Do you have an understanding as to the word consent, asked the judge. “No, said the 28-year-old accused male, but can you tell me?”
c: What would you say was an overall takeaway from the “Ask First” symposium at the University of Calgary?
h: It’s interesting, the person’s whose presentation was just before mine was talking about assaults between homophobic people and the gay community, and that very same day there was a very hateful display of homophobic images on the campus. Just when we’ve reached a certain level in society where we respect people’s rights to their sexual identity and sexual orientation we have an incident like this. This really pushed me back into reality, a reminder that nothing is ever fully secure. We do still need to be celebrating and promoting diversity because it is never a guarantee.
c: Diversity, why are we so afraid of it?
h: People are still scared of what is different; if they can’t understand it then it’s a threat.
c: But we are human beings there are a lot of things we did not understand, and we have overcome. Why is this one topic still so difficult to wrap our heads around?
h: This professor was saying the same thing that gay people don’t feel safe to even hold hands in public. These are two consenting adults wanting so show affection and people are scared by it.
c: I remember a trip I made to Vietnam and seeing men and boys with arms around each other as a natural show of affection. It’s odd that in North America you can’t even look at another person of the same sex a certain way without feeling threatened that it might be misinterpreted. How did these cultures develop these very separate ways of connecting as human beings?
h: With that sort of loving connection between men that isn’t necessarily sexual, but could be, having that kind of ease of connection is a feminine sort of way to connect. It’s interesting that a culture like theirs has embraced that so openly without it infringing on their masculinity.
c: We have a problem with affection in our culture.
h: Which is so disheartening because we all crave affection.
c: Well the problem is we have sexualized affection. If it’s affection there must be some sexual connotation. What is it that we have either infected ourselves with, or lost, that we cannot just be affectionate as human beings, regardless of sex?
h: I wonder if this comes with some of the hyper-sexualized images coming out of our mass media that has become such a focus point of our culture.
c: We have a divide, a massive chasm between what is feminine and what is masculine and never shall the two be blended.
h: We seem to have this dichotomous thinking. It seems to be just a way for the mind to get a grip on things, to categorize and understand.
c: I came across an interesting article written by a barrister in the UK, Alister Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions in London. She says, Victims of sexual assault are blamed in a way that does not apply to other crimes.
If someone is burgled the automatic response is not to ask the victim: what did you do to deserve it? If someone has their car stolen, they are not expected to go through their ownership history to see if the theft could be blamed on some “inadequacy” in their behavior. The issue is for too long has been to blame the victim – usually women – for allowing themselves to be raped; and we have forgiven perpetrators – usually men – for acting on some instinct from which they must be protected. The law is clear, if one person does not consent to sexual activity – with the freedom and capacity to give that consent – and the other person doesn’t reasonably believe there is consent – then it is an offense.
h: Historically and today anything from her past, any quote unquote, promiscuous behavior can and will be used against her, which is unbelievable.
c: Another piece this barrister brought up was about clarity.
The law is clear, if one person does not consent to sexual activity, with the freedom and capacity to give that consent, and the other person doesn’t reasonably believe there is consent, then it is an offense. Capacity meaning that someone who is under severe influence of drink or drugs; someone who may be young or have certain learning disabilities; or who is asleep may not be able to consent. Freedom meaning that someone under pressure – for example within an abusive relationship or under pressure from someone in a position of trust (like a teacher, a doctor, a priest), or power (like an employer, gang leader, prison officer)… may also not be considered to have freely consented.
h: I’m so glad to hear that quote because it really gets to the heart of some of the power dynamics that can infiltrate relationships that need to be taken into account when looking at these cases. This dictates where the relationship will go and what kind of pressure the victim is under.
c: I like the way she looks at the two words, freedom and capacity.
h: I found another way to look at consent, at least from a sexualized capacity. I would encourage people to look at consent in a broader capacity and realize that it doesn’t just apply to sexuality, it applies to being able to say yes or no to things that align with your values, whether that is societal expectation, a religious expectation, expectation of your gender, that you have the right and the autonomy to say no tot he things that align with who you are. To say the words is easy, but to be able to act and have the agency to do that is another story. If you have your family, your culture, your society and your religion saying this is the prescription for your life, these are the steps to being a good woman or a good man you may be confused as to how much freedom you have to choose. That includes being able to say no to the things you don’t align with.
