Though we always have the best intentions, this blog seems to be one of the last things on our long to do lists that gets attention. Despite that, we’ve been working away at new content and initiatives and partnerships with our favourite Vancouver-based harm reduction crew, Karmik. In the meantime, check our Facebook page for more frequently updated content and announcements of upcoming workshops and events!
Earlier this year, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) organized a Consent Summit in Seattle, a part of their “Consent Counts” program. Victor and I were fortunate enough to attend and engage with other Consent-minded educators, community members, advocates, and activists. What followed was a whirlwind summer for our team, and a neglected blog. As the leaves are starting to turn, and the hectic summer schedule is fading like my festival tan, it feels like a great time to reflect* on that season of sun and exploration.
“How do we explain consent to our community members that makes it easy to understand and incorporate in their own lives?” ~Susan Wright, NCSF
Susan Wright posed this question as part of her opening plenary, and it’s been something that I’ve taken with me throughout this summer. How do we most effectively educate and engage our communities in consent culture? How do we talk with our friends? Our neighbours?
The answer? Connect.
“But, how?” I hear you saying…
Have one-on-one conversations
Some of my favourite education moments from this summer came from conversations that started with the simple question “what does consent mean to you?” (followed second only by conversations that started with sharing our buttons or yes/no cards). You likely know the the language, the culture, the customs, the people, of the community you exist in and have personal connections within it. You’re the best person to have those conversations. Think it won’t make a difference? I challenge you to give it a try to see the results.
Model consent in your interactions within your community
Some communities that I’m a member of are a very huggy bunch. Some of us in those communities have some pretty strong boundaries around who we’ll hug, or if we’ll hug at all. I’ve seen an incredible ripple effect happening just by asking before sharing a consensual hug with someone. Same with asking (and waiting for a “yes!”) before I get a little closer on the dance floor. Not in a hugging community? Think about other ways that you connect and interact and start there.
Give people something to think about
I’ve always been a bathroom reader, and, it turns out, so are a lot of people I know. Creating portapotty and washroom posters for festivals and other events has turned out to be a great way to connect people with the idea of consent this summer. Saucy mad libs while you use the loo, anyone?
Not at an event where posters are an option? We heard that our custom “What’s your Yes/No?” cards shared during Vancouver Pride Weekend festivities sparked a lot of thought!
Create a space where mistakes are ok
We can educate and engage people all we want, but if we don’t give people space to process and learn from their mistakes, our hard work will be for naught. Creating a conversation around consent and how to handle and respond to consent accidents fosters a space where people are more open to cultivating consent culture. Knowing the Battleaxe of Consent won’t meet your skull because you forgot to ask someone before you hugged them is a huge sigh of relief for many people new to consent culture. Owning up to mistakes and learning from them is always easier in a place where we don’t expect everyone to be perfect all the time.
As we ease into the autumn, expect more reflection and more education tools around here. We’ve got to do something to keep ourselves occupied while the daylight hours are on the decline.
What are the ways you see consent being presented in your community that make it easy for you to understand and integrate into your daily life?
*These reflections are through my (dynamic) lens as an educator who happens to be a highly educated, newly middle class, white, queer, cis woman.
About the author: Kim Dee is a passionate educator with over 16 years of teaching, facilitation, and outreach training and experience. She values experiential learning and believes that any experience can become a chance for reflection and growth. She holds a PhD in evolution and behaviour and is presently pursuing a certificate in collaborative conflict resolution. A long-time social and environmental advocate, Kim is a co-founder of the Vancouver-based Consent Crew. She is an enthusiastic and committed volunteer, dedicated to creating safer, inclusive spaces in all communities in which she participates.
Two of The Consent Crew’s favourite consent conversation starters are simply, “What’s your Yes?” and “What’s your No?”*
Have you ever asked yourself those questions before you went out to an event? Before you had a conversation with people important to you? Before you’ve been intimate with someone? If you’ve spent some time reflecting on your yeses and noes (your boundaries), you might have noticed it’s a lot easier to be clear with yourself and others. Since clear communication is a key for consent, we encourage you to take some time and ask yourself, “what’s my yes/no/maybe?”
*Interested in these images as conversation starters? Get in touch with us! They make great business card-sized questions.
Calling In is a process, one that begins with a conversation, and requires support and follow up for everyone involved.
