growing an animal-inclusive culture of consent

content warning for triggering material, including violence against women, sexual violence, misogyny, transmisogyny, child abuse, elder abuse, ableism, colonization, transphobia, homophobia, patriarchy, racism & violence against animals.

consent is fucking amazing.

when used to its full potential, consent is about a relationship of respect & trust dependent upon honest communication and patient expression of wants.

part 1.
but to best articulate all the reasons why it is just so fucking special, there needs to be first a clear understanding of what consent is all about –
1) what it is and what it is not; and
2) how it can be used safely in an unsafe world.

part 2.
then, having unpacked this concept, we can look towards living examples of consent, to better illustrate what we’re talking about. this includes

  • sexual consent;
  • consent in media representation;
  • consent in identification;
  • consent in education; and
  • consent in self-determination.

the hope here, in drawing from these examples above, is to shift our attention towards recognizing many of the unique & varied ways that consent is (and is not) already being expressed in different contexts and relationships.

part 3.
after all that is said & done, there needs to be some honest talk about the limits of consent when living in an oppressive culture of rape and exploitation. this means learning ways to adapt consent and understanding how to recognize when “consent” is being abused by those wishing to manipulate behaviour.

part 4.
and finally, only once the above has been fully understood, can we attempt a careful exploration into the ways that consent can & does apply to the context of non-humyn advocacy and species-inclusive community building.



part 1

what consent is, and what consent is not

okay first, to outright dispel the patriarchal propaganda that “consent” is something messy, complicated or vague (so as to justify & defend rape culture), a plain and simple explanation of consent goes something like:
communicating yes on your own terms.

pretty straightforward, isn’t it?
not asking a lot of anyone either, is it?
“oh, so you mean i cannot act on self-serving assumptions of what another persyn wants? even if my intentions are really swell?”
yahuh, that’s exactly what consent means – because the whole point is that consent is precisely not about what you feel, believe or desire about someone else.
rather, consent is all about illustrating how what really matters is how what you feel, believe and desire is exclusively determined by your own self, always.

so with any and every time you are responding to something – like a question, an assumption, an action, a behaviour – there requires your voluntary and explicit agreement to clearly affirm your own participation (in whatever activity – sex or a conversation).

but it doesn’t stop there – not only can you withdraw your consent at any time for any reason (including not giving a reason!), but it is the responsibility of the other(s) involved to be checking in with you to confirm your continued consent.
so think of consent as having a very quick expiry, necessitating it to be continuously renewed even if nothing has [appeared to have] changed.

and as already noted, the practice of consent applies to many, many situations. it’s not just about sexual intimacy between monogamous cis-hetero couples, duh.

if you still have any questions about what consent is all about, then view these 2 videos below and review the chart below that.

the video above is available in written format here.

okay, now watch Amber Rose do her thing:

and here is Planned Parenthood‘s chart on recognizing enthusiastic consent:

con-sent

so remember: consent is an agreement that needs to be addressed with clear, open and honest communication, and – though i hope this is obvious to us all – the absence of a “no” does not ever imply consent.

and this agreement shows up in all sorts of ways that we relate to others, including:

  • speaking only for yourself, and not for someone else;
  • decide how you live your life, and not how another lives their life;
  • choosing how to behave, and not how someone else decides to behave;
  • expressing yourself in an honest way, and not limiting how someone else expresses themselves; or
  • caring for and responding to your own feelings and experiences, and not controlling how someone else feels and experiences these same situations.

got all that?
yes – it is that simple.
fucking amazing, just like i told you.

but how can consent be used safely in an unsafe world?

boundaries

to practice consent safely means to understand a thing called boundaries.
you need to know where yours are and how to assert them.

a boundary is that nifty invisible barrier that protects you from the outside world, keeping you safe from overextending yourself and also from taking in too much pain. if it helps you remember, think of it as a safety blanket or some power ranger shield.
a firm boundary means that you know where you yourself (in capacity and responsibilities) begin, and where they end.
these can include:

  • physical boundaries – because consent is a whole body experience, you need to know what makes you feel good and what does not. of course, your turn-ons will change with situations, experience, partners, and trust, so give space to let that happen.
  • emotional boundaries – all consent involves emotional consent, as you define the expectations of the relationship (whatever it is). this stuff is so important because as relationships change from casual to intimate & everywhere in between, your need to communicate emotional needs will change with it.
  • mental boundaries – since consent is about a series of informed decisions, your mind is kind of important in that equation. so you need to be checking in with yourself in ways that allow you to understand what you’re thinking – what’s your reasoning for this and are drugs/alcohol influencing it? this seemingly redundant analysis of your thinking actually makes for good decisions.

