The recent show, Anatomy of a Scandal on Netflix based on a book by Sarah Vaughan raised some uncomfortable questions on consent.
I love watching limited series. I have a short attention span and I find it hard to follow series with multiple seasons as I get bored soon. I usually search for ‘limited series’. Fortunately, no search was required for this one. It was already part of the top 10 shows.
‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ is one of the most intense, classy and thought provoking shows I have seen in recent times. The six episode courtroom drama raises the subject of ‘consent’.
A few years ago, a movie called ‘Pink’ was released. And instantly ‘No means no’ had become the anthem of consent. I of course loved that movie and some of the arguments we had at that time were around, ‘Why did the girls end up going with guys they did not even know, shouldn’t they have been more careful?’
The answer to that was simple. It does not matter at what point the ‘yes’ turned into ‘no’ but once it does, it must be accepted.
Now, as we evolve we learn and unlearn things. Off late, I have been thinking that the whole idea of ‘No means no’ is insubstantial. It places the responsibility on women to make a very specific, verbal communication of unwillingness in a physical act which is supposed to be mutual.
It reminds of those 70s movies where a Hema Malini would be screaming ‘Nahi Nahi’ when a bunch of unattractive men who she doesn’t know and doesn’t like pounce upon her with evil eyes and demon like laughter. This is also followed by a ‘Bhagwan ke liye mujhe chhod do,’ to which the reply invariably is ‘Bhagwan ke liye chhod denge to hamara kya hoga’. The evil laughter continues. The ‘Nahiiii’ continues until she is rescued by the handsome hero who she is already in love with or will fall with in love with at this point. There is very clear contrast.
Nahi to the guy she doesn’t want. Ever!
But, the narrative has changed.
We are not talking about unknown gundas violating the consent of the woman. We are talking “rape” by the very handsome hero who the heroine loves and finds attractive and may even want to have sex with but just not at that particular time, place, way!
‘No means no’ is just another scam to keep the burden of civil behavior off men and on women. It is a highly problematic and insufficient concept. It is as superficial as those Women’s Day gifts they give us at work instead of addressing the issue of gender pay gap.
The ‘no means no’ concept works well for someone who actually says no. But how many women actually say ‘No’ in the middle of the act to someone they like? The cues of unwillingness often may not be communicated by way of words and to restrict it to one specific word is unfair.
No, I do not expect men to be psychic, just sensitive. It is not too much to ask for, if you know the person and know what their excitement (or lack of it) looks like. Is it really so much about not understanding or misinterpreting cues as it is about being entitled or plain indifferent?
This is the premise of the show. James Whitehouse, a member of the British Parliament is accused of rape by a woman, Olivia with whom he was having an illicit, steamy, office affair.
At one point James’ wife, Sophie Whitehouse says with reference to Olivia:
She is from another generation. The lines of consent are blurry. Our generation liked to acquiesce. Maybe we were guilty of not communicating.
Another time, a distraught Sophie asks her nanny (who I was very sure James will make a move on):
“My husband is a good man, right?”
To which the nanny replies, “He is a man.”
That was another powerful statement.
Olivia was not the lead character of the story. Neither was James. It was Sophie. The way the true character of her husband is revealed to Sophie, layer by layer, reminded me of the show, The Undoing’. She also discovers her commitment to save her marriage no matter what only when it is said by someone else.
Another brilliant point made in the show is when a girl does not immediately react when she has been assaulted. She even holds the boy’s hands and smiles right after. Another woman also does not realize what has happened until she narrates the events to a friend. This was a realistic depiction.
Acting wise, everyone has done a brilliant job. There is a ‘twist’ in the story which I didn’t like and I found it very hard to believe. I loved Rupert Friend as Peter Quinn in Homeland. He is extremely handsome and has classic, British charm. Once this show got over, I was compelled to watch an episode of Homeland just to see him.
While watching the closing statement of both sides of the lawyers, I was so sure that the man would be acquitted. I said to myself, if they start convicting men of rape in relationships , then all men will be in prison!
Oops, not all men#.
I read the blog of woman who is a consent educator. She conducts sessions in schools. She talks about affirmative consent. She said that she teaches boys to ask, ‘Would you like to have sex?’
How likely and natural is it for someone to utter those words? And at what point?
Was our generation of women taught to say, ‘Yes’? Did anyone ever ask us? The generation that was taught to please and ‘keep’ men? And now we are supposed to say ‘No’?
Maybe some day, there will be a different generation. Maybe some day men will ask. Maybe some day #Yes all women will say a loud and clear no.
Maybe some day, the motto would be, ‘Only yes means yes’.
Until then, women who date can only hope they don’t end up with the likes of James Washingtons.