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California takes one small step for womankind, toward our gender being in control of their own bodies by putting up a bill to criminalise stealthing, a man taking off a condom mid act.
Long before she became an award-winning author, a friend once shared how her then-fiance had intentionally got her pregnant to stop her from leaving him. Another confided that an ex-partner would slip off his condom during intercourse and blame it on “the heat of the moment”.
If the California legislature’s latest bill is passed, the state will soon be the first to outlaw stealthing, making it illegal to remove a condom without verbal consent during sex.
This upholding of women’s rights and sexual safety stands oddly juxtaposed against the backdrop of one of the most restrictive policing of women’s bodies, a.k.a. the abortion law that Texas signed into place just last week, making it nearly impossible for women more than six weeks pregnant to get an abortion if they choose one.
Equally recently in India, the Chhattisgarh High Court ruled that marital rape is not a valid crime, even if there is force involved. Apparently, our bodies cannot be violated if the perpetrator walked around a fire or signed a legal document with us. So not only do we sign our life away, we throw in our body and individual will for good measure.
To add insult to injury, this order pronounced by Justice NK Chandravanshi proclaims that sex by force in Indian marriages is a crime only if the wife is below 18. Am I missing something? Isn’t a marriage illegal in the first place if a woman is under 18?
So many women in India are not even aware that they have the right to say no to any man, forget speaking up against stealthing.
Even before she is born, a girl child is thought of as ‘paraaya dhan’, someone else’s artifact, to adorn their home and take orders. No young girl is ever told to belong to herself first, not in India, not in the West. Instead, she is bombarded with images of the ‘ideal’ way of existing: to live primarily for others and not take up space with her body, opinions and desires, unless these directly serve the patriarchy.
As has been the case over millennia, the battle over women’s bodies—who owns them, who has rights over them, who frames policies that support or harm them—continues to rage across the world. This global war on women, their bodies, their sexuality, and their agency is nearly always maneuvered in the interests of the patriarchy, so this upcoming bill that amends the civil code, allowing victims to sue perpetrators for damages, is welcome news.
But is it enough? Far from it.
Even as we are granted infrequent baby steps forward toward basic rights, this bill that is now on its way to the California Governor’s desk throws up another conversation around consent and the need for it in every sexual scenario. We are so used to thinking of rape as a violent act of power-flexing and coercion that acts like stealthing aren’t even considered under its umbrella. Any lack of consent in a sexual act—even the removal of a condom—needs to be considered assault, making reimagining the term ‘rape’ urgently necessary.
As I sit here in California, lauding my progressive state and its many inclusive policies, I am acutely aware that for every step forward, we are dragged ten backward by policy- and lawmakers worldwide—overwhelming male, and frequently a combination of older, male and belonging to the majority demographic—who know so little about how women’s bodies function, that if it weren’t horrific, it would be laughable.
We’ve sent humans to the moon (and of course, they were all men). We have eradicated deadly diseases from the planet. We continue to send exploratory missions to other planets to learn about the possibility of life on them. But back home, the lives and bodies of half our planet are controlled by the other half, and it is par for the course.
So as California takes one small step for womankind, toward our gender being in control of their own bodies, dare I expect more such policymaking? I’m not holding my breath, because the drastic change that’s much needed won’t happen anytime soon. Keep on fighting the good fight, sisters. Our body, our choice. In every single sphere of our existence.
Dilnavaz Bamboat's heart occupies prime South Mumbai real estate. The rest of her lives in Silicon Valley, California, where she hikes, reads, hugs redwood trees and raises a pint-sized feminist. She is the read more...
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