c: In the sense of understanding self, physical self, psychological self, spiritual self, it’s critical you understand those things so you can make those value judgments.
h: To be molded pretty much from birth to succumb to the needs of those around you, we’re not setting people up for the right position to have that kind of power over their lives.
c: As a child, you are completely helpless, everything that sustains you comes through someone else, they have complete control over your security, safety, everything about you. That is how you start life — dependent. That is ingrained into our psyche, looking to someone else for our answers. Where does it shift to where we are grounded in your own desires, needs, wants and values? Who teaches that shift? The world is always projecting onto you what’s important to it.
h: I believe some of the bigger shifts come with early education, with being able to rationalize and reason with other kids with different outlooks on life. That the upbringing that you have normalized as being true is not true for everyone. I think that’s where the analytical part starts to filter into your mind. That everything you’ve learned can not be taken at face value.
c: But what is that based on? My entire life I have been told that this is the foundation of life. Who am I, within myself, with no experience, and no proof to say that no, my way is the right way, and my thoughts are the right thoughts? How may people have that confidence to believe that 100%, and not waver?
h: I don’t know. I commend parents who give their children the choice, who say this is our beliefs and these are our values. However, there are other beliefs and other values out there and we encourage you to find what works for you. Even when parents want to keep their children really sheltered from the big scary world eventually they begin to break out into relationships with friends and have other interests and before you know it they begin forming their own sense of what the world…
c: Or they rebel completely and become something society does not value. As parents, there is a fear of sharing darkness, things that didn’t work out so well. There is shame about it, however, that where children can learn most is from a heart wide open.
h: That’s a hard thing to admit to ourselves yet alone to this being that looks up to you so much and say to them I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I’m not perfect. Mistakes though can turn out to be the most transformational moments in life.
c: That is precisely my point. This is where we learn, that is where the great lessons come from.
h: Bringing light into that dark area.
c: I’m thinking, if you want to teach a child, truly teach a child, then teach them the lessons you learned hard. Those are the ones that changed your life.
h: I hear parents say to kids, don’t make the same mistakes I did, and the more they try to control their kids the more the kids just run in the other direction. Whereas when you share with them that you’ve gone down a similar path to where they are headed, this is what happened to me, other outcomes can certainly happen for you, but I’m going to share my story in hopes that you take it with a grain of knowledge and use it with other pieces of knowledge from others to make your own decision as what’s going to be right for you. It’s giving kids the building blocks to be able to know what consent is, which is autonomy and the agency to act on that autonomy.
c: I agree.
h: As far as consent goes from a sexualized perspective, this comes from planned parenthood and it’s the F.R.I.E.S. acronym.
- F: freely given or the person not being pressured into.
- R: reversible as in if you wanted to try a thing and into if you decide otherwise, that’s ok.
- I: informed so both parties know what’s coming so it’s not a surprise attack.
- E: only the presence of an enthusiastic yes means yes.
- S: specific, that consenting to one activity is not giving consent to every activity thereafter.
c: I’ve got one for you too, it’s not an acronym, it’s a metaphor about consent. It also has to do with food. Because it’s from the UK it’s all about tea. So let’s say that you love tea, you love sharing tea with special people in your life. So you meet someone new and you ask…
Would you like a cup of tea?” “O yes,” they say, “I would LOVE a cup of tea! Thank you!” The signs are pretty clear, they join you in the kitchen to boil the water and look through your cupboards for the most delicious flavor. They enthusiastically desire your tea. This clearly is consent, and it’s tea time!
Now if you said… “Would you like a cup of tea?” and they go, “um and ahh, um, I don’t know, I’m not really thirsty”. You can go ahead and make tea if you want but realize they may not actually drink the tea so prepared. If you see your tea going cold in front of them and it’s clear they don’t rally want tea, don’t make them drink your tea. Just because you made it doesn’t mean they are obliged to drink it.
If they say flat out, “No, thank you, I don’t want any tea” then don’t make them tea. Don’t try to sweeten the offer by mixing in your exotic flavored teas or organic tea picked by hand from the mountains of Tibet. They don’t want tea. Don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting tea.
Sometimes people may be polite or respectful, they may say, “thanks for the offer that’s kind of you.” Then the tea arrives and it turns out they don’t actually want the tea at all. That can be very annoying because they clearly hinted at wanting tea with you. But remember they still have no obligation to drink your tea. They may have liked the idea of having tea or felt they needed to say yes, but now that it’s in their face and they are showing no interest in your tea. Let it be.
