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Why Is No One Talking About Consent For Men?

27/09/2016 6:32 PM IST | Updated 01/10/2016 2:55 PM IST
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Jasper James

Much has been said about consent recently. "No means no" has become an anthem for those of us who understand it. In my last post, I wrote about my experience of watching the movie Pink and why I thought it was a failure despite its powerful message. I said this because ultimately, many of the people watching it saw it as a "2.5 ghante ka pravachan. Evidence hote hue bhi galat fas gaye vo ladke (It was a 2.5-hour rant, those boys in the movie were wrongly implicated even after there was evidence against the girls)." The movie, I argued, was extremely immersive for me and my ilk of the educated (and sensitized) intelligentsia, a starting point for others, but statistically speaking, a failure for most in India.

My friend now thinks it's too much to expect people to understand that "no means no" even for men. He says he's wary of being called a "pussy" again...

In this post, I want to highlight another important point that Pink missed. A male friend (who asked me to withhold his name) shared his experience of consent yesterday:

He mentioned an incident that happened a year ago where post work, he went to a bar with a couple of his colleagues. His colleague spiked his drink (and lied) even after he repeatedly said no to alcohol around four-five times. They were his friends from work and to avoid making things ugly, he took a couple of sips. After he realized that his drink was adulterated, he confronted his colleagues and brought up the topic of consent. The colleagues nonchalantly said in return, "Well, stop being a pussy; it is not like we are going to rape you. Why do you, being a man, need this consent nonsense?"

This begs the question—can we ever erase the assumption that consent is only for women? Pink did not talk about whether consent is for both the genders. Those colleagues of my friend were educated men living in a metro— they respected women and were sensitized enough to not mix substances in their drinks, maybe because that's associated with rape. The rules are different for men. My friend now thinks it's too much to expect people to understand that "no means no" even for men. He says he's wary of being called a "pussy" again if brings up the subject of consent.

As I mentioned in my last post, attempts to bring about change through different mediums of art will always fall flat if we do not take it to the grassroots level. In fact, feel guilty each time that I share my thoughts about taking it to streets, because arm chair criticism rarely leads to the transformation we want. If I show the movie Pink to a man or woman for whom patriarchy is the only way of thinking and living that they've known, the movie's message will bounce off them. They have to be engaged, exposed and be initiated to concepts like equality and consent. And, as evident from my friend's example above, there has to be a holistic and inclusive understanding of the concept of consent.

There has to be a holistic and inclusive understanding of the concept of consent.

At this point, I want to discuss an observation. A dominant emotion was trending in social media forums after P.V. Sindhu's Olympic win. It was around the same time that Mr India, Rohit Khandelwal, represented India in the UK and won the title of Mr World. People were "joking" about how men in India have started winning beauty contests and women are doing the job of bringing medals home. You all recognize the voice of disdain and scorn that comes with the idea of a woman running the household with an at-home husband? The emotion was similar. Sindhu's win juxtaposed with an our-men-are-failing emotion was being hailed as a progressive representation of our society—a win for Indian feminism.

This kind of sexist thought process is the reason why we still need feminism as a movement. The day everyone understands feminism correctly, we will stop having the need for this movement. I am a deconstructionist, an arch Derrida believer, and I hate defining things universally. Everyone has a different viewpoint— I feel that blanket definitions curtail the heterogeneity of meaning. So even the word "feminism" has had different meanings in different contexts, epochs and geographies.

But this thought process of women-defeating-men is something that every sane feminist would call outright sexist. At the risk of repeating the obvious: feminism has never meant putting women on a pedestal and demonizing men. The last wave of feminism has always aimed for equal recognition of both genders. Rohit Khandelwal, who won the beauty contest, should be praised and lauded for his achievement as much as any female winner of a beauty pageant. Sindhu should be celebrated for her achievement as much as any male winner of an Olympic medal. Was winning Olympic medals solely a man's job? Is beauty only a woman's domain? Why and how are the two events even comparable?

There are anatomical and hormonal and other differences between men and women, but their access to civil and personal rights should be the same.

This reminds me of a particular saying deployed by a fellow JNU friend while sloganeering against the police's passivity in an incident during a rally. She exclaimed to the policemen—"Chudiya pehene ho tum log (You police guys should be wearing bangles because you're so inert)." The irony nauseated me. This girl believes herself to be an ardent feminist and yet she unwittingly put down women as people who wear bangles and sit passively. When we pause and think about it, how we tie objects with genders is so bizarre and irrational. We give our daughters pink blocks and Barbies and gift our sons blue cars. We still forward "My dad/husband is an ATM" jokes on WhatsApp. Who defined these roles in our society? Why is a Barbie doll still not gifted to a boy? Why are bangles a sign of weakness and policemen the opposite of it?

Now, tying the thread back to what my friend experienced, we need to view both the genders on the same footing. Always. There are anatomical and hormonal and other differences between men and women, but their access to civil and personal rights should be the same. Rohit's victory in a beauty contest should be celebrated independently of Sindhu's win and, similarly, men's right to use the concept of "consent" should be acknowledged equally.

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