Tag Archives: rape culture

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BDSM Dungeons: Your Policies Are Your Politics.

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this should be a hot scene, not your abuse response policy

“On the Handling of Disputes Between Members and/or Participants

5. I understand that The South Bay Spot will not be put in a position to mediate disputes among members and/or participants. Therefore if I have a problem with another member and/or participant which results in either (a) uncivil behavior on either of our parts; or (b) any legal requirement that one of us stay away from the other, that in either case, both of us may be banned from the premises and/or suspended from membership. I understand that such ban or suspension can be done without any regard to fault.

I verify this statement by placing my initials here: _______.

This is being put in the Membership Application to alert those who wish to join The South Bay Spot that bringing deliberately bringing incivility and extreme, open drama to our club is not only not desired here, but may, in egregious circumstances, lead to suspension of membership and/or expulsion.”

This is the (new) policy of local BDSM venue “South Bay Spot”. It’s not currently in their Code of Conduct on their site (which does include “I shall also endeavor not to bring
physical or reputational harm to either through my purposeful and
deliberate actions,” which sounds to me like “I won’t call out people who are harmful publicly and I’ll be very careful who I talk to privately or I might lose access to this venue”).  It’s been declared by one of the board members as being to prevent “extreme drama“. The Code of Conduct emphasizes that everyone is an adult multiple times, as if to suggest that discussing issues of consent, abuse, and BDSM is a childish, melodramatic thing to do.

Like it’s not fucking vital.

As one of my friends put it:

“So, basically, you can go to the club, and be assaulted, verbally abused, or threatened in a completely unwanted, unprovoked manner… and that is justification, at the South Bay Spot’s discretion, to kick you out, suspend your membership, and ban you from the club forever. 

I mean, it’s really standard for everything from public businesses to online services to reserve the right to boot you, period. You have those sorts of protections, because weirdness can and does happen, and, well… liability. But usually, they don’t spell out the fact that they reserve the right to boot you for potentially being victimized.”

Many of the members have recoiled, rather understandably, against this policy, saying that it will potentially silence victims of abuse, leading them to not pursue legal action because they may be expelled from their community for doing so.

Some folks have clung to the fact this policy says “may” be banned, not “will” be banned. I’m going to remind the reader that most of the stories of abuse I have received in my 3 years running this project have been involving “pillars of the community”. If your policy says something like “may”, what I hear and what I’ve seen practiced is “we will side with whomever we like best and/or is more useful to us”. This is not a good strategy and not very transparent for enforcement, though why it came to pass is shockingly transparent in this case, particularly as this policy came into being after a friend of the board was served with a restraining order.

DID I SHOCK YOU I KNOW I KNOW WHO WOULD’VE SEEN THAT COMING

Now, it seems like the Board of the SBS (all white, cis, and over 45) decided on this policy thanks to their attorney, who is unnamed and therefore I couldn’t follow up with them to ask some questions. But any attorney would say that their prior policy, which said simply They also say this is because they “don’t want to take sides” (though as we know, refusing to take a side is actually taking a side with the abuser).  They enacted this to apply retroactively to people who were already members, which also seems sneaky when they didn’t allow the members to discuss/critique it before it was laid out.

Another defense of this policy was that another local dungeon, the SF Citadel, has a similar policy. I couldn’t find an online code of conduct for the SF Citadel on their site- I did however find what looks like an older version here.  I didn’t notice any clause for banning both parties in a restraining order situation- it has happened in the past but as far as I know its currently regarded as a terrible way of handling situations of abuse in the community.

Side note: most of the Citadel’s policies are pretty standard, but I did find this, which was one reason I stopped going to the Citadel:

“Use safewords. At SF Citadel, the house safeword is “SAFEWORD” Dungeon monitors and other experienced players will come to your aid when they hear it. We ask that all players use this word as a call for assistance from outside your scene. Don’t misuse this call for help.”

“Don’t misuse this call for help”. Creepy, no?

Who decides what is “misuse” of a safeword? How many people push themselves past where they would like to safeword simply because they don’t want to find themselves accused of “crying wolf”? Don’t you think that socially pressuring someone to stay in a situation that feels unsafe until their need for it to end overwhelms their fear of being called “dramatic” is intensely fucked up and an abuse of power?

I think this sort of reasoning similarly reflects poorly on the SBS’s choice of policy. Knowing that a friend of the board was served a restraining order, the SBS won’t want to ban their friend- and, as they’re a private business, they can reject whomever they choose, legally. The law may even lift a restraining order if the protected person goes regularly to a place where the served person will be- so if you get a restraining order, and your local dungeon decides to support your abuser, you may get penalized for continuing to go to that local dungeon.  This might lead to a victim second guessing if they want to pursue legal action against an abuser, as they can very clearly be labeled “drama” and tossed out.

If the venue doesn’t step in at all, then the restrained party is, I believe, the one who has to leave, legally speaking. The onus is on them to stay away from the protected party. Now, the protected party would have to call the police to have the restrained party removed, and I did see some worry that calling the police to the venue would potentially shut SBS down… yet another reason why BDSM venues need to find better ways to self-police. The prison-industrial complex is not only dangerous for marginalized people, who are often the victims of the violence committed, but also for kinky people generally.

If the venue decides they want to protect the restrained party, though, there’s nothing saying they can’t effectively ban the protected party. Well, nothing except ethics, but who cares about that!

What may the consequences of such a policy be? Well, by making your silence and complicity part of the entry fee for the venue, the SBS has made it clear that they are more invested in making a space that’s safe for their buddies than focused on consent or the safety of the rest of their membership.

Basically, this suggests that 3 years out from starting Consent Culture as a project, we’re STILL fighting the same victim blaming, silencing crap we did in the beginning.

There’s a bright side to all this shit, though. These policies have been subject to some hot internal debate among the Citadel community, and after an email I received from a staff member there that validated my concerns, was totally not defensive, and outlined some plans they’re putting into place, I believe that clause may be getting removed (and about time).  The Citadel doesn’t have an Official Policy, but if X has a restraining order against Y, I have been reassured that now Y gets banned, not both, not X.

I hope that the South Bay Spot will similarly reflect on these policies, and perhaps ask one of the three consent in BDSM projects, two of which are local, to advise them. The critics were told not to “grab the torches and the mob”, as well as use of my favourite phrase (and incidentally my Halloween costume this year) “kangaroo courts”. I’ve written this up to the best of my knowledge, and will update with any further details.

The SBS have said they are going to review the policy, and I noticed the owner of the venue was joining the NCSF Consent Counts groups (not the best one, as they are pro-cops and don’t recognize the intersectional reasons why someone may not want to get the police involved- an interesting combination with a venue where one member said they couldn’t get the cops involved, because they would potentially lose the space).

Time will tell.

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Abusive White Male Tears: Crowdfunding Betrays Weird Morals

Massive trigger warnings about domestic violence (described and photographed), rape, rape apologism, entitlement culture, police

Updates below in bold!

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I’ve written before on crowdfunding’s betrayal of sex workers, and how ridiculous their rules are that they ban sex workers entirely, whether they’re crowdfunding adult work or medical expenses.

There’s been a lot of press about MMA fighter War Machine’s near-fatal abuse of his ex girlfriend Christy Mack earlier this week. While some of the commentary has been the expected sex worker bashing, “but we don’t KNOW he did it!” type apologist bullshit, there’s also been some very thoughtful articles. The cops apparently hung up on 911 calls the night of the attack, and called her injuries non life threatening at first, which doesn’t surprise me but underlines how little the cops care about domestic violence or sex workers. Still, I’m glad to see that Christy Mack is being supported by a good number of people, who have compassion for what it’s like to live in an abusive relationship, are horrified by the way he spoke about her, and don’t think that her being a porn performer should be reason for her to be assaulted.

