Tag Archives: consent

Non-Patriarchal Parenting

It is my belief that traditional western parenting models are all about getting children into the system. We have taught children that the authority of the parent is based on their ability to inflict pain/punishment and their ability to withhold resources as punishment. Patriarchal parenting values obedience over all else, it teaches the child to submit to the will of the parent and not to question the will of the parent. By extension, the child learns to bow to authority and participate in systems of power-over. This causes problems around consent and exploitation.

Inevitably, when bringing up children, there is, and has to be a power imbalance. The younger a child is, the less able they are to care for themselves and the harder it is for them to make good choices because they just don’t know enough. I’ve seen a lot of media representations that suggest there are only two ways of parenting – good, responsible, disciplined parenting (patriarchy) or wet liberal ineptitude that will spoil the child entirely and leave them unable to cope with the real world. So, here are some tactics that I think help if you want to raise a child in non-patriarchal ways.

Be clear that you don’t know everything, you aren’t automatically right, you aren’t some sort of God and you don’t always know what’s best. Admit that you can make mistakes and do not ask your child to believe in the rightness and infallibility of your power.

Any chance you can, explain why you are setting rules, or boundaries, or saying no. Help them understand. Explain to them that they don’t know enough yet to make good choices and that you are helping them get to the point where they can make these choices for themselves. As they become more able to make their own choices, give them the opportunity to do that. Start them off with safe spaces where they can afford to make mistakes and learn from them.

Ask your child for their opinion, thoughts, feelings and preferences. Be clear that they won’t always get what they want, but that their opinion matters and is noted. Take their feelings and opinions seriously and make sure they can see that you do this.

Teach them to negotiate with you. Tell them that if they can make a good and reasoned case for why they want a thing, they might get it. As a bonus, this lures a child away from screaming and temper tantrums really quickly if they can see it works.

Recognise that they are capable of knowing more about something than you do (for me, it was dinosaurs very early on).

Give them opportunities to say no to you, and have that honoured. This is especially important around body contact, and establishing how consent works, and their right to say no. Create situations where it doesn’t matter if they say yes or no, and then let them decide.

I found that doing this meant I could also say ‘if I give you an order, you are to follow it without question or hesitation’ and have that be taken seriously by the child. It was understood that I would only do this in emergencies when there wasn’t time to explain or negotiate, and that I would explain afterwards if necessary.

I found that taking my child seriously and only giving orders in emergencies meant that my child trusted me, was likely to co-operate with me, and did not see what authority I needed to wield as unfair. As a consequence, he doesn’t treat power over others as something he needs as the only way of avoiding people having power over him.

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Consenting Creatures

Last year I read a book called Becoming Nature and reviewed it for Spiral Nature (you can read the proper review here spiralnature.com/reviews/becoming-nature-tamarack-song/). Part of the reason I was interested was that it suggested a person could get to the point of being able to touch a wild animal. I’ve handled mice and birds when rescuing them, and hedgehogs for that matter, but I imagined being able to reach out a hand to a deer, and knowing how to do that seemed really appealing.

The author’s method turned out to be all about creeping up an animal, predator-style, and making contact before they know you are there. At this point I realised that I don’t want to sneak up and touch a creature. If I’m going to touch a wild thing outside of a rescue context, I want the wild thing to have consented.

Most usually what I end up touching – or being touched by – is insects. For them, I’m just terrain, and they land on me, or walk onto my hand if I need to move them. I’ve got some very friendly robins around the flat.  I’ve managed to get within a few feet of them on several occasions. I suspect if I had mealworms, they would come to me. I’ve been within feet of wild deer on a few occasions as well, with their full knowledge.

The idea in Becoming Nature is to be a predator, and to avoid being noticed by your prey. In that system you have to avoid paying too much attention, because the creatures will feel you looking at them and move away. I’m not a predator. So in some ways I’m moving through the landscape more like a herbivore, and I’m paying attention. Frequently, what alerts me to the presence of a deer is the feeling of being watched, and it will turn out that one has been eyeing me up. I often find that regardless of who spotted who first, we can hold that mutual interest for some time as long as I don’t make any threatening moves. I suspect that the deer round here see me often enough to be somewhat used to me anyway.

I would love to touch a wild deer. That’s only going to happen if for some reason, the deer approaches me. I don’t want to steal contact as an ego trip. I have nothing to prove. The odds are it’s never going to happen, and I’m fine with that. I am not entitled to touch anything I want to touch, and for me, consent is an important consideration with any sentient being I engage with in any context.


