TWANJI KALULA, TV pro­ducer

Glamour (South Africa) - - #Think -

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 aˆorded 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.

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