Karen interviews Erica Scott and Marcia Baczynski, authors of “Creating Consent Culture: A Handbook for Educators” about the expansive possibilities of collaborative consent.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
#S3E4 | Creating Consent Culture with Erica Scott and Marcia Baczynski
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Marcia Baczynski: I tolerate my partner talking down to me. I tolerate my boss just giving me work without me ever pushing back. This is a lot of energy we're spending, just managing our existence. And, two, a lot of those tolerations represent places where we're not giving the people around us accurate information about how to navigate us. We can't be collaborative with other people if they have no idea what's going on for us. So starting with, what are you tolerating? And that's a really crucial part of being in a collaborative consent situation.
Karen Yates: Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style, based on the popular live Chicago show. I chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You'll hear meaningful conversations, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I'm sex educator and intimacy coach Karen Yates. This week, I chat about how to create consent culture for teens and adults with authors Erica Scott and Marsha Baczynski. Keep listening.
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Hey, folks. Well, we had our live show in Chicago this past weekend, the first one in two years. And I'm excited to report that it sold out days before, and what a great show it was at the Hungry Brain. The audience was so warm and appreciative. It made coming back so easy. We had a panel with Tazima Parris, Matthew Amador, and MksThingsHappin, storytelling with Lily Be — she totally killed — and a lot more. So expect to hear that on the podcast soon. And if you are interested in learning about the shows in a timely fashion, be sure to subscribe at wildandsublime.com. More to come, more to come.
Today's episode is on creating consent — consent culture, to be exact. And I will be talking with Erica Scott and Marsha Baczynski about their new book, "Creating Consent Culture: A Handbook for Educators." But, lest you think this book is only for teachers, let me quickly point out that it's also for parents, adult facilitators, and anyone who wants to learn a lot about consent and consent culture and what that means. I think, with the #MeToo movement, consent has been compartmentalized to mean sexual consent, and in a very reductive way. Like, yes, you can touch me and have sex with me, or no, you cannot. And this book explores how culture impacts all consent, and how we go along or don't go along with dominant cultural messages, and how this is so important for young folks as they begin to enter society. There are a ton of playful exercises in this book for group facilitation, but also a lot of fundamental information on what is meant by consent culture. And I found this interview really thought provoking. So now, my chat with the co authors of "Creating Consent Culture," Erica Scott, developer of the Consent Culture Intro workshop, and Marsha Baczynski, consent educator and Cuddle Party co-creator. Enjoy.
Erica Scott, welcome.
Erica Scott: Thanks for having me.
Karen Yates: Marcia Baczynski. Welcome.
Marcia Baczynski: Thank you. I'm excited to be here.
Karen Yates: I'm really excited to have this conversation. It's so important, and I really loved your book, "Creating Consent Culture." So I've started doing land acknowledgement, as part of my more recent interviews, and so we'd love to do that with you now. Erica, which territories are you on right now?
Erica Scott: Right. So I've been living and working on the unceded and stolen territory of the Sinixt nation.
Karen Yates: Okay, great and colonially what is that known as?
Erica Scott: I'm living in Nelson, BC right now.
Karen Yates: Thank you. And how about you, Marcia?
Marcia Baczynski: Well, I grew up in Creek territory in the southeast, but I am currently in Ohlone territory, otherwise known as the San Francisco Bay area.
Karen Yates: Okay, thank you. And I am on the unceded homelands of the council of the three fires: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi nations, known as Chicago. And there's so much to be discussed today. So let us jump in. Before we get into both of your stories, what is the short definition of consent culture?
Erica Scott: A short definition for consent culture is a culture which emphasizes collaboration to create the most mutually beneficial interactions possible.
Karen Yates: I love this idea of collaboration. And I want to definitely talk about that in a bit. But, you know, what is interesting to me about consent, the deeper I get into the ideas and the philosophy of consent culture, is most people think it is very yes and no. Like it's a binary, you're either yes, touch me, or no, don't touch me, or get away from me. But like, there's a collection of issues going on here. What are the various issues, in your estimation, that impact consent?
