On Consent, Men Are From Mars, Women From Venus

Gender

On Consent, Men Are From Mars, Women From Venus

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

I

am horny.

It’s 3 in the afternoon; Kevin Hart is doing his thing on screen but he barely has my attention. She smells so good. It’s been a while since we’ve had time alone. The house is empty.

I reach out to caress her neck – she usually likes it. She smiles, pecks me on the cheek and returns her attention toward TV.

Hmm. Not the reaction I wanted. I try again.

A lusty kiss is parried by a gentle rebuke

A wandering hand is reminded of its rightful, “sanskari” place.

I keep trying. I’m horny.

Her interest in Kevin Hart’s ex-con uncle isn’t feigned – she really is digging it. I know full well that sex isn’t on the table… Yet. I persist. Perhaps, I can change her mind. She didn’t completely shut me down, did she?

Once more unto the breach.

She eventually succumbs. Success.

***

He’s horny.

I really wanted to see this special. Besides, it’s incredibly humid and I’m just not in the mood for the “khatiya-tod” dance.

He’s reaching out. It feels good, darling, but I wish we could just watch some TV. *Peck*

Is he disappointed? He looks it. Well, we didn’t see much of each other this month… But dammit, no! I’m not in the mood.

Whoa! That was a whole lot of tongue… Sorry, babe. Just not feeling it.

I really don’t want to shut him down, he doesn’t like that. I’ll just ride it out, hopefully he’ll get it and give it a rest.

Well. That didn’t work. He’s back at it. I really wish he’d stop of his own accord.

Take the hint, love.

Aaaaand his pants are off…

Fine, darling… but I wish you’d listen.

***

Within the context of a healthy, loving relationship, the above scenario may not seem as alien or egregious as some of the sexual assault and misconduct stories that have flooded our timelines over the last few months. However, subtract “healthy, loving relationship”, add a generous dose of “two complete strangers” and you basically have a brief overview of what transpired during the “When Aziz Ansari Met Grace” episode.  

Thanks to this one encounter that started out as a sweet first date, the world is neatly divided into two groups: The “Ansari is a sleazebag” group and “Don’t you dare call this #MeToo” group.

Most women abhor conflict, especially with men. There is an underlying, instinctive fear of angering a man, of bruising an ego or hurting his sentiments.

I don’t agree with either. Primarily, because when I see the “Ansari Files” – an echo of the problematic Mahmood Farooqui judgment – I see a massive chasm between the two genders when it comes to the act of requesting and granting consent. On one side, we have Aziz Ansari who was – allegedly – aggressively persistent, boorish, and insensitive; and PERHAPS wilfully blind to his date’s unaddressed discomfort or unwillingness. But, as a man, if I were to venture a guess, I’d say that inside the machinations of his brain, as that of so many other men, it was simply a matter of perseverance, in the absence of a vehement “no”.

It seemed that the initial intimate contact between the two might have led Ansari to assume that consent for sex would soon follow: The pair were making out in the nude in Aziz’s kitchen, and it might have seemed like a rational conclusion then, and I can’t blame him for reaching it. In a world where determination and focused pursuit of one’s goals is seen as macho and attractive, it doesn’t surprise me that Ansari saw her timid rebuttals as merely a speedbump – an obstacle he not only felt he had to overcome, but also one that he was expected to overcome. And that it was alright.

In the pursuit of sex, Ansari might have chosen to throw caution to the wind and cloak himself in the masculine cape of not giving up, because it’s what he might have been conditioned to believe or perhaps it might have worked in the past. Yes, even someone like Aziz Ansari – noted for displaying remarkable sensitivity through his body of work – can make mistakes. Ansari isn’t a “faux feminist” or just another fair-weather champion of equality. He is a human being, built in with all the failings of one. A kind of “optimism”, born in lust and fuelled by miscommunication, doesn’t make him a predatory monster.

I can’t personally condone his behaviour, but I also cannot, in good faith, crucify him alongside the Weinsteins of the world. In the online account, his behaviour wasn’t exploitative, even if it was insensitive. Forgivable, and more importantly, rectifiable.  

On the other side, we have the mystery woman who has had a lot of vitriol directed at her online – for not being clear enough, for representing a bad date as something far more sinister: Possibly 15 minutes of fame (ironic, considering she remains completely anonymous and gains nothing from it). It seems like there is no room for human confusion and second-guessing in the minefield that is communication with strangers. Is it so hard to believe, that perhaps she didn’t want to brush Ansari off but instead, give themselves a fresh start?

A special woman – whom I love dearly – once, shared an insight with me that in retrospect should’ve been obvious, but really wasn’t. Most women abhor conflict, especially with men. There is an underlying, instinctive fear of angering a man, of bruising an ego or hurting his sentiments. A genuine fear I could never experience myself, but I can now empathise with. I can’t say for certain it played a role in Grace’s apparent complacency, but I do feel that it informs a woman’s decision-making when it comes to handling men. I can only guess here – but I feel adulation mixed with fear can make for a strong cocktail, perfect for confusing the mind.

Should she have made it blindingly clear to Ansari that she was uncomfortable? Perhaps. But should she HAVE to resort to a baaraat of “NO!”s in seven languages and a strongly worded email? Definitely, not. In hindsight, she could’ve been more assertive. In hindsight, I could’ve bought bitcoins. Hindsight is a superpower, it affords one the luxury of clarity and knowledge – the two elements that could easily go AWOL in the situation described by Grace. Vilifying her doesn’t address the larger issue of how the two genders approach consent as a concept and it certainly doesn’t do the woman any justice.

On one hand, you have men who see consent as this clear, hard-to-miss and harder-to-cross line between yes and no. It’s essentially the 38th parallel: On one side is K-Pop and e-sports and on the other terrible haircuts and starvation. On the other hand, for women, consent is not a line drawn in stone by the chisel of language. It can have shades and boundaries, it can be withdrawn, and it is subject to change.

Human dialogue is complex, dense and prone to error. We have miscommunications all the time. We hear half and guess the remaining. Our socio-political terrain informs our behaviour. Both men and women have been conditioned by a pre-existing social architecture, designed by decades of archaic gender roles and power imbalances. It’ll change, with time… but it’ll require an acceptance of how and where we all fall short. With patience, with understanding, with honest introspection. Not overnight with reductive, venomous condemnation.

And honestly, knee-jerk crucifixions and judgements are so 12th century anyway.

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