Consent or Compliance? The slippery slope.

Sex is a messy affair. And I’m not just referring to the interlocking of body parts and the exchange of fluids. The ethics of sexual relations, the dos and don’ts of intercourse and everything that leads up to it, are areas of contention despite our bravest attempts to demystify them.

Take, for example, consent, that great determiner between a perfectly legitimate encounter and an abusive one. The first part of the word’s definition seems simple enough – permission, approval or agreement. But then we come up against compliance and the long slide down the slippery slope begins. To comply, you see, is to yield from a position of weakness. Can a sexual encounter be deemed appropriate even though one party complies?

Compliance, it seems, is the grey area – that part of the spectrum that lies between fully consensual sex and rape. The messiness starts here.

And for me, here is where the crux of the matter lies, not at consent but at the delicate balance of power that starts to tip at the point of compliance.

Sex, like any other human interaction, is shaped by the dynamics of power, perceived and real. The direction it takes depends primarily on the way both parties view themselves in relation to the other. And when one party sees itself as dominant or seeks to achieve dominance, abuse becomes a very real possibility. 


 Think about it: the boss who coerces an employee into a late-  night private meeting; the teacher who fondles a young  student; the husband who claims that his wife’s flesh is his  to do with as he pleases. What is the determining factor? Is  it the issue of consent? The employee might say ‘yes’ or ‘ok’  or whatever the catch phrase is, as might the child and  wife. But does that justify an encounter where one party  asserts and practices dominance over the other?

 I don’t think so. I believe that the human body, like the soul that it houses, is sacred, and that any attempt to dominate another human being is an act of violence, of terrorism.

Some might argue that when it comes to gender relations, the dominance of one and consequent subjugation of the other is the only way to go.  After all, society places men and women in different roles. It seems to be the natural order of things. But is it? We know of the existence of matrilineal societies, are they ‘unnatural’? By whose standards?  And even though men and women have played different roles traditionally, can we presuppose that one is beneath the other? What about the concept of partnership?

Partners may hold different functional roles, but equal standing is implied. When viewed through that prism, abuse of any kind becomes an anomaly. And sex, the messy affair, takes on a beauty all its own.

Ruth Osman, a Guyanese writer and musician, resides in Trinidad and Tobago. She has a husband and two house plants.You can find her at: http://ruthosman.tumblr.com/

 So let’s hear from you. Does saying “yes” or giving-in to sex always indicate effective consent? What are some of the reasons why a woman might comply with sexual advances when she really doesn’t want to. Does society set up the sexual roles of men and women as dominant and submissive? What kind of effect might this have on women emotionally, psychologically, physically, sexually?

“You’re on your own, sister. Figure it out!”

by Samantha Campbell

Consent is one of those simple-looking words that give many of us pause when asked to describe it. It seems an explanation should simply roll off the tongue but as I learned over the years, you can’t fit ‘consent’ and ‘sex’ into one tidy box.

When asked to write this piece, my mind raced back to the 11 year old girl who was alledgedly gang raped last year by at least 18 boys and men in a tiny Texas town. The girl’s neighbour horrified many by telling reporters that she was often seen unsupervised, wearing   makeup and provocative clothing, as if to suggest that she had it coming, never mind she was too young, in the eyes of the law, to agree to such acts.

Such half-baked rationalisations are shameful and far too common in sexual assualt cases, where some victims are hastily judged to be sending out the wrong signals or worse yet simply dismissed as sluts. For the record, no girl asks to be raped or otherwise assaulted. PERIOD. But this idea of sending right and wrong signals got me thinking. If consent is not often verbalised, how can we ever be sure that our partners were willing participants? 

I’m guessing this amibiguity leaves some women and men, maybe, ill-prepared for the next step. Maybe, I’m reaching but I’m reminded of stories where women intitally thought they were okay with having sex, didn’t necessarily give consent, didn’t necessarily offer any objection but felt crappy afterwards, sometimes even believing they were taken advantage of. How much of that is because we assign different roles for boys and girls in relationships?

On one side, boys are told  to ‘be the man’, ‘make it happen’ but our girls are fed the confounding drawl of “you’ll KNOW when it’s time, which I’ll bet translates in the head of a 12 year old girl to “You’re on your own, sister. Figure it out!”. And in many ways they are on their own, when at 12, 13, 14, 15, they make (or are forced to make) the decision to ‘go all the way’.