I certainly understand how horrifying intimate partner violence can be, and how hard it is to leave. This is fucking personal.

There’s another piece coming on Consent Culture about domestic violence and MMA, but I want to address something that became starkly clear when it came to the aftermath of Jon Koppenhaver’s arrest. And that’s the messed up ethics of crowdfunding.

As I’ve discussed before, sex workers have regularly had their attempts to crowdfund medical care, travel, and other things shut down because they’re sex workers, or have ever been sex workers. The purposefully vague language of the terms of service for many of these companies means they can determine what’s “too adult” seemingly on a whim. I’m glad to see Christy Mack hasn’t had her medical fundraiser challenged due to her profession, as Eden Alexander did, and I hope that crowdfunding has made a decision to stop penalizing sex workers for their jobs.

What sickens me, however, is that a fundraiser for War Machine, a.k.a. Jon Koppenhaver, is remaining up despite multiple challenges. Two other fundraisers that purported to be raising money for War Machine’s defense were shut down, with GiveForward offering an *apology* and advice:

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Of course, War Machine’s supporters took this as complicity with their goal of raising money for a serial abuser, who had “joked” about murdering Christy Mack before.

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And it is, which is why I will not be using GiveForward/WePay in the future, and encourage you to make the same choice.

When they took the fundraiser for his legal defense down (it’s now back stating money raised is for “mental health funding”), Giveforward emailed me as well, by the way, and their tune with me was very different:

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Obviously, I find the disparity in the emails to be pretty concerning and to not give me a lot of faith that they are, in fact, seeking to “empower compassion”.

GiveForward is now requesting more detailed information from the people running War Machine’s fundraisers.

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While I’m glad they’re finding ways to slow down the crowdfunding of violence against women, particularly sex workers, a group they have shut down in the past, I would find it more of a statement of compassion if they didn’t let people fundraise on War Machine’s behalf at all.

Also, again let me remind you, female sex workers have been shut down on GiveForward because they were deemed untrustworthy handling cash meant to go towards medical bills, yet War Machine, who is also a porn performer in addition to being a violent criminal, apparently doesn’t warrant similar mistrust. As WePay, GiveForward’s payment processor, was the one who complained about Eden Alexander’s fundraiser as being against policy, perhaps we should ask them why they feel funding an abuser of women is in their policies.  A great example is below:

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Just to remind you of Christy Mack’s injuries, here is her statement, the police report, and the images she tweeted:

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Both have said they had broken up in May at various times, though as is often the case with abusive relationships, codependency also seems to have been keeping them together after. His excuse for beating her, one that people men like Chuck Zito of “Sons of Anarchy” fame seems to agree with, is that she was cheating on him- not that it’s an excuse, but it doesn’t even seem to be true.

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Here’s some statistics around “crimes of passion”, and how often the people who abuse women are their partners. (Also please please please, if you need support around these issues, check out our resource list).

The man who did this, who *is under arrest for doing it after being labeled a fugitive*, who has practically admitted to doing it (I mean, “she’s my property and always will be“?!?), *is crowdfunding* and this is totally ok with GiveForward. I mean FFS they could shut it down simply because he’s been a porn performer in the past, if they wanted a way to get out of it and still be consistent… but I guess that’s only an issue if you’re a women.

But hey, you know, if supporting *near* murderers isn’t your thing and you’d rather support a proper murderer, never fear! You can support Darren Wilson, the cop who murdered a black teen in cold blood and kicked off a week’s worth of (frankly justified) riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Residents are under curfew, and feel like they’re under house arrest (because they are). Tear gas is being used frequently and without restraintThe National Guard has been sent, which is going to make things even worse.

Well, the cop who felt murdering a black kid was a-ok has a fundraiser at $17,000+ on GoFundMe, and this isn’t even the fundraising effort started by the KKK! I guess GoFundMe isn’t worried about picking sides in legal situations the way GiveForward is.

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It doesn’t surprise me at all that many of the people donating to Wilson’s fund are also cops. In case you questioned whether or not all cops are bastards, the fact this fundraiser is so heavily populated by them and that cops haven’t been condemning this behaviour should tell you all you need to know.

To underline: Darren Wilson murdered a black teenage boy, who was unarmed and facing away from him, and he’s on *paid leave*, and ALSO now getting $17,000 and counting.

GoFundMe is enabling *paying* this murderous cop for killing a black kid. This is the state of racism in the US right now.

Don’t ever, ever fucking tell me we’re post race and you don’t see colour.

I like to think that crowdfunding can be revolutionary. But it’s important to remember that these tools can also be wielded by the oppressor. Such is often the way in capitalism.

Next time you need to raise some money, may I suggest Tilt instead?

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Guest Post: On the costs of talking about consent

o-DUCT-TAPE-MOUTH-facebookThis guest post is from one of our contributors, who wanted to repost their writing here. I’m really glad to be getting more guest posts on here, so that we can begin to paint a fuller picture of what consent culture might mean, and where we’re at currently, from various standpoints.

Cross-posted from: http://queerfeministkilljoy.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/on-the-costs-of-talking-about-consent/

Content Note: rape, child sexual abuse,  self harm

It’s been a trying time of late to be someone for whom consent is really important. The Washington Post published a column within which were posted the words, “when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.” More of the usual victim blaming asshole-ry has blown up on Fetlife, and I  recently received a phone call from a dear friend wanting to process newly recovered memories of sexual abuse. The conservative columnist (whose name I’m not using purposefully, as he doesn’t deserve any more air time) who penned the piece for the Washington Post probably has no idea how common rape and sexual violence is because he isn’t a target for that sort of assault. In his experience, as a white cisgender hetero man, rape and sexual violence are somewhat rare. He applied his broken validity prism, threw in some heartless conservatism, added some dubious statistics and stirred et voila! Rape apologist tripe!

So now we have another example of victim-blaming narrative. I’ve seen this particular approach elsewhere of late– apparently we’re all doing this for the positive attention, you guys. You know, all the attention? How like… positive it is? Yeah. We’re completely hooked on it. Yup. That’s the argument, and homie ain’t the only one making it. Let me just let that sink in for a minute. Survivors who refuse to be silenced by their own internalized shame and self-blame, by the obvious hostility, the gaslighting, denial, and threats from all of those who wish to silence survivors– are in fact making it all up. Yup, because of all the positive attention.

I wonder though, what does all this positive attention look like? Maybe its like the time I asked politely that folks refrain from using the term rape to mean anything other than rape. To which a crowd of barely literate mansplainers linked me to the dictionary definition and sounded off about how words evolve and change and mean different things. Wow, thanks guys! I’m so glad you were there for me about that because frankly, my graduate program in Comparative Literature left something to be desired in terms of, “how words work,” and complex stuff like that. –So instances like this- in which someone who is/was/has been/will continue to be continually targeted for sexual violence asks someone who veeeery likely isn’t/hasn’t been/won’t be to have the tiniest smidgen of sensitivity to that issue and gets so much pushback you’d think she’d asked for blood or plasma… These are perhaps not the instances of, “positive attention,” to which the columnist is referring? Maybe there is some other place and time where all the positive attention comes into play? Because in situations such as the one mentioned above I’ve personally been, at best- laughed at, verbally bullied and shouted down for daring to challenge the status quo or assert my right as a survivor to be comfortable in a space, and at worst called names, the target of threats (typically threats of sexual violence, because that’s not at all triggering for a survivor) and the recipient of gendered insults.

