The first step to building a better world — a culture of respect, a culture of consent, a culture of strong, empowered people and awesome relationships — is respecting each other’s agency.

Individualism gets its horn tooted a lot, and it’s held up as a veritable god, the central figure of the North American cult of Bootstraps. But there’s some disconnect here — whereas many people are quick to shout to the heavens about everyone being an island, they never got any help, why should you, they’re not so quick to shout to the heavens about respecting the agency of individuals.

If you get assaulted, it’s also your fault — it’s not the fault of the other individuals who didn’t respect your agency, your boundaries, who didn’t seek your consent. You’re expected to fend off all these attackers with a single glance from your world-weary eye, one blow from your sharpened tongue.

Related to that, if people define you wrong — if they disrespect the definitions and labels you have chosen for yourself — that’s also your fault. Why do you fit so well into the definitions we’ve built up in our heads, we ask, if you didn’t want to be defined that way? If you don’t wish to be called something, stop acting / looking /thinking / being like how we perceive / define that thing.

We get this message in childhood — “If you don’t want to be called a wild cat / disobedient child / crazy person, stop acting like one” — and it continues into adulthood, where we take it, internalize it, and use it as a weapon against others.

The paternalistic belief that we can define other people for them. The refusal to accept that they reject those definitions, those labels; the refusal to respect their agency as they choose their own markers.

Recently Star Foster relinquished the term pagan. She’d blogged within pagandom, as a pagan, for several years, but she’s finally realized that word no longer fits her. She can no longer consider herself pagan.

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