use some of the suggestions offered from Transformative Justice Toronto, who offer asking questions to yourself like:

“What makes it hard for you to state your needs/ boundaries?
What makes it difficult to listen to others’ boundaries?
When do you feel reactive to people’s needs?
How do you react?
What self care and skills do you need when you feel rejected so that you don’t cross someone else’s boundaries?
How do you check in with yourself in an ongoing basis so that you know you’re okay with what’s going on?” (1)

and if/when you are in situations where someone’s boundaries are crossed, then be accountable to that harm caused, because:

“We all screw up.
The goal is to learn how to screw up less by knowing your patterns, but it also means learning how to be accountable when you have screwed up.
Be proactive; talk to the person whose boundaries you think you’ve crossed, focus on their feelings–not your guilt–and find out what their needs are.
They may want to talk about it and they may not—it’s important that you respect their wishes.” (1)

consent iscommunication

so basically what you need to remember here is that to maintain good boundaries you need to work on good communication. because consent is really all about expressing yourself honestly and confidently, whether it be your agreement or disagreement to proceed with anything.
of course, its probably ideal to be having these conversations – where possible – during a time when you’re not being physically intimate and are sober.

and that is really important to note – consent is something to be constantly communicated through a mutually empowering negotiation – it is not a one-way transaction of something to be gotten, bargained, given away, or “won”.

“no means no” is probably the most popularized form of communicating consent, and while it (and the more affirmative “yes means yes”) slogans are at least something, they fail to illustrate that consent is more than a simple verbal “yes-or-no”. [2]

for one, it should be emphasized that there are many other ways to communicate “no”: saying you’re tired, crying, pulling away, delaying – basically anything that is not a consistently enthusiastic “yes please thanks for asking”.
second, “no means no” talk tends to put the responsibility on one person to resist or accept.things to know

and further, it cannot be overstated that consent is a verb to represent the action of an ongoing dialogue about your wants and your comfort.

and for everyone who ever does receive a “no”, please learn how to accept that rejection with grace, maturity and appreciation of being told something with honesty (and remember that if there is ever any ambiguity in the other party’s consent, assume it to be a “no” until confirmed otherwise).
Ways-to-Hear-No-Gracefully-3-724x1024.png

communicating consent happens in lots of ways, and many of these are non-verbal. because the body communicates in a variety of ways, you really need to pay attention to all of them. [3] so while a verbal “yes-or-no” is still the primary way to communicate consent (as in, if you are told “no” verbally, back the fuck up & cool down), that doesn’t mean you are not still holding responsibility to pay attention to other communication (as in, even if you receive a verbal “yes”, if you pickup on body language, facial expressions, and/or vocal sounds that suggest discomfort/unease, then check in verbally to ask again).

and if you are looking for new ways to communicate during sexual intimacy, read about why to move away from using the word “okay” for consent, or read 27 Alternatives to Asking “Is This Okay?”.



part 2

so the practice of consent is most familiar to people when in the context of sex.
and this means all kinds of sexual activity – from intercourse & orgasms to any kind of intimate behaviour like talking, touching or staring.

but how can all this different activity still require the same consent?
because if you are attempting to control their body, or attempting to make them feel like their body is not theirs to solely control, then you are violating their autonomy.
and because i know you don’t want to do something so awful, seek consent.

consentwhen talking about sexual consent – though this should be obvious, but sadly is not – remember that how someone is dressed never implies consent. and that includes their consent to give a fuck about what you think of their style, self-expression, gender performance, body policing or sexual modesty – so rethink any “just joking” commentary about another that is meant to shame, harass, blame, or disrespect.

on the same note, consent does not come from someone’s silence to your catcalling or attention-seeking feedback about their body. nor does consent have anything to do with that person’s previous sexual history, or whatever the situation/space is that you are currently both occupying. cc

instead, the only thing that matters when giving consent is the people in the moment of sexual activity, and whether or not each one of them is consenting.
that means basically everything else – the environment, the outfits, the alcohol or drugs, the behaviour or words said earlier – are essentially irrelevant to providing consent in that moment.
 
but when talking about sex, it’s super important to go beyond the hetero-normative gender binaries – including expectations that it is the male-identified persyn’s role to initiate the intimacy by “requesting” the consent from the passive female-representing counterpart.
 

the article, Navigating Consent: Debunking the “Gray Area” Myth by , articulates a lot of this cis-hetero assumptions bound up in consent education, explaining:

“The central tenant of consent that we take away from these inadequate learning experiences is: Guys, no means no! Listen to women.
This is problematic for several reasons. First, it limits consent to a purely heterosexual issue. This excludes same-sex partners and queer people from the cultural and educational conversation about consent. It also ignores the presence of sexual violence in the queer community.

