Towards a Culture of Consent

There is no love where there is domination.
~ bell hooks

CN: Rape Culture, Trauma, Assault


In the wake of what is coming to light through social media- and in our own awareness- the conversation about building a culture of consent holds extra weight.

Once we have, en masse, recognised that there is indeed a widespread problem, and this problem is not about sex addiction, or ‘boys being boys’, what then? Where do we go from here? How do we move from triage— where we support the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable— and start to address the root causes of the problem that is so widespread it has affected every single one of us?

“Rape Culture”.

This is provocative language. There are very few things that can happen to you worse than rape and this conversation is not about diminishing that. We need to listen to the people who have been victims of sexual assault and we need to support them to heal, and we need to prevent their abusers from hurting again. But the term “rape culture” is holding many of us back from seeing the bigger picture.

When we use a term that describes an aggressive non-consensual sexual act, we limit the conversation, because we blind ourselves to the micro-aggressions, to the ingrained ways that each of us contributes to something that feeds into this culture that is void of Consent.

When a person is raped, their sovereignty and autonomy is ignored. Another person’s will becomes dominant over them, regardless of their desires or needs. But rape is not the only place where this happens. This happens every single day, to most of us, and much of the time it has nothing to do with sex.

The problem isn’t rape. Rape is a symptom of the problem. And— rape isn’t about sex. Rape is about powerThe problem is that human beings have come to believe they have the right to hold power and dominate over other human beings.

At some point we, as a species, developed a culture of dominance in order to survive. Maybe we’d been hurt. Maybe there was a scarcity of resources. Perhaps we suffered mass trauma from some global cataclysmic event that led us to create social dynamics of absolute power structures. And over the many generations, this survival strategy has become our default.

Some may call this Patriarchy, or even Kyriarchy. You may hear it referred to as colonialism or imperialism. I call it Dominance Culture.

Not to be confused with the term “dominant culture”, although right now in our world it is the predominant culture: Dominance Culture is the Roman Empire stretching across Europe and destroying indigenous cultures to replace with its own; it’s the residential school system of Canada that was part of a cultural genocide, and the internment of Japanese-Canadians in the 1940s; it’s the imperialistic attitudes that continue today, wherein social circumstances award social privilege. It’s racism, sexism, and ableism.
It’s your employer not letting you sit down during your eight hour shift doing retail, even though your back and your feet hurt. It’s the man on the bus groping another man’s ass, and the woman at the spa saying derogatory things about her friend who couldn’t afford to go. It’s pushing someone out of the way in the line up for boxing day sales. It’s the activist who chastises others for their lack of education about an issue- without realizing that not everyone has had access to education.
It’s a person thinking that bullying an alleged abuser is going to help them heal from their own abuse or somehow give them back their power. It’s the politician who ignores the voices of the people who voted for them, and decides to dictate to them what’s in their ‘best interest’ without bothering to go through a process of informed consent.
It’s also playing small so as not to draw negative or unwanted attention: at work, at a club, biking to school, or at a family gathering. It’s believing that the only way to restore our power after loosing it is to hold on to, and weaponise our identities as victims.

Trauma not transformed will be trauma transferred.
~ Ashley Judd

Let’s be clear: your anger is valid. Your anger needs to be heard. Aggression is different from anger. Aggression is when we channel our anger in to trying to achieve power and dominance over a situation, over-riding the autonomy of others. Anger needs to be heard, and to open the door to healing.

If we don’t resolve our trauma, we end up transferring it. Perhaps indirectly, or perhaps directly. Maybe intentionally, or perhaps unintentionally. We are the products of humans adapting generationally to every increasingly complex levels of trauma– all born from a social script that overrides individual sovereignty, and disregards the holistic nature of being in relationship with all things.

What are every day things we can do to combat Dominance Culture in ourselves? This is the conversation we invite you to engage in.

How can we dismantle the systems of dominance, and embrace organisational structures in our work and community groups where leadership is shared, not hoarded?

How do we form circles of accountability?

How might each of us heal our own wounds, and find greater spaces of empathy and compassion to engage from, so that we are not perpetuating further hurt?

How can we empower everyone to feel strong in their own voice?

How do we step out of a culture of Dominance and into one of Consent?


