I recently took part in a (men only) workshop on consent run by a local anarchist men’s group who work on issues relating to patriarchy. Generally speaking, it was a good workshop – it was structured well, the facilitators did their job, people were honest and we had some interesting discussions. However, since the workshop, I have reevaluated it several times (with the help of a few discussions with people, some of whom were also at the workshop) and have got some thoughts together about why it didn’t quite feel right.
At the start of the workshop, we worked together to create some ground rules, in order to try to create a safe space where we felt able and willing to talk about our own experiences, safe in the knowledge we were amongst a group where we could constructively work together to broaden our own understandings of consent and confront that which had been inculcated into our minds from the moment we were born.
Unfortunately, my experience of this workshop was the same as every workshop I have been to on consent, male privelige, patriarchy, intimate violence and other such subjects. While I found the workshop worthwhile, I long for the day I attend a workshop where the atmosphere is more conducive to us actively challenging each other and ourselves. In short, I long for the day where the workshops, while remaining safe, can become uncomfortable.
This might sound like a strange thing to say, but allow me to run with it for a bit. In a safe environment, it is easy to bring up that which is already on the surface. The problem is, however, in order to be on the surface, an issue must already be in your mind, and you must already be willing (on some level) to deal with it. This means that you have already taken the first step, and, as long as you genuinely desire change, it can happen from this level. It strikes me, however, that the hardest part of challenging our own fucked up behaviours is to acknowledge and name them, and to create the desire to change them. This means that we need to bring issues to the surface from deep inside ourselves, and it is that which I feel workshops such as the consent one I began this post talking about could do best.
In order to be able to bring up issues we don’t even acknowledge, we need to be pushed and probed, both by ourselves and by others. We need to be taken to a (metaphorical) space where, while still feeling safe, we lose that sense of comfort – where we are being confronted and challenged. It is this that will bring our deeper emotions and behaviours to light.
How can we begin to create these spaces? In order to ensure they remain safe for all participants, I think the best solution is ongoing groups who work on this issue. Note, however, that I said groups, plural. The reality is that we all feel safe (and unsafe) around different people. And it is for this reason that I am not joining the group that ran the consent workshop – while I have respect and admiration for much of the work they have done and continue to do, the reality is that those are not the people I would desire to open up to when confronting patriarchy’s manifestations within myself.