Second, it positions men as the gatekeepers of consent and sets up a power dynamic that undermines consent as an ongoing conversation between two partners.
It’s important to realize that we all come to the negotiation of consent with a lifetime of internalized experiences relating to consent. For example, we learn as girls and teenagers to tolerate boundary violations and micro-aggressions like catcalling, bra-snapping, butt pinching, and other unwanted attention in the name of boys having good old fun.

Furthermore, encouraged styles of communication vary greatly between girls and boys, women and men. Being polite, sweet, and unassuming is the most acceptable style of communication for women and girls to practice, while being loud, forceful and confident is the most glorified type of communication for men and boys to practice. It is no surprise that men are traditionally positioned in a place of power as the gatekeepers of consent.”

not for hurting
so yes, consent is just as relevant in queer relationships, even if it looks different because of potentially more flexible power dynamics. someone can be a trans man performing a dominant masculinity, or someone can be a non-trans queer femme, and still perpetuate sexual violence through power-based dynamics of male privilege or cis privilege.

By ignoring the varied manifestations of consensual interactions, consent campaigns can give off “this simplified idea that men are sexual predators and women are survivors…
eras[ing] the experiences of men who are survivors of sexual assault or prevent[ing] us from recognizing that even when you have six partners in queer relationships, consent is still a thing that matters.” [4]

sex & beyond

so as already explained, consent applies to about every situation you can imagine.
this is not always emphasized, however, and so some of you may have begun reading this article here not knowing consent could be applied to areas outside of sexual relationships.

but it makes sense, to think that to keep sex consensual you also need to be making sure other areas of your life are cultivating consensual relationships too, doesn’t it?
by practising consent in the everyday – as in, being explicit in respecting other folk’s autonomy and self-defined boundaries – you are making it easier to communicate consent during physical intimacy.

so yes, consent applies to about any and every activity within any kind of relationship, simply because everyone is responsible for receiving consent before and while engaging in any behavior or relations with another.

consents

without consent you are very likely to do something that the other does not, or would not, want you to do. but regardless of their reaction, you are ultimately always risking to disrespect someone else by making an assumption that you can decide something without requiring their explicit involvement in the decision to be made.

an example is respecting how there are many people with “invisible” illnesses and physical/mental disabilities, who have pain & discomfort tolerances that fluctuate over time. anyone else will never be able to fully observe their current capacity, and so should always ask for consent before acting on any assumptions (e.g. not offering your help opening a door) or engaging in any behaviour that directly affects them (e.g. greeting with a hug).

so never assume anyone is okay with anything, whether that’s a sexual act, a group activity, a topic of conversation, or a financial decision that affects them. and this includes all the other actions and activities not named here, which rely on someone else’s participation.

What If We Treated All Consent Like Society Treats Sexual Consent?

consent comic.jpg

Cartoon on consent by Alli Kirkham

for more examples of practicing consent outside of sexual relationships, check out this article at Every Feminism by , which identifies how we fail to respect another person’s ability to consent when, without their input, we:

  • plan activities that involve them;
  • gossip or disclose confidential information;
  • engage in non-sexual physical contact;
  • take audio-recordings, pictures or videos of someone else;
  • force a conversation with someone else;
  • pressure someone to accept anything; or
  • hold expectations around money being spent.

consent in media representation

mainstream media constantly misrepresents the notion of consent, and so our culture has become normalized to totally failing with it. most romances will involve a male-identified character stalking and eventually “wooing” their crush, while much advertising features femininity in ways that it is objectified as something to be consumed.