I often wonder how many teenage pregnancies were the result of girls actually saying YES to sex or girls not thinking or knowing they could say NO. It’s a scary thought that seems to get lost in our oversexed, underprepared definition of today’s youth. But I fear, very little will change if we continue to tell our young boys to ‘take the lead’ and our young girls to ‘follow the leader’.

 So lets hear from you. Do you think that we give boys and girls different messages with regard to sex? Are boys told to “make it happen” while girls are given vague messages about “knowing the right time”? What makes it difficult for girls to say “NO”? Why do half of Caribbean teen girls who’ve had sex report that their first sex was forced or somewhat forced?

Graphic by Lynette Leid   

                              Fathers and Daughters by Simone Leid

Fathers. Whether they’ve been a constant presence in our lives or they’ve been absent -by choice or circumstance – our fathers’ influence in our lives is manifest. For some women, he is the embodiment of what we expect a man to be. For others, he is our first lesson in heartbreak, the cautionary tale, the bitter medicine and the ill.

Our parents are the first ones who teach us how to navigate the world. Fathers and mothers, being our primary agents of socialization, influence the way we see ourselves,  how we interpret various situations and the values and codes to which we adhere.  And even though we may change our outlook as we grow up, our fathers, and our relationship with them, always serve as a point of reference.

For me, my father has been a loving parent: the provider, the protector. Yes, the stereotypical “man of the house” who worked hard to ensure his children were taken care of. I cannot deny the importance of these traits and roles that my father played in my life. I have never felt abandoned or concerned for my welfare. This ‘comfort’ has enabled me to pursue my ambitions without fear. Even when there have been failures that left me feeling broken, I always knew that my father, along with my mother, had created a home for me – physically and emotionally- that I could always turn to.

Unfortunately, in my youth this has sometimes meant that young men coming to visit have been on the receiving end of some serious ‘boof’. But, I’ve found that it’s a good way to test the mettle of a potential boyfriend; one who can withstand some fatherly threats, still be respectful and ‘come again’.

I can’t say though, that having a good role model in my father has meant that I always made the best choices with regard to men, but I can say that I do know what a good man looks like. And that’s not to say my father is perfect. Not at all. We are often on opposing ends on many issues. But, when it’s all said and done I know that he loves me and is there for me.

And so, considering the good, the bad and the sometimes ridiculous ways in which our dads impact our lives, I asked a few women on twitter to tell me a little something about their fathers.

How has your father influenced the woman you are today?  

One of biggest ways is my love of reading and learning, that geekgirl side comes straight from him 🙂

Uncle-in-Law I grew up with was a fantastic surrogate father. Full Chinese, he taught me to be strong & resilient! God Rest His Soul

The lack of influence translated to – Take care of yourself. Don’t depend on others. 

I’m his female version: moody, driven, an evil sense of humour 🙂

A great deal & not necessarily all in a good way.

By encouraging me to read and teaching me to think for myself 

I guess by always supporting me and loving me for who I am 🙂

What the Worst Advice your dad ever gave you?

Birth control was created to kill black women and their children (true). So don’t take any (not helpful at all!)

Marry the man who loves you, not necessarily the one you love. He’ll treat you better. Not sure I agreed.

Don’t date anyone whose car is older than yours (still not sure about that one)

 

What did your dad tell you about boys

My dad told me if I respected myself the boys will have no choice but to respect me.

LOL. My dad did not speak to me casually. I would get boof for not performing in tests as well as I should.

My dad is the typical macho West Indian man so he never spoke about them. But he did freak out when I got my first boyfriend though. lol.

Nothing. We did not get down like that….Wouldn’t want the same for my daughter though.

Best advice from dad

Suck it up. Never failed.

Make sure and get a profession, hang up your shingle (open your own business) and don’t wait on no man, including me, to mind you 😀

Despite the negative things we are surrounded by, GOOD things can always happen!

Be independent and it’s more important to be fair than popular. Actually his best advice came not from his words but his actions, or lack thereof.

To never let obstacles diminish my enthusiastic pursuit of my dreams, because enthusiasm changes the world.