Regardless of how this narrative about all this positive attention actually flies in the face of survivor’s stories and statistics, (many survivors report being disbelieved, shamed, blamed, and/or ostracized when seeking support) this is the argument in a nutshell. We’ve got something to gain- attention, fame, noteworthiness, sympathy– some damn thing. That’s the latest version of bitches be trippin meets lying liars— we aren’t all some woman scorned after all, it seems. And we aren’t all slutty sluts with buyer’s remorse who changed our minds and decided to cry rape. Nope. We’re attention seekers who desperately desire the adoration of fawning acolytes. We’re seeking positive attention- all the real and desirable effects that come of claiming survivor status. We’re drama queens, and narcissists and liars. Anyone else notice the similarity of this particular bit of victim blaming to all the others? Notice how they’re all coded femme? Ain’t life grand?

So let’s back this bus up a smidgen, shall we? Survivor privilege, what might it look like?

Well, at least in part, for me, it looks like being one of a few people that those whom I love who are also survivors can come to when they need to process shit so dark you wouldn’t watch it were it in a movie. Like what happened on Monday first thing in the morning, when a woman I love and consider family called to discuss the depths of horror she lived through as a helpless child. She needed to talk so I listened, because I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, intimate partner violence and rape. It was only natural she’d talk to me about this– besides her therapist, who would be willing to go down that particular rabbit hole? Ah, but there’s the rub—because I’m a survivor, I can empathize, perhaps a bit too well. Unfortunately, I’m so traumatized that hearing firsthand accounts from those I love is triggering and integrating new information is a painful process. I have to rearrange things to make a space in my brain where I can put some more wordless horror. I have to process what I now know while walking the world acting perfectly normal while making space for this dark sludge alongside all the other nightmare inducing things already stored in my full to bursting little brain.

So, what else is there? What else do I stand to gain? I’m an outspoken feminist for whom it took twenty years years to properly name a drunken-teenage-passed-out-drunk-woke-up-to-someone’s-peen-in-my-vagina-moment (surely we’ve all had those? amirite?) what it actually is- rape. I never told my friends about it; even though he was their friend too and we were all passed out on another friend’s living room floor. It didn’t even occur to me to say anything.  Instead I just glared at him when I saw him after that, and I didn’t explain to anyone, not even to myself, until fairly recently- that this was a tipping point for me as a teenager. Soon after that I started to cut myself. Instead of speaking about violation, I bled and had nightmares and my mom told me that I was, “sick in the head.”  Ain’t that cute? That’s how girls are supposed to deal with things you guys! Internalize it! But quietly! Don’t cause anyone else a moment of inconvenience, though. That’s survivor privilege. Taking twenty years to sort out the precise moment I started cutting my wrists, arms and inner thighs and being able to trace it to directly to a single moment after a lifetime of truly dramatic history. It was  a –one thing too many- sort of thing, which happened just as I was starting to come to grips with all the horrors I’d been through. Survivor privilege is having some more stuff loaded on to your back when your legs are already broken. Survivor privilege is when people who are carrying very little yell at you to get up and move and stop being so self involved.

Survivor privilege is being dismissed whenever I talk about that night when I woke up all drunk and woozy and confused to discover that sex was being had, apparently, with me. Survivor privilege is having anything I say that has to do with the systemic and systematic sexual violence which primarily targets women and other fem(me) folks dismissed out of hand due to my gender identity, mistakenly attributed to either my politics or my hatred of men. Whatever I say is dismissed because I already have an opinion about rape (hate it) and rape culture (hate) and the violent misogyny (grr hate) and male supremacy (triple hate) that excuses and denies all of the aforementioned hateful stuff.

I’m completely biased, get it? As a woman, as a femme, and as a survivor I cannot discuss bodily autonomy– especially that of women and/or fem(me)s without having a vested interest, a stake in the topic. Therefore my opinion is always already irrelevant because I have one. Unlike other people whose opinions are valid regardless of their history or lack thereof– mine is suspect, because its personal. Survivor privilege is having my passion for changing the situation that we call rape culture—the situation where sexual violence is permitted and permissible and alluded to continually and used like a bludgeon to force feminine people into line in service of male supremacy and compulsory heterosexuality– all of this is attributed back to completely subjective feelings and therefore irrelevant. I’m not objective you guys. Unlike all those hetero guys with a vested interest in telling us all about their friend who was falsely accused, or so they say, because some bitch cried rape—and they all seem to have a friend like that, have you noticed? Funny, I don’t have any of those friend but most of my friends have been raped. A girl I started dating recently said something like, “well you know, when you just go with it? Because it’ll go easier?” and what she meant was: you know, those times when you have to choose between mild coercion and brutal rape? Because women and fem(me) folks make that choice frequently enough that its not unusual.  We have that experience, well I guess about as often as dudes friends get falsely accused, I’d guess. Unlike the rape apologists, those bastions of all things objective and reasonable and traditionally coded masculine and good and glorious and great, I already have an opinion, one that is totes subjective and stuff. Yeah I can see why you’d dismiss my opinion in advance, seeing as how I got one, or whatever.

Waitaminute though, I’ve forgotten already what it is I’m supposed to have gained from having all these conversations where I’m triggered and gas-lighted repeatedly, where insensitive clods say the most foul, misogynistic, backwards, sexist, victim blaming,  rape apologist shit they can think up– all to convince me to stop talking about consent. I wake up crying from nightmares during consent wars, I cry more easily and often during the day. My depression gets worse, and I get rageface- which we all know leads to wrinkles. No bueno. No fucking bueno, compadres.

You know what else it costs to write about and talk about consent? I’m going to be super real with y’all. It has cost me the vast majority of my relationships with men. Not all at once, but eventually, over time, one by one. It was one sexist joke too many, it was one boundary-crossing-creep-defender over the line. It was the constant microaggressions or the combination of being privileged and defensive about it and unable or unwilling to do any better.  Most grew weary of arguing about feminist issues, or about the fact that I wouldn’t let them just win those arguments, even though they usually had no idea what they were talking about. They couldn’t deal with the fact that I won’t allow anyone to say disparaging shit to and about me and mine. Or they won’t or can’t do better after I explain how to do better many many times and finally I have to peace out on them for my own safety. I have at present a tiny handful of guy friends. One I get into arguments with nearly every time we talk. I fear that relationship may go the way of most of my past relationships with subtly sexist men- away, that is to say. Which is really too fucking bad. Because the truth is, I don’t hate men- I hate male privilege. I really like men, shit, I love them actually, some of them. I miss having men friends, but not enough to let the mild misogyny slide. I have got to take care of me and mine. That’s where we clash, because I refuse to just smooth things over, to just let things go. They’re accustomed to deference and I’ve taught myself to drop that habit as best I can.

So, for me, the cost of talking about consent is pretty freaking high. Why do I keep doing it then? Well, Audre Lorde said, “your silence will not protect you” –I’ve been guarding the boundaries of my person from folks who felt they had the right to lay their hands on me for as long as I’ve had consciousness as a human being.

I was born with a target on my back, or was it between my legs? The point is that I’ve had to fight a war without end. The combatants are my right to bodily autonomy and the right of folks who feel entitled to my person regardless of my granting or not granting consent. That includes grown men who tried to fondle me when I was just a kid and it includes the little boys who did the same. It includes the teachers who excused such shenanigans and it includes the politicians who currently wish to legislate what I may or may not be allowed to do with my own person.

