The non-consensual field of consent within which the consent is extracted

I was made into a data set. That set was created from analysis about me. But “I” am not a data set and “I” as I arrived into the world did not consent to being a data set, in fact one could say my infancy qualified me as “not able to give consent.” My a/liveness was debatable, so my parents took over the acts of consenting to the extent that they were asked. It was said that I was born in January. I was given an identification number. I had no penis; I was recorded as FEMALE. My eye colour was stated to be blue. My race was recorded as caucasian. In the act of living I began to understand that I would have to pay to have roof over my head, that I ought to learn the knowledge that was deemed necessary in order to find work to pay for the roof, that I had to register where the roof would be.

One would or could say that all this data is extracted from me, but it was also given to me, placed upon me, data given to me in the first place. A data set to which I then consent to be taken from me, to which I must agree or disagree, but one with which I must always contend and relate, even though I did not consent to the field of the relation.

Almost any exchange can be extractive. Although we might try to undermine extractivism by engaging in better or safer or more ethical practices, first and foremost–obtaining consent—it seems as though the act of accessing consent holds the possibility to obfuscate the extractive power dynamics or the possibilities of extractivist practices inherent in any exchange. Therefore I’m interested in the context of the consent acquisition and developing more nuanced and complicated language around the ecosystem of the consenting figures.

I believe that the “compendium of tactics” is a positive starting point and something to work within. But I also believe that as hard I might work to practice my work ethically, we will not manage to wipe out the hierarchies that exist through these so-called ethical acts alone. We still may not manage to disrupt the system, we still may not completely be able to understand the terms upon which we gain access to consent. We don’t want to silence those dynamics or forget about them.

Consider the context of sex between two consenting teenagers who have been shaped by heteronormativity, gendered expectations of role playing, ideas around sexuality, around power, around “who has the audacity to —”. Although we could say that consent exists, what also exists is power, hierarchy, (perhaps) dissatisfaction, perhaps a vague sense of unease. If the unease already exists, are we ever talking about consent in the action itself or are we speaking of a much larger consent?

Consider a Walmart being built, a mine being dug, a river being diverted, a new expensive coffee shop being built. From whom is consent garnered in the making of those things and the inevitable taking of the realestate, the environment, the old ways of life? Who agrees to this? Suppose I am offered 50€ for a performance, suppose I am offered 500€ for a performance. Suppose I am offered 5000€ for a performance. To which of these fees do I consent? To which of these fees do I not consent?

Presumably, I would not consent to a 50€ fee for a performance, but in fact, I probably would, living and working in Berlin, a city where 50€ is not unheard of. And I am broke, and there are few jobs. I might say say.

Presumably, I would consent to a fee of 5000€ for a performance. I would consider spending several months on it, paying myself a “monthly wage” and directing my time towards the preparation of a performance. Considering that I already live on about 1000€ a month, I might think it therefore reasonable to devote 5 months of my life to a performance for which I garner such a fee. But if I were to run this by someone working in business, they might think me a total fool. A 5000€ fee might be the wage they would make in two weeks, in one week. It is not reasonable for me to devote that much time to my performance because there is no reason here. Clearly, the value of my labor does not make sense. The value of my art cannot be simply placed in the measurements of “time spent” and “money made.” I do not consent to the (lack of reason) around the value of my labour, of my creative labour, my emotional labour.

Even naming a thing—an idea, a place, a mode of communication—colonizes the experience. Naming is, essentially, a colonization. The being is colonized by the name. As the being walks into the world, encounters the world, the being must either say YES I consent to the name, or NO—I dont consent to this name. But either way, they are forced to contend with this name which was not given consensually.

There is power in naming and giving an event language, and this naming colonized an experience that we had, gave it language. The language of rape was something specific with which I found myself engaging as a young person. I had to engage with this naming—to dispute or agree. Perhaps it was a language that elevated it, perhaps this elevation was a kind of act which I could now understand in the language of unlearning white supremacy as “signaling wokeness,” as “male saviourship,” as “performative allyship.”

