It is a small two lettered word which is used as a negative response in the English language since about the 12th century. It is used by people to show their disagreement to something. It is a simple word with an equally simple meaning. It is very easy to understand. There is no reason why it won’t be. And yet when it comes out of a woman’s mouth, it loses all its meaning. Its century old existence crumbles down into nothingness.
Thanks to the deep rooted patriarchal culture and notions, a woman’s consent doesn’t really matter. When a woman shows her reluctance or disagreement, it is met with insolence and even laughter. This is what we have been conditioned to believe and follow. Sad as it might be, this is the kind of society we live in.
The idea being perpetuated is that sex is something which is always initiated by men and women always passively submit. This idea adds fuel to the already raging fire. It promotes male entitlement and takes away the female sexual autonomy. It gives a clear cut license to a man to inflict whatever violence he wishes upon a woman, sexual or otherwise. Because in the end, it is her role to submit even if it takes a man to force himself on her to make her realize it.
These patriarchal notions no matter how degrading are still being reinforced by the media as well as the society. They are reinforced when a woman is blamed for being raped because her dress was too short or she was too drunk; when she is told that she was asking for it; when slut shaming and victim blaming are the preferred routes; and when she is treated as nothing more than an object. These notions are allowed to exist when cases of rape or sexual violence go unreported and when the perpetrators are not captured or are given light sentences.
Women are conditioned from their childhood to be nice and polite; to be proper and pretty. They are taught that women are or should be delicate. The ideas of being selfless and sacrificial are deeply embedded in their heads. They are conditioned to be accommodating especially to men and to choose the least aggressive way when letting them down.
It is expected from women to hold hands and not to clench fists. Basically, women are not taught to say no. Even as independent adults, women find themselves struggling to say it. Crazy, right? But this is the truth. They have to unlearn years of conditioning first and it is only then that they learn and are able to say a word as small as a two-lettered ‘no’ without feeling guilty. And this process of unlearning and learning is not an easy feat. Believe me, I know because I am a woman too.
In these circumstances, when a man shows his persistence even after being told a loud and clear no because Bollywood taught him how a woman’s no means yes, it is an insult to her journey and struggles. It is a slap across her face. It is the society’s way of telling her that she does not get to be a human but only an object meant for gratifying the male desire.
Yes will mean yes and a no will mean no. I don’t want to or not right now are still a no and not a maybe that can be changed into a yes. Being drunk doesn’t mean consent and neither does a dress.
This is a serious issue and has to be treated as such. The burden is upon the present generation to not only educate itself but also the next generation about the meaning of consent. Because this is not just a matter of equal rights for women but basic human rights.