Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Consent means a clear yes, always!

Consent as defined by the Oxford dictionary 
as a noun
permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

as a verb

give permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

In India a culture has been groomed that understands nothing about consent especially when it comes to sex or agreement for sex in a long term relationship. It thinks of consent as a male privilege, giving little or no importance to the signals of yes or no from a woman. Popular culture especially bollywood has done very little to topple the tables and redefine consent. A larger part of the problem is that real life gets transcended to reel life in popular culture, and the voices that are trying to redefine consent are buried under schools of thought nurtured on unhealthy doses of patriarchy and male entitlement.

Consent is necessary in a healthy relationship. This could mean a dating relationship, a marriage or a one-night-stand.
And, just because someone consents to something once, doesn't mean that they will agree to it again. Consent should be sought everytime, and that is the only way that a mutually agreeable relationship can be built.

Consent as an initiator of sex

A popular movie that explained consent as an initiator to sex was Pink the Movie. If we were to closely zoom in at a few dialogues translated from Hindi that were said in the movie we can take home valuable lessons about consent, in a patriarchal society like ours.

"Any girl at any time cannot go alone with men. If this is done, it is assumed that the girl has willingly issued license to touch"

Women who go out late at night are considered as "loose characters" but the same rule of morality is not applicable for men. Both men and women irrespective of their gender have the right to go out any time of the day without the fear of getting molested or coerced for sex.

"During night when girls are out on the roads all on their own, then vehicles slow down and so their windows come down. No one gets this great idea during the day."
Any woman who is out at night isn't consenting for sex. To follow women who are partying out at night or maybe returning home from work, is a crime called stalking. Their presence on the streets shouldn't be taken as a "yes" for sex.

"Liquor is a representation of a bad character, only for the girls. For boys it is only a health hazard."

Alcohol is a health hazard for anyone who consumes it. If a woman enjoys a couple of drinks, this shouldn't be considered as a sign of consent for sex. An inebriated woman isn't asking for sex, much like a man sloshed by alcohol.

"If you are present in a rock show, then it is a hint. If you are in library or temple, then it is not a hint. Venue decides your character."
Indian women have been expected to stay within the confines of their homes. With passing times, as they have stepped out of their homes, it is assumed that they should only be present in places like temples or libraries of schools or colleges. Venues of recreation like a rock show are places that they shouldn't be seen in because patriarchy doesn't allow a woman to enjoy in a place like a rock concert. If they are spotted at such places, they are thought of women who will consent to sex.

"In urban areas, no girl can live independently. Men can live but not women. Lonely and independent women confuse the men."

Times have changed and as girls are getting educated they are living independently in urban townships, away from the security of their homes. Women who are fending for themselves away from the safety of their parental homes are seen to be consenting individuals.

"The girls who go out to party and have a drink, they become your traditional right to own."

Girls who consume alcohol and enjoy being at parties, are considered as adults who would always consent to sex. A "no" is not expected of them.

"If women go out with men for a dinner or drinks, then it is their choice. It is not a sign board that they are available."

Women who befriend men and go out for dinner and drinks are exercising their choice to live their life on their own terms. This is not a sanction for sex.
"No is not just a word. By itself it is a complete sentence. This does not require any rationale, clarification, explanation or sentence."

A "no" doesn't need an explanation and should be taken as a complete sentence that forbids and does not give approval.

"These boys must realise that no means no. The girl who says so could be known person, could be a friend, could be a sex worker or even your wife. 'No' means no and when someone says no, you stop."

A woman who in clear and concise words says a "no" to sex could be an acquaintance, friend, sex worker  or even your wife. No is a sign to stop and not to keep going. 

A self reliant woman shouldn't be considered as an individual who will always be consenting for sex. A clear yes from them should be the only sign of giving the act a go, any other virtues that they possess like their lifestyle, their dress or the place that they were present in, shouldn't be an instigator at all.

                                      Picture credit: whiteribbonz.files.wordpress.com

Consent in a short term or long term relationship

We in India have been force fed the notion that once a woman has approved or given a green signal for sex, she will always be consenting for the act. This has led to marital abuse becoming a reality in our society. An approving short term relationship or a socially sanctioned marriage or live-in-relationship should not be taken as a sanction given by a woman on her body. There maybe many nights when she won't be interested in the act and those are the times when a man should stop. A woman in a long term relationship shouldn't be considered as an object that can be used and abused at will. 
In long term relationships one of the partners, mostly men, since in our culture men are brought up to consider sexual agency a choice will be wanting sex more often. This inevitably leads to compromise with one partner exerting the power dynamics of the relationship and trying to become persistent. 
If one is worried about whether their partner will leave them if they fail to fulfil their sexual needs leading to compromise, then this may lead to a cycle of sexual abuse. A relationship which has sex as a its cornerstone is not something that is for the keeps.
If one person in the relationship feels physically threatened by their partner  and cowers down, then this may also lead to continual sexual abuse.
In both these cases, it is better to say quits than hang on.  
A no should always be taken as a sign to stop and not be taken as a yes for obstinacy. A woman who is uninterested in sex, on any particular day is not waiting for the man to start negotiating and change her stand. Often this is forgotten in heterosexual relationships, where the man is in charge. Often men forget the fact that if roles were reversed, they would want the same as opposed to being pestered. 

In long term relationships it is often a challenge to say a no to sex than in first time encounters or uncommitted short term relationships because one really cares about their partner and hates to disappoint them. This guilt should never manipulate the  person to say a yes to sex when they don't want it. If your partner in a long term relationship loves you, they would know when to take a no for refusal.  

Whether one is in a short term or long term relationship,as an initiator of sex a man should always look for signs for a yes, which shouldn't have a room for any grey areas. Just because you have been with your partner for a long time, doesn't really mean that they can be taken for granted and pressurised to have sex. Many times, they may be saying a yes because they care for you and do not want to lose you. As a prime mover, it is your responsibility to look for clear signs and not ignore their lack of consent.  

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