Marcia Baczynski: Wow, there's a lot. I think I'll just start with kind of what I see as a bit of an umbrella that a lot of issues go under, which is that our main model of consent is what we call the gatekeeper model of consent, where one person wants to do something, and the other person's job is to just say yes or no. And, in a sexual context, that kind of goes back to like a really 1950s mentality of like — first of all, everybody's monogamous and heterosexual and, like, the men want the sex, and the women have the sex that the men are trying to get the sex from the women... which is obviously not how it works. But it also gets to issues of consent in other contexts, where there's power or authority, like you're going to your doctor, and you have to consent — that is a gatekeeping model. So there are places where the gatekeeper model is still relevant. And I think that confuses the issue of consent when it's equals, or people who are playing together, where we're sharing space together, where we're trying to collaborate or have fun. And there's a lot of issues around power and authority. But there's also the issues that are like social, such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, just to name a few. And those sort of implicit power model, power dynamics can be at play. The main overarching issue is that in a lot of people's minds, it's really just about that yes or no, the gatekeeper model, where it's like, your only job is to say yes or no, and to not have any desires or preferences or boundaries of your own, not to have any nuance. And the thing that we're trying to change is this idea of everybody actually wants stuff, and that there's room to negotiate and play — and negotiate is a bit of a loaded term as well. So, collaborate is what we're working with.
Erica Scott: We also really talk about being trauma informed. Because a lot of people come to interactions with past trauma — pretty much I would say a majority of people, probably, come to interactions with past trauma. And so it's important to understand that it's not just as simple as someone can just say no if they want to. In fact, even people who haven't been through trauma have a hard time saying no. And because of how we've been raised, within a culture of coercion, many of us have a hard time hearing no.
Karen Yates: I want to hear both of your stories. Erica, you created the consent culture intro workshop that is based on Marsha's work in co-creating cuddle parties. So, the Cuddle Party. So I would love to hear how you both came to this moment. Marcia, what is your story?
Marcia Baczynski: My parents were fairly conservative, but my mom worked in social services. She was a nurse who worked with kids in foster care, things like that, pregnant teenagers, that kind of thing. And so, she was very pragmatic and very interested in giving me and my brother the tools to avoid ending up in some of the situations that the kids she worked with were in, and was very adamant that, you know, we didn't — this is a challenging thing, because I was a headstrong child — that we didn't have to do things we didn't want as far as, like, hugging relatives, or kissing, or whatever. And she was always very good about things like, if there's ever anything your friends want you to do, and you don't want to do it, like, just blame me. Just tell me what you're blaming me for, so you'll never get in trouble if you bring me something like that. So I grew up in a household that didn't have any of this fancy language around consent, but certainly had a value around bodily autonomy for young people and for children. And both my parents very much viewed that as a life skill that we needed to have. I started doing sex education very young. I was teenager doing HIV prevention peer support,and getting into sex education, you very quickly get to consent education. They go very well hand in hand. And in 2004, I co founded Cuddle Party with Reid Mihalko, and that was really to give people a place to practice these skills in an environment that was, in our opinion, lower stakes than a sexual context. We wanted people to have — we had a metaphor at the time of like, the facilitator is the lifeguard on duty, you know, very much like, yeah, you can come and practice asking for what you want, practicing no, and get some of your touch needs met in an environment where somebody's watching out for you, and somebody's got your back in the same way that my parents had my back. You know, if you didn't get that somewhere else, where are you going to have an opportunity to practice it? And a lot of people responded really positively. We went from zero to 60 really quickly. I think from the first event we had, six weeks later, we were literally international news — like, "New Yorkers are cuddling. What does it mean?" And you know, the touch aspect for me was always like this cool bonus. I was really interested in the communication pieces. And I still think the touch is an amazing part of Cuddle Party. But for me, as far as the skills go, whatever context that people learned, and not just learn it intellectually, but like learn it in their bodies, can feel that they really do have a right to say, no, they really can make counter offers, or come up with an idea. Or ask for something and hear no, and not take it like, I'm a bad person or something like that. Any place that those sort of embodied experiences can happen for me is a great thing. So when Erica came to me and was like, Can I take this out of the context of Cuddle Party and make it more accessible? I was like, Heck, yeah, let's go.
Karen Yates: Erica, if you don't mind sharing your story.
Erica Scott: No, I don't mind at all. I'm a survivor of child sexual abuse. And that led to me having a lot of issues in my life, around boundaries, around consent, and a lot of stress. And I ended up having a health breakdown in my 40s, from all the stress. And there was a little period of time where I didn't know if I had much longer to live, or what was happening. And I realized I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life. And I was looking around and I found Cuddle Party. I was like, this, I need this in my life. And I ended up becoming a Cuddle Party facilitator. My favorite part was doing the welcome circle where we go over the rules of Cuddle Party, which is really consent training. It's really interactive, and fun consenting. And that had been very helpful for me in my life. I was like, this work is so important. These exercises are so important. And it needs to get out into the world to a wider audience. So I went to Marcia and I said, Do you mind me taking some of these exercises, and working on them to make them so that they're appealing to a wider audience and age-appropriate for a younger audience? And then add to it and just make something, you know, out of that? And she said, Yeah, and I did that. And I was workshopping it. And there was a morning that I woke up and it was just — make it into a book. So I emailed Marcia and I said, Would you co-author this book with me? And again, she said, Yes.
