“No means no, and when someone says no, you stop.”
The famous line from the Bollywood movie Pink (2016), became so iconic that they were quoted in court, during a hearing on consent in rape case by a complainant’s advocate. The conversation on consent has been going on in our country for over a century, whether it is to do age of consent or the issue of consent during a sexual assault, and as a right of an individual. Consent however, remains gendered. In a patriarchal social set up, women’s body being considered her ‘honour’ is still an issue. Women’s movement has made consent an issue of bodily autonomy and human rights.
Complainants facing sexual assault or misconduct are still asked if they said an ‘explicit’ no. Such an assumption borders on a patronizing attitude that she may not have actually said no or that her no wasn’t sure enough (read ‘feeble no’). How closely this resembles the scary pop culture cringe reference to, ‘Ladki ki naa mein haan hoti hai!’ (When a girl says no, it also means yes.) It is something we have all grown up listening to in films and songs, reading it like a message on the wall. Which basically meant, your consent does not matter. Beautifully picturized songs, would have lyrics that spoke of control over women’s thoughts, ideas, body and her being, as love. I can give you a list of a few songs, but chances are that you are already thinking about some that you would at times innocently hum, but often would be harassed by someone using the same song. Each generation of women can give you their lists.
When you raise a concern, you are told this is just some fun, and they (the harasser) did not mean any harm. Again, the intent of the person who is harassing is upheld but not the fact that someone is being objectified and their human right to exist on their terms, being taken away. The frustration of your wish, choice, autonomy, and consent not being paid any heed to, was never seen as important. The concept of consent remains so alien, that it was hardly every spoken about, as obedience was (and is), considered a virtue. Add gender roles to it, and it becomes a recipe for disaster for women’s bodily autonomy. So, stalk-ish lyrics, making light of sexual harassment as ‘eve-teasing’ and ideas like, ‘boys will be boys’, are not just some movie dialogues, almost all women have faced, and heard these. Yet, it is surprising that we all knew someone who was harassed but never anyone, or very few, who had been the harassers. How is that?
#metoo Movement changed the way we speak about consent, so did some of the movies, that openly or by inference, spoke about women’s rights. Now, even the mainstream cinema takes conversations to the issue of consent, that has the articulation where a woman represents just herself – not her family, community or society nor their honour.
One concern that keeps coming as we speak of consent is that is verbal the only way, consent or its lack of, be expressed? UN women defines consent to be enthusiastic, given freely, informed, specific and reversible. In more simple terms, consent is respect for someone’s boundaries, which they define for themselves and not someone else. So, the emphasis more than being ‘No, means no’, should be on, ‘A yes, that is not coerced, out of fear, under-duress , manufactured, in an inebriated state.’
Consent should therefore be taught and talked about, not just to younger children but for everyone, in sexual and other aspects. Consent, as in asking someone what their boundaries are, and then respecting them. Any time you have to convince, compel or pressurize someone for their consent, it is not!
Consent is willing, enthusiastic, changeable, respectful, in full consciousness.
Consent is –
Not making someone feel bad for not saying yes
Not coercing someone for what feels right for you
Accepting their no, verbal or even a disinterest, discomfort, or backing off.
Respecting their choice
Accepting they may not want things your way
Accepting if they change their mind, after saying yes
Accepting their right to their body, is the only right.