I was with my youngest daughter (Alyssa who is 16) at a Heathen camp out event here in the lower mainland this weekend. With the current #metoo/#himtoo bullshit going on I was taking a look at how our community interacts and some really interesting things emerged. It turns out I had somehow missed the development of consent culture locally before it became an issue that society openly discussed.
There are a lot of women in the community who have been assaulted sexually in the past, or who had been in abusive relationships. Granted these assaults were almost never (which is so not the same as never) by members of the Heathen community, but it brings home the reality that regardless of how much a good segment of the population likes to pretend otherwise, it is now, and always has been an issue that all women have to deal with, and in our community there is enough respect and honesty that these women, and a surprising number of men were able to come forward and talk about.
We are a loud proud and boisterous people. We are rich in craft, proud of the skills of our hands to create works of art, of strength and beauty, or of delicious goodness., We are proud of our skills in the hunt and war, dance and song, poetry and yes indeed commerce as well. We celebrate each others successes, we advocate for each other’s advancement and proper treatment in relationships, striving with great passion to make sure that those in our community are treated as we feel they deserve, not as they have learned to accept (usually wrongly). We are generally far better at making other people stand up for themselves than we are about doing so for ourselves, because everyone to some extent is blind to the lies they tell themselves; that is why community is so important.
We touch a lot. We hug a lot, we tease a lot, hair is ruffled, beards are ruffled and there is a lot of contact that ranges from cheerful roughhousing, heartfelt hugs or flirty silliness. I hear a lot about the supposed horrors that cis-hetero men are supposed to be cowering in about how you must somehow be terrified to interact at all for fear of accusations of wrongdoing.
Bullshit, stallion-shit, full on bear-shit. This is utter dung. Why is it that our community is so much more open with each other in these gatherings than “society” seems to accept?
Trust, respect, consent.
My daughter was asking some questions about how the relationships work when some of the couples present were discussing their open relationship, and we discussed how that worked as far as boundaries and consent is concerned, and how mutual respect is the key factor in making this type of relationship work. She asked simply if that wasn’t the case for every relationship and it hit me. That is the difference.
We, as a community, have a very real commitment to our people. We value each other, and this is expressed with the respect we show each other, with the demand that we always seek to know each others boundaries first, obtaining not implicit but expressed consent for contact, and are prepared to move those limits as the other person directs without fear of offense because we get that today someone may not be comfortable with what they were comfortable with last time we saw them for reasons having to do with them today, not you at all.
The culture of consent is not limiting, is not restrictive, it is freeing and beautiful. The reality of a culture of consent is that men and women feel free not to set their limits at the “on my worst day with my worst enemy I must be prepared to allow this” but rather at the level of “this gives me joy to be free to express in safety”.
I know a lot of men out there get upset when women react defensively to their presence, because after all they don’t view themselves as predators. At the camp out, we gathered around the fire in the field between farm and forest. When the farm dogs would bark, or when something would crack a branch in the dark of the forest beyond, conversation would still for a second or two as hands went naturally to knives and axes, eyes assessed the position of all children and dogs before scanning the treeline for threat signs because while the wolf or cougar KNOWS when it is hunting, the rest of the world must simply remain aware that predators are real, and don’t bother to advertise honestly when they are on the hunt. All of the heathen men and women accepted this truth about the forest beyond our fire without question. How much better will it be when the rest of the men accept this is the way the world beyond our fire looks to many of the women of the world?
Consent culture is something we can make, it does not restrict men or women from honest expression of self or desire, but it does remove the forest and shadows the predators hide in. It is time we took those few islands of success we have crafted, largely through instinct and those lovely community building lessons the gods left scattered about the lore, and extend them into all the social circles and communities we are a part of. Consent culture is about respect first and foremost. Reciprocity and respect are the foundations of all heathen relationships both with our fellow humans and with the gods, spirits and ancestors. This is something we should not only be openly teaching our own community, but understanding that we cannot, as heathens, build our worth in any aspect of our lives if we do not embrace not only as a choice, but as a necessity. Consent culture is not something we should look upon as a liberal intrusion into our heathenry, but with the very real understanding that it has been something that was always rooted in our heathenry. Our long Christian centuries of treating women as property left baggage that too long crept into heathenry while we loudly swore we had rejected all of its ways.
We are not in a time where we can pretend sexual assault and sexual abuse is not present in our society. We are in a time when we can chose whether we will embrace consent culture, and the fundamental principals of reciprocity and respect as the foundation for our interactions, or we can continue to embrace the existing culture of denial and shame. I am proud that our local Heathen community has chosen to embrace consent culture, not only for what it frees the women of the community to be, and express, but for what it frees the men to do as well. When the rest of society chooses the same of its own will, perhaps we may see a day when there will be no need for a #metoo movement.