Respect yourself. If you don’t, why should he? My dad ROCKS!

 

Interview with Debra Providence

WomenSpeak talks to Debra Providence about her poem While Walking Up Back Street

WS: It feels like this poem is based on a real incident that happened to you? What made you decide to write about it?

DP : Yes it is based on a real incident, of course, without the blood and mucas. I decided to write about it because in the moment I felt reduced to a piece of my anatomy. I felt that the comments in essence placed more value on the breasts than the person and writing the poem was my way of confronting being objectified in that way.

WS: Your poem is quite graphic, even violent. Do you feel that sexual harassment in public spaces is a kind of violence against women? 

DP: The incident triggered a strong emotional response and I wanted to write in a way that captured my state of mind. On a level I do feel that sexual harrassment, street or office, is a kind of violence. It strips away your wholeness as a person, your layers and complexities and reduces you to a thing. It is something women experience every day, but that doesn’t make it any less disconcerting when it happens, for me at least.

Added to this is the fact that I have a keen interest in the Science Fiction and Speculative (SF) ficiton genres which often depticts the    human body as being capable of trancsending pre-given limitations.I love the “What if?” aspect of SF. I thought, what if the persona could give the copper exactly what he asked, and at the same time demonstrate that she was more than what he asked? How would that be received? What if the logical extremes of objectification of the female body were to be realised in that moment, dredging the graphic undertones of the request? He only wanted the breasts. My emotional response to the incident, coupled with an interest in SF, produced the poem.

WS: Well, unlike the heroine in the poem, women can’t actually cut off body parts when men hurl crude comments towards us. Is street harassment something women just have to endure or is there something that can be done/ should be done about it?

DP: What can be done? I could say that teaching younger children the importance of mutual respect for individuals, boys and girls might help. Public sensitivity campaigns, perhaps. I could say that women could train their boys to be more repsectful of girls and later women (not to put all of the responsibility at the feet of mothers). But to be honest, I am a bit of a pessimist here. The thing is, if by making a crude comment a guy feels that he is paying a woman a compliment then you see where changing these attitudes could be challenging. I am not sure what can be done. Perhaps a DNA re-write that erases the instinct to objectify, (falling back into SF again). Women would just have to keep tackling these experiences with the sense that they are more than whatever body part is “praised” while walking in these streets.

Debra Providence is a Vincentian writer, teacher, Sci Fi nerd and lover of Caribbean literature. You can read more of her poems at her blog Writing “D” at  http://debraprovidence.wordpress.com/

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                                            No Small Victory

by Nicole Green

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  Two years ago I was stuck in a job I used to love,   battling the prejudices career women face when     they decide to have a family. I’d worked hard to get where I was – Senior Management at a well-connected Financial Services company. I developed a reputation for expecting excellence – from my team, from my vendors, but most of all from myself. I took broken messes and turned them into well oiled machines. I was good at it, and I got my satisfaction not from any accolades (if you’re in IT in the business world, you know you only hear about us when things are broken!) but from knowing that we took insurmountable odds and triumphed time and again. I was lucky to have a special team of really talented individuals. I was dedicated to them, and we became like a family. I also expected what would happen when I became pregnant.

I had a really tough pregnancy with my daughter, and from time to time I would sometimes be too sick to go into work or even check emails. Unless you have experienced it, there is no way to relate to you how debilitating round-the-clock nausea and vomiting can be. Still for years prior

(and afterward), I was well known for my “second shift”; getting up at 2 am to work at my computer while my family slept, so that I didn’t have to sacrifice my family time when I got home from work. It was how I managed, and it was fine with me. I wasn’t looking for brownie points. Nevertheless, when I returned to work from maternity leave, I started hearing rumblings about my performance, that I was no longer committed to the company. 

Suddenly, Senior Managers were called into a group meeting before the CEO and presented with a list of what the priorities in our lives were expected to be. Family was 3rd on that list. 

Initially, my colleagues were startled. This was quite unorthodox, possibly an invasion of privacy (to say the least) but there was no question that this was targeted at me. Privately, I had much support. Publicly, my colleagues didn’t want to make waves for fear of losing their own jobs. 