At 20 I understood for the first time not (only) that I WAS RAPED but that I had grown up within a culture of rape, and that acts to which I had consented were procured in a field of consent to which I did not consent. Engaging with the language of rape as the name of an act to which I had participated had advantages for me. Choosing to use the word RAPE was better than covering it up, burying it, letting it be another sexual experience. Choosing to call it rape was choosing life in that moment, was choosing a life journey. It helped me understand all those terrible feelings, it helped me unify with other people who had experienced something similar, it helped me find a place for my experience, it helped me on my path towards seeing myself in all the sexually liberated ways that I would. But using the word RAPE never explained everything.

Calling it rape didn’t entirely explain my consent, or what I would more accurately like to call, my field of consent, or the field of consent which makes possible the extraction of the consent. And here is where extraction and consent and sex and power and rape continue to intersect for me. Though what I would like to speak about is EXTRACTION and my continued research on the topic of extraction and extractivism and new extractivisms, I find myself thinking about rape. Or maybe rape was there all along, so obvious in the gash in the earth created by the marble quarry. Or is it obvious? And is rape a gash, or rather, is my cunt a gash from which something is extracted? Honestly, I dont think so, this metaphor doesnt exactly work. Its something else, something adjacent, something more elusive.

Is my cunt a gash in the earth, my “female” body the earth through which I am pierced by some phallic drill? Fuck that. To this Freudian metaphor I do not consent. To this phallocentric, heteronormative idea of sex, I do not consent. To this position of near paralysis as soft earth is plundered by heavy frantic machinery, I do not consent. To likening of the female body to the natural world, to the male penis as the machine, the invader, the artificial intelligence, the foreign–to all these false binaries I do not consent, I do not agree.

Extraction implies using force, implies as well taking something out of something else, in other words, squeezing something out. Still, I would like to venture that perhaps “extractive event” is useful in understanding this moment, and perhaps many others like it in which consent of some kind, is involved.

As I walk myself through this thinking, I encounter the question: If this event were extractive, then something was extracted–but what was it? It feels commonplace to say that “sex was taken” from a woman (nonconsensual), or “sold” (consensual, perhaps, insofar as capitalism is). “She sold her sex,” it is said, “her dignity was stolen,” and even “she sold herself,” or more benign: “he took her virginity.” All of these are indeed commonplace but none of these get at (my) experience; inexact at best. At worse–a second violence, a (re)violation and repeat offensive of patriarchy in the mimisis of its form (“The Masters Tools”). None of these things were taken from me. I still have my sex, whatever that is. I still have my sexuality, I still have my power to orgasm, to enjoy sex, I still have my genitalia, and all my organs intact. I still have my self, my gender(s), I still have my power to define my sexuality. It was my consent which was extracted as we existed within this field of consent to which I did not consent. Or to a field which I was forced to relate but desired so much otherwise.

I desired so, so much otherwise; I desired an ocean of otherwise. There was so much to which I did not consent, so much to which I did not consent, and yet my YES somehow consented, consented to all of it! Consented to all of the things to which I did not consent.

To begin, I did not consent to being asked to have sex. I did not consent to being a young woman. I did not consent to being a body who was understood as a young woman. To be a body called a woman who was understood as the receptive pocket for some kind of act of insertion. Who was a body who was understood to be asked rather than asking, to consider an offer rather than make an offer, to “protect” her body as land, as property, as soft earth.

I did not consent to growing up in patriarchy where I was meant to be “guarding” my virginity, my sexuality, my state of “not pregnant”, my state of not “soiled”, not “spoiled”, not “violated”. I did not consent to having to worry about getting pregnant. I did not consent to the learned expectations of a body who was understood as male. I did not consent to the relationship of power between male and female bodies. To the fact of hormones, which made me less horny that day and made his hormones–apparently–rage. I desired to go to school, to stay dressed, to not take off my pantyhose, to not to be asked to do so. I desired not to be asked to consent to something which I clearly did not want. I desired that he would understand this. I desired that he wouldn’t push, that he wouldn’t try to “seduce”, to “convince”, to sway me. I desired that I wouldn’t have to use words to tell him. I desired that I wouldn’t think it would be “easier” to say yes. I desired that he wouldn’t try to extract consent. To get me to say yes.