Karen Yates: It's very clear in the book, that this is about bodily autonomy, as well as putting these practices into your body, which, you know, then, if you're a trauma survivor, if you've had trauma, that's resetting the, you know, the nervous system. One thing you talk about pretty early on, and I really want to unpack this, is the coercion of the dominant culture. Because you have, obviously, both of you have created work now, that flows around this idea of the dominant culture. And I say flows around, it's not oppositional, it has a lot of flow to it in this idea of it being a collaborative model. So what does the coercion of the dominant culture mean? Any examples?
Marcia Baczynski: We give a long list of examples in the book, because it's really easy to see examples of, you know, sexual assault, or murder, or theft or something as non-consensual, but I think it's harder to see some of the more subtle things when they're baked into authority.
Erica Scott: The first thing that popped into my mind is people telling their kids to hug. It comes from positive intentions, but it's teaching the lesson that, you know, it's not your body to decide. It's not your right to decide what to do with your body.
Marcia Baczynski: Right. Another example is having to ask to go to the bathroom. What is that? And I understand again, there's reasons that that developed, but also what are we teaching our children about their bodies, and — there's just so many different ways we teach young people to override the information that their bodies are telling them about what's good and what's bad for them. Hold it, you can hold it, you're just making it up. "Don't cry" is another one. You know, just telling kids, telling people, really, to get over their feelings. And then there's also a lot of it that's modeled, right? We are constantly having it modeled in — I mean, I grew up watching movies where it was just like the women were not active characters in most of the movies, they were just sort of the object of desire for the male character. And, you know, that kind of teaches, like, some people are actors and agents in their own lives, and some people are just bystanders who get acted upon.
Erica Scott: And still, to this day, there are scenes in movies that in the real world would be considered assault or stalking or harassment, and would get you a restraining order or something, but it's portrayed as romantic, you know. So, understand that there's a lot of confusion.
Marcia Baczynski: And then I think there's also just a lot with authority. Like, you know, listen to your — respect your parents. Well, of course, respect your parents. But what people often mean by respect is, like, obey them unquestioningly, as though they know everything about what's happening inside of you, or be in fear of them. And I think the fear component is also really loud in a lot of our sort of dominant culture of coercion. There's also like, a lot of ways that power dynamics of like, who's allowed to have autonomy are reinforced in pop culture, in the media. You know, you see a lot of examples of inspiration porn with people with disabilities, like, they're not actually just people who have interesting, fun, boring, normal lives, they exist for the consumption of able-bodied people to feel either, 'Look at me, I'm not disabled, I don't have it that bad,' or 'Look at how inspiring this person is!' Always in relationship to the able-bodied person, for example. And I feel like that's also a way that the culture of coercion puts itself out over everything, where it's just like, some people get to the people, and some people don't get to be people — don't don't get to be full people. And if you're not allowed to be a full person, then those of us who are allowed to be people can impose our will over the people who don't get to be full people, if that makes sense.
Karen Yates: Absolutely. And I'm thinking about — I'm thinking, of course, obviously, of racism as well. One thing I know, and I really appreciate it, there's a very built out privilege circle. It's a chart, privilege circle, about who gets privileged in our culture, who does not get privilege, and there's a lot of — like, there are many categories of privilege from, you know, youth and the very young and the very old: not privileged. Middle-aged, privileged, you know, and then you get into race, and then you get into any type of body types, and class and economic status. Education—
Marcia Baczynski: Education levels. Property ownership.
Karen Yates: Yeah. Yeah. Erica, anything you would like to add here?
Erica Scott: One of the things is, how many times do we get punished for saying no, as we grow up? Until it becomes like a scary thing to say no.
Karen Yates: Which leads me to the word, 'No.' Now we will enter into the section of, "no is a complete sentence." Erica, can you share, if you don't mind, your kissing story that is in the book?
