Utsav Chakraborty and I travelled together for gigs and featured on several comedy line-ups together. I’ve known him for over a year now – since I first took to stand-up in February 2017 – and like most open-micers at the time, I admired his comic timing and quirky stage presence. Then, this past Thursday at 12.44 pm, a tweet thread with multiple allegations of sexual harassment broke out against Chakraborty. Through the rest of the day, several accounts of Chakraborty’s perverse behaviour with women – some of them minors – began to pour in.
This was followed by a self-serving apology, which seemed like an attempt to justify his behaviour. But within those few hours, the floodgates opened, as allegations that run the spectrum of toxic male behaviour – from soliciting nudes and sending dick pics to being rapists – came tumbling out of the closets they’ve been in for years. Chakraborty had inadvertently become the poster boy of the dirty, dark side of social media’s so-called woke brigade… ironically, on the very platform that helped him build his brand.
But even before Chakraborty, there was Shamir Reuben.
Mumbai’s performing arts community nearly had its #MeToo moment earlier this year, in February. Like many of Reuben’s peers, I also respected him as a performer, until he was outed on social media as a predator who sent unsolicited sexts to women. In the comment thread of the post that called Rueben out, multiple women, many of whom were minors when they met Shamir, courageously spoke out against his lewd, problematic behaviour both online and offline. Some 65 screenshots detailing the level of Shamir’s perversions were brought to light. Shamir issued a well-worded “apology” and nobody has heard of or from him since.
Over the last weekend, a number of men who spoke the right language were equipped with the right vocabulary to express the right kind of views on liberal issues were named as perpetrators. “Wokeboi poet”. “Feminist comedian”. “Liberal editor”. “Progressive director”. These are men who appeared to so awake that it made you wonder whether they ever slept at all. Men who were supposed to know better. And yet, here we are, having to explain the basic concept of consent to so many of them.
Of course, put it down to years of patriarchy and privilege that allowed them to believe that they could get away with flashing their penises, asking girls for nudes, or just generally being toxic. These are men who have completely failed to understand body language or have the ability to read between the lines. These are men who are unable to comprehend enthusiastic consent – the idea that consent is not just about the initial yes, that it goes beyond that. It is judged on whether the person you are interacting with is having a good time, is enjoying what is unfolding between the two of you, whether it is sexting or actual sex.
Capturing the signs
The pattern emerging in each of the stories we have heard in the past few days is easy to spot: Men believe that a person who announces in her bio that she has a Tinder profile, is also somehow open to receiving lewd DMs. Replying to DMs is considered a sign of wanting dick pics. A kiss is an invitation to go to second base, and if she is ok with second base, then she is ready for the third base too. Even for these supposedly progressive men, this pattern of speculative thinking where the girl is always, in some way DTF, seems to be the norm. For instance, Chakraborty claimed he “assumed” that because the girls chose to engage with him on Snapchat, they were okay with sending nudes.
These assumptions fly in the face of enthusiastic consent. And that’s a concept we should be retrofitting before any interactions with women.
Enthusiastic consent is when both you and your partner are engaged in sexual activity with equal appetite. If you’re sending her dick pics when she didn’t ask for them, that is a violation of enthusiastic consent. If you’re down to your boxers while she’s still contemplating removing her top, it’s not enthusiastic consent. If you’re kissing and she’s frozen but not stopping you, that isn’t enthusiastic consent. If you’re having sex but she’s just lying there, that isn’t enthusiastic consent either.
Another thing to remember is that despite being a boyfriend, husband or a just casual fling, you are not entitled to sex. It doesn’t matter if it was enthusiastic last week or a couple of hours ago if your partner isn’t engaging you, stop.
Lemme say it one last time: A yes is a yes, only when it is enthusiastic.
Let’s be clear
A Time Magazine essay on consent quotes Ebony Tucker, the advocacy director at the America’s National Alliance to End Sexual Violence: “If you don’t have enthusiastic consent, it could be that you’re ignoring what your partner is conveying verbally or non-verbally because you want to engage in the activity. You’re not considering what the person is conveying because you’re not interested in having an experience with another person — you’re interested in yourself.”
That’s exactly what the problem is. Be it Chakraborty or Bahl, Indian men are too full of themselves to even bother asking their partners or the people they are interacting with if they are interested in them. Asking won’t make you any less of a man – not asking most certainly will reduce you to a dick.