“We are all surrounded with these kinds of images, language, jokes, movies, music, advertising, laws, that validate and perpetuate sexualized violence by making it seem normal… “Boy will be boys”, “It’s just the way it is…” are examples of this normalization.” [5]

similarly, with the patterns of victim blaming that the media engages in in response to the frequent cases of survivors reporting sexual assaults, it can be better appreciated how a culture of rape can come to be so dominant.

because media in the mainstream is often used to control images, we see very censored expressions of ideas and people through a white, colonial, patriarchal lens of perspective. obviously, nothing about this conveys elements of consent.
this better explains why there is such a lack of social recognition about how marginalized peoples are often disproportionately affected by sexual assault because of their identities.

consent in identification

similarly, folks always need to be seeking consent when attempting to identify another individual. this means that you are acting like a decent persyn if you stop yourself from making totally unnecessary – and potentially upsetting, triggering – guesses at the way another wants to be addressed.

assuming this is any of your business of course (which it so often is not), then just fucking ask the persyn and then believe them & remember their answer.antiobba

this happens all the the time when people misidentify someone by their race, by their age, by their ability, by their sexual orientation, by their religion, by their gender. and because darkmatterpoetry already explained so well how consent relates to trans-inclusive feminism, i am just going to refer you to lovely their words:

darkmatter

“Trans feminism looks like recognizing that gendering people without their consent is a form of gender violence.
Trans feminism looks like recognizing that you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist because you don’t have to be a woman to experience sexism and trans/misogyny.
Trans feminism looks like decoupling “femininity” from “womanhood,” and holding space for a vast spectrum of femininities that grace many bodies who do not identify as women.
Trans feminism looks like recognizing that we will never win if we continue to fight patriarchy with the gender binary because patriarchy is the systematic policing and regulation of the gender binary.
Trans feminism looks like holding space and accountability for all of the ways that all of us (regardless of our gender) are capable of enacting patriarchal violence on one another…

Trans inclusive feminism does not just look like cisgender women gatekeeping who is allowed to speak about gender violence.
Trans inclusive feminism does not look like only incorporating binary trans women who fit normative conventions of what a woman should look, act, speak, and experience violence like.
Trans inclusive feminism does not look like requiring trans and gender non-conforming people to narrate our experiences and identities through the rubric of “woman,” or else just dismissing us as “men.”
Trans inclusive feminism does not look like reinforcing the gender binary by maintaining that all women are victims and all men are perpetrators.
It does not look like reducing gender to our bodies, it does not look like making assumptions about people’s histories based off of what they look like, in fact it does not look like requiring someone to look like anything at all.”

consent in education

it can be surprising how adults can seem to know so little about consent, until you realize that this subject is rarely ever included in sex education or any children-centered education curriculum.

this means empowering education of youth through consistent dialogue that normalizes the fact that everyone can change their mind about anything – whether it be adults having sex, or a cat not wanting to be petted anymore, or another child lending a toy.

then once older, more emphasis can be put upon explaining difficult matters like how certain factors might prevent people from consenting –  including intoxication, disability, and age (being too young to understand).

it is important to explain that the earlier these types of conversations happen in peoples lives, the more likely our communities can be prepared in creating a new culture that centres consent as normal.

for more on educating children, read here and here.
and for why to not force children to hug people, read this.

consent in self-determination

61.jpg

Wet’suwet’en Indigenous activist Telqua highlights widespread Indigenous opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway (Vancouver Media Co-op)

when considering a topic of consent, it’s undeniably important to recognize that the very land we reside upon has been stolen through genocide, lies and war. the origins of rape culture can become very obvious when investigating the continent’s herstory of colonization that has consistently disrespected permission-giving and land acknowledgements.
 

and this non-consensual occupation of the land continues through settler governments and corporations that employ sexual violence (as well as racism, xenophobia, capitalism, etc.) to maintain control. this is no more obvious than in the ongoing harm known as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: a continent-wide series of gendered violence that refuses to be recognized by the kanadian government.

 
and yet in all this, the best examples of resistance to oppressive powers attempting to revoke a communities capacity to consent, to be independent and self-determining, is the past and present indigenous struggles.
 
today, there are multiple, coordinated and indigenous-led efforts against pipeline expansion around the continent of amerika. and many of the messages put forward in these campaigns centres the obligation of seeking indigenous consent, first.
 
“What we want TransCanada to understand is that no means no. This is Kanien’ke, this is Mohawk Land, and we are tired of occupation, we are tired of environmental disaster,” declared Amanda Lickers, who hails from the Seneca-Haudenosaunee community.