When I first began exploring the world of consent activism, there was a different approach being taken. Calling Out seemed to be the only strategy that addressed dealing with someone whose behaviour had been harmful or problematic.
I’ve found problems with Calling Out: it isnt’t a conversation, it tends to be a one-sided declaration; it critiques the person, and does not offer hope for them to change their behaviour; it too often comes from such a place of anger and reactivity that the act itself is one I’ve found to be oppressive, and leads to compounding a cycle of trauma where no one gets to find healing.
I’ve experienced being included in circles that have wanted to call someone out, and wondered what that might be like to be on the receiving end of, how that could be internalised. Witnessing a person in community being Called Out, and watching the progression of interactions over several months, I’ve asked myself- did anything really change through this?
Calling In: A Way to Grow Together
“When I see problematic behaviour from someone who is connected to me, who is committed to some of the things I am, I want to believe that it’s possible for us to move through and beyond whatever mistake was committed”
~ Ngọc Loan Trần on Black Girl Dangerous
“Calling In” has been referred to as “a less disposable way of holding ourselves accountable”. It’s a means of recognising that we can all make mistakes, and inviting someone to do better. Calling In isn’t about making accusations or placing someone in the role of persecutor- not the person on the receiving end, nor the person offering the Call In.
Whereas Calling Out runs the risk of coming from a place of emotional reaction, Calling In has quite a different character. Calling In recognises that the majority of boundary crossings are accidental, “tragic expressions of unmet needs”. I’ve explored many approaches to Calling In- not all of which have been effective. So here, developed through some trial and error, is a concise guide on how to call someone in.
KNOW YOUR WHY
This is one of the most important things to get clear on. Why does this person matter to you? Why is this situation of significant to you? What is the end-goal you hope for by having this conversation with them?
CAN IT BE YOU?
Are you the right person to talk to them? What’s your personal relationship? Is the subject matter something that might trigger you? If you aren’t the right person, who might be able to support you, or to have the conversation on your behalf? Are you someone they’ll listen to? Most often these conversations are easier if we are not personally experiencing trauma as a result of the other person’s actions, or if we are a more neutral third party acting in a role of advocacy. Do not attempt to call someone in if you yourself are feeling traumatised by their actions. Do not attempt to Call In if you are feeling raw or triggered about the person or their actions or their effects on others. Reach out for support and ask someone else to have the conversation on your behalf.
WHAT ARE THE OBSTACLES?
What potential blocks might this person have to engaging in this conversation? What fears might you be carrying around this conversation? Could having this conversation created repercussions for others? If so, are they aware you’re having this conversation, and do you have their explicit informed consent?
FOCUS ON THE BEHAVIOUR
Get clear around what specific behaviour this person engaged in, rather than any assumptions, projections, or judgements around their motivations or personality. The more specific you can be about the behaviour and how the behaviour affected you and/or others, the more you’re going to be able to give this person feedback that they can learn and grow from.
HAVE THE CONVERSATION IN PERSON
I have found, from painful experience, that this is not something to ever do via email, text message, or phone call. So much of communication and understanding tone comes from being physically in one another’s presence. Invite them to have a conversation with you in person.
FIND YOUR ZEN
Breathe. Listen to calming music. Do whatever helps you to centre and focus before you dive into the conversation, and then:
- Start by sharing any fears or apprehensions you have around the conversation, and identifying anything that could be a potential obstacle.
- Then, share your hopes for the outcome of the conversation, and why you care enough to have this conversation with them.
- Once you’ve shared these elements, share the feedback about the specific behaviour.
Remember to focus on the actions, and the impact they had on others, rather than any assumptions or projections around their intent or motivation. Behaviour can be changed, and people are often open to changing their behaviour once they know the unintended effects they have had, but if it comes across that you are attacking who they are as a person, they are likely to grow defensive against you and your message.
If you can assume they did not intend malevolence, and can be clear in coming from a place of compassion, you may find yourself being more heard and understood in your Calling In.
OFFER SPACE FOR CLARIFICATION QUESTIONS, ACTIVE LISTENING, AND SUPPORT
What we say may not always be heard as intended, so it’s a good idea to check for understanding. You can ask the other person to repeat back to you what they think they’ve heard, and invite them to ask any questions they need to for clarification. You may want to re-emphasize your why, and the hopes that you have of the growth and/or healing this conversation could lead to.
