Does Consent Matter? What is it Anyway?

Most of us have grown up on Bollywood staple dialogues such as ‘Hansi to Phansi’ (If she laughs, she is yours); ‘Ladki ki na, matlab haan’ (if she says no, she actually means yes). And then we have movies such as Darr and Anjaam that glorify stalkers. ‘Tu haan kar, ya na kar, tu hai meri Kiran’ (whether you say yes or no, you are mine). And this is not just the 80s or 90s. We have misogynistic movies like Kabir Singh that got released in 2019 – and went on to became huge hits.

No wonder then that the average boy feels entitled to get the girl he likes. No matter what she wants. Consent and entitlement are interlinked.  A commonsense approach to hearing a ‘no’ would be to accept the other person’s wishes. However, when one thinks he is entitled or he deserves it, consent does not have a place. A no therefore, is not in in his dictionary – whether it is about asking a girl to be his friend or girlfriend or about touching her or having sex with her. This thinking at its extreme is the cause of sexual violence, rapes, acid attacks and even murders (tu meri nahi to kisi aur ki bhi nahi ho sakti – if you can’t be mine, you can’t even belong to anyone else). Marital rapes are a very good example of consent taken for granted.

Let’s unpack consent a bit

Consent in its most basic form is an agreement to do something, and in this case, I am primarily talking about sexual consent. If we go deep, consent is not as black and white as one might expect but has many shades of grey. For instance, in deeply patriarchal societies, where women have no agency, consent actually become meaningless.

However, in my post I want to talk about consent in its simplest form – a yes or a no. At the same time, I also want to highlight that consent is not a ‘thing’ to give at a point in time. It is like a process – for instance, if I am consenting to something now, it only means that. It does not mean that I have consented to it forever. I might be comfortable kissing someone today but might not be in the mood 3 days later or might just have changed my mind. And this is a very important thing to understand about consent. Another important thing to keep in mind is that consent is never implied nor can it be assumed. For instance, if one partner is drunk, s/he is not in a position to provide consent. Absence of a no does NOT mean yes.

Why is consent important? And how do we teach our children?

A relationship that has consent as its basis is an honest and respectful relationship. It means that both partners trust and respect each other and neither has an entitlement over the other’s body. Teaching consent to the younger generation is a very important aspect of combating patriarchy and bringing up sensitive and mature individuals.

As parents and adults, we have to start with establishing ‘consent culture’ at our homes and institutions. At home for instance, we can start by treating children respectfully, taking their opinions into account so that they feel involved and empowered. Give them an opportunity to say yes or no in everyday things. As they grow up, they will emulate this behavior. Secondly, we can start by teaching the importance of taking permission – before borrowing’s someone’s things, before hugging someone, teach them about personal boundaries. Tell them how to say no, and not feel guilty or awkward, similarly teach them how to respect a ‘no’ without getting angry about it. Combine that with good touch and bad touch and who to go to help for in case something or someone is making them feel awkward.

As children come into their teens, their relationship with their bodies becomes complex. With the bodily changes, many kids become self conscious and self esteem takes a direct hit. It is important at this stage to build their self-esteem – both for girls and boys. Start having conversations around sex at this time with them and build in discussions around consent, boundaries and respect.

Nip ‘locker room talk’ in the bud. It is important to convey how wrong it is to objectify women and their bodies. My son has just turned 12 and I use examples from TV shows that we watch or Bollywood movie songs to show him wrong or sexist language. This is also the time that kids start feeling peer pressure. Start talking about ‘masculinity’ and different types of boys/. Talk about toxic masculinity and how harmful it is and contrast t with healthy masculinity.

It is equally important to talk to girls about consent. Tell them that it is okay to say no and not feel guilty in asking to stop. A lot of times, girls/ women give in because they don’t know how to say no or stop even if they are not comfortable.

Finally be there for your children, ready to listen. Because we play an important role in making this world a better place by bringing up sensitive, just and mature children.

This post is part of the #blogchatterA2Z campaign.

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