Current, relevant essays on consent bring up issues I never would have considered on my own. My review of Ask: Building Consent Culture, edited by Kitty Stryker.
You know me: I can never turn down a book. And when Kitty Stryker requested reviewers in a Facebook group I am a member of, I right away jumped on the opportunity.
If ever there was a buzzword for today’s concerns about sexuality, it would be consent. I’ve written about it. Plenty of people write about it all the time. Consent, as a remedy to rape culture, is on every social justice warrior’s lips.
And it should be. Because it matters. Consent in everything, from sex to law to work, empowers people to make choices free of coercion, to ask for what they want, and to say no to what they don’t.
I used to have a pretty simplistic view of consent. Yes is yes, no is no. But in looking deeper at feminist theory at and the ways culture intersect with our sexuality, I’ve had to reconsider. When I consent to a spanking, what am I really consenting to? My ability to say yes is only one part of this; what that spanking represents in the wider world and how I came to enjoy it is another.
While I’m doing this work, the timing for reading Ask was perfect. Although Ask itself is not a perfect book, it did open up interesting lines of inquiry for my current, and possibly future, intellectual, research, and therapy work.
As with any book of essays, some pieces are better than others. I’ll focus on the ones that I particularly enjoyed or that challenged me; trust me, those few are worth the entire book.
JoEllen Notte‘s opening essay about mental illness and consent struck a particular chord with me. As someone who also suffers from depression, I agree with her that the message of loving yourself before you can love someone else is bullshit. We are told that we’re lucky someone is willing to “put up with us”. It gives the other person all the power: the power to coerce us, the power to manipulate us. These power dynamics can get in the way of consent in ways that we don’t always see. If you love someone with mental illness, this one is for you.
AV Flox‘s essay analyzing the current legal framework around consent in the US was, I think, the most eye-opening of all the pieces in the book. The law is not on the side of consent. In fact, the law is pretty much useless. By focusing on assent, rather than true, fully informed consent, the law fails people who learn new facts after the event, or realize too late that their supposedly consensual encounter was in fact an assault. I think this essay should be required reading for every kink party/community organizer, and anyone who does work on consent and sexuality. Seriously.
Shawn Taylor‘s “The Power of Men Teaching Men” takes the focus away from women for a moment, and brings it back to dudes. It was a refreshing take for me, a cis woman, who sometimes worries that men are not that interested in making a better world. Of course, Taylor, as a person of colour, has an important stake in fighting oppression. Men win when they fight for women’s safety, women’s agency, women’s freedom. This one is a must-read for every man who calls himself a feminist.
The last essay I want to mention is Sez Thomasin‘s. They touch on a subject that’s often forgotten: sex and disability, especially intellectual/mental disability. Yes, neuroatypical people have desires. Yes, they have sex too. And yes, they deserve proper sex education. Thomasin’s essay relates one such story of clueless neurotypical adults and wonderful teenagers who deserve better than a second-rate, uneducated sex life. Seriously, people, disabled people also have needs for affection, love, and sexual pleasure!
Now, for the sales pitch.
Sure, you can buy the book through my affiliate link. I would like that. But you know what I’d like better? For you to donate to Kitty’s Indiegogo campaign so she can do a book tour. This book is badly needed, and the more she can publicize it, the better we can make our communities and our lives.