonic masculinity.

I prefer to say 'be a good person'.