50% Of Survey Respondents Say #MeToo Has Changed Their Idea Of Consent
What effect is the #MeToo India movement having? Apart from the splashy headlines and the takedowns of people like Chetan Bhagat and Suhel Seth, what are the quiet, inconspicuous ways that the movement is affecting lives? We tried to find the answer through our anonymous survey, and with more than 700 respondents, we can begin parsing the consequences of #MeToo in our daily lives.
We’re starting to introspect.
One of the biggest impacts #MeToo India has had on people seems to be in making them re-examine their past experiences:80% of female respondents and 70% of male respondents say the movement has prompted them to reconsider past experiences and events in their own lives. And this is incredibly necessary.
We’ve written about how everyone’s complicity in behavior that crosses the line and makes people uncomfortable, is undeniable. This is on us, as a society. Our entire culture perpetuates the idea that, if you’re in a position of power, you can get away with most things; and if you’re powerless, your boundaries and desires can be overridden. For a lot of survivors of assault or harassment, it’s sometimes easier to minimize abuse, convince themselves that it ‘wasn’t that bad,’ and try to move on, rather than process the trauma. Perhaps, one of the benefits, then, of the movement, is that more people are sharing their stories, making it easier for others to recognise abuse in their own lives.
The need for introspection, at the most personal level, is something that #MeToo has brought to our attention. If we really want to stop the kind of harassment and assault that 82% of respondents in our survey have already experienced in their lifetime, we need to start with how we interact on a personal level. So thinking back to scenarios where you may have been a victim, or a bystander, or even an abuser, is something that can only be helpful. Healing and change can only begin once we recognize and accept the truth.
We’re revising our understanding of consent.
Another impact the movement has had is that we’re already starting to have important conversations around what we mean by the term ‘consent.’ Half of the survey respondents say that #MeToo has changed the way they think about consent. We’re learning, crucially, that the absence of a ‘no’ does not equal a ‘yes.’ Discussions around instances of ‘grey areas’ — where it’s not clear whether the accused has done anything illegal, but has certainly made a woman uncomfortable — make clear that our understanding of consent needs to be updated.
Women are taught to be agreeable and avoid conflict; they are taught to employ tactics like travelling with a friend, meeting acquaintances in public places, never leaving a drink unattended, with the assumption that the potential for something to happen to them without their consent is almost inevitable. In contrast, men, especially if they have a previous sexual history with a woman, often confuse interest with consent, because they are taught that pursuing a woman is a romantic gesture to which a woman will inevitably yield. But like this viral video explains: If someone had tea yesterday, that doesn’t mean they want you to make tea for them today.
Unlearning these lessons — understanding that saying no is not rudeness, that pursuit is not romance — may be underway, but it will still take time. And we need to start with children, teaching them that consent must always be enthusiastically given, or it’s a no. So, the next time you ask your child to sing a song, or hug that aunty, even though they’re unwilling to do so, think about how that could affect their ability to say no later on.
While there’s a lot of navel-gazing, about whether #MeToo India will actually make any difference, when our country is so intent on preserving the status quo and protecting the powerful — here’s concrete proof that things are slowly, quietly changing. We’re introspecting, identifying and unlearning problematic behaviour, and renegotiating the ways in we interact with each other. If #MeToo can achieve even this much, it would make a huge difference for the next generation.