Truth To Power – time to build a culture of consent

This week I accepted an invitation.  Jeremy Goldstein, Founder and Creative Director of London Artists Projects  was putting on an event called ‘The Truth to Power Cafe’ and inviting volunteer participants to make 5 minute speeches in response to the question ‘Who has power over you and what do you want to say to them?’ before a live audience.

The event took place at Theatre in the Mill on 8th November 2017.  I was one of five volunteer speakers.

And just because I’m going to leave this blog here indefinitely, here’s a little context about the date and time we’re in… in the last few weeks there’s been a lot of attention on sexual harassment in the wake of accusations against Harvey Weinstein and others in Hollywood, Sir Michael Fallon and others in Westminster, the suicide of alleged perpetrator MP Carl Sergeant, and social media responses including #metoo which prompted the public (predominantly women) to share their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse, and rape.  We are in the eye of the storm on this one, just now, and history will tell how big a storm it is and what is left in it’s wake… so my ‘Truth to Power’ is informed by this context, though I would have written something similar anyway, because this is something I want to say.

Here it is:

“It’s the patriarchy.

And instantly some of you switch off because you have now decided I am a man-hating feminist.

But it’s the patriarchy.  And it’s bad for all of us. It’s sold us a lie.

I’m lucky enough to have some power.  British born (where some women have had the vote for almost 100 years, and most have had it for not quite so long).  White, middle class, no disabilities, university educated

And tall, which has it’s advantages… and it’s challenges

Tall enough to be misgendered, frequently… you see a person this size and you just think, that’s a bloke…

Tall enough that when I walk alone at night I am less afraid than my smaller friends… because I look big and strong, like a bloke…

Or maybe you think I am trans… go ahead, think what you like, I’d be no less woman than one who was assigned female from birth, and (by the way) what is in my pants is none of your business unless I consent to share that with you, in which case, lucky you… but I am not trans, I am cisgender, which is another privilege to check…

and a trans woman walking alone at night is perhaps even more at risk…

At risk… in fear… the lies of the patriarchy makes us live our fears when we could be living our dreams…

We have forgotten our wild, adventurous, loving natures – because that is what it is to be human, to love, to love is everything…

But we limit our love through our fear… Fear that maybe our love won’t be reciprocated, we’ll never find ‘the one’, or they’ll fall in love with someone else and leave us… That lie, that love is scarce and elusive, it’s the most insidious lie of all… love is abundant, if you just open your heart and love without limits, or fear.

And then, there’s the lie of gender. We all contribute to it every day.

Sugar and spice and all things nice.

Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tales.

Nice girls don’t      Boys will be boys.

Don’t be too much, too clever, too fat, too tarty, too thin, too chatty, too quiet… or you’ll never catch a man.

Be a man, man up, boys don’t cry. Treat them mean to keep them keen.

You filthy slut.      You big stud.

And where does the double standard lead us, eh?

We grow up absorbing a culture that tells us that this is our nature – that we have to be one side of a binary divide – that one side is assertive, pragmatic, strong, independent, predatory..- and the other is responsive, emotional, soft, sociable, prey…

And of course, once you’ve swallowed the lie that the biological difference between male and female is a justification for attributing a whole set of expectations and values on to one group compared to another, you make it a lot easier to swallow a whole set of binary groupings and inequalities, like race, or class

But going back to gender… If this is our nature… if women use sex to get love, and men use love to get sex… then sexual harassment, abuse, and rape are surely just an extension of us behaving like the animals we are…?

For the last few weeks, every day another victim of the patriarchy speaks out.  How many people on both sides of these stories have to suffer or die before we question this and try to address it?  From Hollywood scandals to the corridors of Westminster, insults, rape, harassment, mental ill health, suicide, careers ruined, families destroyed, opportunities denied, lives interrupted… I was not even slightly surprised at just how many of my women (and trans and non binary) friends added to the endless stream of ‘me too’ stories shared on facebook.

Me too, yes, me too – in little and big ways… from being told I was ‘asking for it’ by a parent in my teens as I put on my mini skirt, to having vile, personal, sexual insults hurled my way by trolls in the local press (for feminist activism in Shipley, don’t even get me started talking about my MP)… and worse, but I don’t want to talk about that… I shouldn’t have to…

but does my story count?  I am asked this all the time.  Maybe it doesn’t’ count because I led him on a bit, because it was just a few words and not that big a deal, because everyone gets groped on public transport don’t they, because I was drunk when it happened, because it wasn’t that violent or traumatic (but I still remember it 30 years later), because it was someone I knew and liked, because I consented to that but not THAT.

Consent – that’s the thing.

Enthusiastic, wholehearted, clear consent.

That is the culture we need to develop – because then we are free to love.  However, and whoever we choose.

The patriarchy taught us fear and shame – awkward, sniggering, secrecy and innuendo.

No patriarchy – nope.

Sex is pleasurable – or it should be. And whether you want to do it in a couple, on our own, with your spouse, with your friend, in your bedroom, in your kitchen, in the missionary position, at an orgy, tied to a piece of furniture, at a swingers club, with whips and paddles, with a woman, or a man, or a non-binary person, or a group, with chocolate sauce, or with nothing more than your instincts and your nakedness INFORMED ADULT CONSENT is all you need.

Do what you want, not what you’re told.

Live your dreams, not your fears.”

Jenny Wilson – Truth To Power Cafe 8/11/17

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