“You’re Hurting Her!” A Story of Consent in the Santa Line

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.

Santa lineup
Families visiting Santa in a mall

“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.


Consensual Consent

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller

My name is Melina, and I’m one of the co-founders of The Consent Crew.

I had an epiphany a couple of years ago- I had no idea what Consent was. I had grown up in a world seemingly devoid of the concept. Every day conversations in my family were filled with demands, a pattern which I copied and then brought into my friendships and relationships. One day, I began to realise that this wasn’t all that nice a way to behave towards people I loved, and I started to wake up to the idea of Consent Culture.

The truth is, we all have boundaries around what we are willing to give, and we all have things we want. Sometimes we are extra selfish, we behave stupidly, we forget that other people have their wants and boundaries too, empathy and compassion fly out the window, and we violate someone’s consent.

We have all done it. And we have all had it done to us.

Submit to the BattleAxe of Consent!
Submit to the BattleAxe of Consent!

I’m not here to wield the battleaxe of consent, donned in a skirt of sex-positivity and breast-plate of feminism (though, that sounds like an amazing costume idea); we, of the Consent Crew, want this to be fun. We want to engage you in this conversation, consensually. We are tired of social awkwardness, intoxication, and ignorance being an acceptable excuse for assault and bullying. We want to provide you with an alternative, an alternative that we think really works way better than the current paradigm, an approach that leads to happier, healthier individuals and communities.

Before I go further, let’s get clear on some terminology. Consent Culture is the antithesis of something called “Rape Culture“, a label given to describe a cultural attitude- prevalent in human society- that ignores the individual’s right for bodily autonomy, and instead glorifies the idea of forcing or coercing another to bend or submit to another person’s wants. Consent Culture is the solution we offer to the oppressive nature of a phenomenon called Patriarchy (that says a man can over-ride the autonomy of any other gender) and Kyriarchy (that says a person with sociocultural privilege- be it gender, orientation, race, position or otherwise- has the right to over-ride an individual’s free will, simply because of their privileged position). Privilege refers to an inherent socio-cultural bias that favours someone or gives them a particular advantage not due to personal merit or effort- such as the economic class someone was born into or a person’s outward racial or gender appearance. There are some forms of privilege that are considered to be universal (such as Male Privilege, a global phenomenon where the masculine is treated as default superior in many aspects of life), and there are some examples of privilege that tend to be the exception to the norms.

“A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex–in fact, of human interaction–is centered around mutual consent.  It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs…

I don’t want to limit it to sex.  A consent culture is one in which mutual consent is part of social life as well.  Don’t want to talk to someone? You don’t have to.  Don’t want a hug? That’s okay, no hug then.  Don’t want to try the fish? That’s fine… Don’t want to be tickled or noogied? Then it’s not funny to chase you down and do it anyway.”
We believe that most of us have no desire to hurt or harm another person. However, we also believe that we have all done so, in moments of selfishness, where we have forgotten to consider another person’s autonomy. This makes it sometimes challenging to talk about Consent. In fact, some people are afraid to engage in this conversation, because they know they’ve made mistakes. If you are one of those people, please know you aren’t alone.

12The deeper you go into the “rabbit hole” of Consent Culture, the more you find there is that you had never considered before, and the more you begin to see every interaction with another human being through that lens of Consent. That can be challenging, for many people. You might start to see your relationships differently. You may question things you have done for loved ones, and things that loved ones have done for you. It can be especially challenging for people who have been the victims of consent violations to realise that they may have violated the consent of others.

Stigmatising the subject won’t get us, as a society of humans, anywhere. We are here to explore a paradigm where our interactions are guided by compassion, respect, tolerance, kindness, and patience. Consent culture is about respecting that we have no right to take or demand what someone else is not willing to give or share. And, if you mistakenly do, then the best thing you can do is say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me, what can I do to repair this trust?”, and, if your actions have hurt someone, “What can I do to help you heal from this?”

Consent isn’t just about sex, it is a possibility in every interaction you have, and we invite you to join us and explore what that looks like. We believe interactions can be more fun, playful, engaging, enjoyable, enriching, and satisfying when coming from a mindset of Consent Culture. And, that’s why we are here, with teapots of consent, cupcakes of feminist thought, and sandwiches of sex-positivity.