A Bold Vision: Ethical Empowered Erotics and the Politics of Radical Consent

Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie is a past Chairperson of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women. She was chair of the Council from 1992 to 1993. Colleen is a mother, a partner, a researcher, and a tireless advocate. She has worked for the Government of PEI in health and social services and now teaches in the Department of Psychology at the University of Prince Edward Island, where her research and teaching are always engaged with the community, embedded in participatory approaches, and focused on social justice. We are grateful that she is willing to examine complex and controversial topics, including women’s reproductive health. Colleen is a fierce advocate for consent and has worked alongside survivors of sexual assault and abuse. We were honoured to hear her comments at the Montreal Massacre Memorial Service.

The theme for the 2013 Purple Ribbon Campaign Against Violence is consent: “ASK. Sex without consent is a crime.” At the December 6, 2013, Montreal Massacre Memorial Service in Charlottetown, Colleen gave a speech about consent.

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you to the Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the many individuals and organizations who contributed to today’s action.

“First Mourn Then Work for Change”, this is the creed of every December 6. Each year, we gather as a community to commemorate this atrocity and to remind ourselves that the struggle to end violence over women is continual. Each year we renew our efforts to change the systems and structures that support and perpetuate woman abuse. We do this for ourselves and earnestly for our children and our grandchildren.

We have a bold vision. We envision a world where woman abuse is eradicated. Eradication means we root out the ways violence is upheld in abuses of power which are asserting power over another to control and to manipulate their lives. Power is not a thing to be eradicated but rather it is a central aspect of how humans interact. “Power Over” behaviours must be replaced by “Power With” behaviours. So let us embrace our power to transform our world. This year in keeping with the theme of consent, I want us to embark on a journey of embracing the ethical and the radical politics of consent.

How might we use our power for transformation in radical consent? First imagine that each of us has a space around our bodies where we are safe and no one may enter without invitation. Invitation is the operative word here. Next imagine that everyone else has their own safe space. Radical consent means we ask to be invited into their space and we honour with grace their needs. How does this become a bold vision and a system changer?

We can start with our children. The politics of radical consent sets the tone for how we interact with them and how we expect our children to honour their own personal space. For example, something I have witnessed repeatedly is children are asked to ‘give someone a hug – or a kiss- good bye.’ If the child shies away they may be admonished to comply. This teaches them to ignore their own interests and feelings. The politics of radical consent requires us to never coerce children to demonstrate affection. Pay attention. The next time you offer to hug a favorite small person and they show reluctance, practice ethical consent. Smile and gracefully give space to the next generation’s empowerment and change the world while you do so. Think of all the ways you can create ethical empowered interactions with children and model with them this bold vision for our future.

Now, I want you to journey with me to an adult space of radical consent and ethical empowered erotics. Moving the ethics of radical consent to adult power sharing, you may think it becomes more difficult in sexual encounters. In fact rape culture, encourages us to think it is more difficult. Part of rape culture is a pattern that makes excuses for rape. It is a culture in which the victim is blamed for his or her own assault because they “got drunk”, “should have known better”, or “didn’t say ‘no’ clearly enough”. It is a culture in which consent is thought to be a tricky thing, and in which people complain of mixed messages. This understanding of consent is not going to change the system. It only serves to reinforce problematic cultural norms. It also denies that there is a big difference between a reluctant agreement and an enthusiastic invitation. It denies the mutuality of intimacy.

Today I want to share a radical yet simple system changing idea, a bold vision. I am asking us to embark on a journey into the ethical erotics of consent where we are lovers who seek the bounds of our own desires in communion with other ethical eroticists. This is a politics that moves us beyond the staid “No means No” mantra of consent. It moves us to an ‘Only Yes means Yes’ erotic awareness. The yes, is a moment of invitation. The intimate space just before touch where the other is fully seen; the awe of a breath that asks for an invitation, may I kiss you, may I kiss you here? This is a dance of awareness with the other. You and your partner(s) in an intimate tango of asking and seeking permissions that deepens the experience because you not only wanted to, you also directed the action. You are a desiring subject in your own erotic encounter. Knowing that you are both doing exactly what you want, the way you want it. This is a mood enhancer, a game changer, and this is a bold vision.

Ethical empowered erotics links care of the self with care of the other in a mutual intimacy. For either to be missing or limited tips the balance from shared pleasure to dangerous sex either physically or emotionally. This then would be unethical, disempowering, and anti-erotic. Ethical empowered erotics is also about learning how to accept a refusal or withdrawal gracefully at any moment in your intimate tango.

I will leave you with The ABCs of Ethical Empowered Erotics:

A-Always ask for what you want,
B-Before any action, and always practice
C- Continual and constant consent through invitation.

If we practice the ABCs of Ethical Empowered Erotics with our adult lovers and practice the ethics of radical consent in all our relationships, especially with our children, then we are the game changers and this is our bold vision for eradicating violence. Thank you.

Colleen MacQuarrie, PhD. Associate Professor and Chair Psychology Department, UPEI.

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