Parenting without (much) authority

I’ve never liked arbitrary authority, and so I came to parenting determined that ‘because I said so’ wasn’t going to be part of my repertoire. Also, I had a theory that the more arbitrary authority there is in childhood, the less able parent and child are to adapt to the teenage years, or to relate to each other well beyond that point. I wanted to raise an autonomous human capable of thinking for themselves, and that doesn’t go with being their authority figure either.

I remember the point at which I finally realised that my parents didn’t know everything. It came as a shock, rocking my little world to its core. My trust in their authority had been founded in no small part on a belief in their infinite knowledge and insight. So as a parent I made sure my child was aware of my limits from early on. As a small chap interested in dinosaurs, he knew that he could pass me in dinosaur knowledge if he put in the time, and that it was fine to do so. As I’m not interested in power-over I’ve never felt any need to try and keep him smaller than me.

We’ve always negotiated. I’ve always explained my position and reasoning so that he could see why I thought a course of action was preferable. I’ve aimed to persuade rather than force. We have an understanding that if I do issue an order, it is to be followed without question or hesitation because I’ll only do that in an emergency. We can talk about it afterwards. Driving me round the bend does count as an emergency!

Alongside this, he’s always had the option that if he could make a case for something, I’d take him seriously. We talk about the implications, the responsibilities, the possible consequences. Now he’s a teen, we carry that on to talk about relationship dynamics, consent culture, the implications of drugs and porn and all the other things out there he might run into and need to deal with. I think we have a pattern that means he’s always going to feel able to ask for my advice, but never obliged to act on it.

This all makes my life easier. I have room to say ‘yeah, I cocked that up,’ and to be honest about getting things wrong, making bad calls – because I have no authority to undermine. As yet, there’s been no sign of teenage rebellion – occasional non-cooperation, but that’s fine. He doesn’t have to fight off my authority in order to establish himself as a person in his own right because he’s always been respected as a person in his own right.

For me, authoritarian models within the family are an aspect of patriarchal society that we can do without. Children who are taught to obey are taught that power is what gets things done. You can’t have consent culture and obedience. You can’t have equality if you raise people inside models based on hierarchy, power-over and authority. There is a power balance necessary and inherent in raising a child, but so long as the child has the right to express opinions, and be taken seriously, that power balance can gently fall away over the years, allowing them to stand in their own power in the context of the family.

(And yes, I did ask him if it was ok to write about this.)


The emphatic YES

Reading Pagan Consent Culture recently (fantastic book, do check it out) I ran repeatedly into the idea of the emphatic or enthusiastic ‘yes’ as being a key feature for consent. There is no ambiguity with an enthusiastic yes. Rather than inferring consent from any noise that isn’t clearly negative, we have to look for the unmistakably positive response. This is not just an issue for things sexual.

It’s easy to go through life accepting the mediocre, the half hearted, the people who weren’t an outright ‘no’ but frankly weren’t keen. We can sleepwalk through situations of apathy and carelessness, through beige and grey landscapes of nobody really cares either way. These are drab ways to live, and they will suck the joy and enthusiasm out of life. Put your soul into something and have it met with a ‘whatever’ and you will feel much smaller.

What happens when we look for the enthusiastic yes in our social circles, workplaces, in our creative exchanges and everything else? What happens when we step away from the ‘whatever’ spaces and stop putting energy into them?

It makes a huge difference just to spend some of your time where you feel wanted and valued. I’ve been experimenting with this one a lot over the last few months, and the consequences are vast. It’s not easy to let things go, especially for me, with people-pleasing a definite part of who I am. But things change when I am more selective about who needs pleasing. The ‘whatever’ people will never really be pleased with me. If I focus my energies on the people who really want me in the mix, really need me, are really excited about what I’m doing and what I can offer, there’s every chance these people can also be really pleased. If that happens, everyone gets to feel better.

Sometimes, the ‘whatever’ people are unavoidable, and that’s ok, but if you want to offer heart and soul and the very best you have and the most you can do, then the people who give an enthusiastic yes to that are the ones to be working with.


Notes on a Filthology

A Fetishman comic cover, not the Filthology.

Yesterday, Fetishman came through my letterbox. It’s ok, we’d paid for this to happen…

Feitshman is the creation of Dr Geof, and brings together two forms of writing of which I am not unfond. The Superhero  genre, and BDSM. As a child I was a huge Batman fan, and I trace my enthusiasm for BDSM and fetish fiction back to that as well. The masks and costumes, the contrived scenes around capture and violence. While I have huge issues with how this genre depicts women, and with the samey plots, I still feel nostalgic. I spent some years writing filth myself, and gave up largely because I’d run out of ideas and was getting surreal to the point of dysfunction. I digress.

