TWANJI KALULA, TV producer
Consent is power. In this context, I understand consent as the ability of an individual to decide what happens to their body and their personal space. I think it’s quite clear that we don’t understand what consent means as South African men. Our rates of sexual abuse and harassment are sky high, and women don’t feel safe in our country. So many people are in unsafe, toxic relationships, where rape is a regular occurrence. Consent is still relevant in a relationship. You should have the power to decide what does or doesn’t happen to your body. If your partner disregards or ignores this, then there is no other word for it – it’s rape. I have no doubt that some men use sex to exercise power and violence over their partners.
I think we aren’t accustomed to listening. I think we have lived in a society where women are not aorded the opportunity to communicate their opinions, let alone their consent, with the same freedom that men can. Many of my female friends have chatted to me about how they’ve looked back at sexual experiences they have had and realised that they just didn’t have the words to express the discomfort, hurt and disappointment that they were left with. I can relate. I look back at a couple of situations where I was left feeling uncomfortable because my ability to consent was not taken seriously. Too many people see a “No” as a challenge. My hope is that, now that we’re talking about it, people will not only feel empowered to exercise their consent, but also have a deeper understanding of what consent is. It really is black and white. There are no grey areas. It’s not about teaching young people; it’s about showing young people through our own actions.
The culture of locker-room talk, catcalling women and disrespecting them in all spheres of life has to stop. We have to change our behaviour and redefine how we express masculinity, so that young people have better role models. We can’t teach them one thing in theory and continue to do another in practice. We tend to focus on the sexual act that occurs without consent, instead of all the demeaning social interactions that come way before that. If you don’t respect women in the smallest ways, how are you going to respect their ability to give consent? I also think that it’s dangerous to focus on males in isolation; we should be teaching all children about consent. If you don’t know that you have the power to say “No”, you’ll never exercise it. Our childhood sexual abuse situation is out of control. If we teach our kids to respect the consent of others, defend their own ability to consent and change the behaviour we’re modelling for them, we will start to address the problem.