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A mother writes to her son, what consent means. Do read.
#ShareYourStory is an initiative by Breakthrough to bring the conversation around sexual harassment into families; to get women talking about the harassment they have experienced with their family members, especially sons (or other boys and young men.)
If you would like to be a part of the #ShareYourStory initiative and create more changemakers, share your letter to your son (or young friends, nephews etc.). You can write a post or send us a short video at firstname.lastname@example.org. More details here.
I was watching you all the time at Jiya’s birthday party today. The little girl was looking very cute and doll like in her glittering pink lehanga and pink Dora hair clips, and the tiny laced golden dupatta that she was trying to carry with adorable grace. You kept pulling her dupatta, and she was getting annoyed. You were also removing her hair clip, messing her hair and hurting her. She asked you to stop. She started crying. But you kept laughing playfully and continued with your histrionics. Finally, she pushed you with all her mighty force that a small four year old could possibly exert and you fell on the ground and immediately looked in my direction for sympathy as you faked a cry. Mamma came running to pick you up, as always.
I know you are only five. I know you are innocent and naïve. But I need to teach you right from wrong, early on. Before it is too late. Before you turn into the kind of man Mamma despises, and has hated all her life.
Today I want to teach you the concept of “consent”. Consent means “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” Let me give you an example. The whole day is a challenge for Mamma – to get you out of bed, to make you brush your teeth, to make you eat healthy food like spinach and to make you do your homework. But you don’t agree to any of it, and throw some tantrum or another. As you fret, cry and complain, Mamma struggles to attain your consent!
Consent plays a very special role when it comes to girls, young or old. You are too young to understand, but sometimes people force themselves on girls, and the girls end up getting very hurt. Mamma, has also been hurt like that. When Mamma has said “No”, and yet somebody did not stop.
As you grow older, you would like girls. Much more than you like them now, with a different kind of passion. People will tell you all kinds of stupid things:
When a woman says no, she means yes.
A real man should know how to control a woman.
Being a man means exerting force and strength. Else you are a sissy!
Some girls may not necessarily like you back. You may wonder why. How arrogant of them! What do they want? Money? Good looks?
I don’t know what they want, either. Because every individual has their own choice. They may not like or appreciate you or something about you, or something that you want to do. You may feel hurt, humiliated and rejected. But no matter how you feel, you still have to respect their choice. Don’t let your ego make you retaliate in aggression. Remember, judgment comes from lack of understanding. You may not understand what women want. That’s okay. All you need to understand it is that if you don’t have their consent, whether you like it or not, you cannot force anything. A woman is a fellow human being with a brain and decision-making capacity of her own, as much human as you are. Not an object. Not inferior to you. She is equal to you. I want you to respect her.
My dream for you is for you to be a secure person. A secure man doesn’t need to force himself on anybody or control anybody. Men who are slaves of their own insecurities do that. I don’t want you to be that.
Some days, I wonder what you would turn out to be. Would you be a writer like me, or an engineer like your father? But as much as I have high hopes for you, I also have a recurring fear. Fear that you would become chauvinistic. Fear that one day, a little girl like Jiya would be a grown up woman and you as a grown up man would still not have learnt to respect her choice. And if God forbid, you make the same mistake then, don’t come running and crying to me for protection or support. Mamma will not rescue you.
This is a promise that I want from you. You would never hurt a woman. If you do, Mamma’s wounds would get inflicted, all over again and she would never heal.
Much love and hopes,
Image via Shutterstock