What does consent mean in this moment?
Does it hold meaning? Does it matter when white America hands absolute political power to a man who has demonstrated he has no idea what consent is at the age of 59? And it is not simply that he doesn’t know, but that his election victory means millions of people don’t seem to care.
Not about this. What does that mean for us?
Consent in the age of Trump is a bitch. White Women voted in record numbers for Trump -- 53 percent according to exit polls. That vote reveals white women love their white man more than they do themselves, their future, their right to choose, their sexual health or their freedom.
In 2016, that is some serious shit.
It is that action that makes a public conversation on consent even more urgent. And one that engages women and men. Trump’s win ignited the alpha, don’t give a fuck mentality in millions of men, it told sexually predatory men their behavior will not be sanctioned but might in fact be rewarded.
We need to talk differently about CONSENT.
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Right now, our consent conversations happen in the context of a high profile celebrity facing sexual assault allegations – think Derek Rose or Nate Parker or Bill Cosby or Donald Trump. Those headlines and the details shape public discourse as writers and reporters thrash out the emerging details of the story. They can be heated, accusatory. Important think pieces that contextualize and critically analyze also emerge. That lens creates constant reactionary space that can be unloving. Sexual assault survivors may be triggered by the stories. Social media provides connection and can equally be condemning and shaming. Discussions from this space rarely prompt us to find more introspective ways to talk about what is clearly an issue that needs our public attention and one that might benefit from taking a different approach.
Let’s change the narrative.
Let’s talk out loud and publicly about consent in safe, public space. That is exactly what we’re doing with #theCONSENTconvo. It’s a public conversation campaign on consent in safe open space. It’s happening in partnership with ESSENCE and Emotional Justice. It features women and men from their 20s to their 50s. Contributors include a school principal, a sex educator, a minister, the formerly incarcerated and educator activists.
In this first consent convo for November, we talk consent in the context of first sexual encounters; Jesus, Trump, black history, Black mamas, trust and mistrust, secrecy, silence, shame, pleasure and sexual assault survival. Monica Dennis, co-founder of Spirit of a Woman Leadership Development Institute and Liz S. Alexander, founder of She Dreams of Freedom join us.
They share their personal journeys on consent.
“I grew up knowing that my NO had power,” explains Liz. “My mother embodied that. I can recall very young – maybe at 5 – I knew my body was my own, that no-one had the right to use my body without my permission.”
Liz explained her mother was a sexual assault survivor. Her mother's experience informed her treatment of her girl child; that she would have her body treated with respect. Liz also talks about the Black Church’s role in shaping her attitude, as does Monica.
“I had messages communicated to me where I was told there was never a need to have a conversation about consent, because you were not supposed to be having sex anyway. You should not be aware of your body, you should not be aware of the autonomy and agency that a woman deserves. Why would consent be part of conversation if sex is never something you should be on your mind?”
Monica reflects back on her teenage self and her journey in consent.
“…I reflect back on my 17 and 18 year old self and I was exploring what it meant to be a sexual being and doing that in ways where I was being questioned. As I got older, when I said yes – especially as I got older – it was about pleasure”
LISTEN TO #theCONSENTconvo: a public conversation campaign on consent via THE SPIN
Host: Esther Armah | Contributors: Monica Dennis & Liz S. Alexander
Follow Esther Armah on Twitter: @estherarmah
Follow The Spin @TheSpinEA