Excerpt from
“Rehearsing Consent Culture: Revolutionary Playtime”

from the upcoming anthology: “ASK: Building Consent Culture”
edited by Kitty Stryker, to be published by Thorntree Press in late fall 2017.

“Hey. Wassup. Can I talk to you?”

Nonplussed, she kept looking at her cell phone.

“Hey. I’m talking to you. Wassup?”

She blankly swiped something on her phone, unfazed.

“Aaiight. It’s like that. Cool. Well, maybe you will wanna talk to me when you see that I got video of when you jumped into the pool and your bikini top fell off.”

A cell phone with the alleged footage gets shoved in her face for her to see. Her eyes widen, and she lunges for the phone, which is whisked out of reach with a sly “gotcha” smile.

“Delete that now!!” she shouts.

“Ohhhh you wanna talk to me now, eh? Well I ain’t deleting nothing. In fact I’m gonna post it on Snapchat, on Twitter, on YouTube, on Facebook… you are going to be famous!”

“Aw c’mon, no! Delete it! Please!!”

“You really want me to delete it, huh? Well… whatcha gonna do for me then, hmm? You gonna have to be a lot nicer to me…” a lecherous gaze rakes up and down her body.

Pause.

She says “scene”, and we shake off the characters. She becomes the co-facilitator Tabatha again, and I become Richard again. We look at the enrapt co-ed middle schoolers. Tabatha asks, “Does that look or feel familiar to anyone?” Almost everyone groans a “yes.”

We offer the students a reprise performance, and this time we invite anyone to step in and join us to act out a creative and non-violent solution to this scenario. Three pre-teen boys whisper excitedly to each other, then stand up.

“We’ll do it!”

“Ok great!”

Tabatha and I take a moment to go back into character, and then, action. We re-enact the scenario, and in my peripheral vision, it doesn’t really look like the boys are doing anything besides watching. We continue, and near the end, one of the boys approaches us, and addresses me.

“Excuse me, I need to ask you to delete that video.”

I look at him with incredulous defiance.
“Why should I? I like this video.”

“Well, because we used our phones to record you blackmailing her, so if you don’t delete it, we are going to the principal right now.”

My jaw dropped.

“Umm, wow! I guess I’m deleting this video!!”

I’m half in-character, half blown-away “actual me” as I mime deleting images from my phone. And, scene! We all applaud the boys for their creativity, for coming together as a small supportive group, and for creatively using the same technology that was being used to cause harm to non-violently de-escalate the situation.

When we checked back in with the youth, they reflected back that it felt like they were watching YouTube, but that you could actually walk into it and directly interact. Everyone felt engaged whether they were in the scene or watching their peers in the scene. They were ready for more. We had already warmed them up with interactive exercises, and their eyes were alit. Afterwards, teachers even reported raised levels of participation in their students.

The methodologies that Tabatha and I use fused the arts with our youth mentoring skills, bystander intervention techniques, and expressive arts therapy training. In February of 2015, I had attended a particularly transformative Healthy Masculinity / Bystander Intervention training with Men Can Stop Rape [1] in New York City, and the tools I acquired proved to be invaluable. Studies show that when approaching youth with a bystander intervention model, that it is actually a lot more effective for reducing sexual assault, and it is also received more enthusiastically than programs that bill themselves as anti-rape. It’s the difference between approaching youth and telling them that they are basically “rapists waiting to happen” (anti-rape initiative), or approaching youth and telling them that you know they would intervene if they saw harm happening to someone, and that you want to help empower them to do that (bystander intervention). The kids jump in with both feet for that! It was amazing to see young boys (and children of other genders) excited to do this work, and engage their creativity with it. Studies also show that not only do they go on to intervene, but also not sexually assault people themselves. Bystander intervention also takes the onus off of the person being targeted to deter rape, and empowers the collective to do something about it. It answers the question in the room when giggling boys are carrying an unconscious young woman upstairs at a house party, and people are not sure how to respond, and waiting for “someone” to say or do something.

Something that makes these techniques work, is that it feels like play. And it is. Creativity engaging, improvisational, revolutionary playtime. And like most structured play time, like sports and games, while there is spontaneity and fun, there are also boundaries and rules. It is the boundaries and rules that ensure that people are treated fairly, and creates a space where fun can be explored with more safety. In many ways, playing in safe spaces with rules that everyone agrees on, feels like a tenet of consent culture. Practicing how to play a game well (without necessarily invoking a competitive spirit), can be thought of as one of the best ways to develop one’s own relationship to consent culture, as well as others in groups.

 


 

Much like how we have social norms around etiquette, I believe consent culture may need to be taught from a young age, emphasizing empathy and consensual behavior during playtime and structured games, regardless of gender. We should be careful not to invisibilize the real impact of patriarchy though, in an age where boys and men represent the overwhelming percentage of people who sexually assault others [2]; men who sexually assault women get a mere slap on the wrist [3]; and college frat houses ritualize rape culture with their own toxic “games” [4]. There may need to be reprogramming that is enticing, fun, and affirming and supportive of our true empathic nature. Considering the fact that while most men do not rape, most rapists are men, it would be very important — no, essential — for men to model consent culture to other boys and other men.

 


 

[1]  Men Can Stop Rape

http://www.mencanstoprape.org

[2] Sexual Assault Awareness And Prevention Center | University of Michigan

https://sapac.umich.edu/article/196

[3] Brock Turner, Stanford University, his shockingly lenient jail time just got shortened to 3 months.

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-brock-turner-release-jail-20160829-snap-story.html

[4] Wesleyan “Rape Factory”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2765703/Wesleyan-University-end-male-fraternities-two-alleged-rape-cases.html

 


 

RESOURCES

Creating Consent Culture
http://www.creatingconsentculture.com

INCITE!
http://incite-national.org/page/resources-organizing

Men Stopping Violence
http://menstoppingviolence.org

San Francisco Women Against Rape
www.sfwar.org

Ten Free Resources On Bystander Intervention
https://home.campusclarity.com/free-online-resources-to-help-you-develop-your-bystander-program

Yes Means Yes
https://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/cockblocking-rapists-is-a-moral-obligation-or-how-to-stop-rape-right-now

Buchwald, Fletcher, Roth (2005) “Transforming A Rape Culture.” Revised Edition, Minnesota : Milkweed Editions.