I’ve had to fight for the right to not be touched by men my entire life and the struggle hasn’t ended yet. Because I have a primary partner who is also a woman, I continue to be treated as, “fair game”– and frankly that’s how it feels. Like some of us are hunters while others are prey. I’m a relatively small person, and people seem to find it hilarious to pick me up. I find it utterly terrifying. I dislike being touched by people I don’t know but have a very difficult time making folks hear that over the noise of their preconceived notions about what/whom my body is for– which is to say– I am for them, apparently. That’s why I’m curvy despite being so short, that’s why I have such a big butt- its for the visual and tactile pleasure of men. I’ve gotten good at stating boundaries loudly and staying away from people who set off alarm bells, but this has only mitigated some of the harm. The constant warding off of potential incursions remains. Not talking about this isn’t going to change that, and it isn’t going to educate the people who are privileged but are also decent humans. Silence won’t make the world safer for people like myself.  Talking about and modeling the changes we need our culture to undergo will start shifting both the behavior and the thinking that underpins it.

So I keep going. I don’t shut up. I defend my borders assiduously. The last time a stranger decided to put their hands on me was about two weeks ago now at the bus stop. He asked how I was doing and I replied that my back hurt, so he tried to rub my shoulders and I asked him to stop. He did, and then he commented on my big old butt. And I’m sure if you were to ask him, he’d say he’d done nothing wrong- crossed no boundaries, not violated anyone’s consent. Why, after all, should he inquire as to whether he can or cannot put his hands on me? That’s like asking a sofa before you sit down. I’m sure he wouldn’t have put it that way, he’d have said its no big deal and I’m taking it too seriously. Gaslighting aside, the reality is that he is granted bodily autonomy in a way that I am not. That’s why he violated my space with such ease, it literally didn’t even occur to him that I’m not there for him to touch, to push my boundaries, to hunt.

Convincing other adults that I am an autonomous human being and not an object for their visual or tactile pleasure and that they have no right to demand my time or attention is an ongoing struggle. Convincing other adult humans to not put their hands on me without asking first is an ongoing struggle. So what do I get out of it? I get better at stating my boundaries, better at tracking those who are grooming potential targets. I get derided, made fun of, called names- almost always gendered insults, what a surprise. I get yelled at and threatened with violence. I get to have bad dreams and sick sad feelings that take days and days to go away. But I keep doing it anyway. Because only having these conversations about consent will change the way that we as a people understand consent and autonomy. Only by modeling a different way of doing consent where we use our words and ask each other first can we create a world in which each and every one of us regardless of gender or size or status or race or age or ability is an autonomous being who can grant or refuse consent.

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Consent, Critique & Feminist Porn: Madison Young’s Hard Lesson

290 x 290 web bannerSo yesterday a video was unearthed that rippled through the feminist porn community. It featured self-described feminist pornographer Madison Young and performer Billie Sweet post-filming for the Feminist Porn Award nominated “Heartland: a Woman’s POV”. this particular clip showed the two discussing SOPP at Antioch College, in particular making fun of explicit consent policies.

What was particularly startling, however, was the way in which they decided to joke about it, and what Madison revealed. She talks about having sex with a drunk girl then acts it out, using language like “shut up” and “I gave it to the bitch”, while also mentioning how hurt she was that the girl spoke out about it.  This was pretty surprising coming from someone who regularly is booked to speak about feminism and consent.

Now, I want to say that I know, especially when young, people say and do fucked up things. No one is perfect on consent. That said, joking about a situation where a woman felt violated enough to report rape seems pretty messed up- saying things like “so I gave it to the bitch” when talking about sex while drunk perpetuates rape culture, and is especially insensitive when in the context of college campuses. 

I’ve tried to focus on the main points spoken, here in the below Storify (which this writing is expanded from). I do encourage people to look further into this call out by researching it on Twitter. 

Madison’s formal response is here, but comes after some defensiveness. I understand- being called out is hard!- but I think that the critique is necessary and while I hope Madison understands what was not ok here, I’m not entirely convinced by her response that she does, unfortunately.

Even the President has spoken out about rape on campus, so Madison’s tweet about how no one takes Antioch College’s SOPP seriously seems particularly tone deaf. A professor who taught at Antioch said elsewhere how the policy was taken seriously by people on campus, and that it was actually a really good idea- a student echoed that sentiment, so Madison’s dismissal isn’t across the board. It was, no surprise, the media who reduced it to a joke, with Saturday Night Live making a date rape skit out of the policy. When Antioch College shut down, some people blamed the policy and the feminists who were instrumental in making it happen.

Yet here we are, watching as universities consider positive consent policies instead of depending on negative consent policies, insisting on a yes rather than waiting for a no. Ivy League schools, interestingly enough, seem to struggle the most to take on these policies. Harvard has the highest sexual assault stats. One third of women who experienced rape did so when college aged, between 18-24.

Maybe Antioch was ahead of its time, and if the media had taken it seriously instead of taunting it, we might have a better grasp on this issue in colleges now. 

While I can appreciate that context and tone can be removed from a video and therefore hard to assess for the viewer, I also find the difference between how it’s discussed in the video- “shut up”, “I don’t care what people say”, and “the drunk bitch woke up the next day and felt differently”- vs in the written response, which suggests they were both drunk, defensively states that it was mutual masturbation (like that cannot be a form of consent violation), and that they were both concerned about how other people would perceive the violation of the SOPP, is concerning. In the video, Madison expresses that her “feelings were hurt” when it was brought up at a meeting, while in the written response, she says that she and this unnamed girl sought out advice from their hall advisor. Having that hall advisor be the one to characterize the situation as “she felt differently when sober” is also concerning. 

In short? If it was meant as a joke, it’s not a funny one. And it’s one that perpetuates a culture in which people don’t report sexual assault, especially if they were intoxicated, because they don’t want to deal with the consequences of their experience being a laughing matter on social media.

Additionally I think it’s very important to recognize that being an expert in a field does not mean you are incapable of massively fucking up in your understanding of what that field embraces (or ignores)- see Hugh Schwyzer, RuPaul Charles, and Gail Dines for just a little taste of how you can be an “authority” on something and still say ignorant things. 

What I would like to see happen is that this be a jumping off place to discuss consent and intoxication, how clear negotiation can be sexy, and how to respond when called out. I understand the desire to be defensive, but that isn’t going to fix the problem. Like a muscle, we need to allow ourselves to relax and work the knots out, rather than tense up to “protect” ourselves in ways that ultimately harm us. Perhaps we’ll see Madison do a film that prioritizes different types of consent, and models how people can negotiate during play in ways that feel natural, so that nonverbal guesswork isn’t our only model for what’s “hot”.

On the plus side, it sounds like the Feminist Porn Awards are looking into increased accountability, and they’re going to be creating a community forum to discuss future concerns:

There will always be situations and interactions we will never be privy to surrounding directors and performers and productions. We see now that this has not been made that clear to our community, and also that it may not be possible to separate filmmakers from their work. In the future if we have knowledge about a filmmaker or actor or person involved in a production who is displaying problematic behaviour we will attempt to address a matter privately before taking it to a public forum.

I’m really excited about this move as I think it’s a step towards creating some framework around defining what feminist porn is and isn’t. It’s a move towards a focus on transformative justice rather than a focus on punishment or just ignoring the problem.  And it also is a step towards taking these situations seriously on a level other businesses are held to- for example, when American Apparel’s creative director says fatphobic things, she is taken to task. When Pasta Barilla’s CEO said homophobic things, he was critiqued heavily. Why wouldn’t we hold the same standards for porn producers/directors?

Consent Culture Briefs

-Art history – 500 years of women ignoring men. Good for a bit of a laugh!

