From her home in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Aishah Shahidah Simmons is making a substantial global impact. Through her feature-length, internationally acclaimed, award-winning documentary, along side its two-hour supplemental educational video, as well as the accompanying 100-page study guide exploring the international realities of rape, sexual assault and other forms of violence against women through the first person testimonies, scholarship, spirituality, activism and cultural work of African-Americans, Aishah is taking part globally in both grassroots and mainstream movements to end rape, sexual assault, and other forms of violence against women. Her work is as transformative as it is tremendous. It’s truly and honor to now share Aishah’s thoughts, experiences, and work around consent!
The Consensual Project: Of the tools outlined on the website, which have seemed valuable for you in your own personal life?
Aishah Shahidah Simmons: Honestly the entire section is invaluable in all aspects of my personal life. As someone who’s in a long-term relationship, I believe that there are times when each segment is not only useful but also fun. We live in an age where instant gratification is the way to go for most people. The tools section really gives creative ideas to not solely focus on what “I” want and need, but what my partner wants and needs. It underscores the importance of communication, which I believe is critical and non-negotiable.
TCP: Do you have any questions you like to ask (in a romantic context that is) that some people may not know about? “Ex. Where would you like my hands?”
Aishah Shahidah: I like to ask “Where are your erogenous zones? Where do you like to be touched and how do you want to be touched.” As a lesbian, I don’t fall into the trap of thinking because I like to be touched in one way that my partner wants to be touched in the same way for mere fact that we’re both women.
TCP: What are your favorite songs that mention or discuss consent?
Aishah Shahidah:I don’t know if they’re my absolute favorites, but I definitely love them.
Let’s Talk About Sex: Salt n Pepa
TCP: What are your favorite movies that mention or discuss consent?
Aishah Shahidah: If I’m not including my documentary NO!, there are several films, but two of my favorites that immediately come to mind are becoming classics…
- Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair
- Love & Basketball by Gina Prince Bythewood
TCP: When did you first learn about consent and what were you taught? (*trigger warning*)
Aishah Shahidah: That’s a powerful question. I know as a very little girl I was taught about consent by my (divorced) parents. However, when I was molested at 10 and told my parents, they didn’t take me out of the familial place where I was being molested, nor did they confront the family member who was molesting me. A couple of years later a family friend fondled my pre-teen body. I told my parents again. This time it was addressed. However, even with it being addressed and the family friend being thrown out of the house, I was told that while what he (a 23-year old man) did was wrong with me, I ( a 12-year old girl) was flirting with him. These were horrific mixed messages that I experientially learned about consent as a child. In many ways, I’m still learning about consent as a 42-year old woman. I’m learning how to create safe and healthy boundaries. I’m learning how to be as clear as I possibly can be about what I want and don’t want, what I like and don’t like. It is an evolutionary process and journey.
TCP: How have you explored discovering and understanding your own pleasure in your life?
Aishah Shahidah: As a survivor of incest, molestation, and rape, discovering and understanding my own pleasure has been and still is a work-in-progress. For the most part, throughout adulthood, I’ve been fortunate to have partners who I was able to consensually explore my own and their own pleasure. This has occurred through talking about pleasure and what that means in the context of being a survivor, where certain acts can trigger me. My understanding my own pleasure occurred during consensual trial and error to see what worked and what didn’t work.
TCP: Have your attitudes towards consent changed at all since you first started learning about consent? If so, how?
Aishah Shahidah: My work both making and touring with my feature length documentary NO! has taught me more about consent than I could have ever imagined. It’s not only through the film itself but through engaging in post-screening dialogues across this country and globally about the importance and healthy power of consent. I’m clear now, more than I was when I first started working on the project in 1994 (and then I was clear), that we all have an absolute right to consent to one or more forms of sexual activity and not consent to another form of sexual activity. While I was clear in the 90s, my work with NO! has helped me to become acutely clear about this specific (and other) issues directly related to consent.
TCP: What would you like to see happen within the movement to end sexual violence right now?
Aishah Shahidah: While I firmly believe that every survivor has a right to decide if they want to press criminal charges against their (alleged) perpetrator, I think that the movement to end sexual violence can’t rely on the criminal (in)justice system as a solution to stop sexual violence. In the tradition of radical feminist organizations like INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence (http://incite-national.org/), I believe we have to continue to make links between sexual violence and other forms of violence, some of which is state sanctioned, because they’re all interconnected.
TCP: What keeps you dedicated and passionate about your work?
Aishah Shahidah: The high rates of gender-based violence in this country and globally keeps me dedicated and passionate about my work, which includes using the camera lens, written, and spoken word to address and (hopefully) play a critical role in ending all forms of gender-based violence. I envision a world where consent is viewed as a fundamental human right and not a privilege.
TCP: If there’s anything else you would like to address, please feel free to do so!
Aishah Shahidah: I want to invite people to please visit the NO! The Rape Documentary website http://NOtheRapeDocumentary.org, which features detailed information about the documentary including free access to the 100-page downloadable, in sections, study guide.
I’m inspired by the transformational work of A Long Walk Home, Inc. http://alongwalkhome.org, Chicago-based non-profit organization, which uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to end violence against girls and women, is doing ground-breaking work with adolescent and teenage girls through their Girl/Friends Summer Institute. These young women are our future leaders in the movements to end gender-based violence.