When Saying No Has Consequences

The topic of consent has been popping up in my life quite recently. It’s been sparked off by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which is all over the media and even though I don’t follow mainstream media the story somehow infiltrated my life. This, in turn, ignited the #metoo social media campaign which has then sparked off a lot more conversation, around sexual abuse, consent and a certain kind of negative sexual behaviour which is so often dismissed that it’s unfortunately it’s become a normality in our culture.

Firstly – it’s about time we started talking about this because it’s been underground for far too long. In fact, it’s so underground that a lot of people can’t actually believe it’s a thing at all. It’s not their fault that they don’t believe it at first, in reality most of us go through life viewing our personal perception as the general experience of all. To someone who would never dream of sexually abusing someone else, they may therefore assume that none of his friends would either, thus deeming that the reality of this happening is relatively small. Unfortunately this perception isn’t reflective of the experience of a lot of people, and anyone who has experienced sexual abuse will know about the shame and guilt that comes with telling the story. They’ll also have probably experienced firsthand the judgement that comes when they tell people, the questions that automatically assume that the victim is at fault: “What were you wearing?” and “Were you drunk?” were two common questions that I was often asked when I first told people that a man had voilently attacked me to try and rape me. So is it a surprise that we don’t feel comfortable to offer our stories at the dinner table, let alone reporting it? Because of this, these stories aren’t shared as common knowledge, they’re kept inside and suffered in silence because most people don’t feel safe enough to even voice them with their closest friends and family. If you’re reading this and still think that it’s not an issue, then start listening to the conversations of those around you and in a non judgmental manner* start asking people for their stories, what comes back might just widen your perception.

As this story has unravelled, and in the conversations I’ve had especially, I’ve found myself explaining the concept of consent frequently and it’s seems to be something quite misunderstood. There’s some really great public campaigns creating awareness about how important consent is, one great one in the UK which explained it in a metaphor of offering someone a cup of tea and that you wouldn’t force someone to drink a cup of tea against their will if they’d already said ‘no’ – you can imagine the humour in this with a nation that is so polite with the treasured ritual of the famous ‘cuppa’. What it seems to miss out though, is the issue of consent when one person is in a position of power, which they could use against the person with less power if they don’t get what they want. Quite often in situations where sexual abuse takes places there is a power dynamic which is being abused, be it physically or like in the Harvey Weinstein case – the power of one person’s career prospects. To me, consent isn’t just about saying no. It’s about having the opportunity to say ‘no’ without consequences.

Consequences such as the other person reacting negatively like becoming dismissive, moody, even ending the relationship and all that has been built to create it so far.

Consequences like losing out on something external of the situation that a person has worked so hard to achieve, like a career, an opportunity or their reputation.

Consequences like personal safety, that if the person with less power doesn’t just give in and give the person with power what they want that things might just turn that little bit nasty.

I’m not saying that we need to have sit down discussions at length prior to having any sexual encounter because I know how these things arise and nobody what’s to spoil the mood. But what I am saying is that the vulnerable person in the sexual dynamic (the one that has the least power) has to feel safe enough to say no if they choose to and that it’s up to the person with the power to create that safe environment. The only way we can do that is by having this conversation about sex, safety and what consent actually means to us as individuals. And I don’t mean “What do you think about this Weinstein scandal” conversation starter in the office. I mean talking in depth, to those people close to us about the vulnerable details of our own experiences and what makes each of us feel comfortable and safe. Talking to those who we know would have had different sexual experiences from ourselves. If you’re a man, talk to a woman. If you’re straight, talk to someone who has had homosexual or bisexual relationships. If you’re monogamous, why not talk to someone who’s polyamorous? It’s only by widening our perception that we can learn more about the world and other’s experiences, and it’s only through sitting through the discomfort of others painful stories that we’ll start building up compassion within ourselves.

We need to start reflecting about our experiences too. Think about those times that you’ve had sex and it didn’t quite feel right – why was that? Did you not actually want it to happen? Or maybe you pushed yourself on someone and they gave in because of that? If you’re unsure can you open that conversation with that person and get some home truths aired? Don’t beat yourself up for something you weren’t aware of at the time though, because it’s not product to wallow in guilt. Just use this awareness to apologise and rectify the situation if you need to and change your behaviour going forward.

Without this kind of open awareness, reflection and compassion we’re not going to be able to create the respectful and safe world that we all deserve. So keep talking, keep challenging your own opinion and most of all listen, compassionately.