-Angelina Jolie, who just starred in Maleficent (which has its own rape metaphor), opened the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. A worthy goal, for sure, and I appreciate that she makes a point to say that rape is about power, not sex. I find the idea of training peacekeepers interesting, though, as peacekeepers and soldiers are often the perpetrators of rape in conflicted areas. I think it’s going to be difficult to change things as long as rape isn’t really prosecuted even in times of peace. 

-High profile sex trafficking cases are having a PR nightmare. With Somaly Mam being exposed as a fraud and Chong Kim’s story unraveling, the “not for sale” crew are scrabbling to show themselves as helping women rather than lining their own pockets.  Never mind that trafficking actually exists and is horrific enough without making shit up. Why would you base a project on lying about your experience? I suppose if it’s about ego rather than actually helping people, and god knows trafficking isn’t the only charity that’s had these issues. I hope there will be some writing on how these trafficking narratives are used, even with consent, in exploitative fashions, further harming those the projects are meant to help.

-An anonymous post on Black Girl Dangerous underlines issues of abuse, activism, and where personal accountability intersects with “the cause”.

Reflecting back on that night, I now understand this heinous act within the kaleidoscope of his insecurity, anxiety and fear that I would eventually leave him.  I realize that our early conversations were exclusively concerned with systemic forms of patriarchy.  He was never interested in how his personal actions were misogynistic.

As I’ve had similar experiences, and know several “feminist activists” who are also serial abusers, this is an important topic and one I think that will need to be addressed at more length.

-A report was posted last week on street harassment numbers in America. Surprising no one, it’s a massive fucking problem. 65% of women and 25% of men said they had experienced street harassment, though as usual the numbers may be greater due to how we’re taught to tune it out and what we define as “harassment”. Also not surprising,  men were overwhelmingly the harassers, whether the victim was a woman or a man (I don’t know if they identified trans or genderqueer people in this). Additionally people of color and LGBT people were a lot more likely to say they’d been harassed than white or straight people were. I think the fact that PHYSICAL harassment is so widespread is also notable, as we’re so often told catcalling isn’t a big deal because it’s just words.

-“Professionalism” is taken to task by genderqueer person Jacob Tobia, and I think it speaks to an interesting way in which we establish and enforce whiteness, cissexism, and masculinity as norms without really thinking about it.  This is where coercion begins to rear its ugly head.

Professionalism is a funny term, because it masquerades as neutral despite being loaded with immense oppression. As a concept, professionalism is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, imperialist and so much more — and yet people act like professionalism is non-political. Bosses across the country constantly tell their employees to ‘act professionally’ without a second thought. Wear a garment that represents your non-Western culture to work? Your boss may tell you it’s unprofessional. Wear your hair in braids or dreadlocks instead of straightened? That’s probably unprofessional too. Wear shoes that are slightly scuffed because you can’t yet afford new ones? People may not think you’re being professional either.

 

For years, professionalism has been my enemy, because it requires that my gender identity is constantly and unrepentantly erased. In the workplace, the gender binary can be absolute, unfaltering and infallible. If you dare to step out of line, you risk being mistreated by coworkers, losing promotions or even losing your job. And if you are discriminated against for being transgender or genderqueer, you may not even have access to legal recourse, because in many states it is still perfectly legal to discriminate against gender non-conforming employees.

-PS: we have a twitter account and will be using it more! @consentculture

Yes. All Men.

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image of Tank Girl by E-Mann at DeviantArt

Elliot Rodger’s misogynist rampage has been on many people’s minds over the weekend.

I’ve observed with interest the conversations that are being had,  about gun control, about mental health, about why exactly white men are so often the ones to commit mass murders. These are the usual topics of discussion, as they were with Sandy Hook, as they were with Aurora. New additions to the table are questions and critiques of pickup artistry, toxic masculinity, entitlement culture particularly around misogyny.

I’ve heard a lot of “not all men”, “well, I’m different”, “this is just one guy, this isn’t a cultural thing”.

Bullshit.

***

Why are men defending pickup artists when they drive personalized rape vans? Or write posts on Reddit detailing serial rapes (receiving congratulations and further stories of “conquest”)? Or encourage men to overcome “last minute resistance” because women who freely consent are “sluts” and to be avoided? Or publish books that are guides to rape?

Why are men defending MRAs when they regularly employ rape and death threats to women they disagree with? Or defend George Sodini, a man who shot up women at a gym in 2009? Or spend their time complaining about how they’re demonized instead of, I don’t know, *critiquing men who are harassing, raping, and murdering women*?!?

Just fucking stop.

***

Yesterday I went on a radio show. I’ve been on it before, and I enjoy it. The guy in charge is a stand up comedian, who I am generally highly suspicious of because of Reasons, but I’ve felt comfortable on his show and looked forward to a fun break from the intensity of my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Until a joke was cracked about that old joke, “take my wife, PLEASE”. And somehow it turned into jokes about shoving her into the trunk of a car. I sat there, somewhat stunned, at how people could joke about murdering women when there was so much focus on misogynist violence.

The person who started the joking was a woman. Misogyny- not just for men.

***

Is there something new in the air? One BBC documentary asks if we’re seeing misogyny, sexism, or liberation. I have issues, of course, with the way it equates female objectification under the male gaze as “liberation”, as if to equate the myriad ways in which women do find themselves sexually liberated to women ultimately lying to themselves. But there is some really scary shit in here that needs to be taken seriously. When female sexual liberation looks exactly the same as male gaze objectification, and men are ultimately profiting from it, I too question if we’re really liberating ourselves. Does being a porn star, or burlesque performer, or glamour model, require a personal critique to be “liberated”?

Of course, liberation takes many forms. I’m a porn performer and in many ways I find it liberating, though in other ways I do not. Financial security is a form of liberation. Feeling safe at work is a form of liberation. Accepting and loving your body is a form of liberation.

As long as we live in an imperialist capitalist patriarchy, liberation really only goes so far. We do the best we can with the tools we have.

***

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Here’s why you should be reading #YesAllWomen.

***

As a society, when white men kill, we consider them as individuals. Often we want to label them as mentally unstable, even though the statistics suggest that people with mental illnesses rarely commit violent crimes, and the people who do commit violent crimes are rarely considered mentally ill. “If only they sought help,” we say, “then these men wouldn’t be so violent!”

Courtney Anderson responds:

“In a study released this year that evaluated the characteristics of 37 high profile school shootings from 1987 onward, it was found that the majority of offenders struggled with the same kinds of personal problems. Social marginalization and issues at home or work were found in all cases. Feelings of chronic rejection were common and categorized as feelings of being “bullied, threatened, or injured.” Also, it is worth noting that a significant percentage of shooters felt that they had “failed in developing their manhood.” As per the YouTube video submitted by Elliot Rodger prior to the Santa Barbara shooting, feelings of masculine or sexual inadequacy were significant.

It should be noted that reputable studies avoid hyper-generalizations of mass shooter psychology. According to the professionals behind mental diagnoses, the reason for this is because the media does significant damage by creating a rhetoric that paints the mentally ill as highly prone to violence. While psychiatrists support “reasonable restrictions” on gun access for persons diagnosed with mental illness, they continue to stress the fact that it will have little affect on total gun-related violence. The reason: people suffering from depression, schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorder account for, at most, only five percent of violence.”

It would seem that as much as we’d like to think that these people are some “other”, they are not. Like rapists, they are potentially our friends, our lovers, our family, our neighbors, our community leaders. In fact, if the victim is a woman, statistics suggest that her murderer or rapist will be someone she knows.

It’s hard to feel safe when every man you know is a potential statistic.