Erica Scott: Yeah, that was a real eye-opener for me. So I was with a really good friend, who, I can't remember if he asked if he could kiss me. But all of a sudden, we were kissing, and I didn't really have an attraction for him, but I just went along with it. And luckily for me, because he was a good friend, and he cared about me, he noticed that I wasn't really engaging enthusiastically. And he stopped and asked, wait, do you want to do this? And the thing is, I felt comfortable to say how I really felt, because he was a good friend. And I said, Well, yeah, no, I guess not. And it was like, Okay, well, then let's not, I don't want to do anything that you don't want to do. And I remember, I was surprised. I think I might have said, like, Are you sure you're okay with that? And he was like, Yeah, of course, I don't want to, I only want to do this if you want to do it. That was like a very unusual moment for me in my life. A lot of the time where it was just push, push, push, and unless I wasn't screaming or running away, you know, they took that as a yes.
Karen Yates: You both point out in the book how hard it is for people to say no, because it is the cultural standard to be always pleasant in an agreement with the dominant culture. Be pleasant. Don't make waves. Just go along. Right? Don't rock the boat. So I was really fascinated, Marcia, when you were writing about tolerations. Can you talk more about that?
Marcia Baczynski: I do a lot of work with my clients, my coaching clients, on boundary work. And I view our desires and our boundaries as two sides of the same coin, which is our preferences. And a lot of us think, Oh, it's just just a preference. It doesn't matter. And I'm like, oh, it super matters. [laughs] It super-very-much matters. But one of the things that my clients who are working on boundaries, we do is, we make a list of, you know, what are you tolerating in your life? Sort of with this idea that even super well-adjusted people are tolerating dozens if not hundreds of things. You know, life can get away from us. And it's pretty easy for most of my clients to come up with a list of like, 50 tolerations in less than 20 minutes.
Karen Yates: I know, I'm just thinking the same thing myself. I'm like, tick, tick, tick.
Marcia Baczynski: Right, and the thing about tolerations, some of them are environmental, like the door that squeaks, or the dirty car, or not having your charger. Then, like, there's solutions to that, where you can buy more chargers, or take your car to have the nice people at the carwash clean it out for you, or whatever. There's ways that you can brainstorm solutions to that. And then there's sort of two other categories, one being interpersonal, and one being internal. Where I tolerate my partner talking down to me, I tolerate my boss just giving me work without me ever pushing back, you know, or I swallow when I'm upset, that might be a toleration. Like, I just don't speak up, and that's not even like interpersonal, sometimes it's a thing that we do with everybody. And that's just sort of like our way of being in the world. When we look at the ways that we tolerate, two things become clear. One, this is a lot of energy we're spending just managing our existence, and two, a lot of those tolerations represent places where we're not giving the people around us accurate information about how to navigate us. And that's where I would be like, please don't use that tone of voice with me, can you say it in a different way? I need to be done at five o'clock today. I need to be done at five o'clock every day! How can we make this work together? We can't be collaborative with other people if they have no idea what's going on for us. And so starting with like, what are you tolerating, not as a way of beating yourself up, of like, oh, god, look at all these things that I let slide, because again, even very well adjusted people have dozens or hundreds of things that they're tolerating, but using it as a roadmap for where we have energy leaks that we couldn't plug up, or could be giving people better information about how to work with us, how to like, meet us, so that we can have a more positive experience overall. And that's a really crucial part of being in a collaborative consent situation.
Erica Scott: And when you have a trauma background, you will tolerate someone having sex with you when you don't want to. And that's why we need to have the trauma informed piece. Because it's not just about strengthening our boundaries and learning to say what we need to say; we also need to learn how to make it a safer space around us for others, because we don't know what kind of trauma background they have. So finding a way to make it easier for them to say what they're really feeling and to Yeah, encourage them to let us know what they really want.
Karen Yates: Can you talk a little bit about the freeze response, Erica, that you bring up in the book, to help folks really understand that even if you remove dominant culture coercion, there's also this aspect of the freeze.
Erica Scott: Right. I didn't actually know about the freeze response until maybe several years ago. And it explains so much for me in my life. And what I know now is that all those years when I was hearing about fight and flight as the trauma responses, or stress responses to trauma, there was also actually freeze. And it's not just a human response; it's a mammalian response. Animals also do it. And the really important thing, I think, for people to understand is that it's completely out of our conscious control. So it's called an autonomic response, because it happens automatically, just like our breathing, and other functions of our body. So when your body determines that there's a danger or threat, it will put you into either fight, flight, or freeze in less than 15 milliseconds, just like quicker than that. And it changes which parts of your brain are functioning; it changes your circulation. And in the case of freeze, there's a real shutdown, where you go on automatic pilot, and you might be able to say a few words, but they're not the words that you want to say. It really feels like things are completely out of your control. So I just think it's so important for people to understand this, because if you're abused as a child, or if you're sexually assaulted, it is the most common form of response. And once you've had that response, it makes a pathway, and that's the most likely response you are to have from then on. So I had had many times in my life where I had a freeze response. And I didn't understand, and I was really like, Ah, I thought I was stronger than that. I thought I was more courageous than that. So I think it leads to a lot of victim blaming, and also victims blaming themselves, which leads to less reporting. I think a lot of people think, Oh, well, I didn't scream, and I didn't run, so I guess I was okay with it.
