Vallens Explores the Scrutiny of Female Bodies in "Consent" Video
The lo-fi Toronto band's David Lynch-inspired video demands respect and belief in women.
It is frustrating that consent—a clear, conscious, informed yes to green-lit sexual contact or any contact for that matter—continues to be misunderstood. While men in particular warp assumptions of consent to harm women's bodies, its violation is a problem for everyone. Let's clear some things up: No isn't consent. Drunk isn't consent. Yes becoming no isn't consent. Asleep isn't consent. Lack of protest isn't consent. Having an existing sexual relationship isn't consent.
Consent is also the namesake of Toronto band Vallens' debut album, a dark aura of lo-fi rock led by singer-songwriter Robyn Phillips that explores a myriad of women's issues including sexual, physical, and communicative consent. "When I say no, I mean no," she asserts on the band's brooding title track. Phillips collaborated with director Michele Ayoub on the video for "Consent"—a voyeuristic, distorted look at Phillips and her glamorous yet less confident alter ego trying to follow their home routine in a world where women's bodies—how they're treated, perceived and discussed—are too often not in their control.
Watch Vallens' powerful Lynchian video for "Consent" below and read our interview with Phillips and Ayoub. You can also catch Vallens live this week—see their show dates below:
Noisey: "Consent" seems to portray the idea of surveillance much like Mark Romanek's video treatment for Fiona Apple's "Criminal." What was your inspiration?
Michele Ayoub: This video was a really collaborative process because Robyn had a lot of ideas and knew what she wanted to have portrayed. The main theme being that women's bodies are watched and policed. The surveillance camera represents the idea of another gaze, but also since it invades her home it is her own gaze, conditioned by feelings of shame or discomfort about herself and her body that she might have picked up from the outside world. She's never able to escape this feeling of being surveyed, even when she is just chilling at home on her period.
The imagery and lyrics are especially critical of the male gaze. How does that gaze relate to understanding or lack thereof of consent?
Robyn Phillips: Often [the gaze] implies that the woman herself is there for and exists for the gaze of the on-looker. Which is problematic and dulls women standing up for themselves, having opinions and agency, and just living without being an object to behold and consume.
Being a performer can make women especially susceptible to unwanted sexual attention. Have you ever felt unsafe on stage or in the crowd? Does it impact how much you interact with fans?
Phillips: I have never felt unsafe and don't find that it impacts the way I interact with the crowds. It is not uncommon that you hear of a friend being brushed up against inappropriately at a show or a friend being heckled on stage with sexual remarks. When I was a younger musician in other bands, I used to really dress how I didn't want to because I was afraid of not being taken seriously or maybe heckled. Women should still be taken serious as artists and musicians etc. not just in the uniform of that role people are comfortable seeing them in.
A number of bands have spoken out against sexual assault at shows, A Tribe Called Red as a recent example. Who bears the responsibility to make spaces for music safe spaces for women?
Phillips: I think a community as a whole does including the bookers and people who run venues. Recently, there was an event started by Kristel Jax (who is also a VICE contributor) called N.A.S.A, or Noise Against Sexual Assault, that I think is really the type of community initiative that events should to look to for this.
Robyn's actions in the video are intercut with a faceless woman trying to repeat the same day-to-day tasks, only she seems to have far more difficulty. What does she symbolize?
Ayoub: Robyn wanted to have a contrast of two characters that would be the same woman with different personas. One being "chill" Robyn and the other this glamorous alien version of herself. She's sort of trapped with this weird alien alter-ego in the supposed "safe" space of her home and herself. The alter-ego acts really stilted and forced, and is trying to fit into a representation of herself, but it's not working. Her persona is eventually worn down and destroyed by the reality of her daily life.
Red is an inescapable symbol of womanhood and violence in the video—the dual meaning is telling of how much they unfortunately intertwine. What needs to change to protect women?
Ayoub: There is still a lot of subtle and entrenched shame around women's feelings and beings. The period symbolism shows that our bodies can't be controlled and shouldn't be expected to act a certain way. Creating compassionate spaces for women to speak up about how they feel is important. It might normalize a healthier reaction (specifically in male heterosexual cis-gendered psyches), so that when a woman feels sexual, or gross, or says "no," a man's first reaction isn't to deny or repress how she feels, but to listen, believe, and respect her.
Sept 21 - Lee's Palace - Toronto (with Psychic TV)
Sept 22 - Club Lambi – Montreal (Pop Montreal)
Sept 23 - Pressed – Ottawa (with His Clancyness)
Jill Krajewski is a writer in Ottawa. Follow her on Twitter.