Image by Mika Baumeister
Can you tell me a little about yourself and your dissertation.
I’m a student, writer and part-time teacher, interested in feminism, sexuality and sexual
violence. My Master’s dissertation is about consent and power in Black women’s
intimate sexual relations.
Why did you choose this work and what has the experience been like?
I was interested in researching sexual consent and sexual violence because I wanted to
make sense of them for myself. It felt to me like sexual violence was being described in
a very black-and-white way, that didn’t resonate with my own experiences of it. I was
interested in what consent and sexual violence meant in intimate relationships, where
instances of violence might be more complicated and confusing.
The research experience was very affirming because it showed me that other women
were struggling with similar questions and experiences. It shed light on how the way we
are conditioned as women sometimes makes it difficult to say no to sex with intimate
partners, for a host of different reasons. It helped me see the way gender expectations
impact our intimate lives. I was able to recognize this as a shared struggle amongst
myself and the women I interviewed.
You speak candidly about the relationship between consent and power,
can you tell me more about that?
In my anti-rape activism, which was my first point of entry into the topic, I focused a lot
on consent because it was important to emphasize that sex needs to be consensual.
Later on, when I did my research, I realized that consent needed to be unpacked further
than this because it wasn’t just as simple as saying yes or no. If we look at consent as
just saying “yes” or “no” to something, we neglect the power dynamics that shape the
answer and we also neglect the rest of the sexual interaction.
Looking at power dynamics of gender and sexuality was important in order to
understand how the big structure we call ‘Patriarchy’ filters into our everyday
experiences. For instance, what patriarchy teaches many women is that sex is not for
our pleasure – it is either for the sake of having children or just part of being a good
wife/girlfriend to a man. If you’re taught growing up that you need to sexually satisfy
your boyfriend in order to maintain your relationship, saying no when you don’t want to
have sex is not that simple. And when you don’t feel like you have the full freedom to
say no, that’s an issue of power.
How do you feel that relationship can be translated to the online space?
I think the online space is very loaded because of how it’s governed, which plays out in
similar ways to how we experience gender oppression offline. There are obstacles to
our autonomy and freedom in both cases. When you decide not to wear a particular
outfit because you know you’re likelier to get catcalled on your way to work or school, your autonomy and freedom is limited. Similarly, on the internet, we know that certain
expressions of our sexuality or beliefs can be similarly censored or policed if they are
not in line with what is deemed acceptable. So, we might hold back, or only share those
expressions with a trusted few. In both instances, we have the power to navigate the
space in certain ways, but we don’t always have total freedom to really express
ourselves. In both spaces, we are navigating our interactions from a place of knowing
we are not always safe, knowing that our expressions can lead to some kind of Punishment.
Can the relationship between desire and consent, and consent and harmlessness be discussed with the lens of OGBV? How, or why not?
Both online and offline, consent requires an environment that makes it possible for
people to be free to express themselves. From what I’ve learned about online gender-
based violence, especially at the ‘Making a Feminist Internet’ convening last year, is how
it’s intensified by sexual and gender minorities not having our own platforms. The
platforms we rely on to socialize online are owned and run by people who don’t care
much about our safety so we are already quite vulnerable, since we are not being
In addition, it takes a lot of effort to build and use our own spaces. We don’t always
have the time, financial power or skillset to establish our own platforms so it ends up
being easier to use Facebook or Twitter. I feel, in similar ways to the intimate sexual
relations, our power online is constrained because we’re often just trying to survive.
We’re working in a set-up of constraint, because we can’t control certain factors. This is
not to say we don’t have power at all, but rather to recognize that building safe online
platforms and safe offline spaces takes a lot of intentional political work.
What pleasures do you access online?
I find pleasure in being able to access so many worlds through the internet. I love
reading personal essays and twitter threads that I find online and learning about
people’s journeys in that way. I love the randomness and exploration aspect of the
internet – one minute I’m watching a silly TikTok video about puppies and nipples, and then the next I’m learning about childhood trauma on Instagram.
Do you feel safe expressing your pleasure online?
I’m still figuring out what pleasure means to me. At the same time, I’m working through
internalized respectability politics. The internet amplifies that anxiety for me because there’s
been this message that if you express yourself in certain ways on the internet, it will come back to haunt you. Like, if you’re posting your semi-nudes online, prospective employers will find them and it will ruin your career.
So I might want to tweet occasionally about my sexual desires, or post a pic of me feeling sexy or something, but I don’t always feel safe to do so. I follow other people who are less inhibited and I really admire them for how they’re able to break that barrier but I’m still finding my footing. I’m still finding a way to live outside the box, without jeopardizing my sense of safety.