“No means no,” has become a part of the consent discourse ever since Amitabh Bachchan said it in his s typical baritone in Pink while defending his clients accused of causing injury to their molester. Pink established for all of us that a woman is never asking for it — not when she is wearing skimpy clothes, not when she agrees to befriend and drink with men she has just met, not when she is so drunk that she has no idea of what is happening. Until and unless a woman has shown the willingness to engage in a sexual activity with a man, the latter cannot proceed with it. In fact, as Amitabh Bachchan argued in Pink, if a woman changes her mind in the middle of the act, even then she is not asking for it and the man is obliged to respect the woman’s discomfort.
The good thing about cinema talking about these issues is that they don’t have to be always politically correct or intellectualise the subject. Sometimes small innocuous dialogues go on to make a lot of impact. Bollywood is wiser to not endorse dialogues like “Hasi to phasi,” or “Ladki ke na me hi haan hoti hai” any longer, but it does use its creativity to add meat to existing debates.
Perhaps this scene from Gangs of Wasseypur “kisi ke ghar jate hai to pehle puchte hai ki andar aaye ya na aaye” can best describe the concept of consent.
The latest toast of the town, Imtiaz Ali’s Jab Harry Met Sejal has an interesting dialogue that grabbed our attention. Anushka Sharma’s character in her cute Gujarati accent says: “Indemnity bond, maine yaha pe clearly state kia hai ki agar humare beech koi sexual interaction hota hai, amounting to or not amounting to full intercourse, you are absolved of all legal charges.”
Now, we don’t know what the context of this dialogue is. The only prelude we have to this is another mini trailer in which Shah Rukh Khan’s character, Harry says: “Ladkiyo ko gandi nazar se dekhta hun main ma’am, ladkiyo ke maamle me mera character theek nahi hai.”
Now, this is an interesting conversation, particularly when you bring in the whole consent angle to it. For a man to say upfront that he is always “horny AF” and for the woman to put out a disclaimer at the very beginning that she would not charge him with any criminal cases if they ended up having sex, is how talk for consent should happen. It should be full of clarity.
The reason consent between two adults of the same social and economic background, who met through common friend and decide to go out together is such a grey area is because our men and women are not very good at saying YES or NO. I am merely talking about the hook up culture and its power games not the sexual violence inflicted on women everyday in this country be it on the streets of India’s cities and villages or in an abusive marriage. These are two different issues and they must be seen and studied differently. Although, the male entitlement of looking at women as objects of sexual gratification is there in both the cases. But in the hook up culture the woman is equally aware of her sexual needs and rights. She is sexually empowered, makes her choices. In the hook up culture, just not the man, the woman is also looking for instant sexual gratification.
And that’s exactly where consent comes into play. Where men mostly go wrong is to see a woman looking to hook up, as available. Just like, a woman going through a break-up for some reason suddenly becomes available for her ex (of course in the exes’ mind) and other men in her life.
Also the patriarchal upbringing more often than not makes men label woman as ‘slut’ when they make their sexual choices. Yes, she is looking for someone, may be for a one-night-stand but even then the law of attraction and compatibility will drive her decisions. Making an informed choice, not taking what’s available is of key importance for a sexually empowered woman. She needs to be sure that the man will not dupe her into a racket, or make a video or hers that might land her in trouble. The stakes for a woman in the hook up culture are far too high. She stands to lose a lot, if things go wrong. There are other criteria as well. Even if a woman is in full control of her sexuality and makes informed choices, she has her internal filters and rules — say, she may not be open to having sex on the very first date or that she doesn’t go to a guy’s place and prefers to check into a good hotel or head back to her own place in case she is comfortable enough to take it forward. These may be her safeguards, her rules. And being the one who stands to lose more if things go wrong, it is the woman’s rule the man must agree to play by.
Now, the rules are pretty simple. The only problem is it is not stated as it is. Sometimes in the fear that it might hurt either of them, sometimes in anxiety that they will lose out on a prospective sexual encounters and mostly because men and women after all are the products of the gender training they have been subjected to for centuries. It is difficult to escape that trap even for the most awakened man and the most empowered woman, sometimes. This explanation in no way absolves the men, the manipulative sexual predators who are driven by their flawed understanding of what a “good” and “bad” woman is. But let’s be honest, there are many men out there who are struggling to understand the language of consent, engage with women and find a common ground to strike a deal that’s beneficial, enjoyable, respectable and above all safe for both parties. Because the language is not always a simple as “no means no”. It would be wrong to completely shift the blame on men because they too bear the brunt of the hook up culture. Many a times, they are falsely charged with rape and have their entire lives ruined. That’s exactly where Sejal’s indemnity bond comes in. Has it come to a point, where a woman must make it clear before a sexual encounter that there will be no rape charges? The tag of a potential rapist hangs like an albatross in every man’s neck. I’m sure they too do not like a tag that portrays them as a criminal for no fault of theirs.
Thus it is imperative for men and women to break out of the pretentious traps of modern dating and constrains of gender stereotypes and sexual power games. It is imperative that they come up with better ways of saying YES and NO so that neither of them ends up becoming the victim of their choices. And this is exactly why the conversation between Harry and Sejal struck like a refreshing one.