It’s hard to know ahead of time what any individual’s wounds and past traumas are. Endeavour to be ready to offer support for how the other person feels upon hearing your feedback- sometimes people can find themselves emotionally triggered when being called in. They might even get defensive or shut down. If this happens, you can offer them compassion and empathy, and invite them to seek support from their friends/family/community if they don’t want support from you.
INVITE THEM TO ENGAGE, INQUIRE ABOUT THEIR WHY
It can be tempting to let the conversation end here, but the most positive results I’ve seen from Calling In are when the invitation is repeatedly made to engage in dialogue about behaviour. This isn’t always easy- and remember that someone who has suffered as a consequence of another’s person may not be prepared to engage with them directly. However, if you are an unaffected party, you might be in a position to be able to support growth and transformation through engaging in a conversation as peers.
Asking someone whose behaviour is having unintended consequences what effect they’d like to have, and working to understand why they have behaved the way they have can create more space for compassion, and can further support them in growing and changing.
EMBRACE THE CLUNKINESS
Having Calling In conversations is not always smooth. I’ve found that sometimes, even when I follow all these steps, the other person is inevitably going to listen through their own lens. Sometimes people might be dealing with tremendous trauma of their own, or suffer for other conditions of mental stress- or they could have atypical neurology (and could even be completely unaware of the fact) that can make processing the conversation more challenging.This means that the conversations around Calling In can still get clunky, they can still get involved, and there can be a lot of feels. My advice? Embrace it. If the other person in the conversation is having a hard time listening or understanding that this is a Calling In rather than a Calling Out, then have patience, and seek a back up person who may be able to try the conversation fresh from a different angle.
A Note On Calling Out
I’ve learned that Calling Out has a time and a place. For example, if someone’s well-being is in immediate danger, it might be prudent. There are occasions where, if Calling In doesn’t work, it may be appropriate to Call Out. Calling Out is often a more publicly delivered message, where an entire community may ask for an individual to be accountable for their actions. It’s important to consider, before Calling Out, what the motivation for doing so is: do you wish the individual to learn and grow, or to be humiliated and ostracised? Or is there some other motive? As with Calling In, I recommend being incredibly clear as to why you personally are choosing to engage.
I’m inspired by all the work I see happening in consent culture activism around me, and hope that this can further support the amazing work being done by dedicated individuals and groups around the world. Thank you all for being part of this journey.
About the author:
Mel Mariposa is a relationship coach, and the author of the blog, Polysingleish. She is a queer, polyamorous relationship anarchist, and an advocate for consent culture. With over sixteen years of experience teaching and facilitating classes and workshops, she is also co-producer for the successful Erotica Electronica series in Vancouver, BC, and a co-founder of The Consent Crew. She holds a certification in Counselling for Intimacy in Relationships from the Vancouver College of Counsellor Training, and through her practice, Radical Relationship Coaching, she helps individuals discover new dimensions of their relationships to themselves, and the people in their lives.
We’ve been a little quiet around here lately, but we promise it’s because we’ve been working on a lot of very exciting offline things. Workshops! Specialized training sessions! Education material for local summer festivals! And…we also have jobs and lives that we love to pay attention to, plus we hear it’s healthy to sleep and engage in other self-care activities…
All that being said, we’ll be updating our website very soon, with upcoming schedules, including events you can find us at, as well as ways we can be at your events, a photo gallery, and education materials and other resources we’d love to share with you.
UPDATE Dec 14th 2015
Since this story was first posted it has been shared extensively around the world. We have received many comments, so many in fact that our website is experiencing difficulties, and is unable to display comments at this time.
Some people believe it is a made up story, or that it has been heavily embellished. Others have reacted strongly to the story and believe it is playing into unacceptable gender norms and other societal scripts.
The Consent Crew presents this story here as it is, an eloquently retold real life story of what a father experienced when he took his seven year old son to visit Santa. It does seem too good a story to be true- and yet sometimes amazing things do happen in real life. By presenting this here, we hope to generate discussion about the ways we teach and role model consent to both young people and adults.
We have added a short statement from the father at the end of the story.
Thank you for engaging in an interest in Consent Culture.
This story was shared by a father, and is about his seven year old son, Sage.