Marcia Baczynski: So I just want to say, this is a book for educators who are working with teens and tweens. So in the book, we actually talk about, first of all, just being aware that a freeze response is an option isn't an option. It's a possibility, right, that people who, maybe it's they've experienced sexual trauma, or just the relational trauma of being a less privileged person in our culture, where you're constantly being imposed upon, and that just wears away at your sense of self over time. See everyone who's worked in the service industry, ever. [laughs] That just knowing — we're able to teach this to 10 year olds. We talk about playing dead, we talk about animals playing dead, and they're not playing. It's a survival strategy, right? When it comes to people who have privilege, or who are just trying to be better about this stuff, whether it's a sexual context or non sexual context, I think there's so much to be said for basically the example that Erica's friend did, where you pause, and you actually give enough room for a response. And if you're getting a response that doesn't seem aligned — and we have a whole section — again, the book is designed for educators to play games, so it's actually fun to learn about this stuff. You can talk about all the concepts, right? We have some fun games in the book to, like, notice what incongruity is like, right? And somebody is saying, yes, but they mean, no, and what does that look like in their body? So having the participants practice noticing incongruence, that's one of the things — pay attention! Pay attention for incongruence and body language and words. If you're really interested, and you want to dive more into what freeze responses can be in the trauma side of it, or get super nerdy about the neurology of it, certainly those resources are available in the world. But somebody pausing, somebody kind of having a little bit of a not-focused look on their face, not able to form, not really forming coherent sentences — when I teach sexual consent in a kink context, one of the things that I frequently recommend is that if you're top or a dominant, you're in the position of power in the exchange, in the scenario, lay out a proposal for the scene, but include a detail that you're pretty sure they're a "no" to, and see if they actually will say no to you to it. And if they won't say no to it, you pause and go, "Okay, that one detail, what did you think of that?" Like, bring it back around, because if somebody is just in compliance — and that's a different thing, the fawn response, I think we're getting into the fawn response. But looking for the freeze response, but also looking for the fawn response. And I just want to pause, if I may, and explain that a little bit for folks. So the freeze response is an autonomic thing that happens with mammals, similar to fight or flight. The fawn response is a learned response. It's an interpersonal way of coping with lack of basically security in a relational context. So, people-pleasing, rolling over, not rocking the boat to an extreme degree, and specifically when there's a perceived threat. So that's the, like, I just want to make you happy, and I don't, I don't even know what I want. That kind of thing can go hand in hand frequently with the fawn response. So people who are in positions of power, positions of privilege, who are wanting to make sure their interactions are consensual, you're going to be wanting to look for that freeze response. But you're also going to want to know about the fawn response, and look for that, and kind of include things in your negotiations. Pausing to check in, and then also just straight up letting people know it's okay to say no to you, and that you're not going to get mad at them, which is what my mom did, right? Like, just tell me the thing. I want to know you. I care about you. That doesn't mean people will be able to meet you there. Because it is for a lot of people really novel — in my experience, it can be really novel to be, like, "Wait, you actually want to know what I think? I have to now go figure out what that is." But in terms of navigating power and privilege and trauma, those things, pausing looking for incongruence, putting in a known no, and seeing if they actually say no to you, those kinds of things can really help.
Erica Scott: And asking open-ended questions, so the person can't just say yeah, okay, sure. You have to ask questions that make the person have to, like, create a full sentence. And if they're having trouble doing that, if there's hesitation, then you know you're in sketchy territory.
Karen Yates: I'll return to my interview with Erica and Marcia in a moment. Did you know we have transcripts for each episode? Go to wildandsublime.com, locate the episode you're interested in, and it'll be right there.
Are you looking to improve erotic communication with your partner? I work with couples in Chicago, helping them increase pleasure, learn how to express desires, and become more connected. All of this through dynamic, body-centered sessions. Go to the show notes, or karen-yates.com to schedule your free consultation with me. I'll now return to my interview with Erica Scott and Marcia Baczynski. In this part, we'll talk about the development of the workshop, the exercises, and their new book.