We have a responsibility to future generations to assert our sovereignty - said Amanda Lickers of the Seneca-Haudenosaunee community - Photo courtesy of submedia.jpg

“We have a responsibility to future generations to assert our sovereignty” Amanda Lickers of the Seneca-Haudenosaunee community – Photo courtesy of submedia

the people of Unis’tot’en, among many other indigenous peoples, explained the term of free, informed and prior consent

“In ancient times and even today in canoe journeys, and community resistance building gatherings, there exists Protocols where visiting peoples have shown who they are in relation to asking permission to enter the Traditional Lands from the Traditional Chiefs and Matriarchs of the hosting lands.
 
Free Prior and Informed Consent is written into today’s United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
 
To outline this upon everyone’s arrival (Prior), they will be participants in a Free Prior and Informed Consent Protocol where they will introduce themselves fully (Informed) to the Unis’tot’en, and ask permission (Consent) to enter their lands to discuss their part in resistance building as well as offer skills or commitments to the camp and beyond.
 
This will be conducted on the Unis’tot’en boundary of their territory and will not seek to diminish the responsibilities the Unis’tot’en have toward their future generations (Free) and will also cost them nothing.” (6)


part 3

practising consent within a culture of rape

all of the words so far have been about illustrating the ways that consent manifests itself – but now there needs to be conversation about how consent is repressed and manipulated upon a wider cultural level of oppression.rape culture

a culture without consent, or a rape culture is the collection of beliefs and behaviors that enable rape to happen, and often so without meaningful repercussions to the perpetrator.

instead, abusive and manipulative behaviours among men are a) rewarded and/or b) stubbornly defended by political elites and other privileged peoples.
why?
because, like all systems of privileges, they collectively benefit from this dysfunctional relationship of inequality.

this is apparent even with advocacy campaigns that market “sexy consent”, given that reinforces the patriarchal gaze by pandering to men and prioritizing their interest.

Why is it that we feel like we need to frame consent as something appealing to men in order to make it worth talking about? What if I don’t want to be sexy? What if I just want to be respected? What if I just want to have agency? What if I just, you know, don’t want to be raped? (7)

rape culture means that perpetrators are willing to compromise another’s feelings of safety, privacy, and control for their own selfish desire, and that subsequently society will blame the survivor’s identity and deny experience of lived harm.

but, since it cannot be said enough, no matter what the situation, sexual assault is always the perpetrator’s fault. 

real tips.jpg

so with everything said so far, it needs to be understood that sometimes “consent” is not really the issue – as in, sometimes sexual assaults or rape are not an accidental lack of consent borne of limited sex education or communication skills.
rather, in these cases, someone’s consent is explicitly disregarded due to a perpetrator’s privileged sense of entitlement to control and abuse.

for more on understanding the difference between consensual sex and rape, read here.

drowning

“We know that there is a high rate of sexual assault but our society constantly sanitizes and minimizes it with language. Using phases like “non-consensual sex” instead of rape frames the issue as if it is only a matter of consent and that it was only an agreement issue between two individuals.

This language also grooms us and coerces us to accept the normalization of sexualized violence. If we leave survivors without the language of rape and sexualized violence (only “non-consensual sex”), we have nothing to validate our experiences of trauma, hurt, pain, and violation. Most recently, the Ghomeshi case highlighted the impact of the desensitization of sexualized violence and how society dismisses these violent acts as “kinks.”” (8)

gardening

in a rape culture, sexual assault is about an extraction or exertion of power – not sex. [9] as such, it can seem inadequate and inappropriate to fixate on how a survivor expressed consent – because the perpetrator was not interested in seeking consent.

c is not consent.jpg

coercion and other psychological manipulations are often used in sexual assaults, despite being consistently misrepresented.

some examples include:

  • pressuring (e.g. repeatedly asking someone until they are worn down)
  • threatening (e.g. “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex with me”)
  • intimidating (e.g. smashing something when someone says “no”)
  • blackmailing (e.g. “I’ll tell everyone you’re gay if you don’t”)
  • guilt-tripping (e.g “If you really loved me you would have sex with me”) [10]

within a rape culture, many different oppressive attitudes and “micro-aggressions” are reproduced on a daily basis – things like interruptions or inappropriate jokes – which constantly reinforce oppressive power dynamics. and it is these same small gestures which, over time, manifest into much more harmful and large-scale examples of violence.

