Creating culture of true consent key to addressing rape, abuse: pyschologist

Jim Day
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Julie Pellissier-Lush, vice president of the Aboriginal Women's Association of P.E.I., lights a candle Friday during a memorial service held in Charlottetown for victims of violence.

Impassioned speech given in at memorial service for victims of violence

Women never consent to being raped.

Yet part of our culture, observes UPEI psychology professor Colleen MacQuarrie, is a pattern that makes excuses for this criminal act.

“It is a culture in which the victim is blamed for his or her own assault because they got drunk, should have known better, didn’t say no clearly enough,’’ says MacQuarrie.

“It is a culture in which consent is thought to be a tricky thing and in which people complain of mixed messages.’’

The outspoken professor was the guest speaker Friday in Charlottetown at a memorial service for victims of violence that, like many others across Canada, is held each year on Dec. 6 to mark the anniversary of 14 women being murdered at L’École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989.

MacQuarrie, described as a passionate advocate for people who have experienced violence and sexual abuse, offered a thought-provoking bold vision for a world where abuse against women is eradicated.

The approach she put forward earned strong applause from a crowd that included politicians like Premier Robert Ghiz that presumably have the power to make impactful changes to the system, as well as determined advocates and front-line workers looking to help victims of violence.

MacQuarrie advanced a concerted campaign to have society embrace what she terms the ethical and the radical politics of consent.

“Imagine that each of us has a space around our bodies where we are safe and no one may enter without invitation,’’ she says.

“Invitation is the operative word here.’’

This bold system, says MacQuarrie, can first be applied to children. She has witnessed time and again children being asked to give a token of their affection: a hug, a peck on the cheek, even a kiss on the lips.

If the child shies away, he or she may be admonished to comply. This, she argues, teaches children to ignore their own interests and feelings.

“The politics of radical consent requires us to never coerce children to demonstrate affection and maybe to never coerce children,’’ she says.

“Pay attention. The next time you offer to hug a favourite 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.’’

Next, she urged the audience that had just witnessed candle lighting in memory of the victims of the Montreal Massacre, the nine women murdered on P.E.I. since 1989 by men who knew them, as well as other victims of violence, to embark on a “radical consent and ethical empowered erotics.’’

She says the proposed approach moves beyond the “staid no means no mantra of consent’’ to one where only yes means yes.

She terms the ‘yes’ as a moment of invitation and a dance of awareness with the other.

“Ethical empowered erotics links care of the self with care of the other in a mutual intimacy,’’ says MacQuarrie.

“For either to be missing or limited tips the balance from shared pleasure to dangerous sex, either physically or emotionally.’’

“Ethical empowered erotics,’’ she adds, “is also about learning how to accept a refusal or a withdrawal gracefully at any moment in your intimate tango.’’

Organizations: L’École Polytechnique, Montreal Massacre

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Canada, Montreal P.E.I.

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Recent comments

  • Huh?
    December 07, 2013 - 13:21

    I am sure there is a worthwhile, valuable and legitimate message here but Ms. MacQuarrie can you put that in English please.

  • Simple it ain't . . .
    December 07, 2013 - 07:39

    We have to agree that consent is a nessary feature of a healthy relationship. However, it's not sufficient. A healthy relationship also has to be mindful of how it effects those outside the relationship. Consent in a relationship to do something harmful isn't any better than a single person deciding to deciding to do something harmful. Life's a wonderful challenge, isn't it?

  • girls who cry wolf
    December 07, 2013 - 02:33

    As a family member of a victim of a woman who cried rape to get her revenge I can say that this issue is much more complex and advanced than mrs macquarrie is capable of understanding.

    • Just sayin
      December 07, 2013 - 11:05

      Of course it is... I mean, it's not like she's a professional and dedicates herself to studying exactly this kind of thing or anything...

  • Irritating Article
    December 06, 2013 - 23:40

    I don't know why Robert Ghiz was dragged into this propaganda poster. There is nothing he can do to alleviate the imagined fears of social instigators like MacQuarrie who lose sleep at night from the lack of abortion clinics adjacent to abortion clinics or worry that consensual sex didn't have a notarized contract filed with the Department of Invading Your Bedroom. Leave Ghiz alone. He doesn't deserve the awkwardness of having his name appear in this gibberjabble.