There are a great many things to love about Fetishman. For a start, there’s little that is graphic or detailed, although there’s seldom much doubt as to what’s happening. Almost all of the filth is implied, so it’s down to the reader to fill in the gaps with their own knowledge. Anyone capable of smirking at the idea of filling in some gaps for themselves, will be fine.

There’s a huge and important political aspect to the whole thing. Dr Geof is a clear supporter of the idea that consenting adults ought to be allowed to get on with it. He demonstrates the obscene double standard in our current laws – call it erotica or porn and you can fall foul of some pretty tight anti-extreme porn legislation. There’s lots of things that, even in a cartoon, it would be risky to depict. But, call it educational, or horror, and we’re good. Consenting genital masochism is bad, depictions of abuse and dismemberment are fine within this arrangement. Which sucks.

I’ve been seeing this double standard in books for too long. If it’s literature; incest and bestiality are no problem at all. The same content, in the erotica section is filth that must be banned. And before you conclude that really it’s about the low quality of writing in the erotica genre, it isn’t. Some smut is brilliantly written, some literature is pretentious wank. What it comes down to is that we’re allowed to describe or show outrageous things in intimate detail only if we pretend that no one could possibly be getting a sexual kick out of it. This strikes me as deeply unhealthy.

On the other side of this, we’ve got a culture that really doesn’t care as much as it should about consent. Victim blaming, slut shaming, the idea that non-consent can be sexy (50 Shades anyone?) the constant use of the female body to sell products and the likelihood this creates of seeing sexualised females bodies every day, regardless of whether you want to. What if we lived in a world where what happened between consenting adults was considered fine, and we were horrified by non-consenting situations. How different that would be!

Fetishman, it must be said, is all about consent. It’s also all about filth, fetish, ridiculous scenarios and a man who largely fails to fight crime because he’s wearing a restrictive fetish suit. It’s very funny. The Filthology brings together ten Fetishman comics, plus lots of lovely extras. I read it over the last two evenings, laughed a lot and felt better about life.

More about Fetishman here – http://fetishman.co.uk/


Contact and Consent

To be able to give consent, in any context, we need to be making a choice freely, from a position of being properly informed about what we might or might not be consenting to. It needs to be as possible to say yes as it is to say no. I have a lot of issues around political consent, and the differences between what you’re told you’re voting for and what happens when people get into power. I think manifestoes should be legally binding.

For the last four years or so, learning to say ‘no’ when I want to has been a big part of my journey. I still have learning to do around how I manage other people’s needs, and learning to say ‘no’ when I’m exhausted and so forth – but  generally I’ve been getting better at all this. I avoid situations where I do not have the right to refuse, and I keep away from people who have dubious ideas about what consent even means. I am more well, and more at peace in myself as a direct consequence.

As I’ve commented before, I’m not a massively tactile person. Arty, folky, Pagan and Green communities can all be rather huggy places, and some days I manage that better than others. If it’s meant, and felt, then a hug is something I’m usually fine with. What I struggle with is hugging people I don’t really know, and faking what for me, would properly be a small emotional intimacy.

It occurs to me that I’m usually very passive around social gestures of affection. Even with the people I would be glad to hug, I wait to see what they do, more usually, and I don’t offer. The notable exceptions are the people with whom I have deep and well-established relationships anyway.

I could become someone who can comfortably offer and seek affection. It’s something I intend to explore a bit, picking people I trust and feel safe with, people who speak to my heart and with whom I would like to be more open. I will probably be painfully awkward and like a creature with far too many elbows, but I would like to be able to do this gracefully, and my only option is to learn.

The freedom to say ‘no’ is only a part of what consent means. Now I need to start working on the freedom to also say yes.


Rape culture

Trigger warnings, not kidding about with the title.

It would be a dreadful thing to be falsely accused of rape. It might damage your reputation and cause the people around you to trust you less. Were the accusations to be believed, you might be dragged through the miserable indignities of a court case, and if you lose, you might spend a few years in prison, years of your life you can never have back.

Most reported rapes do not end in prosecution. If it is one person’s word against the other (and it often is) then we prefer, culturally, to err on the side or the accused. Innocent until proven guilty is a core tenet in law. If it does go further, the victim can expect to have their clothing choices, romantic history, even their reading habits brought up as evidence that they probably consented. If you knew your aggressor, the scope for proving that you didn’t consent, is alarmingly small unless you went to the police with the evidence of injury on your body. Even then, it may be suggested that you just like rough sex.

