This is Debi Withers speach from the ‘Slutwalk’
Feminists are often very good at saying NO to the things that they don’t want in society. People have marched today to say NO to rape culture and blaming the victim. As much as this is important, we also need to be able to say YES to the type of society we DO want to have. So I will offer some thoughts on the type of rape free culture I want and the implications this has for relationships.
In place of rape culture I want a culture of consent.
A culture of consent is when people have the power to say what they want to do with their bodies and people will listen to them. Yes, listening is important – to destroy rape culture we need to be able to hear when another person says STOP NO I’M NOT REALLY SURE. And when language fails — as it so often does —- we need to develop skills to listen with our bodies, tactile intelligence, a sensual understanding of each other, the development of awareness of the absolute integrity of another human life. We can use this knowledge to hold each other in tenderness and respect.
Listening is also an important skill for feminist and women’s activists to develop and keep developing. It will help these important and revolutionary movements to appreciate the many different strategies that are used to transform the world. You may not agree but you can listen. This may seem simplistic but it will make a difference.
Saying yes: to know what we want. It can be so difficult in a society where we are literally subjected to visual and sensory forces that distract us from really knowing what we want. Capitalism blocks our consent at every turn. In fact, capitalism creates consent and it shapes people’s will – it makes us say yes when we really we are saying no. We need to name the non-consensual power of capitalism and see it for what it is. Capitalism-racism-sexism-homophobia-ableism-transphobia- they all move together in an abusive vector twisting reality against innocent bodies.
I want to offer here an example from my own life to demonstrate this abstract point: when I was in my early teens I felt enormous pressure to have sex with men, to ‘lose it’. This pressure came from my peers, TV, films and magazines. It was immense. It led me to wanting – to saying yes – to consenting – to sexual encounters I was not ready for.
The pressure made me consent to being raped because I did not know what I really wanted. And it seemed there were no other options. I was a girl and my role in life was to have sex with men. My being would be validated that way. I would become a legitimate person. So I let myself be violated. I chose. And for years I thought it was my fault. I thought I deserved it. I was a slut. It took me a long time to unpick the hate I was bound in. I am still learning to spin back against the violator – which I see as a society that endorses rape culture – a society that makes us say yes when we really want to say no. But all the time I am getting stronger.
Survivors learn to speak and act. They learn to thrive. They gain the courage to heal, to share their experience with others. And I want to thank every survivor who makes a piece of art, who writes a poem, organises a demo, helps other survivors to heal through their fierce defiance of their unwanted experience – you are changing the world more than you can realise. We are changing the world by refusing silence and showing it is possible to transform what has happened to us into inspiration, hope and action.
When I say we need to transform our culture from one that says NO to one that say YES – it is clear that this is not a simple process. New skills have to be learnt that can break the power that blocks our consent from multiple directions. One of these skills is nurturing the ability to listen deeply to our selves. To our heart and soul to find out what it is we really desire. And when we know what we desire it will not be a choice. It will be an act.
Creating this positive culture – this culture of consent – will have huge implications for how we live our life. It has to. To get rid of rape culture there has to be deep and radical change. But then change begins with the simplest of actions: listening to each other. De-conditioning our responses to the world around us and learn different ways to relate to just about everything. I think life will be a whole lot simpler. We’ll slow things down and work out another plan. Back to basics, progress hasn’t got the human world anywhere so far.
One example of how a culture of consent will be different is that the restrictive, gendered way children are raised will change. We don’t need gender or – I should say – we don’t need non-consensual gender. And when gender is forced on bodies it prevents living beings from knowing what we want. From listening to our souls and acting our own truth. Let us not force compulsory behaviours on young people any longer. Let them decide who they are, rather than older people or medical experts tell them what they are because of their genitalia.
I know that as people we have the power to listen to our heart and souls. We have the wisdom to act in ways that are kind, responsive and responsible to others. Sometimes the most transformative acts are the simplest. Let’s keep trying.