Now if they’ve said yes after having just a small sampling of your tea, and you prepare a full serving only to return and find them passed out on your couch, in this case, don’t force your tea into them, they are unconscious and unconscious people don’t want tea. Save your tea for when they’re conscious and can actually enjoy it and remember how delicious it is.
If someone said YES to tea, they started drinking and something in your tea causes them to pass out before finishing it, don’t keep pouring your tea down their throat. Take the tea away from them, make sure they are safe and let them recover. Remember, unconscious people don’t want tea.
Just because someone said “yes” to tea at your house last Saturday, doesn’t mean that they want your tea every time they see you. They don’t necessarily want you coming around to their house with offers to make them tea.
c: This metaphor is meant to lighten the focus on a very serious topic, but the fact is that offering tea to someone is not the same as offering yourself to someone and having your offer rejected. Emotions from rejection can sometimes consume a person. That ugliness, which is inside all of us, can take over and damage both people. Then two tea cups lay broken in pieces on the floor. Pieces that can never be repaired to their original beauty.
h: Do you have any recommendations for men who in the moment have warmed up the tea with that other person and then when the critical moment comes the partners says they actually don’t want to have tea after all?
c: it’s just basic respect for another person, it’s not that complicated. If you said no would you want your wishes respected, yes you would! What makes this person any different than you in wanting to have their wishes respected. It’s not complicated. The problem is that we are complex and complicated and sometimes our messages are mixed. Sometimes a woman might say no to a first offer, waiting for an even sweeter offer.
h: Yeah there is such games played, especially when people are just starting to date. It’s so interesting what’s running through people’s minds especially early on. I have friends who’ve waited months before having sex with a guy for the first time, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Then I have friends who had sex on the first date, now their engaged. Typically, what happens in a man’s mind if a woman wants to wait a few months before having sex vs. a woman who wants to have sex on the first date?
c: It comes down to values. If a woman respects herself in a way that I see as valuable to me and that means holding onto that part of herself before she offers it to me, then I value that in her. If my value is to experience a person fully completely and she wants to wait for a year, that might not work out so well. We just have different values. However, there’s also this game we play of tag you’re it, that’s part of courtship and we enjoy that…
h: There is something stimulating about it…
c: But there is a point where the relationship is going to take the next step and then there is a question and an answer. Ask the question; respect the answer.
h: Regardless of what the answer is, but there are some people out there who get so angry when the answer is no. I’m just thinking where can that anger be redirected.
c: The anger isn’t about the person saying no, it’s about that person’s wanting to hear yes…
c: Maybe entitlement, maybe more the question – am I loveable? Is this person’s rejection more confirmation that I’m not loveable. The act of sex and sexuality, we tie it so tightly to love and saying no to my offer for sex is saying no to loving me.
h: I think that is sometimes the case but so much of it is about power and control and wanting to dominate. I agree that at the heart of it is the need for love and connection, but when people get angry that they are not getting the tea that they wanted, it’s more of I deserve to have the tea whenever I want and how dare you take away my right to tea!
c: So a brat for sex. If I don’t get my sex I’m going to stomp my feet and yell right here in the middle of the mall because I’m not getting my sex.
h: And sometimes I’m going to beat the crap out of you…
c: Because I’m not getting my sex.
h: We have to get over that idea that another person’s body is ours to own, which is a really deep-seated part of our psychology with marriages where women are the property of their husband. Though I’ve witnessed in women’s shelters men getting together with other men and saying it’s ok to be angry, but it is not ok to hurt your partner, and not ok to force yourself on your partner. I think those sort of connections with other men is a powerful influence.
c: I was thinking about this very thing this morning that in years gone by that if you wanted to connect with the daughter of the family down the road you had to go through the brother or brothers, you had to go through the father, and you had to go through the grandfather, and his shotgun. You were held in check. You had to be in check to get to the daughter and then you had to behave yourself once you got to the daughter because other men held you accountable.
h: To me that says a woman’s bodily autonomy is only really truly safe when a man is protecting her and heaven forbid she doesn’t have a man in her life to protect that value.
c: I would also say that women have taken themselves out of that dynamic relationship because it was also controlling and constricting. Now they are out on their own in the woods and the wolves and free to hunt.
h: So we gotta know how to kick ass if we need to.
c: Unfortunately wolves have practiced hunting for a very long time.