This blog aims not only to illuminate consent — yes, we should all be asking for permission — but also to empower you, the reader, with a more wholesome approach to and relationship with consent culture. I aim to provide you with a process to identify your boundaries, become acquainted with clear communication, recognize when you’re at risk, and lean into the support of your family and your community.
Consent is defined as “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something”, e.g. an act of giving permission. It’s the gateway to your boundaries with the world, the verdicts of which are delivered through various means of communication. We feel and establish what we permit internally and then we must, additionally, communicate our verdict externally to establish it beyond ourselves. One is embodied, while the other is intellectual and the two are often incongruent. Consent is giving a clear “yes” and a clear “no” to define our established boundaries and to proverbially open or close the gates. As simple as that may seem, giving and receiving permissions is a complex process that has been long adulterated by warped social norms and generationally embedded behavior patterns.
The recent and ever-expanding #metoo movement has lovingly hurled our collective-conscious-conscience into reprogramming. Individuals around the country are reclaiming their voice in the face of the oppression, abuse and shame that has silenced them for years, decades even. This widespread social empowerment is nothing short of astounding. It feels like a glorious revolution of the autonomous heart and body — armed with nothing but the truth.
Consent organizations, such as Collective Action for Safe Spaces, conduct trainings in bars and clubs where crimes of non-consent run rampant. There are seminars and healing groups, even t-shirts and stickers, proliferating mainstream culture and further attuning our awareness to a topic of conversation and a mode of behavior that once wasn’t much of a thought. New ideas, behaviors, attitudes and norms are finding footholds and stabilizing.
All of this collective social energy is powerful, nonetheless, it’s difficult to communicate a clear “no” in the face of a charming, attractive individual, an irrational boss, or an intimidating, coercive peer. Are we also empowered with a strong internal compass to point us down the path to what we want? What do you REALLY want and have you identified strong boundaries?
Consent is complex because the process of claiming what we want and expressing can be difficult in most cultures. “In many cases, the voices of the victims are hushed by cultural norms and taboos of chauvinistic society”, according to LeeAnn King, who has worked on a number of consent-focused initiatives to create safe spaces. We have to hurry up, shut up, smile and comply — otherwise your social status, your job, your career and your worth are at risk. We’re coerced into acquiescence, against our consent and our established boundaries in a myriad of social contexts from the bedroom, to a dance floor, to the office.
My invitation in this article is not to merely establish consent — yes, we should all be asking for permission. I want to empower you with a process to identify your boundaries, become aware of clear communication, recognize when you’re at risk, and lean into the support of your community. On the receiving end of a consent verdict, I want to invite us to remember the value of our autonomous experience. Don’t take it personally. Respect each other’s autonomy by respecting the answer you’re given, trusting that the individual who delivered it, did so from honoring their boundaries — a feat that is not often easy.
#1 Know thyself
This is quite possibly the most important aspect in developing a healthy relationship with a consent-conscious lifestyle. You must get to know your inner compass of truth and alignment. It’s your north star that will likely communicate itself to you through a physical sensation to tell when something is aligned or not aligned for you. This ownership of self is be your greatest, most empowering tool.
It’s easy to do this when we’re alone and in comfort. It’s less easy when we’re in a high-intensity situation with limited response time and external pressure from another person, whether maliciously coercing or unconsciously coercing. In social contexts such as a dance floor, club or partner dancing, there’s a lot happening simultaneously in every moment! Our attention can be pretty well stimulated and scattered in such a space. How do you feel into your boundaries then?
#2 Get fluent in communicating consent
Once you’ve learned to understand your internal compass, you must learn to speak it out loud. How can you communicate your boundaries clearly with the world around you? If your compass is pointing to “no” but your words are “yes”, you will feel the clang of dissonance in your body. Pay attention to that. You may have been playing this opposites game your entire life and become desensitized to the clash, but it’s still there.
Some of us have been raised for generations to live and speak compliantly through a filter of niceties and modesty that is easily trampled over by a lack of regard for what the actual message is, the recipient generally assuming this training for a game coyness. Taking our “no” to mean “yes, please try harder.” This must be shifted.
It boils down to step one: know what you really want and feel it in your bones. Trust that feeling. Practice your “no” and your “yes” and notice where or how you experience each of these in your body. What are the sensations or emotions that accompany? When or where or around whom do you experience resistance in voicing your consent? Practice from that space.
Formulate your consent as a clear and concise statement, such as methods described by the Nonviolent Communication techniques developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg. Ask for what you do want a person to do, rather than what you don’t want them to do. Try something like this:
- I would like for you to move farther away from me.
- I would prefer that you respect my time and not call me late at night.
If you’re on the receiving end, acknowledge that this may have been a challenging statement to vocalize and respond with a statement such as, “I hear you would like me to…” and comply, without adding a story of blame or shame. In asking for consent to do something, try formulating your question as, “May I…?” or “Would you like it if…?” Allow space for the person to feel into their inner compass and respond authentically. Take note if a recipient doesn’t seem to value consent — learn about red flags here.
Consider non-verbal language as well. How do you replace your words clearly? The dance floor is a great example – whether it be at a festival, in a club or even on a “conscious” dance floor, there is ample opportunity to engage in consent culture. A universal (although perhaps not always sufficient) cue to signal “no” is to place your hands in prayer at your heart with a bow and moving away from the person. You might find that you need to employ a non-verbal cue that’s more firm, such as moving your hands away from your body in a circle to signify this is your bubble of space. If you’re asking consent you might try an inquisitive expression, shoulder shrug and a thumbs up so imply you’re in question.
#3 Share clear cues with family and community
Have a set of clear cues that is shared by your friends and within your community to identify when consent is and isn’t given. This comes in handy in any context, especially bars, clubs or other noisy, crowded spaces in which your friends can see and/or hear your safety cues and come to you for support. Setting up safeguards to watch out for each other is an empowering tool for maximizing your autonomy in the face of a potentially compromising situation. You might tug at your ear, dab your face with a certain handkerchief or drop a safety word. Obviously, the point is to choose a symbol that is noticeable enough, but not routinely done by you so as to be confused for an SOS when you really just wanted a bite of cacao.
There are abundant resources for you to explore on the topic of consent culture, more and more stories, methods and support groups are arising all the time. Major festivals, like Interfusion and Burning Man, among many others, are infusing consent into their core values and codes of conduct. Corporations and schools are taking the topic seriously as well. See below for links to continue learning tools to deepen your understanding of consent — and by extension deepen the intimacy of your relationships!
Continue Learning Links:
- Needs – Nonviolent Communication
- Feelings – Nonviolent Communication
- What is Consent? – Love is Respect
- 27 Alternatives to Asking ‘Is this okay?’ – Asking for What You Want
About the Author
Atticus is the founder, producer and frequent deejay of Ecstatic Dance DC.
She builds forums for creative expression and meaningful socialization in conscious, substance-free spaces that are steeped in a culture of consent. Her long term vision is that this will integrate with and radically shift mainstream social culture. She crafts musical arcs that explore the intersection between ancient and futuristic sounds that are dynamic and compelling in movement exploration. Atticus is passionate about enlivening collective remembrance for our primal expressions of connection and spirituality through the ritual of dance.
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This article is intended to be a community resource. Anyone is free to copy and repost it in whole or in part on their own websites and blogs as long as proper reference is provided and credit given to the authors and contributors.