[to Erica and Marcia] The idea behind consent culture is, it is collaborative, as you have both said several times. And this idea, this one sentence that "every no contains an infinite number of yeses." And, "we are collaborating to find shared meaning." I thought these were so wonderful. And Erica, I want you to talk a little bit about the creation of the workshop. There are just so many amazing — I mean for for facilitators, because I have to say, you know, not only is this for educators for young people, but I think this is so important for people who lead groups of adults, corporate America, workshop facilitators, this is extremely useful information in guiding people through exercises around consent. I mean, it's basically a trainers manual. And it's couched for both youth, but it can also work for adults. And yeah, I would love for you to just talk about the development of the workshop itself.
Erica Scott: Okay. Well, first of all, I just want to say that every no contains an infinite amount of yeses. — that's Marcia's. And so almost everything — like, so much of the workshop comes from Marcia's work. Yeah, developing the workshop, I did want to develop something for facilitators and teachers. Because I do, I think this is just so needed. And I wanted to get it out there as quickly as possible. And so, that's the idea behind the book, is that you can buy this book, and you can just, if you're already a teacher or facilitator, you can figure out from the book how to lead these exercises. If you want more help with it, we're going to have more stuff coming. We're going to be putting together an online course that shows it more visually. And there's also great tips in there for parents as well. I'm starting a business called Creating Consent Culture. And I'm going to be starting to train people to lead the workshop, so that schools and organizations will also be able to hire people to come in and lead the whole workshop. So yeah, I'll be having my first training this spring.
Karen Yates: There are so many facilitators and educators out there and parents that are like, how do I do this? You know, because it is so complex. And I think the book does a really magnificent job of like, this is how you do it. Because, you know, this idea of moving things out of gatekeeping into collaboration is such a huge idea. And it's so useful to have really specific exercises that are quite fun.
Erica Scott: Our book is very beginner, but we tried to cover a lot of subjects on a beginner level.
Karen Yates: I found it funny that you call it an intro workshop. I have to be honest, I found that I didn't see it as intro. I really didn't. There is a lot of deep stuff.
Marcia Baczynski: Well, maybe the introduction for the culture.
Erica Scott: Yeah, exactly. It's designed to be people's first encounter, possibly. Probably.
Karen Yates: Oh, right. Yes, very good point. Very good point.
Marcia Baczynski: It's not that — the content's not 101. But we are trying to make — I mean, the thing that was challenging about writing the book, too, is like, the chapters are for the teachers, okay, they need a much more well-rounded, grounded theoretical understanding of what we're talking about, so they know why we're doing the exercise that we are. Okay, now, distill that to six pages.
Karen Yates: And can you talk about the collaborative model of consent in consent culture?
Marcia Baczynski: So the collaborative model is, in a nutshell, is basically, we'll say two, but both people or all the people involved put what their interests are on the table, and say what they're not interested in or don't want to do. Take those off the table, and then you see what's left. And that sounds really complicated to adults. But the thing that I noticed is that kids are really good at this. Kids already know how to do this. Let's play tag. Okay, you be it. No, I don't want to be it. Okay, you be it. Okay, I'll be it. That's base. No. Okay. But the tree is also base! They make it up as they go. And I think we are in such a sort of like — this is play, right. That's the other piece that I think people forget. And that's such a foundational piece of this book, and our philosophy of teaching this, is that it has to be fun. Because otherwise, we're not going to take it in. So this collaborative model is about as adults play, sharing space, not being, like, predictive or legalistic about it. There are places where the consent conversation is legalistic: the doctor's office, the lawyer's office. You know, there are places where consent has a different meaning. And it is that gatekeeper model. But for adults or kids who are just trying to have a nice time together, and who want to have a better relationship, or more fun, or sexy times, or whatever the thing is, it doesn't have to be formal or legalistic. And we forget that. And so, the collaborative model is, it invites us to use our creativity, it invites us to take no as information rather than rejection. Gatekeeper model, if you get a no, that means the gatekeeper has rejected you, and you now must, like, retire and then resubmit yourself to their judgment, right? In a collaborative model, a no, is just information. Like, oh, you know, which way is Main Street? Is it that way? No, it's the other way. Okay, great. Thanks for letting me know. So the collaborative model allows us to take a bunch of information, synthesize it, and then figure out what's left after you've synthesized it. Sometimes there isn't anything left to do. But that's also useful. Like, oh, well, we've looked at all of this, but we came together collaboratively. And there's nothing here for us. Okay, that we won't do anything. That's fine, too. But when one person is trying to get something from another in an extractive way, or is, you know, submitting themselves, hoping to get a yes, and their entire self esteem is resting on the answer, that's where things can get really wonky relationally. So the collaborative model kind of allows us to be equals, on a foundational level.