The stress began taking a toll on me, and one after another health concerns were developing. I started having debilitating anxiety attacks. My childhood asthma returned. When my position was “made redundant”, I didn’t fight it. I’d had enough of the bitterness and chose not to sue for the most blatant wrongful dismissal and prejudice. I couldn’t do that and raise my baby. I had a choice to fight this thing, or turn around and focus on my family. I prayed a lot and I wavered. A. Lot. And I chose not to go through a prolonged court battle with some people with some very deep pockets.

Today, I am at peace. Yes, I feel some validation when my old colleagues tell me that everything at the Company has gone to crap; advice I gave which went unheeded proven to be sound. But I’m sad too because instead of battling me and dismissing my ideas, my boss should have been engaging me, finding the value in the ideas I was presenting. My history of excellence should have demanded at least that. But when he looked at me, all he could see was a pregnancy.

Listen up men. We get pregnant. We don’t get stupid. There’s no correlation there. Take a biology course. Wise up!

But that’s not the real reason I’m at peace. 

I am at peace knowing I made the right decision. I am free to spend more time with my loved ones: with a husband right by my side who supported me, and kept me sane. With a father who loved me enough to be supportive and encouraging on the phone, and who hid the anger he really felt, knowing it couldn’t help me. With a mother who loves me with her all. With my boys who rubbed my back when I was vomiting, and rubbed my feet and back when my nerves were pinched and I couldn’t walk. And with my fearless little girl, who unknowingly propelled me into change.

They’re small on your list, boss. But I wouldn’t trade them for a thing.

Nicole Greene is redefining her world. Join her in her adventures at   http://trinidad.macaronikid.com/

 and   http://whendidibecomemymom.com/ 

                                             MAYBE IT’S JUST ME

by Des Seebaran 

He leered at her halter-top and fitted pants from the doorway.    
“Mi waan fi talk to yuh,” he drawled.
“Well, I don’t wanna talk to you,” was her firm retort.
I rolled my eyes to the heavens, wishing I were somewhere else.
“Come ‘ere!” he demanded.
“No!” she replied and walked out of the room.

See nothing wrong with this conversation? Well, then it’s probably just me.

I studied at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus. Often, whenever I would object to the overtly suggestive and often rude comments made by some of the men on campus, women would leap to their defense, saying sweetly to me, “Well, is so man stay” or “Yuh mustn’t tek dem on”, or my personal favourite, “Ah joke him a mek.”

A joke? What is it about women that makes us so willing to swallow disrespect from men? We could very easily tell them where to stop with us. And they do stop. I remember sitting next to a female classmate when a male classmate came up behind us and tried to tickle me. Having just met the gentleman two weeks prior, I told him point blank to leave me the bleep alone and didn’t bother to be polite about it. He (politely!) apologized and proceeded to tickle the girl next to me. She did not resist his caresses. About a month later she complained to me that she disliked the fact that all of our male classmates now took every chance they could to touch her familiarly. I believe the phrase she used was, “Give dem ah inch and dem tek de yaad!”” Men, in my opinion, will always try to see how far they can go, especially when the inches they are taking are on your body.

Now I can see those masculine hackles raised, mustaches bristling; I hear some mutterings of ‘who she think she is’ huffed out with eyebrows raised. I am a feminist, but I like men – my father, brother, husband, numerous male friends and ex-boyfriends and I wouldn’t have gotten along otherwise. Not all men think like Neanderthals. For every rude campus male I met, there was a decent chap who respected the boundaries I set for my body. He could carry on a conversation for more than five minutes without having to resort to small talk and/or flirting, and took my opinions seriously.

Lest you believe I am advocating that every woman take up ju-jitsu and kickboxing classes, drawing the line does not have to become a bitchy quarrel. You can do it as charmingly as the woman I observed. The guy, creepy as he was, took no offense to her refusal.

So ladies, the next time you are on the receiving end of a comment or action or T-shirt you don’t feel comfortable with, speak up. Say “No, stop doing that right now! No, I can’t accommodate you at all. No, I don’t feel comfortable with you there.” It might save you from having to face a situation where ‘no’ is the last thing you say. But then, maybe that’s just me.

Des Seebaran is often left wondering. You can catch more of her wonderment at www.dingolay-des.blogspot.com.