so that is why we need to challenge all the small incidents of disrespect and failures to seek consent – including language that supports victim-blaming, slut-shaming and sex-shaming, as well as other assumptions that feed oppressive social relationships like that of white-supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, cissexism, gender policing, trans-antagonism, speciesism, ableism, and colonization.

pyramid of o



part 4

consenting to … exploitation?

okay, if you have read this far i hope you are beginning to see some of the ways that this powerful thing called consent fits into animal politics.

everything said above, so far, has been an effort to define consent, define consent’s limitations in rape culture, and articulate how consent is a defining value shared among many resistances against oppression.
how so?
because consent embodies the ideal, the politic, carried within communities advocating for self-autonomy, accountability and respect in the face of peoples & institutions that wish to exploit, repress and harm them.

and because cultures of consent are the solutions to the realities of oppressive rape culture, it seems literally impossible to imagine fostering any culture of consent when every other species on this planet remains forgotten in conversations about the freedom to say “no”.

at its fullest potential, consent is about nurturing self-empowerment in a society that constantly wishes to dis-empower you. and so of course this thing called consent is relevant to animals and their liberation. 

at a very basic level, consent exists in all our relationships with animals, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. it exists in 1) how we exploit them, 2) how we interact with them and 3) how we advocate for them.

exploitation

“Eating meat is something you do to someone else’s body without their consent…
It’s imperative that they hear and understand that consuming animal products is doing something to someone else’s body without the consent of that individual.” (11)

institutionalized animal abuse is a normalized element of most humyn cultures – it is so pervasive that most people will never question whether animals actually consent to this system of organized violence.
it has been claimed that this began as far back as ancient cultures like the Greeks, who recognized an animal’s lack of consent in their slaughter, and so invented the claim that the gods demanded a sacrifice – to “scapegoat” the blame for taking a life without consent. (12)

but regardless of the rationale given for harming an animal, the same relationship of non-consent exists wherein someone with power – a humyn – dominates another through imposing obligations/restrictions upon the life of another – an animal – who is consistently abused through physical and psychological harm (and fear of harm).

if consent is about respecting bodily autonomy, then it is fairly straightforward to recognize that because an animal would have no interest in offering their life, or body parts or bodily excretions, to a humyn, then these interactions must be non-consensual. because for consent to be a meaningful option, requesting something from someone else would imply that they can independently decide in a position of comfort (and not a position of desperation, choosing a lesser of evils, such as being more forcibly violated and punished afterwards).

obviously, there are plenty of videos already existing online that capture an animal in their last moments before being slaughtered for food/clothing/testing. watching this content, though extremely upsetting, makes it obvious that animals resist death even in their last breaths.
and similar to the observations earlier that simplistic comparisons of consent for tea and sex tend to fail when reconsidered within a context of rape culture, it is also important to appreciate that capitalism and industries are wholly invested in ensuring animals consistently “consent” to offering their bodies and lives for exploitation.

“Species don’t make choices; individuals do.”

and it is important to note, that while consent is most familiarized with the subject of sexual consent among humyns, there remains a great deal of sexual abuse of animals by humyns – or more specifically, female farmed animals being sexually abused by male workers and farmers.
this seems to be particularly interesting within kanada and other nations that have criminalized the practice of bestiality (sexual relations with animals for humyn arousal), because even though there is almost always a lack of actual sexual arousal among the humyn perpetrators towards the animal victims, acts of sexual assault and abuse are nevertheless still being routinely committed (even if in the name of capitalism).

interaction

consent exists in every relationship – including relations between humyns and animals.

it exists in our big interactions with them – like when our humyn species displaces, cages, breeds, domesticates, slaughters and extincts various other species of animals.

and it exists in our small interactions with them – like when we pass by animal strangers outside during our daily routines, or when we interact with animal-related media online/on television, or when choose who to eat and who not to eat for a meal.

stoppp.jpg

but one of the largest difficulties surrounding animal consent is the fact that we cannot speak a common cross-species language. so, how do you communicate consent without a common language?

well, like as noted above with sexual consent, there is the need to follow non-verbal communication and body language that can convey when an animal is comfortable and when an animal feels exposed or harmed.

a super common example, that may help illustrate what this can look like, is the fact that so many humyns will approach and begin touching dogs in public. and this is so often really inapproproate because it fails to respect that each animal deserves their own persynal space and time to consent to meet a stranger. (13).