Erica Scott: When I first learned about Marsha's work around asking for what you want, I was confused about how that has anything to do with consent. But once you realize that it's a collaboration, then of course, it can only work if everyone can ask for what they want. If some people can ask for what they want, and others just have to say yes or no, or aren't invited to explore what they want or express it, then it's not true collaboration. And so yeah, equality of people feeling able to think about what they want and express what they want is so important to it.
Karen Yates: Yeah. And I was just thinking about what you said, Marcia. There's very subtle manipulations where it appears there's collaboration going on, but actually — when you said people wrap up so much in their esteem, about you giving a particular response, I think that's maybe what I heard you say, and it's like, gets very dicey when you feel you're being manipulated into a yes. And it's not, like, overarching sexual situations that can happen all the time.
Marcia Baczynski: Every family's Christmas dinner, I guess.
Karen Yates: Right. Yeah. It's, it's challenging, it is so challenging. Because in some ways, you have to create options yourself, in the, as you're being manipulated. [laughs]
Marcia Baczynski: Yeah, I mean, this is something I do work a lot with my clients on, because so often, you know, I have a whole model of like, the good girl, for example, is one of the archetypes I work with my students on. And like, when you've been socialized to be good, that doesn't have to be a girl, but like, we've been socialized to be good, it means to be compliant, and it means to be manipulatable. And when we're not allowed to have the full range of our emotions, when our preferences are not considered valuable information by the people around us, that's a way that they, the people around us, meaning to or not, that's a way that people around us can train you to be manipulated. Another thing I spend a lot of time thinking about, and we touch on this in the book, is name-calling, and how, you know, the more I dig into it, the more I just have come to believe that I don't think there's any form of name calling that isn't fundamentally about coercion. It's about, well, I'm going to call you something that you don't want to be, and then you'll not do the thing that I don't like, and then you'll do the thing that I do want, or you'll at least not do the thing I don't want you to do. You know, and once I realized that, my mind was blown. Even looking at the way that I want to call names, I'm like, what am I doing there? Whether it's somebody in my life, or you know, more usually, politicians. [laughs]
Erica Scott: I just want to be clear with everyone that we have it built into the workshop for participants to be able to sit it out if they aren't comfortable. So consent is built into the workshop.
Marcia Baczynski: One of my pet peeves, and I have seen this done so many times, is consent workshops that are mandatory. Or exercises that everyone has to do before they're allowed to do the next thing. And it's like, Well, wait, what are we actually teaching here? Because you're working at cross purposes. It is challenging, I think, for us as facilitators to have somebody sit out an exercise. Our own self worth, our own judgment... Like, oh, maybe I'm not engaging them enough. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, or we make our student wrong. Well, they're just lazy. The name-calling right? Again, the name calling. They're lazy, they're stupid... Well, maybe they're triggered, or maybe they are processing something that you just said in the last exercise, and they need a minute, right? There's a lot of reasons people might want to sit out, but also sitting out is a valid exercise of one's bodily autonomy. And we can model for our students whether or not we mean the things we say by how we handle students sitting out an exercise, or taking a moment, or going to the bathroom without permission.
Karen Yates: Right? It has to be a coherent field, right? So my question to you is, you know, as we all know, having all of us led workshops, there is this phenomenon of, you're in a workshop, you're having big "ahas," how do you envision the work going forward? How does the work continue to be top of mind? What needs to get put in place, in your mind, for this to continue to be a conversation in a culture?
Erica Scott: I found, for me, as soon as I learned this work through Cuddle Party, it changed my life. And it changed how I related to everyone around me. And that ripples out. And I've seen that also, since leading this workshop, having people come back to me and say, Oh, my God, it's changed my life. I taught everybody I know the "no" exercises, and we're all so excited, and thank you. So I think, yeah, it just ripples out. It really does.
Marcia Baczynski: Yeah, I mean, again, we really aim to make these acts, these exercises, really games. And if it's a game, and it's fun, people will want to teach their friends. And when people have epiphanies, they generally want to share that with their friends. There's something really important in the title, which is "Creating Consent Culture." And being a culture creator, you mentioned the top of the interview, flowing around the dominant culture, this idea of flow. And while I do think there's a place, and it's a really important place, for being directly oppositional to things that are messed up — and this was even a thing when we were writing the book, like, a lot of our first drafts were like, "We have to stop sexual violence. This is a terrible thing!" And we're like, okay, but what do we do instead? How do we relate instead? What is the thing we're moving toward? What are we building? What are we creating, instead of just what are we tearing down. And we talk in the book a little bit about creating, even if we can't change the whole culture, we can create warm, safe havens for one another, where even if the whole world is hostile to our desires, there's pockets where our friends, our loved ones, our community, our teachers, our students can have desires. And maybe I can fulfill those, maybe I can't, but I'm not going to mock them, or judge them, or make them wrong, or tell them that they're bad for having those desires. And that by itself is pretty revolutionary, in my opinion. And the work of culture making, you know, is that ripple effect that Erica was talking about. And it is the warm, safe haven, the pockets that we can create for one another. Because once people have experienced an alternative to coercion culture, they want more.