And there were other things, too, bigger things that I couldn’t even imagine and therefore couldn’t even want. There were desires that wouldn’t be thought of, desires that our bodies were not opposition, that our sex would be queer, that we would circulate each other, that our bodies could fit differently together, that our genders could allow for some other kind of dialogues, that sex would not be called sex, that we would not be in the condition of the parents home in the suburban house, in the institution of schooling, that our sexual exploration could be so much more powerful and spiritual and exploratory and imaginative and creative than those twenty minutes before high school in Virginia could ever have been.

There was a whole sphere of relations, of structures and histories to which we had arrived in that moment to which I had no access to overhaul. This is what I might call the field of my consent. That is why when someone ever makes the excuse of why we go to war using the latest indiscretion that just happened it always points to war and never explains all the minor gestures that came before it, the conditions of violence to which there seems no other choice. I did not desire this moment nor the conditions of this moment.

It is this that might be worth hanging on to in this writing, might be worth extrapolating from–this idea that the conditions in which the consent is extracted are not consented to. And this is worth speaking of, and thinking through, whenever we consent to–or ask others–to consent to our wishes and desires, no matter we do and no matter what field we are in.

It might be tempting to think that in digital contexts, it is our content and data that is being mined from us, extracted from us. This may be true metaphorically. But simultaneously, and perhaps more importantly, is the existence of our consent, or what we could call the field of our consent. And in this sense we might think that what is extracted from us is our consent to sign up in the first place, to put our data in the fields, and to share our content. And why do we consent? Because we feel that we must, that it is part of our world, and because we get things that we want. And what do we produce for ourselves every time we share our content? We produce content–our own content, our ego boost of the number of likes, our sense of worth, of value. We experience an artistic act, a creative moment, the act of creating a work of art–as much of our content is. Perhaps that we are an activist, that we are doing something. Or that our ideas have value. That we look cute, creative, that we are being real, genuine, keeping it 100%.

Each time we share, we DO get something. But do we consent to the infrastruture itself? Do we consent to who controls it? To the language that it uses? Do we consent to being asked? Do we consent to the feeling that we must? To the pressure itself? To the feeling that we must make a choice–be in facebook or outside of facebook–you decide? Do we consent to the human slavery that makes possible the chips in our computers, to the devalued labour of the persons making such devices, of the delivery of goods to homes by underpaid delivery persons, to the sedentary nature of an elite group of people’s lives, to the persuasive power of conveniences, to the slow eating away of people’s ability to concentrate, to the way that digital content is overloading minds. Oh yes–we consented. But do we desire otherwise? Oh yes, we desire otherwise, so much otherwise.

And as artist/worker–yes, I signed the contract that said I would earn 350€ for this day of work. I understood that this is the budget said corporation, said artist, said theatre, said commercial outfit, could offer me. There was no more to offer me, nothing more I could extract from them. I consented to the model release, that my image could be used in advertising, that the show could be shown on TV, in an advertisement, on an airplane. That it would be and could be distributed. I signed a paper and my signature is there, proving my consent. And I–as Artist, as “creator”, as “author”, I procure your consent to work with me, for said budget, which is already “over my budget”, already “a lot for me” and yet very little for you. I procure your consent to work in these conditions of less than optimal conditions, which I try to overcome and to make better.

But who, in these conditions of artistic engagement, will be named author, whose name will be in big and bold? How will our successes be measured? Who will get funding to work further, who will get amplified to speak about it again? Who is emotionally invested and will be called to speak about the ramifications of where it goes.

Through my consent, and your consent, we cover up something, many things to which we do not consent, we do not desire. So this consent form — it does not really go far enough, might even cover up something very important, may say nothing of the power dynamic in the first place. And this payment, this payment may make me or someone else believe they, that I, am not a slave, but do I, do you, consent to this payment, repeatedly and again, when rent is as high as it is? Do I consent to the idea of money at all. Do I consent to the act of survival through work? Do I consent to being asked to sign?

I desire so much otherwise, and I believe that you desire so much otherwise, from me and from the world.

Kathryn Fischer, a writing in process, August – September 2021
*compendium of tactics is a useful term coined by Sadie Lune
*desiring otherwise I first heard used by Joy Mariamma Smith