***

In the previously mentioned BBC documentary, I find the discussion with the ex-editor of Loaded, Martin Daubney, particularly telling. He says how the “New Man” with his hoovering was “asexual” (suggesting asexuality is bad, and that doing “women’s work” desexes men).

When Kirsty Wark starts showing him the teeshirts joking about rape, or hitting women, he recoils, saying how that’s absolutely misogyny. Stand up comics making jokes where women are the butt of cruelty and insult gets the same response.

He obviously SEES that jokes can be misogyny, but not HIS jokes (or the jokes he enables in Loaded), and therein I feel is the crux of the problem. When men say “not all men”, they often me “not me”. But listening to sexist jokes without speaking up, even, does have consequences on behaviour.

Thomas Ford’s research into the effect of sexist jokes on behaviour lays it bare:

“We found that, upon exposure to sexist humor, men higher in sexism discriminated against women by allocating larger funding cuts to a women’s organization than they did to other organizations,” Ford said. “We also found that, in the presence of sexist humor, participants believed the other participants would approve of the funding cuts to women’s organizations. We believe this shows that humorous disparagement creates the perception of a shared standard of tolerance of discrimination that may guide behavior when people believe others feel the same way.”

I found it particularly interesting to read the comments about this study over on the Penny Arcade forum, considering how shit-poor the creators of that comic have been about rape culture.

***

Elliot Rodgers was not unique, however much men are trying to suggest he is. Just this weekend another man shot at women for refusing sex with him in California. A 16 year old girl in Connecticut was murdered by a schoolmate when she refused to go to prom with him. A Californian man murdered his girlfriend when she refused to have makeup sex with him. In Florida a 14 year old girl was kidnapped and choked into unconsciousness when she refused his sexual advances. A woman jogging in California was run over when she refused to get in the car with strangers. Last year a jury in Texas acquitted a man who shot a sex worker when she refused him sex. In 2012 a woman was shot to death in her car when she told them she was trans in response to their flirtations.

And on. And on. And on.

This isn’t just individuals. This is a crisis. And it’s been a crisis for a long time.

Are we only now angry because pretty white cis women were Elliot’s intended victims?

***

I applaud women who are fighting cultural conditioning and fighting back against the men who abuse them. People like the Gulabi Gang, who will beat a rapist with sticks so he dares not do it again. People like Susan Walters, who strangled the hit man her husband sent to murder her. Women are taught that things will be worse if they fight back, but statistics indicate the opposite is true. We can fight back, and we need to learn the most effective ways how. Fuck being “nice”.

***

Martin’s piece in the 2014 BBC documentary sounds very different from his 2012 Daily Mail article, in which he expresses how fatherhood caused him to feel guilt that his work at Loaded may have contributed(!!!) to the further profiting off objectification of women. “Fortune gave me a son, but not on my life would I want any daughter of mine to be a topless model,” he says, before expressing how porn is “a world devoid of aspiration”. His piece is ultimately not against lads mags, however (in the documentary he says how Loaded “celebrates” women), but rather censorship of internet porn.

This sort of lack of awareness is part of why I think people are so often complicit in systems of oppression. We want to point the finger at anyone else, at the “other”. It’s us. We’re the problem, and we need to fucking address it.

***

I keep hearing from men “what should we do, though? We don’t want to take up space!”

Men- you need to confront each other. You need to speak up when you see street harassment. You need to shut down sexist jokes. You need to tell other men that talking about women like we’re sexual prizes to be won is not ok. And as Chuck Wendig says:

“I understand that as a man your initial response to women talking about misogyny, sexism, rape culture and sexual violence is to wave your hands in the air like a drowning man and cry, “Not all men! Not all men!” as if to signal yourself as someone who is not an entitled, presumptive fuck-whistle, but please believe me that interjecting yourself in that way confirms that you are. Because forcing yourself into safe spaces and unwelcome conversations makes you exactly that.

Instead of telling women that it’s not all men, show them.

Show them by listening and supporting.

Show them by cleaning the dogshit out of your ears and listening to their stories — and recognize that while no, it’s not “all men,” it’s still “way too many men.” Consider actually reading the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter not to look for places to interject and defend your fellow men, but as a place to gain insight and understanding into the experiences women have. That hashtag should serve as confirmation that women very often experience the spectrum of sexism and rape culture from an all-too-early age. Recognize that just because “not all men” are gun-toting, women-hating assholes fails to diminish the fact that sexism and rape culture remain firmly entrenched and institutional within our culture.”

Men, you have a part in this, and it’s in male spaces.

***

Why do men feel entitled to women, I hear?

Here’s why. And here’s why.

Now fucking go out there and do something about it.

Consent Culture Briefs

-Twitter was swarmed with the hashtag #rapecultureiswhen, with many people expressing their thoughts on the subject. It started off really well:
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Until of course the MRA types entered the hashtag to prove the points being made by making rape jokes and “angry feminist” accusations.

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Thankfully there were some men in the tag who demonstrated an understanding of what rape culture is, and why it was a problem.
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As one woman put it:
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-Dr. Nerdlove posted an article called “Socially Awkward Isn’t an Excuse” and in doing so explains how in creeper situations, being socially awkward is not an excuse for violating boundaries. He points out that the “socially awkward” situation is raised as a form of justifying the creeper behaviour, and often of blaming the person receiving the creepy attention. A quote:

But being anxious or socially clumsy or inexperienced isn’t the same as being creepy. Someone who is socially awkward will occasionally trip over somebody else’s boundaries by accident because they may not necessarily understand where the line is in the first place. A creeper on the other hand knows exactly where those boundaries are… he just doesn’t care. A socially awkward person frequently realize that they fucked up almost as soon as the words are out of their mouth and will often freeze up or try to verbally backpedal; a creeper who is using “socially awkward” as an excuse on the other hand, will wield their supposed infraction against the other person as proof that they didn’t do anything wrong… or rely on others to do their defending for them.

It’s a great article, and a useful one.

-I heard recently about the analogy of Ask Culture Vs Guess Culture when explaining why some people get upset by others asking for help and favours, while others get annoyed at someone’s wishing for help but never making it clear. I think this is going to be a useful distinction in setting expectations of each other, and may help in friend circles and communities that struggle around who gets heard and who gets the resources. Captain Awkward has an excellent rundown/analysis here.

-Interesting art/performance piece happening in Phoenix, Arizona with the Consent Project by Chelsea Pace. She seeks to put people in situations where a victim is often blamed for their assaults (for example, a room filled with televisions and trees made of alcohol bottle trunks and red Solo cup foliage to represent “too much to drink”) to confront if it is, really, deserved.

-A police officer in San Jose stands accused of raping a woman… who called 911 for a domestic violence situation. He brought the woman (believed to be an illegal immigrant and therefore even less likely to fight back) to a hotel, waited for the other officer to leave, and then raped her. Obviously this brings into question *even more* the idea that rape victims should talk to the police, particularly if they are POC, queer, trans*, or sex workers. He is on paid administrative leave, which is fucking shocking.

-A gang rape victim with MS says that when she tried to report her assault, police accused her of being a drug addict and a sex worker (as if those are reasons to not take a rape seriously). She and her mother both say the police acted “like it was a big joke and a waste of time.”

-Upsetting Rape Culture is still fantastic with their direct action and their quilt of survivor’s stories. Check them out if you haven’t, because their sense of humour and critical analysis of consumerism and sexuality is pretty damn good.

Guest Post: Rape Culture at Uni Isn’t A Victorian Issue

There’s so many things to write about when it comes to rape culture in the media. It can be hard for me to keep up, but thankfully, I now have guest posters who are happy to step in! Today I’m bringing a piece by Brendan P Bartholomew, who kindly penned a response to Joanna Williams’ claim that rape culture doesn’t exist at British universities- despite evidence to the contrary

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Not rape culture, obviously. Just marketing!