As a culture, we value the reputations of those who have power over the bodies and bodily safety of their possible victims. We assume the victims have nasty, malicious motives for saying these terrible things, and when the pillar of the community, the famous person you saw on telly, the politician claims innocence, we take that seriously. Even if multiple victims claim to have been abused, we minimise the harm done ‘it was just a bit of harmless groping’ and all too often, we let it go.

For a victim of assault, it is a life sentence that will affect your relationships, your sense of self, your confidence and mental health, probably to some degree for the rest of your life. If someone abuses you, there is something lost that is never coming back. For victims who were children when it happened, I suspect this is even more the case, but children have a hard time getting heard when the responsible adults around them turn out not to be so good after all.

As a culture, we prefer to think that people make up false allegations of rape, rather than consider that rape is happening. It has been pointed out to me that the skin colour of the man involved makes a lot of odds here, and that we are far more willing,  culturally, to find black guys guilty of rape, and for that matter other crimes too. It is worth comparing the implications. An unchecked rapist or child molester can get through a lot of victims, leaving a vast legacy of trauma. Do we really collectively think that to be falsely accused of rape is worse than being raped?

Now, imagine the balance shifted a little, and that we became just a little bit more willing to hear the stories of the victims and marginally more prepared to doubt the stories of the accused. What would happen? Would more men become more wary about getting into situations that would make them easy targets for accusations? Would more guys be less willing to have sex with drunk and unconscious women who might protest about it later? Would people of both genders be less willing to abuse children? Would some people reconsider the influence of their power, wealth, physical strength, financial control and other means of manipulation, and try to avoid exerting those to reduce the risk of their being accused of abuse? Might it become important to the men who don’t currently give it much thought,  to make sure that consent is clearly given? Might we collectively reconsider the idea that a short skirt, an invitation to have coffee, getting into someone’s home, getting them in your car and the like are not the same as consenting to sex? I can see only win here.

A shift away from the desire for short term gratification and towards more responsible thinking about the emotional and social costs, would be brilliant and would improve life for everyone. We teach our daughters to avoid dangerous situations that might get them raped. We need to start teaching our sons not to rape, and not to get into situations of dubious or pressured consent, which is not consent. A little shift would go a very long way.


Kissing Dr Who

I watched the Christmas Dr Who, and noticed at one point that the Doctor pounces on a female character, dips her, and kisses her. It started me wondering about when that became a thing to do, and the implications of it.

The dip and kiss clearly isn’t consistent with Victorian etiquette, although you’ll find it in later bodice-ripper fiction. My guess is that it turned up with cinema, in the swashbuckling films so keen to impress on us that bad boys are sexy. Bad boys don’t ask, they just pounce, dip and snog. The victim surfaces from this starry eyed and adoring, most often. It is important to note that in reality, the victim was expecting it and had been told how to react by the director.

I have been dipped and kissed. I had consented and knew it was going to happen. It was some time ago, but what I learned was this. It is bloody disconcerting. The dip is an act of overpowering the victim. If you are anything other than still, passive and compliant, you’re going to get dropped on the floor, which is going to hurt. Being swung over backwards is not terribly dignified, and the total awareness that your bodily safety depends entirely on the person dipping you is not an easy thought. I did that with someone I knew passably well, trusted enough and was pretty sure wouldn’t drop me. To have that done to you by a total stranger would not be sexy. It would be scary and threatening. You need a height and weight advantage to pull it off, and it makes obvious to the victim that the perpetrator has superior strength. It’s an act of intimidation.

The idea we are sold in the movies is that if the guy is sexy enough, women are happy to be treated any way he likes. This is not a healthy thought form. It teaches us to put up with a lot of shit ‘for the right man’ and it teaches men that if you have the nerve to pounce on a woman and force her, and you’re reasonably pretty, you’ll probably get away with it. She might even like it. This is not a thought form that helps the guys much, either. I have no idea how it translates in same sex relationships, but from what I’ve seen, same-sex couples are largely free from the mad cultural baggage that plagues straight relationships.

There’s a lot to be said for asking someone before you kiss them for the first time. That can be romantic, or sexy if you play it right. If words are not comfortable, then starting slowly, giving the other person time and space to decide whether they’re going to consent or not, is a good way to go. If you leap in, dip, and kiss, there is no space to consent, or to refuse consent. In my book, that’s not romantic, that’s a form of assault, and it’s a slippery slope from there.

