REVIEW: “Ask: Building Consent Culture”

Posted: June 16, 2017 by Isaac Cross in Reviews, Reviews (Book)

Review by Jordyn (XCBDSM.com) and Fox (KinkySprinkles.com)
Edited by Isaac Cross (XCBDSM.com)

Editor’s Note: 

When I first received the copy of this anthology, I knew that I could not review this one alone. I am always conscious of the fact that, as a male-identified person, I have a very different experience in the world and in the communities I am part of. Normally, I try to read books and write reviews with that in mind and seek out some other perspectives when necessary. But with a book that is about consent and the cultural problems with how it is handled in our society, well, there was no reasonable way for me to take the lead. 

So instead, I brought in two of XCBDSM’s female writers/educators to read the book and give their perspective. While I certainly have my own thoughts and reactions, I will let their voices take the mic here. 

Ask: Building Consent Culture

An Anthology Compiled and Edited by Kitty Stryker

Amazon Purchase Link ~ IndiGoGo Book Tour Funding Page

Ask is a difficult book to write a review for. As with any collection of works, some will be better written than others. Some will resonate more or less with you than others. Some will be more or less applicable and relevant to your life than others. If you read Ask, you should expect to like some parts and hate others. You should expect some parts to challenge the way you think and act. But, if you are the type of person to willingly read this book or even just the review of it, you will likely find that much of the book will leave you feeling like a choir being preached at. You care about consent, which is why you picked it up, so a lot of what is in it will feel familiar and intuitive.

We believe the core concepts of Ask are essential. This is an important topic that needs to be discussed in long form. And for that reason, we are grateful that it exists. However, we felt that the book was light on action. For instance, the essay about the weaknesses of the justice system by AV Flox felt like it was building up to a proposal, but instead ended with an ambiguous “We can do better.” There wasn’t any statement made about what should be done about it. Should we completely remove the legal protections for sexual assault survivors because the system is flawed? Do we need to change the existing laws? Is it up for the reader to decide? There is nothing wrong with presenting the issues and having it up to the reader to decide, however for such complex issues, I think it is important to explain that the intention of this book is to illuminate but not guide. Porscha Coleman’s piece on popular culture was a little more concrete, ending with a consent model that people can use for themselves, but it doesn’t talk at all about how that should be incorporated that into popular culture, despite the title of the piece being “The Political Is Personal: A Critique of What Popular Culture Teaches About Consent (and How to Fix It)”.

This was the most significant weakness that was present throughout the book. Lots of problems were highlighted, but few solutions were proposed. Rather than being about “Building Consent Culture”, it ended up feeling more like an illumination of what we have now, and an argument for why we need to build consent culture, but without the blueprints to do so.

That is not to say that shining a light on problems doesn’t have value. It absolutely does. And as much as this collection could have done better to provide tools or ideas for moving forward, it does a fantastic job of providing a diverse array of perspectives, many of which might not have been considered by the average reader, or even one who is well-versed in the conversations around consent.

Ask is taking the phrase ‘it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission’, and rephrasing it to ‘if you don’t ask, the answer is always no’. The book takes all the sides of consent culture that might not be immediately apparent and pieces them together, to create a story with multiple angles of the issues outside the bedroom and opens the door to discussion about how to move forward and build our more comprehensive out-and-in-of-the-bedroom consent culture.

Fox, our contributor from Europe, noted that “For me as an ex-patriot, I also saw how America-centric the ideas were. Not that this is a bad thing. The current battlefield for consent culture is certainly the US, where many of these issues aren’t being addressed in a cohesive manner.”

We believe that the book will be hard for some people to read. It is like “Dear White People” without the cute humor to ‘break it to them gently’. The ego needs to be set aside, and openness to perspectives that aren’t your own is a must. During the forward and afterword, we felt like we were being beat over the head with how angry everyone is about Donald Trump being president, which we also have felt a frothing rage about since January. However, we found it was a bit distracting from the main purpose of the book. Trump’s presidency is certainly a result of a broken and rape culture ridden America, and shows just how bad things have gotten, but that focus on a very timely issue will likely make the book feel dated when read a decade from now. Perhaps by then, the problems will be fixed and the book won’t be needed, but we doubt it.

We also wanted to see more from the sections about how we need more black midwives and medical professionals, and how we need to understand that sex-positive and consent focused sex education for everyone improves the lives of even those we consider ‘unsexable’. Obviously, we can’t have everything and we’re sure that hard choices had to be made about what to include or not. But perhaps the editor can use this book as a launching point for an online resource where curated essays can continue to be published and discussed.

We found that once you finish you understand how all the pieces fall together, but not a moment sooner. The pieces all needed to be there, but perhaps the balance should have been more towards the story and commentary on what each story brought to the whole picture of the book.

Highlights

All of that said, we do think there were some stand outs.

