A Conversation On ‘Consent’: The Yes, No, and Maybe From a Woman
Three feminist writers speak about the importance of the yes, no, and maybe.
Just this morning, someone told me that when a woman says no, she usually means no. So yes, in a patriarchal society like India, you need to define consent and speak about it.
Women in India have so often had to hear such statements because people are still largely unclear about the very definition of ‘consent’, said feminist writer KR Meera.
Meera, who hails from Kerala and whose books in Malayalam have received critical acclaim, spoke about the importance of consent and the many ways in which it is misrepresented, or simply misunderstood, many a time.
Referring to her own experiences of growing up as a woman in India, Meera, along with writers Julie Bindel and Laurie Penny, spoke at The Times Lit Fest in Mumbai on the crucial subject of consent, in a discussion moderated by documentary filmmaker Paromita Vohra.
When I became a writer, people started asking me why I wrote about sex and if I was doing it just to increase sales of my book.
KR Meera, feminist writer
What was even more ridiculous, she said, was that people would often ask her what her husband would say about her writing, which often included female leads experiencing sexual liberation.
When I wrote this book about a woman almost ferociously making love to this man, everyone kept asking me how my husband reacted to it. How does it matter? It was my dream, it was my ambition, and it was my story.
But the topic of her husband’s approval working as a mandate for her literary license by onlookers, led back to the subject of consent – including within the marital umbrella.
Men need to understand that just because a woman has given her consent once, does not mean she is expected to give it time and again. I guess that’s the entire problem with marital rape, right? A wife is always always expected to give her consent.
Laurie Penny, writer
However, the problem of consent, said Meera, ran much deeper than a simple yes or no. It also addressed the ‘maybe.’
The notion behind the word ‘maybe’ has often been put between blurred lines. As Bollywood movies and K-serials have shown us through the ages, a woman’s ‘maybe’ to any kind of liaison has often been seen as her conforming to the role of the ‘bharatiya nari’ and acting coy, because ‘log kya kahenge (what will people say)’ to a woman who can openly and ‘brazenly’ declare her interest, sexual or otherwise, in a man?
As a result, Meera said, men have often taken ‘maybe’ as a yes and proceeded to act upon the same, even when in several cases the woman has meant anything but.
There is a yes and there is a no, and there is a maybe, which actually means that the maybe will remain until it turns into a yes or a no. It doesn’t automatically mean a yes.
KR Meera, feminist writer
Women in India, especially, have so often had their very voice taken from them. Men and society in general have taken on a self-assigned ‘duty’ to speak for the women, which is why something as basic as her right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or even a ‘maybe’, is not taken into consideration, said Meera.
And this is how society has always treated women, she added.
Consent is a moralistic issue, because it’s concerning your human right – to say no.
Julie Biden, writer
Consent is the right of every woman and every man, no matter who they are or where they come from. A woman involved in sex-trafficking also has the right to say no to whoever she wishes to, because it is her body and no one else has a right to it, said Biden.
As for Meera, her books work as platforms of social awareness regarding women empowerment and consent, through which she hopes to create an impact.
“By writing about one woman, you can narrate the story about the entire society,” she said.
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