by Cunt Incognita — Figa in Vicenza, Italy — she=he
I’m keeping the description of this workshop ‘short’ and with focus on what we did, rather than what we talked about. Apologies to anyone curious about the content of the discussions. I’m writing this down for the sake of sharing a bit with the ones who want to know what happened, as well as a means to share my main idea of the workshop – creating awareness of the concept and practice of Consent, as well as awareness of the concept and practice of Transformative Justice – with a larger crowd than the ones who participated live.
The workshop for men and trans:
Three men and myself (a woman) meeting up. First I spoke some of feminist self-defense: Separatist groups of women training together and sharing experiences and skills with one another on how to deal with everyday male chauvinism.
After this I explained that I wasn’t really clear on what would happen in this workshop for men, that I only knew I would like to begin and end the workshop with a round (each person taking turns speaking) and somewhere in between speak of sexualized violence. So we started with a round saying what expectations we had and anything else that came to mind.
Then we played a few games to create a sense of closeness. The first one is with everyone standing in a circle and clock-wise (or counter-clock-wise) looking at the persons in the circle one by one, and when two persons happen to look at each other at the same time, they change places with one another, and then continue looking at the others in a circle and when there’s eye-contact they swap places again. And so on..
The next one is a game to build trust. Half of the people stand with their eyes closed and hands reached out in front of them, the other half lead the others around the space palm to palm. The ones who lead, leave the person standing after a while, and change to another person, so that it’s possible to experience many different ways of leading and following. After a while the roles are switched, and the ones that followed are now the ones that lead the others around the space.
After this we had a short exchange on how the games felt.
And then we tried walking around in the space – half of us with a sense of entitlement “I can go wherever, and move however I want” not caring for how the others are located in the room. The other half, make their space small, avoid eye-contact, and get out of the way of everybody else. After a while we swapped roles. The idea with the game was a wish to convey an inner as well as a physical reality experienced in public space by women as well as other disadvantaged groups. I’m not too sure I managed to transfer my intention to the men. I made connections not only to physical bodies getting and taking space, but as well to how much visibility different groupings have in media, and advertisement etc.
In the game that followed, half of us were greeting the others with a firm handshake, direct eye-contact, and a strong voice. The other half had a weak handshake, avoided eye-contact and spoke with a small voice. After two rounds of greeting the others we swapped roles. This time the idea was to think about the roles we have to one another on an individual level, and how we relate to that. Once again I wanted to convey the deep impact of gendered socialization on our behavior, as well as sharing an internalized reality by privileged and disadvantaged people in this society. These games didn’t really have an impact on the men since they knew one another from before. One person said that the reactions and reflections might be different in a larger group.
We had a talk about how we had experienced the games and I tried to explain my intention behind choosing to do these exercises with them: That it’s about the sense of space (mental – verbal – physical space) that we feel entitled to in relation to roles of privilege and disadvantage.
Then I asked some questions, and one of the men asked a question as well, with us choosing to place ourselves on a line between one end of the room representing a definite “Yes” and the opposite end being a clear “No”. In between could signify “Something in between” or “Both” or “I don’t know”.
The questions asked could be interpreted freely: “Do you reflect a lot on how gender affects your life?” The question asked by the man was something like this “Do you experience prejudiced treatment towards you by other genders because of them seeing you as belonging to a different gender?” Then I asked some questions in relation to community responsibility: “Would you stop someone from driving drunk?” “Would you stop someone at a party, from taking a drunk person home for sex?” “Do you see yourself as capable of sexualized violence?” This part took quite some time, and we all took turns explaining why we had chosen our particular position in the room to each question. There was a clear difference in the way I placed myself in relation to how the men placed themselves in relation to these questions. Someone was saying after, that they experienced it as being a cultural difference (I live in Finland. They live in Italy) as well as a gender difference (I am female, they are male).
After this we sat down in a circle again. I asked briefly if they see their friends as capable of sexualized violence, and after this we went on to speak about Consent.
I showed a graph looking like this:
The graph describes the gliding scale from Consent (“YES! I know what I’m doing and I absolutely agree and want to do exactly THAT thing with YOU! Yes! Yes! YES!”) to Co-operation (not saying no, but not wholeheartedly [or even half-heartedly for that matter..] agreeing/wanting to do what the other wants to do either) to Coercion (absolutely disagreeing/not wanting to do/not being able to give consent to what the other wants to).
The closer to consent you are – meaning: checking for agreement to every individual act, as well as staying tuned with how the other is responding to it – whatever it is you’re doing might start feeling nicer/less nice – so it’s not enough that the other person has said “yes”.. consent is a continuous communication and sensitivity towards the other, and the closer you are to consent, the more certain you can be of someone not having a bad experience with you.
I had a paper looking like this:
I had left the “What is consent?” column open in order to keep the focus of the discussion there for a while. One person said that consent is not possible unless you really know the person, otherwise there are too many factors speaking against the possibility of real consenting sex (for example: power-asymmetries). Another person was saying that it’s impossible to expect consent or ‘good sex’ when doing one night stands, to which I replied that consent is not only in relation to sexual contact with persons but a general approach on how to interact with others. Just as we can work on having equal relations with random strangers in the street, it should be possible to work on having enjoyable sex with random strangers in bed.