Takeallah Rivera’s “Giving Birth When Black” was an incredible insight into an experience that many readers will never know. This paragraph, in particular, really struck us:

Throughout my entire pregnancy, labor, and delivery, I noticed that virtually none of my needs, wants, or requests were listened to or respected. The birth plan that I worked on for nine months was tossed to the side once I was admitted into the hospital to induce my labor. As a sexual assault survivor, I was very clear that I did not do too well with multiple people being present during my labor and delivery, nor was I at all comfortable with multiple providers conducting my vaginal exams. Because I was under pain-relieving medication, which altered my abilities, I was especially concerned with strangers conducting my vaginal exams. I remember waking up twice during my laboring process and feeling a stranger’s fingers inside my vagina. I remember crying about it, yet not being able to move due to the pain medication I was on. I also requested to not have numerous people present during my delivery—there were five strangers staring at my vulva while I pushed. I felt silenced, ridiculed, and unsafe. I did not get to enjoy my pregnancy, labor, or delivery, because my voice about my own body was not honored.

Her story is powerful and would stand on it’s own without commentary as important and meaningful. But she takes it farther, provide statistics and history and painting a bigger picture of what led her and society to meet in such a terrible experience.

Jetta Rae’s essay on “Wrestling with Consent (and Also Other Wrestlers)” is an interesting analogy to other high-risk niche industries, like sex work, where consent can sometimes be muddy and the workers whose bodies are on the line are often disregarded and discarded. While this was another case where it felt like the punchline was missing and the reader was left wondering what they were supposed to be doing differently, we still found the insight interesting and insightful.

Zev Ubu’s “Sleeping with Fishes: A Shallow Dive into Sex Parties” offered a light-hearted look into an environment that many would never tread and offers clear advice both for the curious newbie and the experienced partier. The talk about the diversity of events that you might encounter and how the expectations may change from one to another, always retuning to the central theme of the book: ASK.

“Rehearsing Consent Culture: Revolutionary Playtime” (Richard Wright), “The Power of Men Teaching Men” (Shawn Taylor), and ““Ethical Porn” Starts When You Pay for It” (Jiz Lee) all gave the reader significant suggestions for better behavior in ways that we felt were valuable and practical. They provide meaningful ways that people can contribute, support, and help to improve the problems highlighted. 

Our contributor from Colorado, Jordyn, says about the Wright essay, “I have seen first hand the value that consent games can have. As a facilitator for social groups, singles events, and sex parties, I have found that consent games do a great job of providing a framework for interacting with each other, even as adults, which help people to feel more safe and confident. I was happy to see this idea discussed as an activity for children, and the importance of teaching consent models from an early age.” We recommend facilitators take a look at this link for a great consent game idea that they can implement in adult settings.

Finally, Sez Thomasin’s “Sex Is a Life Skill: Sex Ed for the Neuroatypical” addresses a challenge that we have wrestled with for some time and we truly appreciated the author’s professional perspective. There is a great amount of discomfort among those of us with relatively typical mental states when someone who is atypical wants to engage in sex or BDSM play. There is a question about the capacity for consent. There is a general uneasiness with how to interact and what is appropriate. The essay does a fantastic job of giving both the perspective of an neuroatypical person, but also someone who is in the position of providing sex-education to neuroatypical teens that are just discovering sex and sexuality. This was, again, a really insightful piece that would have been improved with practicable suggestions to the reader. We would have loved for the essay to go onto give best practices to the neurotypical for how to interact and engage in our communities with those addressed in the essay and help them to feel welcome in our spaces and in relationships.

The Takeaway

Amazon Pre-Order Link ~ IndiGoGo Book Tour Funding Page
“Ask: Building Consent Culture” Will be released for general order on October 27th, 2017. It is available for pre-order on Amazon, or your can get an early release digital copy by supporting the author’s IndiGoGo Book Tour page above. 

Ask is the beginning. A spark to start hopefully a wildfire of rebuilding a nation that is so full of turmoil and broken culture that it is hard to know where to begin. We’re excited to see what happens next, both from these authors and from others. We hope that Stryker’s ConsentCulture.com project will re-launch and become a hub for this conversation. We hope that the book tour and workshop series will be successful (go help fund it). And we hope that the questions left unanswered by this book will act as a implied call to action for people to come forward with proposals and ideas.

Ask is, unfortunately, incomplete.  But perhaps that is the point, for the reader to be uncomfortable with the vacuum and be compelled to fill it. As Carol Queen says in the book’s afterword:

…we know that without consent, desire cannot flourish. Without it the structure that allows each human to feel their emotional and erotic life is well-lived is missing, and if the past sixty years have taught us anything it is that that center cannot hold. When sexual experience and exploration were too often laden with shame and opprobrium, we had a sexual revolution; we haven’t fully finished it yet.

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