While taking a picture of someone can seem like a fun and insignificant act, these daily acts of entitlement to people’s bodies are some of the things that keep bigger acts of non-consent as the norm. This isn’t about asking people not to take photos, but rather really trying to hold that acts of consent are deeply tied to the reasons that Indigenous women, 2spirits, and girls go missing, are murdered, and experience horrific rates of violence.
Almost every single one of us were taught that it’s ok to: look at, comment, place judgment on people’s bodies; touch people without asking; hug or pick up children without asking them or listening to their “no”s; take a picture of someone who is in public. These are very normalized daily acts in this society, that are usually not consensual. And these daily acts are part of what upholds acts of violence that include gender-based, sexualized, and racialized violence. We know why Indigenous women, girls, and 2spirits are murdered – people do not value their lives or their bodies. They have not asked for this violence. They have done nothing to deserve it. Society teaches all of us, but particularly white men, that we are entitled to bodies. Particularly non-white bodies.
It is easy and significant to ask if it’s okay if I take your picture, to listen to your answer, and respect it, to respect your self-determination. In asking for consent I am holding you as the expert of your own self. I am working to decolonize our relationship. I am making room for you to check in with yourself and decide what you want, or to even express that you might not know what you want. I am making room to honor your: yes, no, not now, maybe later, I don’t know, fuck off. Whatever answer you have is great.
My promise to Indigenous women, girls, and 2spirits:
At an event like the Memorial March I might ask you before the march if you’d like me to take pictures of you that day but I will ask you again on the day because you’re always allowed to change your mind. And I will ask again especially because you are an Indigenous woman/girl/2spirit and I’m pretty sure people have been (trying to) accessing your body without consent for possibly your whole life.
Before I post the pictures I will ask you if it’s ok to post them/if you want me to send them to you so that you can post them. If you want me to post them I will ask if you want to look at them first so that I don’t post something you don’t want posted. I will also ask you if I can tag you because you might not want that and I won’t ask you to give me an explanation because I don’t want to question your self-determination.
I will also ask about posting pictures because I know you might want to be seen remembering and honoring your stolen relation(s), you might want to be able to revisit that day, or just because – I am not entitled to an explanation. If you tell me not to ask you again for permission and to post everything and tag you in everything, I will believe you. And you still get to change your mind down the road and I will take everything down if you ask.
Though it might seem tedious and awkward, I do this because you are a valuable member of community, because I respect you, and because I want you to know that you have a right to decide everything about your body including where images of it are, and who can see them.
I promise to practice consent with you every time I see you. Even if I am in daily relationship with you, I ask you each time I want to engage with your body – hugs, photographs, fist bumps, etc. I suspect those ways will grow nuanced as we learn this dance together. And when I mess it up, because I’m an imperfect being, I will do my best to be accountable to you and do relationship repair with you, but only if you want it.
Learning about and practicing consent is a threat to colonialism – when all bodies are valued it is no longer just white, straight, able-bodied, cisgendered bodies that are deemed worthy, valuable, and important. Practicing these small daily acts can have a big impact.
Will you join me in this promise?
Kîwetinohk Kîsik (trish pal)