Questions About Consent To Sex

Posted: October 14, 2011

It is a difficult word. It can mean or not mean a lot of things. Can a smile mean consent?? “Hasi to phasi”? Haven’t abusers always used women’s sexual pleasure as a measuring rod of their complicity within the act of violence itself… their consent? Her mouth says no…..her body says yes??? She was asking for it? She was acting provocative and intimate? She said “yes” because she didn’t say “no” (silence is consent….how convenient)…..or couldn’t say “no”….or couldn’t afford to say “no”. She was powerless to say either yes or no. So abusers don’t wait for such dangerous self awareness in their victims…..they simply carry on.

Or…..the other way round: she was my wife, even if she didn’t want to act like one….in her marital duties… I convinced her…..through pleasure or force….or through both….or through the pleasure of force….or the force of pleasure….I convinced her. Through the politics of sex, I convinced her….not to reject pleasure. Then gradually, I taught her never to reject pleasure, however forceful it was….and taught her the pleasure of saying even no….so that convincing her could become a violently pleasurable game in itself.

We grow up with pleasurable imageries of rape….while we feel hollow, empty, lonely and violated from within. Much of Indian erotics….as we experience today…..eroticizes pain and hierarchy… soon become a subjectivity. Till a point when the victims of these subjectivities, cannot feel pleasure without hierarchy, violence or power. Abusers use different social and physical traps……to force victims into participating in the guilt of self harm…..and gain power over them by building a protective (for them) and threatening (for the victim) aura of “shame” that plays on inequality and social status and respect as means of perpetrating silence and privacy, which is one of the major tools of patriarchy. Remember the feminist axiom: the personal is political? Blast the private?

Rape can be counted as rape…..because the victim is trapped…..even if pleasured. Pleasure does not preclude the freedom to not feel pleasure….or reject pleasure……as a matter of choice. Pleasure then can become a dangerous weapon itself….that can be used to trap others under the pretext of neo-liberal excuses that instill personal responsibility for pleasure and pain…..through diagnostic categories such as addiction. Addiction or de-addiction is a personal journey…..but the moment it involves another person, it introduces the question of co-dependence and power-relationships.

Don’t abusers enjoy sex in a relationship…..even after rejecting and problematising the very premise of the same relationship: trust and respect that go hand in hand? Don’t abusers enjoy sex in a relationship…..even when they withhold dignity? What makes sex a shameful experience?? The fact that it is without respect on the behest of the more powerful person in the relationship? When sex becomes dirty by choice of only one person….who has the power to construct it as so?

And abandon the woman or child who has been victim to pleasurable violence…..alone with a painful body identity? To go ahead in the world…..crippled with the knowledge of pleasure and pain linked together….and indignity, shame about his or her own sexuality, reproduction and body…..without any choice in the matter.  No choice with what and how it ever was…..with what it became….and with what it could ever become.

Dealing with sexual abuse, sexual violence and rape in relationships of love and marriage involves the cutting of the victim into two parts: the one that can understood as addicted, victimized and ‘subjectified’….and buried with dignity and compassion…..the very act of burial becoming a voice of dignity and resistance, self respect and activism that blasts ‘privacy’….which contributes to building the other part…..gradually, part by part and brick by brick. The other part emerges as victor and survivor…..who can henceforth engage with victory and resistance against violence without fear….and to resist it non-violently…..and resist slipping back into the game of perpetuating the past… becoming violent herself/himself.

A non-violent engaging with sexual violence in love includes an articulate resistance of it through breaking the shackles of guilt…..that insidiously whispers inside the heart of each woman, while she fights patriarchy……that may expresses dissonance with all concepts of silence, shame and privacy that perpetuates its politics.

Deepra Dandekar is a feminist historian working on narratives of religion, community and violence in

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  1. Found this post very curious…and interesting. The effects of violence on one’s inner being is not talked about as much. Even if a person leaves a relationship, it’s highly possible that when one has seen so much violence, and from a so-called loved one, it has perhaps affected one to the core, including what one things are the right way of dealing with people. And you are so right – the culture of shame and silence is used by the abuser to keep the victim quiet and complicit in her own abuse 🙁

  2. It is unfortunate that a woman has almost no say in consensual sex. It is meant to take place with her consent but even her own mother asks her to oblige the husband and keep him satisfied. This is an area that she cannot discuss with her own mother let alone others.

    About the assumption ‘hasi to phasi’ isn’t it degrading that men understand that a woman’s consent or the lack of it does not really matter. It is just their desire that counts.

    All this is the outcome of the importance a male child is given by society. He grows up believing that his wish is important and his sister’s is worth ignoring. This attitude continues when his wife arrives on the scene.

  3. I think the problem is the violence of patriarchy.

    I think within the setting of patriarchy, equal rights households breed even more male violence. In households where male and female children are treated equally within the larger context of patriarchy….or in households where the mother figure is stronger than the father or sons……or in case more importance is given to sisters, the men of such families become further misogynistic, whereby they begin to demonize these powerful woman protagonists as bad or mad women within the larger level of patriarchy. For such men, only “cow” mothers are placid symbols.

    At the same time they are sexually attracted to powerful and “hot” women and then seek to torture them by controlling them sexually….through marriage, shame, reproduction and so on. Men play with women’s biologies for power.

    Such men then proceed to withhold women’s rights increasingly in private….while proclaiming support for them in public… a bid to receive the privilege they didn’t receive in childhood….or the privilege they feel was rightfully theirs.

    Rape becomes an antidote for castration.

    I don’t know what the solution is. Punishing rapists makes them want to rape more. Because they are narcissists. They demonize women. They worship goddesses in order to keep ‘punishment’ away….and keep only the fertility intact…..making goddesses into “cows” as well.

    At another level…..rapists themselves are tortured. They never have a life of happiness, because they constantly relive their castration. They are trapped in it.

    I guess, raped women move on in life….but rapists just find new victims….

  4. This just summarizes the attitude of most men – for whom a woman is just an object, whose opinions, desires, wishes and will doesn’t matter.

    Thanks for this post!

    (On behalf of )

  5. Pingback: Questions About Consent To Sex by the Women’s Web. | Violence Against Women 2011

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