Let’s talk about consent. I have been lecturing people endlessly about this for the last couple weeks, and it’s really starting to get to me. And obviously since it’s bothering me we need to talk about it (right?).
Generally, I don’t understand why consent is something that is questioned to the degree that it is. I don’t understand why I need to explain myself. But this is the world we live in – a world where I am exhausted by explaining myself and womanhood, and I have begrudgingly come to accept it. I have come to accept that “consent,” as self-explanatory as it should be, needs my explanations and rants and heightened voice.
So. Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about a concept that is never taught to women growing up, and let’s talk about a concept that continues to be pushed under the rug. Let’s talk about shifting the conversation from what women are wearing or drinking to what they’re saying and thinking. Let’s shift the male-dominated conversation from understanding that no actually means no and not that we’re asking for it.
There’s recently been a lot in the media about consent because rape is becoming more focused on and publicized (although not enough). It’s always been an issue, and the way the media is finally focusing on it (minimally) means we need to refocus our conversations to stop silencing women and other survivors of sexual assault. Denying that this topic needs to surface more adamantly in our representation of sexual assault is continuing to deny women room for their voices and sex positivity.
The way violence against women is being represented leaves out the idea of consent. The narrative surrounding this issue touches on the most visible and easily punishable form of violence and sexual assault. This narrative silences women who are simply uncomfortable and feel the need to say that two letter word. This narrative tells women that when they do say that two-letter word, they’re not saying it loud enough, or they shouldn’t be saying it.
Sexual assault is and should always be defined in terms of consent. The conversation needs to take a shift so that whenever a case of sexual assault arises, the first response involves the word consent. If a person feels uncomfortable in a sexual encounter, that is worth noting. No matter how it is perceived, no matter how extreme or otherwise. The idea and constant need to define rape – to screen every detail and see when she was asking for it – is a tactic that has continuously been used to silence women, the queer community, and other survivors of sexual violence. Women lose their ability to speak up because they are told that feeling uncomfortable really wasn’t sexual assault. And when they do speak up, their other actions – choice of dress, beverage, or possibly flirtatious hand placement – are what seem more important. None of that is important. In fact, none of that is even relevant. The only relevant thing is whether or not consent was given. Sex is between equal and consenting bodies.
I went to a rally put on by inspiring individuals on my campus involved with Take Back the Night and Queer Commission. We walked through our streets yelling, “Yes means yes, no means no, wherever we go, however we dress!” That’s a nice sum up, right? But why is that so hard to understand? Why is what I wear more important than the words coming out of my mouth? Why are we viewed as so secondary that our choices and voices aren’t even taken into account? When we say no, we mean it. If we spent the whole night saying yes, and then decide to say no, that no will always trump the yes. That ignored “no” is sexual assault. It’s as simple as that. No matter how extreme and no matter how easy to prove in the court of law, no means no and yes means yes. No matter what we wear or drink, us saying “no” should never mean we are asking for it.
I realized that until recently, I had never been told this to my face. Women aren’t usually told this to their faces – that sex is something for them to enjoy and when they don’t want it, even far along into a date or whatever, they’re allowed to say no. I learned about it myself through my interest in feminist discourse and self liberation, but I had never been told that we, the attacked, don’t owe anyone anything. No matter what, we don’t owe anyone one damn thing. And that does not make us bad people. That makes us all human beings who have consent.
Written by Anisha Ahuja