greeting.jpg

but for every other situation, much of how we relate and learn to respect animals is going to be dependent upon observation and careful interpretation.
so it seems appropriate to follow the same criteria regarding seeking consent between humyns, meaning consent needs to be:

  • active – meaning it is ongoing and always always open to change without notice
  • enthusiastic – meaning it should be a decision made free of any kind of pressure.
  • specific – meaning “yes” to one thing is only a “yes” to that specific thing.
  • informed – meaning they should understand what they are consenting to as much as possible, and otherwise be allowed to leave if they become uncomfortable or feel unsafe.

because animals will always exist as particularly vulnerable communities within our society, we all need to actively accommodate how to improve our complex relationships of interdependency with these other beings. and this means that we prevent ourselves from assuming we can define their lived experience by appropriating their voice (“voice of the voiceless” ahem) to say what they think/want/feel.
taking such a role means we have begun to collude with the powers that uphold the hierarchies of inequality and manipulation through cultures of domination.

“From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees.” [13.1]

advocacy

how do we represent consent when we advocate for animals?
how do we fail to make space for consent when we advocate for animals?

when animal rights fucks up real bad by triggering everyone when they call the dairy industry a “rape industry”, you’d at least think that then these same people respect the notion of consent for everyone.
but when we leaflet or protest in the streets, or share images & videos online, how often are we seeking consent from our audience to be exposed to the often extremely violent content? if you disregard someone who communicates that they feel triggered or emotionally upset by a conversation, then you are literally denying one form of consent for another. and the moment you do this, you undo alllll your efforts by contributing instead to a culture of rape and not a culture of consent.

if animal rights scenes really truly respect the concept of consent (and are just ignorant of a wider vocabulary of more appropriate words besides “rape”, such as “reproductive freedom” and “bodily autonomy”), and are not simply tokenizing it as a tactic to advance their version of empowerment, then you’d assume every animal rights scene is prioritizing a culture of consent. yes?

in the video below, there is a particularly important point which draws attention to question asking whether animals would actually consent to us advocates repeatedly publicizing their moments of being sexually assaulted or physically killed.
while obviously we need to be making their abuses known to the public, that does not justify the heavy reliance on shock-tactics so common among animal rights campaigns:

so if you are attempting to advocate for animals, for our cousins who are repeatedly having their ability to consent repressed, consider how you communicate that point.
if your campaigning looks less like centring the subjectivity of an animal experiencing a slaughterhouse or losing a newborn child, and more policing the food consumption and self-determination of strangers, you’re doing it wrong.

growing an animal-inclusive culture of consent

so what does a consent culture, otherwise known as a nurturance culture, look like where all species are welcomed and defended?

A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex–in fact, of interaction–is centered around mutual consent.
It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs. [14]

it looks like confronting realities of privilege and vulnerability.
by actively understanding that our culture is defined by power imbalances (so that no two people are really ever equal in the social hierarchy), and because power does not occur in a vacuum [15], we need to keep talking about power and how it contributes to relationships of exploitation or abuse.
we can combat this by fostering self-respect and mutual respect as we all learn to practice at communicating more about our needs and mistakes. this should also look like redefining power away from dominance and towards inspiring one another.

it looks like defending survivors. DCF 1.0
any effort towards developing a culture of consent needs to simultaneously be an effort at deconstructing of rape culture.

one example of what that looks like is this:
when a sexual assault is called out, commit to believing the survivor [16] and to not questioning their word or denying their experience of being harmed.
further, it looks like being more prepared to respond to sexual assaults when they arise in our communities and activist scenes – so as to properly deal with the harm done and to ensure that others are not vulnerable or isolated due to inaction.
read these resources on how to respond to sexual assault as a mass mobilization, and how to practice active listening skills with survivors, and how to be a good ally for survivors.

it looks like holding perpetrators accountable for behaviour.

surivor versus perpthis means that we are all responsible for helping create a shared space. the ways that we engage with and support one another is a collective responsibility. and this looks like actively thinking about power imbalances in our relationships, so that we can prevent certain power dynamics from enabling perpetrators to act with impunity.
so be aware of the impacts of your own behavior and take responsibility for what you say and do by remaining open to listening to others when they tell you that you have made a mistake.
read here for resources on Thinking Through Perpetrator Accountability and Accountability Process Suggestions for People Working on Patriarchal or Sexually Abusive Behavior.