The Web site spiked recently posted an opinion piece by one Joanna Williams, entitled “THERE IS NO ‘RAPE CULTURE’ AT BRITISH UNIVERSITIES.” I am not a woman, sexual abuse survivor, or UK college student, and cannot speak for those groups, but I can speak to the utter wrongness of that opinion.

Williams’ premise is that by discussing rape culture on university campuses, modern feminists are behaving like Victorian era sexists who used horror stories of spinsterhood and predatory males to discourage women from attending college. She claims British universities don’t have a rape culture problem, and cites various rape statistics to support this claim.

Sigh. Where to begin? Let’s start with that juxtaposition of feminists with Victorian sexists. Williams writes:

“But there’s one big difference from a century ago: today’s panics over rape ‘epidemics’ are not promoted by Victorian fathers but by female students.”

And that right there should have ended the discussion, because she admits that the very women in harm’s way, the actual women out there experiencing the “ground truth” of rape culture on college campuses, are telling us there’s a problem. I don’t know about you, but when I hear from a woman that she doesn’t feel safe, I assume she’s right, and allow that to inform the conversation. If you say, “This school has a climate that fosters rape,” you’re only guilty of fear mongering if it’s not true. Williams needs it to not be true, and I’m tempted to wonder why. Spiked identifies her as an “Education Editor,” and “a lecturer in higher education at the University of Kent.”

I could speculate about the personal stake Williams may have in this, but any student of logic would call that an ad hominem fallacy. Therefore, I’ll focus on her logic, and her fallacies. She writes:

“Being a feminist on campus in 2014 seems to mean calling for university managers to intervene in intimate relationships and to curtail free speech in the name of protecting delicate women from sexual threats.”

So, in other words, if it happens within the context of an “intimate relationship,” it’s not legitimate rape, but a simple misunderstanding, or a case of morning-after regret? Is that the logic here? As to this subject of free speech, there have been incidents of men handing out “how to rape” pamphlets on college campuses. Would that be an example of speech that should not be curtailed? And why are we speaking in terms of “delicate” women, as opposed to just women? Should women feel demeaned because other women seek to protect them from sexual threats?

When Williams goes on to cite rape statistics in order to support her argument, she ignores the fact that there is widespread agreement that rape is one of the most notoriously under-reported crimes, due to the enormous pressure survivors feel to not come forward. So when she writes…

This would equate to just over four recorded rapes at a typical university.”

I say no, that equates to just over four rapes per campus that we know about. But don’t take my word for it. The American Medical Association has said as much, and you’ll find confirmation on Wikipedia:

According to the American Medical Association (1995), sexual violence, and rape in particular, is considered the most under-reported violent crime.

The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting rapes are the belief that it is a personal or private matter, and that they fear reprisal from the assailant. A 2007 British government report says “Estimates from research suggest that between 75 and 95 percent of rape crimes are never reported to the police.”

Continuing to build her argument on a foundation of rape statistics, Williams writes:

“Rape Crisis, a UK charity that supports women and girls who have suffered from sexual violence, claims that in 90 per cent of rape cases women know their attackers, and that 52 per cent of women suffering serious sexual violence were attacked by their partners. The validity of applying such national statistics to a student population, which is generally young and living away from old networks of family and friends, needs to be questioned.”

Williams seems to be suggesting that national statistics on the prevalence of rape can’t possibly be relevant to university life because those statistics indicate that rape is overwhelmingly acquaintance rape, and there are no acquaintances, only strangers, on college campuses. What a bizarre assertion.

She continues:

Of these, 48 per cent [SIC] say the perpetrator was not a student (challenging the notion of a university rape culture)…”

Um, unless I’m misunderstanding that statement, doesn’t that leave 52 percent who say the perpetrator was a student, thus confirming the fact that campus rape is a huge problem?

Williams also writes:

“…and only 17 per cent of the victims reported the attack to the police or university staff because ‘they did not feel what had happened was serious enough’.”

Such a statement betrays a lack of understanding about the internal debate a survivor might have when deciding whether an incident was “serious enough” to report. Reporting a rape means exposing oneself to the possibility of being re-traumatized by school officials, police, and the community at large. It’s not a decision easily made. Williams ignores the fact that keeping victims quiet is a part of rape culture. Citing a low instance of reported rapes to cast doubt on rape culture’s presence is like claiming the lack of dissenting speech in North Korea proves North Korea doesn’t suppress dissidents.

Furthermore, Williams never defines for us exactly what she thinks rape culture is. Given that her argument hinges on low instances of reported rape, it appears she’s conflating rape with rape culture, and working from the assumption that reported rape is the only symptom –and the only consequence—of rape culture. Is it possible, or even likely, that campus rape culture creates a stressful environment in which people who feel unsafe are less likely to excel in their studies, finish school, and earn degrees? I would hope that, as an educator, Williams might be interested in rape culture’s possible effects on student outcomes.

I am reminded of an experience I had many years ago, when I was called for jury duty. Because the case involved a violent crime, each potential juror was asked whether they knew anybody who’d ever been the victim of a violent crime. I will never forget the response from one potential juror, who happened to be a university student. Her response started with, “Well, I know girls on campus who get raped, but other than that, I don’t really know any crime victims.” Meaning that in her world, it was so commonplace for her fellow students to be survivors of campus rape, that it was hardly noteworthy, and probably didn’t rise to the level of “violent crime” the question had implied. This was years ago, and I still find the memory jarring. On that day, I got all the confirmation I needed that campus rape culture exists. It is ironic and sad that Williams’ denial of this problem makes her complicit in perpetuating it.

What Dylan Farrow Teaches Us About Rape Cuture

I’ve spent the last few days entrenched in debates about Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen, and childhood sexual abuse. As pretty much everyone knows, Dylan wrote a letter stating Woody Allen, her father, sexually abused her. It’s not been pleasant, or easy, and I’ve found myself disappointed if not surprised by the responses I’ve seen. As Dylan herself says, “sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily”, and it’s made even more obvious by the reaction to her letter.

The most famous, of course, would be the one in the Daily Beast, where Robert Weide, someone on Woody Allen’s payroll, casts doubt on Dylan’s story. His piece, I think, is a sad but important example of a typical response when coming out about abuse. It casts Mia as manipulative and hysterical, and Dylan as a naive pawn, with Woody as the poor man wrapped in this web of crazy lady lies. It says a lot to me that rather than feeling concerned about Dylan, or questioning what happened, he just trusts Woody and doesn’t “fret over Mia”. Because, you know, talking about sexual assault is just “fretting”.

God knows I’ve heard plenty of “but he’s such a nice guy, he couldn’t possibly _________”.

Being a decent guy in multiple ways doesn’t mean you can’t be a rapist. If my work with the BDSM community is anything to go by, the more social status someone has, and the more privilege, the more likely that there are multiple reports of them crossing boundaries. And the less likely there will be consequences- we see it over and over again in the news.

Aaron Bady responds to the criticism of Dylan’s letter (or, mostly, of Mia) incredibly well, in my opinion:

“The damnably difficult thing about all of this, of course, is that you can’t presume that both are innocent at the same time. One of them must be saying something that is not true. But “he said, she said” doesn’t resolve to “let’s start by assume she’s lying,” except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured. It works both ways, or should: if one of them has to be lying for the other to be telling the truth, then presuming the innocence of one produces a presumption of the other’s guilt. And Woody Allen cannot be presumed to be innocent of molesting a child unless she is presumed to be lying to us. His presumption of innocence can only be built on the presumption that her words have no credibility, independent of other (real) evidence, which is to say, the presumption that her words are not evidence. If you want to vigorously claim ignorance–to assert that we can never know what happened, in that attic–then you must ground that lack of knowledge in the presumption that what she has said doesn’t count, and we cannot believe her story.”

