Over the past few years, I have come to realize something. The culture of consent is totally absent in our society. It can be something very simple, say, you know someone who doesn’t eat meat. How many times have you heard that vegetarian being told repeatedly that he or she should at least try non vegetarian food? How many times have you seen him or her being almost forced to heap chicken drumsticks on the plate? How many times have you yourself done this? The point I’m trying to make here is not that a vegetarian should be left alone (which, incidentally, they should be!) but that we take away from people the agency of making choices for themselves when we keep asking them to do something against their will. We find it hard to accept that some people do not give their consent in certain matters, and keep nagging them to try this or that.
Unfortunately, the problem with the culture of consent doesn’t stop at food choices alone. It extends much further; it extends to the question of consent in sexual matters. Now a particularly stupid police officer, I remember, was once quoted as saying something along the lines of how women from the north-east part of India indulge in sexual activities with men willingly, but the day someone uses force they yell rape. The implication seemed to be that just because a woman is sexually active, she has no right to complain if a man uses force or forces her to engage in sexual activities without her consent. These geniuses seem to forget that the day someone uses force, yes, it is rape.
Consent in sexual matters is not just sexy, as a lot of posters have been proclaiming recently, it is essential. It is essential because any sexual activity without the consent of the person participating (technically, being forced to participate) in it is rape or sexual harassment. Now the thing is that the women are most often on the receiving end of this lack of consent and being forcibly pushed into indulging in activities they wouldn’t want to. Here are a few things one should know about consent-
– A no means a no. If a woman does not want you to touch, kiss or have sex with her, do not touch, kiss or have sex with her. It’s as simple as that.
– A no means that you stop immediately.
– Consent to one activity does not mean consent to everything. A woman may just want to hook up and not go all the way. Respect that and stop if she does not give her consent to having sex.
– Do not force a person into doing something that they do not want to. It’s not rocket science really.
– Silence does not mean consent. A woman who is too inebriated or passed out can obviously not speak or give her consent. A woman who is drugged and raped did not give her consent. Do not give stupid excuses like ‘she did not say no’!
Remember, a woman’s no does not mean a yes. One of the most common, and also the most foolish, assumption that most men make is that a woman secretly wants to be pursued and chased, that she likes withholding sex so as to tease men. It reminds me of a hilarious episode in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice where the foolish Mr. Collins keeps assuming that Elizabeth Bennet’s denial of his marriage proposal was actually assent in disguise. Dear men, please, please do not assume that a woman who is saying no secretly wants you. Do not keep pursuing her if she has made her lack of interest in you evident. Besides making a fool of yourself and a funny story for her to relate to her friends later, you are also taking away from the object of your pursuit the autonomy to make decisions for herself.
Peer pressure is a great way of obtaining consent, but it is wrong. If you have to repeatedly force someone or threaten abandonment to obtain consent, is it really worth it? Remember, ladies, if you do not want to do something, do not be pressurized by how everybody else is doing it. This may sound preachy and old fashioned, but your body and your life is not everybody else’s business. Consent is the key in any relationship, even marriage. One of the saddest things about Indian law is that it does not recognize marital rape, something that many people have fought against. Nobody, not even your husband, has any right to force sex. One of the biggest failings of our system, I believe, is that it believes that a husband has all the right to force his wife to have sex, that he has complete right over her body. Married or not, consent is key.