“So, my son and I are at the mall, waiting for pictures with Santa. He starts chatting with a boy, and discovers they’re the same age. The boy is a bit obnoxious, so my son decides to play with the toddler behind us, instead. I will hereafter refer to the kid in front as “OB.”
The line moves at the usual snail’s pace. I hear “Hey!” and turn to see a young girl giving OB a glare. “What?” he says. “I said ‘hi’ and you were ignoring me. That’s -rude-.” My son also turns and looks.
Line moves a bit more. OB takes to yanking on the girl’s braid. “Scotty,” says his mom, indulgently, “that’s not nice.” He grins at her. I assume, at this point, that the girl is his sister, as her mom is nowhere to be found.
He does it again. Cycle repeats. -Then- the girl’s mom comes over from where she was chatting with her friends. And the boy does it again.
“Scottyyyyyy,” his mom says, looking amused. “That’s not a nice way to get her attention.” She leans into the other mom a bit and says, “I think he likes her.” The other mom smiles back, with that “Gosh, ain’t young love grand?” expression. The girl looks flustered, but not terribly hurt.
I look down to see my son looking up at me with a baffled expression on his face. I resolve, at that point, to intervene if he does it again.
He does it again. I’m trying to figure out something to say as the mom “Scottyyyyy”s again. Then my son says, “Stop that!” Everybody looks at him. “You’re hurting her!”
“Oh, sweetie,” the boy’s mom says, “he just likes her. He thinks she’s pretty. Don’t you think girls are pretty?”
I decide to let him handle it.
My son scowls enormously at the mom. “What does her being pretty have to do with hurting her?”
“Oh, he’s not really hurting her. He’s just trying to get her attention.” The girl’s mom is nodding in agreement. “Don’t worry, she’s fine.” The girl’s expression is the very image of exasperation.
And OB does it again. “OW! Stop it!” the girl finally snaps. “That hurt!”
My son steps forward, spins the other kid around by his shoulder, and punches him hard enough in the gut to drop him to his knees. “Oh my god! Scotty!” his mom yelps. “What do you think you’re doing?!” she yells at my son.
He looks up at her. Shrugs. And says, “I think he’s pretty. I just wanted to get his attention.”
The mom glares at me while she collects OB off the ground and pulls him out of line. “Aren’t you going to say something?” she yells at me.
I nod. Put my hand on my son’s shoulder. Look at him meaningfully. “Well-played, sir,” I say. He beams at me. “You PRICK!” OB’s mom shouts. My son looks shocked. “-Language-!” he says to her. They storm off.
My son turns to the girl, looks her up and down, and says, “You -are- very pretty. I’m sorry I let that boy pull your hair. That was not okay. He needs to learn about consent. It’s a thing.”
They spend the rest of the line-up chatting about consent while her mother looks embarrassed and confused.
My son gets to Santa. Santa asks him if he’s been good. “Weeeeellllllll,” he says, “I just punched a kid who wouldn’t stop pulling this girl’s hair.” Santa looks at me. I nod. Santa considers. “I’d say you’ve been -very good-, then.” He gives him an extra candy cane.”
A Follow-Up from Sage’s Dad:
Sage and I have been talking about this a lot.
One of the things that made him the most uncomfortable about that experience was that it turned violent. We discussed it at length afterwards — that there are different options to deal with these things. Compared to other kids his age, he’s remarkably non-violent. I have many memories of watching him stand by the side as a group of kids basically beat the crap out of each other.
As others have pointed out, kids don’t necessarily have the socialization we do. Violence is, frankly, more common for them. I viewed his response as measured and appropriate…for a seven year old.
In regards to the comments about “letting the boy hurt her” — he was apologizing for not acting sooner, not trying to rob the girl of agency. In the conversation we had afterwards, he was actually angry that none of the adults (including me) did anything about what was going on.
I don’t celebrate the act of violence. I celebrate that my son doesn’t buy into gender norms that say it’s okay to hurt girls and women, and that he was brave enough to act on it.
I think the reason the other mom looked so embarrassed when my son was talking to her was because he was pretty much repeating what we’ve taught him about consent. A lot of “you own your body,” and “no one should touch you without your permission,” etc. Which sucks, because I didn’t want her to feel humiliated. I kept hoping she’d pipe in to agree or something, but she just stood there and looked like she was personally getting crapped on. I made a few supportive comments, but it didn’t make a dent.