It leads to an interesting question, and one that’s far beyond Dylan and Woody. If someone you know, perhaps a potential employer, someone influential to your life in some way, is accused of abusive behaviour… how should you respond? What should you do? Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin, named in Dylan’s letter, seem to believe that it’s only the business of the family, not something thats their problem. It’s something abuse survivors hear all too often when trying to get support for themselves and boundaries around their abuser. I know I heard it too when I asked my friends to give me space-  “well, I don’t know what *really* happened”,  “was he convicted?”, “what proof is there?”

I admire Dylan’s decision to call out people who continue to associate with Woody Allen as being complicit. And I think about this when I think about other famous men who have even been CONVICTED of crimes (Roman Polanski, R. Kelly, Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen to name a few) and yet Hollywood still celebrates them. I doubt it would be any different with Woody Allen, even if Dylan had been the ideal victim, because people like Woody and don’t want to believe he’s capable of child abuse. It would cause us, as a society, to acknowledge that we’ve praised this man for years while he’s escaped justice and his victim has to see him deified.

Jessica Valenti sums it well here:

“I believe, as Roxane Gay does, that people are skeptical of abuse victims because “the truth and pervasiveness of sexual violence around the world is overwhelming. Why would anyone want to face such truth?” I also believe that deep down people know that once we start to believe victims en masse—once we take their pain and experience seriously—that everything will have to change. Recognizing the truth about sexual assault and abuse will mean giving up too many sports and movies and songs and artists. It will mean rethinking institutions and families and power dynamics and the way we interact with each other every day. It will be a lot.”

This isn’t just about Dylan. This is about our entire society and what our values are. We as a culture have a lot invested in turning a blind eye to sexual assault, especially when the perpetrator is white, male, and wealthy.

And that’s terrifying.

Consent Thoughts from Lecture: Part 2

I talked a bit about my experiences at University of Birmingham, and their weekend about consent, in this post, focusing on explaining my presentation’s first two parts (on mainstream depictions of kink, as well as the construct of “drama” and how it gets in the way of consent culture in these spaces). Here I’ll finish the job by discussing desire, both within kink and in culture at large.

Desire:

One thing that stands in the way of good communication is the way our culture idealizes desire. We’re taught via Disney movies that we’ll “just know” when we meet someone compatible, that we won’t need to talk about anything or negotiate, we’ll just read each other’s minds. That’s very romantic, but also a fairy tale. Understanding someone’s cues and body language comes, not through magic, but through knowing that person, their likes and dislikes. It also comes with a lot of mistakes, and hopefully a willingness to admit you’re wrong when you misjudge. These practicalities, however, don’t tend to weigh into the actual heartfelt desire to find someone with whom you have that mystical “chemistry” that just can’t be put into words.

Because of this longing, I suspect the whole fantasy of moving “beyond safewords”, beyond negotiation, and/or beyond a contract, is fairly prominent within the BDSM community. I hear a lot doing Consent Culture work (and on the radio, as you can hear on this show “Edge of Insanity” I did this weekend with Betty Blac) the declaration “we don’t need safewords!” and “safewords aren’t sexy!” I feel that when erotica, movies, porn and even our own dungeon behaviour look on the safeword as something that “ruins” a scene, we’re creating a dangerous dynamic where people won’t say “stop” or “no” when they want to, because that’s not part of their fantasy. It may not be part of your wet dreams, but then, neither is a court case, is my opinion on the topic. We need to have methods to stop BDSM behaviour when it crosses the line, while also acknowledging that people may struggle to safeword when there’s so much pressure to be a “good” submissive or a “tough” dominant… often which involves this “no limits” construct.

Now, this isn’t something that’s just an issue among kinky communities. I’ve noticed this with people I’ve dated, too. As someone who isn’t a touchy-feely person, I tend to need someone to let me know through flirting and physical touch that they’re interested in sexytimes. If that doesn’t happen, I tend to assume we’re still at the casually flirting stage. One ex partner would become furious that I didn’t know when she wanted us to sleep together, while I was trying to take a step back and leave space for her personal needs, expecting (and asking) her to communicate what she was interested in and when. Instead, she wanted me to read her mind, and, I guess, try to initiate sex at random, taking the responsibility if I was wrong for her being upset. Talking to other people, this doesn’t seem to be all that rare, but it’s incredibly frustrating.

Even though this is common in vanilla couples, there is a certain concern for BDSM couples. I’ve noticed that bottoms/submissives who make themselves available for the most varied amount of play have more social currency and get more attention. Therefore, there’s a reward for saying you have “no limits”. On the opposite side, Dominants who communicate that they “take what they want” are seemingly desirable, with some profiles coming across as downright sociopathic… and yet they seemingly are actively engaged in local communities and no one looks askance at this behaviour. I do notice male Doms get away with this significantly more- unless you’re a professional, female Dommes are expected to be caring with their submissives at a much higher standard. Now, I’m all about fantasy (I have some seriously dark ones myself), but I feel it’s important to critique the ways in which these social norms end up being formed, how that impacts on kink in the media, and how it creates an ideal of what a “valuable” Dom or sub is and how they behave that might actually be damaging in the real world.

I don’t really have answers for all of this except more honesty in blogs and profiles, and rewarding that honesty. I think it’s important to deconstruct how gender norms impact our sexual spaces. I think it’s important to examine the impact of racism, ableism and classism in our spaces, as well.

I also said to the room that I felt we in the BDSM community need to really work out what we’re going to do in terms of addressing assault and domestic violence among ourselves if the police are not an option. I really want to see us figuring out some standards of accountability that would make us a cohesive community. I’d like for us to decide what sort of responses we’d support seeing from someone who has crossed boundaries for us to feel like they understood what damage they had caused, and what support we, as a community, should have for that boundary-crosser and the person/people whose boundaries had been crossed. I suspect that until we do this work, our use of the term “community” will be casual, not uniting.

I want to close with a bit from a piece Mollena Williams wrote on community, leadership, and trust. I recommend you read the whole thing, because it’s right on.

I have seen, over the years, people take “reputation” and “community standing” as carte blanche to entrust themselves into the hands of those who are not worthy of trust.

I have questioned friends who work with those who have questionable histories, who have shadowy pasts, who have seen others stand up to say “That person violated me and my trust.” and had those friends shrug and say “Well, it isn’t my job to police the community.”

I have seen people endorse, by word and deed, people they KNOW to have problematic histories and shrug it off with “Well, I have never had a problem with them, so it isn’t my problem.”

I have seen people who are “leaders” in the community duped, swindled, ripped-off by people who, after the shallowest of digging, were revealed to be liars and thieves.

I have been sexually harassed and treated dismissively by men entrusted with instructing people about BDSM.

I’ve watched people who are bullies and liars intimidate and swindle their way into positions of (relative) power and trust, and surround themselves with the weak-minded who thoughtlessly protect and bleat the chant they’ve been taught in order to support those unworthy of their trust.

I have had handshake promises breached by people who will then turn around and evoke “Leather Values” and “community pride.”

I have been lied to by people who smile in my face and in the same breath trash talk and belittle me to others.

I have had people to whom I appealed for help in taking a public stand against injustices instead opt to remain silent against racism, against rape, against consent violations.

And ALL of these examples involve The People You…We…embrace as “Leaders.”