Karen Yates: Yes.
Marcia Baczynski: It feels better. And one of the things we wanted to do with this book is give people tools that, even if they don't have the conceptual framework of power and privilege, and even if they don't have the big fancy words like "autonomic response," they go, here's a game we can play! And then they can create that experience for one another. And, you know, my housemates and I, I've been teaching this stuff for years. My housemates and I, my friends and I, we play little games like these all the time, habitually, just because they're fun.
Erica Scott: The title of the book is "Creating Content Culture," because it is a process that is in action. And there were people that we acknowledge, indigenous cultures and historical sex educators, we acknowledge that we're building on that work, and it's happening, and it's going to carry on, and it's changing all the time. So we're not trying to say this is the beginning and ending of it all. It's just, this is the step.
Karen Yates: I love that. Is there anything that we didn't talk about, that you're getting that urge, that you feel like it's really important that it be said?
Erica Scott: I wanted to just make sure people know that, you know, we feel that these basic skills of consent need to be felt in an embodied way, and experienced in an embodied way, and practiced and practiced and practiced, for them to be effective. And that's why it's so important to do exercises. And that's how our workshop is different from so many others out there. Many of them are just like, okay, we're going to watch this movie, and then we're going to have a discussion; or, you're going to watch this performance, and then we're going to talk about it. But there's very little out there. I wasn't able to find very much, and especially not for young people, that's actually interactive. So, yeah.
Marcia Baczynski: And I would say the one thing that we didn't talk about, that I think is so crucial for a true consent culture, is what do you do when you screw up? And we have a whole section on that, about how to make a culture of apology, and how to not be a bystander. Those skills of creating an environment, as a teacher, as a facilitator, where you apologize, where you model apologizing when you violate people's consent — which is one of the reasons that I think it's so important to do land acknowledgments, is like, if we can't acknowledge where consent has been violated, even if we can't fix it, we can at least acknowledge it, and not sweep it under the rug, and go, yeah, that was screwed up. I don't actually have the tools to know how to fix that or make it better. But we can not pretend like it didn't happen. Part of the dominant culture of coercion is, if somebody screws up, it's either swept under the rug, or they are punished. Accountability is not punishment, and there's a different way to approach it. We talk about it in the book. I won't go into it here, but I think that's a really crucial piece that doesn't get talked about a lot when we talk about consent. Because again, people are really focused on that upfront yes/no binary, and then, you know, what happens when you have a consent accident, especially with young people, who are still learning how the world works and how to do relationships?
Karen Yates: Well, I mean, the one thing I really appreciated — you talked about moving from punitive to restorative justice, which is part of this. It's like, how do you fully, if you are the person who has done something that has maybe violated another person, you don't have to be destroyed, to have reparations be made. And I think that's really important in this day and age right now, where we're at.
Erica Scott: There's not one single one of us who can look back at their life and say, I never violated anyone's consent.
Marcia Baczynski: In fact, we had several people who were nervous to write blurbs for the book, because of consent violations they had enacted on other people, and they were worried that they would get in trouble if they put their name on a consent book. More than one! Several people. And I'm like, It's not about being perfect! It can't be, or we will fail, the project will fail. It has to be about recovery, repair, healing, that all has to be included.
Karen Yates: Mmm. Yeah. Erica and Marcia, thank you so very much for this conversation. I really appreciate it.
Marcia Baczynski: This was wonderful. Thank you.
Erica Scott: Yeah, thanks for having us.
Karen Yates: For more information on Erica Scott and Marcia Baczynski, go to the show notes. "Creating Consent Culture" can be purchased on Bookshop, our affiliate link that supports independent booksellers and Wild & Sublime. Wild & Sublime is supported in part by our Sublime Supporter, Full Color Life Therapy. Therapy for all of you at fullcolorlifetherapy.com.
Well, that's it, folks. Have a very pleasurable week. Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you heard? Then give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I'd like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme Music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media, at rebelliousmagazine.com.
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