So, a couple days ago, a group of some very close friends and I were discussing the meaning of consent, especially pertaining to the topic of sex and rape. Of course, most of the credit of that conversation goes to my dear friends, as I tend to usually be more of a listener than a talker, at these highly intellectually-stimulating gatherings.
Anyway, the conversation was extremely fascinating, as it really started to make me think and wonder about what it means to give consent. However, before I go any further, we first have to determine what consent really means. From my personal definition, consent, to me, is when both parties agree, either verbally or in print, to perform an act and/or service. There is no force involved. Rather, both parties are very enthusiastic about the act that they are about to perform. (And this could be ANY act; not necessarily intercourse.)
However, it has now come to my realization that consent is not really as clear-cut as I’d originally thought it was. There is more to it than meets the eye. And there are many, many gray areas of consent, which involves instances in which women who may not be in the mood to have sex with their husbands/partners, but don’t exactly resist either, nor do they give any sign that they are okay with performing the act. And then it makes one wonder whether this would be equivalent to a rape, where the husband has sex with his wife without her giving him her full, blatant consent. Or, no, this is not classified as rape, because the woman did not exactly resist, as in scream and push her husband away. It’s confusing, yes, because it’s hard to tell what and how an act has been consented when one of the parties herself/himself does not realize whether she/he has consented to the act.
Nevertheless, this is an argument that is caught up in semantics. Why? Well, because in numerous past discussions, as well as in feminist studies, rape is defined as “unwanted sex inflicted upon one by force.” This leaves a wide open gray area. And like I said earlier, what if there was no force or coercion involved, what if the woman was just not enjoying it and kind of faking it all because saying yes and getting it all over with would seem easier? (And this goes both ways, as well, where men who are not in the mood to have sex with their wives/partners, but do it anyway, just to get it over with.)
Since the definition of rape is murky (and usually involves the force of men on women, rather than women on men, which still occurs, but is rarer), I think many women are left feeling befuddled and guilty about the lines of consent. While the battle of semantics is entirely frustrating and harmful to all, I can see why it is so controversial. I mean, after all, a stranger with a gun to your head is not quite the same as a partner who you aren’t turned on by, but decide to give in so he doesn’t sulk or argue. Yet, they are both expressions of aggression; the act is the same (which is that of sex/intercourse), but there is still that very thin line between what may be deemed as consent and what would definitely be seen as rape.
So, yes, while the act is one and the same, the emotional and physical impacts are very different. As well as the social and legal impacts, which is why I think many people get into the argument of what rape is, or isn’t.
There are feminists who sometimes throw around the word “rape-culture” but to say that we have a rape-culture is to discount that we actually have a violence-culture on the whole. There is no doubt that upbringing and the type of culture one is raised in has a hand in this too. Typically, women, in my culture (I am Pashtun) are raised to practically obey their husbands. I am an exception, as I was fortunate enough to come to the West, where BOTH men and women are equal with each other and, when in love, worship/obey each other equally. And I am happy to say that my husband and I are like that, thankfully. However, back home, especially in villages, our women are conditioned with the belief that they cannot have a life without a man. The man is extremely important. And if a woman reaches a certain age, and is not married, she is then looked down upon and considered defective. Furthermore, rape is overlooked in cultures like these, simply because there is no such concept. And even if there is such a concept, the blame is always placed on the woman. People would simply say, “If the woman did not resist her husband, then he wouldn’t have to force himself on her. It’s *her* fault. She was not performing her ‘wifely’ duties, so the man/husband had NO choice but to force sex upon her.” Yes, as horrifying and despicable as this may sound, this is the justification that not only the men, but also the women in these villages give. But, that’s a whole different topic on its own, and I will definitely be touching up on this again, in more depth of course, in a future post.
Anyway, to me, consent begins with radical honesty. It begins with allowing people, whom we trust, into our lives, and with whom we can be vulnerable and honest. The more we can say what we feel in the moment, as well as be honest about our experiences and emotions, the more we can break that cycle of subtlety and suppression of emotions. And because open intimate honesty is rare, I think it is important for a person (she or he) in any sexual or romantic relationship to be aware of their consenting, as well as lack thereof. This is not to imply that there won’t be any gray areas still, ‘cause that is inevitable. But when a person is in a supposedly loving/stable/long-term relationship/marriage, perhaps it would at least make sense to realize what it is that they are doing.
Wouldn’t you agree so? 🙂