*A non-judgmental manner means to react neutrally to the answer that is given, regardless of how you feel. It means to allow space to listen, receive and for that moment sit in the awkward discomfort with the other person and feel what they are actually feeling. I write discomfort because that’s what it is at best, at worst it can be shameful, upsetting or deeply crushing. It is your obligation as the receiver to listen, without comment as someone expresses what is probably extremely difficult for them. And if you still don’t understand what that means then you obviously need to do some more reading.

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

 

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Back En Route

Hi, how are you? I’m Shereen, I used to live here, and after much deliberation I’ve decided to come back to and write from here.

It’s been a turbulent three years since all the interesting incidents happened in my life. Turbulent in terms of ups and downs, confusion and clarity, and every time I thought I turned a corner I found myself, somehow back at the start again. Or at least that’s what it sometimes felt like. In fact, that’s the reason that I decided to step away from this blog in the first place. I was done with having myself associated with the word trauma, being connected to it like we were conjoined twins who couldn’t escape each other no matter how much we pulled apart. By blogging on this site it served as a constant reminder that I wasn’t able to let go and move past what had happened. Thus wasn’t able to heal.

So I decided to leave it in January this year and set up a new blog straight from my name – shereensoliman.com. It helped, a bit. But I still found myself still analysing human behaviour, reading self help books and attracting new people in my life who had either just been through something traumatic or were in some stage of trauma recovery process. It’s not these actions were wrong in any way, it’s just that there became a time when all this exploration into trauma recovery had served its purpose for me. I’d simply learnt and processed as much as I needed to for this time, and for as long as I continued to swim around in these murky waters, I wasn’t going to get to where I wanted to be in life with my business, my romantic endeavours or my lifestyle. What I discovered was that although my decision to step away from the ‘trauma on tour’ title was of good intention, I hadn’t really done the work that I needed to in order to steer my life in the direction I wanted. In fact moving away from the blog didn’t really make that much of a difference for me at all, and even though I wasn’t writing from it I was still getting lots of daily hits and people reaching out to me through it. I’ve since figured that I may as well start to write from here again, if only to demonstrate that such challenging times can be overcome, and clarity of mind can be reached – without pills.

While moving away from the blog didn’t loosen the anchor of trauma that I felt weighed down by, the work that I continued to do on myself did. After having more therapy sessions this summer – this time in Creative Kinesiology, and also a soft psychology session with a good friend of mine. Things started to become much clearer in my life, I decided that there was work to be done and that I was ready to do it.

First things first – I decided that I don’t want to make a career out of this emotional intelligence stuff. I might be good at coaching some people and I know that I talk in an authentic (and blunt) voice that is sometimes rare in our modern times, but in terms of actually coaching people, I just don’t enjoy it. So I just stopped and decided that this was no longer to be a part of my relationships.  I’ve since felt a hell of a lot lighter.

Second of all, I decided to clear out my life. Coincidentally we’re renovating my childhood room back home, so my stuff is all over the place – a great opportunity to go through and get rid. After reading a book called Spark Joy (thanks to my brother who bought me this for my birthday), I’m literally in the process of chucking out every single physical thing in my life that doesn’t bring me a deep sense of joy to own it. I now walk around wearing only elegant clothes… because that’s how I want to feel. I also cut out those relationships in my life which weren’t right for me. The ones which sucked my energy or involved me having to defend myself. All of the ones where I felt a hint of negativity when I thought about them, because I want people in my life who spark joy in my and who I spark joy in too, why would I have it any other way?

Thirdly, I went back to what my dreams and passions were before all of this craziness started – to build my own Eco Spa. Sustainability and wellbeing are two things that I’m extremely passionate about; it’s why I have such random qualifications from Beauty Therapist to MSc in Sustainable Architecture, and regardless of all this trauma stuff, it’s the goal of my life to create this building. So I started making headway in this area too – contacting people, talking to anyone who will listen about my concept and making sure that any work that I do is in the general direction of this goal (my workshops combine sustainability and beauty and my remote work is for a sustainability charity).

I’m not sure how many corners there are left to turn, in fact it’s probably a never ending maze that we’re all in called life. However, I do know that if I at least have the courage to head towards my dreams then I’ll feel good no matter if I succeed or not. At least I’ll know I’ve tried. And after coming through what I managed to process over the last 3 years, surely building an Eco Spa should be a doddle in comparison right? At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

I hope you enjoy my writing, there’s more to come.

Happy Exploring.