In honour of consent week Breaking the Glass Ceiling has put together a number of submissions that talk about consent and all the different ways that we experience it.
I grew up in an incredibly political household. As such, I’ve never been a stranger to the idea that the private and the personal is the political. The older I get, I understand this idea on differing levels. It used to be more about the character of another, when someone disagreed with me on an issue regarding my identity I understood why it hurt a little more. When I was thirteen, my relationship with that concept changed again. The personal truly became the political for me when I lost sovereignty over my skin. History proves men like to lay conquest to people, places, and things. Sexual assault is not, and has never been sexual in nature. Sexual assault is about the transfer of power, something I didn’t understand until I developed a much more personal relationship with it. This encroachment on the only constant anyone is truly privy to (the body), is much more than something external. It doesn’t heal like a skinned knee, or a split lip. The bruises heal over but something that takes work is recovering internally, training your heart to trust and your hands to steady. This ‘breach of sovereignty’, this ignorance towards the necessity of consent does so much more than leave physical scars. It breaks an unspoken trust we hold amongst other beings. I know it broke mine. The way I have come to understand consent is return to an understanding of it through the political. We are all sovereign nations, islands to be explored, with unfounded vitality hidden amongst the brush. It’s time to start asking permission to understand each other, to search through the dense rainforests and journey across the vast mountain ranges. Instead of discovering each other forcefully through the historical precedence of conquest, let us make the sweetest of welcome visits.
We were taught about consent in school. We were taught about consent by our parents. We were taught about consent by books, films and tv series. We were taught about consent when we didn’t give it but our bodies were taken anyway.
I was taught about consent when men started looking at me differently when I was 12. I was taught about consent when a middle-aged man touched me at 13. I was taught about consent when I was harassed by a group of men at 14. I was taught about consent when people tried to pressure me into sex at 15. I was taught about consent when me and a friend were cornered and pinned to the wall by a group of men before we ran away at 17. I was taught about consent when I was hit during sex and I didn’t know what to do. I was taught about consent when I said ‘NO’ and he carried on.
We learn about what consent is in many different ways, but I only really understood what consent was when I let myself love someone and I let them love me. It was when I finally understood how soft love can be, how natural love can be. Our ideas of love and sex are manufactured for us by society, as is our idea of consent. We are living in a culture that tells men that they can rape and get away with it, that what a woman (or man) wants is not as important as what they want. I know this because of what I have experienced, what my friends have experienced and what is glaringly obvious if we look at the low conviction rate of rapists in the UK and across the globe.
But I have full belief that we can change this. More and more of us are speaking out, more and more of us are naming the men that hurt us. I used to be tired, tired of everything I had been through and what my sisters had been through. But now, I am angry. I am so fucking angry. Men need to start learning what consent means, and to those that choose not to learn and who choose to hurt more people, I want them to know that we are mobilising and speaking out, and we are coming for every single one of you.
This time last year I was drowning in guttural pleas. I am still learning to take ownership over my body. I have no advice to give than to wrap my arms around the hurt and hope it will stop the hiccups. There is no timeline for pain, it exists and it reproduces over the rape joke your classmate made, a news headline, your friends. If there is anything I know is that there is a lot of wrong in this world, but that we are not one of them. A hand reaches out and you do not know if it wants to hold you or punch you. You can let it sit. You can let all of the crows bounce back and forth in your darkness. You can stay in bed. You can make oceans from tears until it eventually droughts. It might take all the labour in the world to make a limb nudge, but it will eventually move. You can let that nothingness stay in the corner, it might not obey. You will make waves off that life of yours, even though no one will be on the beach. This time last year I was drowning in guttural pleas. This time this year I’ve learned to swim.
Artwork by Hannah Bondi