it looks like becoming more empathetic to other perspectives and the ways that we affect others through our words and actions [17].
all of us bring with us identities of power that come from systems that have been (and continually are) put in place to benefit some and oppress others.

whether it is white supremacy for white folks, patriarchy for masculine folks, or capitalism for the wealthy. [18] and there are certain folks more likely to be targeted by discrimination and violence, including two-spirited and trans women, women with disabilities, children, sex workers and women of colour. [18]

it looks like improving our communication skills.
this can happen all sorts of ways, whether it be small adjustments in our behaviour if someone offers us feedback, or simply asking people before discussing triggering topics like sexual assault or police brutality.

and because so much of these topics are difficult and emotional, respect that people do not owe you any well-articulated response to why your “good intentions” does not help un-trigger them.
it can also look simply like shutting up, more often and for longer.

antiobabya

it looks like understanding that each of us know what is best for ourselves.
this means supporting a sex-positive and sex-worker positive approach to consent, because every adult has the ability to experience and enjoy pleasure free of shaming from any community who thinks they know better.
any moral purist or self-identified “abolitionist” approach to resisting the patriarchy will never be justified in its lack of genuine solidarity with sex workers. similar to support for slaughterhouse workers or Walmart employees, we must be able to distinguish between a collective resistance to capitalist-driven objectification and maintaining support for people consenting to determine how to live with their own sense of dignity (which is what we all do in each our own ways).
for more on this, read below from the article There’s no such thing as free choice, so why single out sex workers?:

“To work is not a free choice. No work is. Work is a product of capitalist patriarchy. You may like your job. You may hate your job. You may feel that your job changes the world. You may feel as though your job is pointless. You may work at home as a parent, or you may work in an investment bank. Maybe you think you chose your work, or maybe you feel as though you’re just trying to make ends meet and wish you could be a doctor rather than an accountant.

For most of us, work is a necessity to survive. It is doing something we would not normally do–no matter how much you like your job, would you do it for eight hours a day without any pay?–in exchange for the means to live. Ultimately, we are all being coerced into work: sometimes gently, and sometimes forcibly, as is seen in workfare programmes. To work is not a free choice, and it is a travesty that after centuries of capitalism, many simply cannot imagine a future without work so invent fairy stories about the glory and honour in work.

Sexual consent is not a free choice. Not completely, not 100%. We have all absorbed some of capitalist patriarchy, and may feel obliged, or feel pity, or feel horny or drunk or any of the other emotions that may lead to sex which under other circumstances we would not have had sex. There are power differentials under patriarchy: in heterosexual sex, the man will have more power. Sex which rejects this power differential–for example, political lesbianism–is still shaped by patriarchy. It is not a free choice, it is a rejection of another norm. Even celibacy falls prey to this. We are mired in social relations and power relations when it comes to sex, yet we are able to make choices which are adequately consensual.

Sex and work are full of problems which require addressing, which require criticism and discussion with an eye to radical, revolutionary solutions. Yet at present, we must know that these things are full of compromise, and we are not making completely free choices, but merely the freest choice possible. Many are not thinking this broadly, which is precisely why there is so much nonsense levelled at sex workers.”



keep growing

consent is fucking amazing.

nothing is perfect under a system of patriarchy, where oppression leaks into all our relationships and interactions.

while this doesn’t mean consent in a rape culture is null or inadequate somehow, it does mean remembering that consent[19] is closely tied to power dynamics – or to put it in other words, remember that meaningful consent presupposes equality, which we do not have in society. [20]

and yet practising consent, even if flawed and tainted by oppression, is resistance. the very act of seeking and talking about consent goes against the structures of violence because consent is intended to be a non-hierarchical interaction.
the closer we keep coming to making consent actually a collaboration in our relationships, the stronger we become in rebelling against rape culture and oppression as a whole.

 
because everyone makes mistakes, we need to remember that perfection here is not the goal – we will say something or do something that another will disapprove of or being offended by. so the best we can do as we work on preventing such mistakes is to be open and accountable to these faults, and to err on the side of caution by asking for consent whenever we can with whomever we are with.
 
the more we create space for consent, the more authentic people can behave, exploring our needs and feeling more empowered to express ourselves honestly with love and hope for all species.

 


keep reading ❤

Resources for Survivors of Sexual Assault:

Resources for Supporters of Sexual Assault Survivors:

Resources for People Called Out for Sexual Assault:

Resources Specifically for Male-Identified Folks:

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