Of course, when I later brought up the whole “don’t you think punching him was an example of touching without permission” thing to my son, we ended up having a loooong talk about the few times violence could be acceptable.
Sage definitely doesn’t buy into the “boys will be boys” ethos. Never has, really. We’ve had to do a bit of de-programming to counteract the effects of television.
I had a fascinating discussion with him about de-escalation, and how women are taught to go passive in the face of male aggression. I come from a family of very strong women — while they do experience the same sort of crap other women go through, they immediately confront it. Sage has very strong female role models in his life, not the least of whom is his mom.
Little kids are learning about consent, but it seems to be from the viewpoint of “avoid” or “tell a grown-up.” These tactics don’t seem to do much good, as far as I can tell. Bullying continues to fly under the radar of most adults, who conveniently forget how brutally violent the lives of children can be.
We often start out our Consent Crew workshops with a brainstorming session where we ask participants to complete the phrase, “Consent is ______.” Almost without fail, someone in the crowd says, “sexy.” Sometimes, this person is trying to get a reaction out of the group. Usually, this is one of the most common phrases about consent that person’s heard and it’s stuck with them.
You might wonder why it IS so catchy. It likely has to do with a marketing method called emotional branding. This builds brands using statements that directly appeal to the target audience’s emotional state, desires, and needs. Many of us have a strong desire to feel attractive or sexy, so, “consent is sexy” kinda makes sense. How? Maybe if we’re not getting consent (or giving consent), we’re not being sexy and that possible lack of sexiness or attractiveness can touch our fear and desire to belong triggers.
And that part, that sexy bit, is where the potential problem happens. “But,” I hear you say, “people repeat it! People remember it! People fill in the “consent is ______” with it! We should keep using it because it’s working, right?”
Except, it might be sending the wrong message.
The intent here is well-meaning enough. It attempts to shift the conversation from “don’t get raped” to “don’t rape.” It tries to bring attention to consent in a slightly salacious way. But, using that “consent is sexy” message can imply a few rather unfortunate things:
- Sex without consent is, well, just unsexy sex.
Except, sex without consent isn’t unsexy, it’s sexual assault.
Conversely, sex with consent isn’t always going to be sexy, either. Let’s face it, sex can be awkward (“you want me to put what where?”) and less than satisfying or super-exciting at times.
- Saying “no” to sex offered with consent makes someone unsexy.
“Oh, he/she/they asked to have sex and I’ve heard consent is sexy, so if I say no…”
Remember that emotional marketing thing I mentioned above? Yeah, that’s it. That’s where use of “consent is sexy” gets a little wobbly and makes me personally uncomfortable. Sometimes, being asked for consent doesn’t feel mutual if we think that the asker is operating on an “I asked if you’d have sex. If you say, yes, you’re even sexier,” kind of attitude. Seems rather, um, coerced, right?
- Consent is only needed during sex or sexy times.
Consent isn’t just about those encounters. Sure, it can feel empowering and sensual, and be part of amazing moments of connection, and a hell of a turn-on in times of mutual invitations to intimacy. But, it’s not just about sex.
Consent is about all times, and all interactions. From a cupcake offered to a friend, to a cup of tea, to a hug, to sweet tender kisses on foreheads, to wanting to share someone’s space while they dance. Consent is integral in all of those interactions, but, “consent is sexy” doesn’t really work in any of those examples.
- All people are sexual or want to be sexual.
Not everyone wants to be sexual or have sex, or sees it as a positive thing. “Consent is sexy” can be a really isolating phrase for people who are asexual or have heavy sexual traumas.
So, how should we fill in that blank?
Let’s consider stepping outside of the “sexy” realm. Let’s seriously consider that consent is always important. Consent is respect for others and their autonomy. It’s about a respect that acknowledges we all know what is best for us and our own bodies, in all interactions, not just when we’re trying to obtain sexual intimacy.
I’m not saying we should stop using this phrase all together. Maybe, just maybe, my experience at a party was better because someone heard “consent is sexy” at some college orientation, and then they respected my space more or chose not to initiate unwanted sexual encounters. Maybe it does get through to some people…but…
I challenge us all to get more creative and inclusive!
Still want a catchy phrase for marketing? We’d suggest…
What’s your favourite way to fill in the “consent is ______” blank?