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This Women's Day, let's tackle that grey area called ‘consent'

Sindhu Kashyaap
8th Mar 2017
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What is consent? It is 2017 and yet the idea of consent is still such a grey area. Many men and even women still don’t get it. Why is it so confusing?                                         

My best friend is my enemy. It is like being force fed ice-cream when I didn’t want one. And just because you asked for one a few days ago doesn’t mean you want one now. It is what I felt. My best friend had suddenly turned my enemy. But then was it my fault? Did I give the wrong signals by being ‘overly’ friendly? But how is it okay that he had sex with me when I was unconscious? I was drunk, and he was my best friend. Was the fact that I was drunk a signal, a sign? Should I have been more careful?

The incident isn’t a one-off. The Stanford Rape case was one such example and it was surprising to hear statements like – ‘but why did she choose to drink with the guy’, ‘why didn’t she go out drinking with people she could trust to take her back home safe’ or even the fact she gave him signs.

We are yet to decipher what giving him signs means. It all boils down to one thing – understanding what consent actually means. In these cases, it is a simple understanding that the women weren’t in a conscious frame of thought or mind to decide if she wanted the man to have sex with her. It is simple.

The consent about sexuality is a problem that is part of a bigger socio-economic malaise. And it isn’t just an Indian phenomenon. A UK MP, George Galloway, callously said: ‘Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion,’ when a University of Illinois student had ‘surprised’ his partner with some non-consensual BDSM.

Image credit: Aditya Ranade

But I don't want to eat pizza tonight

Yes in 2017, people are yet to realise that before you have sex with anyone anytime and every time, you have to make sure that the person wants to have sex with you whoever it may be. It was a problem a 25-year-old girl is still struggling to understand. Her boyfriend of three years didn’t stop one night when she told him she didn’t want to have sex.

He nevertheless believes – “We have been a couple and we’ve had sex before. So what is the problem now?” The problem is this. Just because you had pizza today, doesn’t mean you want to have pizza tomorrow or day after. And it would be really wrong if someone force-fed that pizza to you tomorrow just because you liked that pizza today. Consent is as simple as that.

Comic artist Alli Kirkham using different analogies of movies, car borrowing, music and even body building has shown what consent means. But why is still so confusing?

Like in the movie Pink Amitabh Bachchan’s character rightly said, ‘No means No.’ But then the idea of giving value to someone’s no comes into play when you consider them equal to you or of some value.

The power dynamics

Dr. Shaibha Saldhana, co-founder of Enfold Trust in Bengaluru, and well-known in the city for conducting workshops with young adults and children on gender and sexuality, believes that today it is becoming more difficult to explain to people what consent actually means. She believes:

“Consent comes into play when you believe that someone has the same rights as you do. Do we take consent from young adults on whom they have to marry? Or what courses they have to study? Do we take consent regarding marital reproductive rights? So why would anyone think of sexual rights if nothing has consent? Where consent in place when power-play comes into the picture? Anybody who is powerful presumes that they can make decisions for the other person.”

Breaking a tradition

A report in RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organisation in the US, states that over 47 percent of rapists are the victim’s friends or acquaintances and four out of five assaults are by someone known to the victim.

Socially, we have always been conditioned to believe that women are weaker than men. And if someone is weaker than someone else, then it gives the other person rights and control over the weaker person.

But today, we live in a different universe. Women are earning their own bread, making choices of what to wear, whom to meet and even whom to marry. So it becomes important for them to even decide who they share their bed with at what time and how.

The lines that once defined ‘gender boundaries’ are fading as they should. And yet, people aren’t able to comprehend the difference.

“It’s a long-drawn problem. Most men who are working with women or interacting with them have seen a different power play at home. They’ve seen their fathers treat and behave the way they choose with their mothers. It is over 20,000 years of patriarchy that needs to change,” concludes Shaibha.

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