I followed the talk on consent with the conclusion that a substantial part of sexual interaction happening today is closer to co-operation and coercion than consent. And saying that we in spite of a high level of violence choose to individualize the experiences and label them as ‘personal’ matters instead of seeing it as a collective problem, and if there’s any response to violence within our communities, then it most often follows the same pattern as the Criminal Legal System: Violence is only recognized if there has been high level of coercion/resistance, and once there’s a recognition of harm done, the only response is to condemn the act and punish the person who did it. Often by exclusion or physical violence. The safety and healing of the person affected by the violence is not taken into consideration, nor is the changing/transformation of the harmful behavior – in other words: healing – of the person who caused the abuse, or a change in, and healing of, the community colluding with the violence (excusing it, denying it, allowing it to happen).
I said that the term Criminal Legal System (instead of Criminal Justice System) is coined by a group called Generation Five (the name coming from a vision of ending child sexual abuse within five generations). They question the legal system seeking and delivering justice so therefor they’ve changed the word ‘Justice’ to ‘Legal’.
Generation Five have come up with another concept as a response to the State’s inability to provide justice on individual and collective levels. They call this Transformative Justice. Their vision and practice is “based on the idea that individual justice and collective liberation are equally important, mutually supportive, and fundamentally intertwined—the achievement of one is impossible without the achievement of the other.” [from the first pages of the text called Toward Transformative Justice – A Liberatory Approach to Child Sexual Abuse and other forms of Intimate and Community Violence . A Call to Action for the Left and the Sexual and Domestic Violence Sectors .]
“For the Left to accomplish its vision of a just world, we must develop a liberatory response to intimate, interpersonal, and community violence. The daily reality of such violence prevents people and communities from imagining and participating in the creation of a more just world. Without a just world, people cannot find healing and safety. Developing a radical response by Left social movements to all forms of violence opens the opportunity to heal the trauma of past violence, reduce the level of violence we experience, and mobilize masses of people for fundamental social change.
Transformative Justice responds to the lack of —and the critical need for—a liberatory approach to violence. A liberatory approach seeks safety and accountability without relying on alienation, punishment, or State or systemic violence, including incarceration and policing.”
The goals of Transformative Justice as a response to all forms of violence are:
- Survivor* safety, healing and agency
- Accountability** and transformation of those who abuse
- Community response and accountability
- Transformation of the community and social conditions that create and perpetuate violence, ie systems of oppression, exploitation, domination and State violence.
* Survivor ~ The person immediately affected by the violence
** Accountability = Stopping immediate abuse / Making a commitment to not engage in further abuse / Offering reparations for past abuse
There was a question on how abusive behavior can be transformed and I responded that there is a short booklet, about 20 pages, describing a practical example of Transformative Justice in building collectives and supportive networks of individuals around the persons who have abusive behavior to support them in healing and change.
After this we had a closing round, saying how we had experienced the workshop, and then it was over.
Facebook group for people wanting to talk about the text (Toward Transformative Justice)
During the workshop I was asked if I had had other workshops with men only, and my answer was no, but that I had had a workshop on gender, where the group was split into men/women. The results can be read here:
My personal experience of the men and trans workshop in Vicenza:
I felt nervous before the workshop, not knowing what to do with the time, or what exercises I could do to get into a deeper discussion on male violence and the role men as individuals take in maintaining patriarchal norms. After the workshop I had the feeling that I need a different – stronger more clear concept – to make a powerful impact on the participants.
I felt attracted to one of the men, which kept me focused on my internal process as a heteronormative woman in a space with men. I don’t know if this affected the workshop anything. Maybe the man was getting more speaking space than the others. Maybe I didn’t follow some discussion through the way I would have in other circumstances.
On two occasions I felt singled out by this man, once when speaking about sex and the man saying that it just ‘goes how it goes’ and that you figure out how you felt about it after, and then making a comparison saying that it would be the same as if this man would have dinner with me and then seeing how it feels afterwards. I did a clumsy “Or with that guy!” comment, instead of saying “I feel singled out as the only female person in the room, and put in the position of potential sex partner” [objectification] “I would prefer if you wouldn’t use my person as an example when we are speaking of the topic of sex”. The same man burped at a later occasion when speaking [at least two of the men were drinking beer], and then looked at me and said “Sorry”, and once again I felt singled out as the ‘female’ in the room and as someone to be ‘sensitive’ to with manners. I made a comment about it, and the man was saying that it was just that the guy knows the other men, and not knowing me, that made the difference. I still feel singled out and made “other” by the comments made.
I stayed after the workshop to have a talk with the two men who are key-holders/’patrons’ of the space, about calling the mixed workshop ‘non-sexist’. It was a long workshop, so most likely out of tiredness, we stopped translating, and one of the men ended up listening to the English conversation I had with the other man, and I’m not really sure how much of this conversation was understood. We spoke in loops, both repeating ourselves, and I experienced the talk as tiring and full of contradictions, and it is still a mystery to me how to speak of my experience of sexist structures and thinking in a ‘convincing’ way for a male person who can not recognize privileged behavior and feeling ‘attacked’ by my point of view. For me it’s not enough to recognize that we have ‘different realities’ – it is important to reach an understanding of what sexism really is. I can not agree with defining separatism as ‘sexism’ or that a simple comment on the fact that we can’t claim to know experiences we’ve never had (when speaking of the need for some women to have temporary space without male persons around, in order to be able to speak more freely, and the response from this man being that it’s ‘better’ to have those talks with men included, and a woman saying: “You can not understand, because you are a man!”) to be ‘sexism’ against men, instead of using the emotional response to this factual statement as an indicator that it’s time to check your privilege: “Why am I reacting in such a strong and negative way to someone asking to do things in their own way? What prevents me from relating to their point of view? What prevents me from letting them do what they want?”