Guest post by Pragya S, WAVAW Relief Staff
It seems that, lately, whenever talk of sexualized violence comes up, we turn to consent.
In many ways, this makes sense. In Canada, our Criminal Code defines sexual assault as any type of sexual contact without voluntary consent. This means that consent is written into the very definition of sexual assault under the law. And really, consent has been crucial in addressing sexualized violence within intimate partner relationships. It’s been the concept through which many are able to understand their own experiences of intimate partner violence.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what we’re missing when consent becomes our sole focus. I mean, what happened to confronting power dynamics? What happened to acknowledging the types of sexual violence that aren’t recognized by our criminal justice system? What happened to addressing misogyny?
The thing is, rape doesn’t happen in a vacuum and neither do (mis)understandings of consent. To stop rape, we have to stop rape culture, not just make sure people are aware of what counts as consent. And to be clear, rape culture is more than just the objectification of all women. Sure, we witness rape culture in music videos, in television shows that depict women as incapable of original thoughts, in advertisements that depict women as nothing more than sexual objects for men. But rape culture is about more than objectification and hypersexualization. Rape culture is in the way First Nations cultures are appropriated for fashion and sold to mostly white consumers to flaunt, devaluing their spiritual meanings and effectively enacting cultural genocide (for more on spiritual appropriation as sexualized violence, check out Conquest by Andrea Smith). Rape culture is in borders that not only rip mothers away from their children, but allow for border guards to rape women attempting to cross. Rape culture is in war, in soldiers’ routine and systematic rape of women as a tactic for devastating a community (for more on this, look at Color of Violence by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence). Rape culture is in the systemic erasure of the deliberate violence against First Nations women that was necessary in order to draw borders around the land we now call Canada. In other words, rape culture is in the processes of patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism that make our daily lives possible.
So what does this all mean for resisting sexualized violence? It means that we have to move beyond consent. We need to:
Talk about how misogyny is embedded into our daily lives.
Discuss how Canada’s immigration and refugee policies contribute to rape culture.
Address the gendered wage gap.
Talk about spiritual appropriation.
Address genocide on the very lands upon which we do our work.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Maybe that’s because, above all, we need to continually take a good, close, hard look at ourselves and ask: What are we doing, saying, consuming right now that is contributing to a rape culture?