Building Consent Culture With Kitty Stryker: Takeallah Rivera
This is the second installment of my interview series, “Building Consent Culture”! This time, I interviewed writer, doula, mother, and general badass Takeallah Rivera on how being a parent has influenced her understanding of consent culture.
Kitty: You wrote an incredible piece for "Ask" about giving birth while Black. What do people not understand about consent and birth, especially as a Black person? What would you like to see done differently?
Takeallah: Thank you! I used my experiences as a low-income Black woman in a red state to write the piece! A key thing that people do not understand about consent and birth is that the Western medicine model is patriarchal, racist, and not designed to honor bodily autonomy or designed with women, queer, or non-binary people in mind. (Reading “Killing The Black Body” by Dorothy K. Roberts and “Witches, Nurses, and Midwives” by Barbara Ehrenreich would paint a clearer picture of this!) There have been hundreds of panels, seminars, conferences, and workshops done around this topic and how we can improve Western medicine, with mostly everyone saying that we simply need more Black representation in the medical field. But, I honestly feel that much change will not be made under the current Western medicine model. What good will it do to train more doctors and nurses under the same culturally competent, racist, and sexist medicine model who still have to adhere to the same racist and sexist policies? I would really like to see the number of Black doulas, midwives, and lactation consultants increase, and for more black people to give birth in birthing centers and at home.
How do you raise your child to think about consent culture?
One simple tactic that I use is to ask questions, such as “How do you think __ felt when you took their toy, or when you pushed them? And “How would you feel if someone took your snack away from you?” I also allow my child space to process and express his emotions, as well as processing and expressing my emotions as well. (i.e. “I really do not like when you jump on Mommy like that. It makes me very uncomfortable. Can you please stop?”). As a mother to a son, it is very important for me to raise a son that is in touch with his emotions and is comfortable displaying and expressing his emotions- “Boys will be boys” and “boys don’t cry” does not fly in my household. I do not want to contribute to rape culture and sexism by raising yet another hypermasculine son that another parent would want their daughter (or son) to stay away from.
What do you see as the major challenges to creating and building a consent culture in the U.S.? What is a way average people can confront those challenges?
One of the major challenges I see to creating and building consent culture in the United States is our sex negativity. Abstinence-only sex education, slut shaming, and demonizing of sex workers (re: SESTA and FOSTA) in the United States greatly contribute to our sex-negative attitudes. Unfortunately, we think that if we don’t acknowledge sex that it will simply go away, and that is not the case. People have and will continue to have sex for pleasure and that is perfectly okay! Average people can confront these challenges by exploring their own sexualities and learning something new! Visit your local sex shop and learn about the products, attend events and classes at your local Planned Parenthood, reach out to sex educators online for coaching, dig for sex education books at your local bookstore. There are so many things that we can do to learn and grow!
Recently, your place of employment, Babeland Seattle, fired you, seemingly because you stood up for yourself against racist bullying from a fellow employee. How can consent culture be fostered within a work environment, and what should have been done better?
Consent culture can be fostered within a work environment by managers including all parties in the decisions that they make when conflict arises. Using my situation as an example, a conflict occurred when a co-worker did not like the perfume that I wore, claiming scent sensitivities. Even after I stopped wearing the perfume and all scented products to work and switched to organic, unscented products, the co-worker continued to express disdain for me. The day I was fired from Babeland, I was wearing unscented products, but the co-worker still seemed to be dissatisfied. The manager went behind my back and sent a coworker out to the local grocery store to pick up baking soda and vinegar, in hopes of me “washing” my unscented products” off my body. Not only was I violated by my co-worker choosing to tell me that I was expected to wash off my products, but I was also violated in the sense that two people conspired behind my back and made a decision for me about what I was going to put on my body to satisfy someone else. I use baking soda and vinegar in my everyday life- to clean my toilet, get stains off my couch and mattresses, and to clear kitchen and bathroom sink blockages. There was no way in hell that I was putting a cleaning solution and a bleaching substitute on my body. I think this unfortunate instance serves as a perfect example for managers and racist coworkers of what NOT to do in the workplace.
What are some ways people can practice consent culture in their daily lives? Do you have specific advice for parents?
Yes! I recently wrote a piece for Sexologist Dr. Jill on how you can promote consent culture to small children. Parents can promote consent culture to their children by using anatomically correct terms of body parts and showing their children that they respect their space by asking for permission to touch them (Such as, “I see that you’re upset. Is it okay if I give you a hug?” or “May I have a kiss?”). Also, choosing a pediatrician and dentist with feminist values (one who empowers your child by speaking to them rather than over them and talks them through their examinations) can greatly contribute to your child valuing and promoting consent.
Takeallah Rivera is a Full Spectrum Doula, Educator, Writer, Mother, and Activist. She works to spread her feminist gospel and promote reproductive justice and education equity. You can learn more about her work at TakeallahRivera.com and MakeLemonadeSupport.com.
Kitty Stryker is a freelance writer, anti fascist anarchist activist, and queer sex educator who has been working specifically in the realm of consent for 7+ years. She has bylines at Buzzfeed, Rolling Stone, Vice, Wear Your Voice, Ravishly, the Frisky, the Guardian, and much more. She lives in Berkeley, CA with her cats Foucault and Marquis.