The Only Idea Of Consent You Should Follow

Posted on October 14, 2016 in Aunty Feminist, Staff Picks

By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan:

Hello everyone! Hope your week of good triumphing over evil has also meant feminism triumphing over patriarchy. Let’s begin:

B asked:

If men and women understand consent in different ways, why should we follow women’s idea of consent/whose idea of consent should we follow?

Dear B,

Your question reminded me of a popular term in intersectional feminist rhetoric (that was a lot of technical words strung together to say, basically: feminism that is inclusive of everyone’s needs). It’s called “punching up”. Simply put, “punching up” refers to using criticism and discourse to dismantle the power structures above you, not below you. The Geek Feminism Wiki has a great quote by late columnist Molly Ivins on their page, of which I like this line the most: “Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.” So, remember that whole thing about a comedy roast that made fun of an actor’s dark skin? That would be an example of punching down not up because traditionally, people with darker skin in India have a worse deal than their fair skinned counterparts.

What does this have to do with consent? Well, it sums up how it should be interpreted. Example of people who can’t give consent: children, learning challenged, drunk people. This is also why bestiality is against the law. You can’t have sex with something that you have power over. You can’t have sex with something that cannot or will not say “yes” unless you force them. This goes for men and women by the way, although most reported cases are of women being harassed by men, we can’t ignore the men who have also been subject to this.

An incident from my early twenties: a man I kissed at a bar, and brought home to my flat. By the time I got home, I was tired, he was very drunk, and I had changed my mind. I no longer wanted anything to do with him, but since he was so drunk, I thought I’d let him crash in my flat and then send him home the next morning. He took this as a reason to assault me, even though I kept saying, “No” over and over again. At one point, suspended over me, he saw something in my face and said, “You know I’m a nice guy, right?” It surprised me then, and it surprises me to this day, that he thought that was an okay thing to say right then. If he had pulled out a knife and stabbed someone and then looked at them and said, “You know I’m a nice guy right?” would that have been absolution for him?

What did he want from me, I wondered then, and now, a decade and a bit later, I realise. He wanted me to say, “Yes”. He wanted me to smile and soothe him, and tell him it was okay, I was asking for it, how was he to know? Through my mind flashed this thought then, my hands pinned over my head: if I scream, no one will hear me. It was very late at night, my flatmate was asleep and I was all alone with this strange man in my bed. Luckily for me, I was sober-ish and he was drunk, so with a little effort, I managed to push him off me, and scooted over to the chair next to my bed, while he vomited into his cupped hands.

It’s a creepy story, but I got away relatively free of scars, wrote about it on my blog, and exorcised him from my mind to the extent that were he to walk into a party I was at today, I probably wouldn’t even recognise him. I’ve blanked him out, all details. I preferred to forget. Maybe that’s because at some level I did think it was my fault—what did I expect having kissed a boy and brought him home?–even though my rational mind said, “Even if you were naked, you could have still said no, you can say no whenever you like, that is your right.” In my thirties, my rational voice is what I listen to on that incident, although I wish I could remember any details about this guy besides his profession so I could, oh, I don’t know, know if I met him somewhere I’d cut him dead.

Whose idea of consent should we follow? The weaker person’s. Weaker physically, professionally, mentally. Sex should be a unanimous decision, not a dictatorship. Everyone involved gets a vote, and even if there’s one “nay” among the “ayes”, you stop.

Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

Image source:  The Blue Diamond Gallery