Dipping is a theatrical move. I suspect it exists because of the visual impact. If you’re wondering about what it’s like to be dipped and whether it is as appealing as you think it looks when the Doctor does it, find a willing partner and experiment. Make sure you have something soft to land on if you misjudge and one of you gets dropped. Try to imagine how it would feel if forced on you unexpectedly.

Sexual predation isn’t sexy. It isn’t respectful, it isn’t honourable and it does not make for any kind of relationship. While we keep depicting predatory acts as attractive, we perpetrate a culture in which the right to consent, is horribly undermined.


Sex, politics and religion

Sexual activity is about as private and personal as it gets. Yet, when you think about it, this is also the area of our lives religions are most keen to interfere with. The rhetoric of no sex outside marriage, no gay sex, no contraception, no sex for fun only for procreation, lust as sin, and so forth has a huge impact on countless lives around the world. The same monotheistically derived ideas underpin a lot of ostensibly secular laws as well. Who you can marry, whether you can access contraception and abortions, what happens if you have a child out of wedlock, whether rape can be legally deemed to occur inside marriage. If you live in a country where rape victims are punished as adulterous… you don’t have much ownership of your own body.

Underpinning this is a fear. You can hear its echoes in every right wing rant about ‘family values’ and the pretty irrational belief that somehow it is family units that make a state viable. The fear is that if we could all have sex with whoever we pleased, we’d run amok. Women especially. We’d be doing it in the streets, for Heaven’s sake. Anything short of a clampdown, is an invitation to licentiousness, orgy and depravity, according to some people. And they say it as though they think depravity is a bad thing. Which is ironic when you consider how often such vocal figures are caught out by their own hypocrisy, practicing what they preach against.

Sex is natural. It underpins nature, in fact. Very little would happen without reproduction. Yet as a species we’ve evolved in some interesting ways. We have far higher sexual drives than we have reproductive capacity, which suggests we’ve evolved a sexuality that is all about pair bonding, not reproduction. It could be argued our sexuality exist for social bonding. It takes a long time to raise a human child, and the pair bonding aspect of sex is an important contributor to that process.
Out there in the rest of nature, many models for sexual behaviour exist, and most of them find human parallels. The harem is much like the herd. Swans are monogamous, robins are adulterous, some creatures mate with whoever happens to be convenient at the time. Some males impregnate and depart, some stick around and help. Nature has no one right answer to sex and relationship. Human nature is the same.

Why are we so afraid that sexual freedom would equate to the breakdown of civilised society? Well, it undermines patriarchy, for a start. The ownership of women, control of fertility and thus traceability of male lines of descent is all very key here. Back before DNA testing, controlling your women was the only way to be sure whose offspring you were rearing. Listen to the right wing folk and you’ll think they imagine that, if our young people were allowed to find out about gay sex, they’d be so delighted by the wonders of it that they’d give up on being heterosexuals and the species would come to an end. I have to wonder what goes on inside some people’s heads.

Does all moral behaviour depend on carefully restricted and socially controlled sexual behaviour? I don’t think that for a moment. How many people you have sex with is far less a measure of your moral character than is how you have treated those people. How enthusiastic you are about sex is not a measure of depravity, just an aspect of your nature. Some of us are innately more enthusiastic than others, and none of the differences deserve to be stigmatised.

As a Druid it makes me really sad, listening to the new archbishop of Canterbury saying its ok to be gay so long as you don’t act on it. We need to get the politics out of sex, for a start. Anything that happens between consenting adults, is no one else’s business. Only when consent is compromised or harm done does the rest of society have a duty to intercede. We need to let go of these ideas about harming your soul, and sin. Fine if you want to apply it to yourself, that’s your own, private business. It is not an unassailable truth you have a right to force upon others.

Religions are as obsessed with controlling and regulating sexual behaviour as governments seem to be. And yet, none of these manifestations of power has managed to stamp out rape, or child abuse, or prostitution, or sexually transmitted diseases, or any of the other genuine ills that go alongside irresponsible and criminal sexual behaviour. Oh no. Internationally, religion seems more interested in stopping willing gay people from shagging each other than it is in stopping adults from abusing children, or women from being forced into sexual subservience. That’s so wrong.

There’s a power aspect to sex. Who has the right to do what, to whom, is a political issue and a power issue. Of course there’s religion muddled up in it. The whole thing needs a radical rethink, with the crimes that cause harm being taken a lot more seriously, and the ‘sins’ that arguably harm no one getting a lot less time and attention.