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Exclusive year-end essay by Kalki Koechlin: “No is important, but it’s also important to teach our girls to say Yes when they want to!”

The actor implores us to stop making sex holy or dirty

brunch Updated: Dec 30, 2018 01:09 IST
Kalki Koechlin
Kalki Koechlin
Hindustan Times
rape culture,sex,rape
Kalki Koechlin is of the view that the main reasons behind the rape culture is this victim shaming.Styling and sari, Avantika Ganguly(Chitrangada Chakraborty)

I really think that the #MeToo movement is changing a few things across the globe. People are finding the courage to open up about incidents of rape and molestation, and people are listening and believing their stories. Not only that, actions are being taken to make workplaces much more safer. I can’t say that we have come a long way, but at least we are taking a few resilient steps towards that. #MeToo has certainly set the wheels in motion.

“In the last 20 years we have been educating the girl child ... But the men have not been taught how to handle that or how to keep up with the modern, forward-thinking woman”

I was recently working on a play that is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece by Paul Goodwin and as I was delving deeper into the character and learning about the social impact of the incident, I found it very similar to what is happening today. It is pretty ironic if you think of it. This incident, the rape of this sixth century Roman noblewoman, Lucretia, that caused such a furore that it was instrumental in Rome’s transition from monarchy to a republic, had happened 500 years before Shakespeare actually wrote about it. And that is because it was a unique incident. It is not that rapes were uncommon in those days. But what had made this particular incident so noteworthy was it was one of those very rare cases where the woman spoke out and spoke up. Although she killed herself out of shame, she didn’t let that shame stop her from making the incident public and demanding justice. I think it’s probably one of the very first examples of the #MeToo movement, where the rapist was publicly named by the raped woman. I think what has changed is that today a Lucrece will probably not opt to commit suicide (although, sadly, even such incidents are not unheard of). Maybe she will have more support from the society. But women are still being raped and victim shaming hasn’t stopped either.

I think one of the main reasons behind this rape culture is this victim shaming. We are always telling our girls what to do. We are never telling our boys what they should not do. I think this culture breeds a kind of power that leverages patriarchy. If we want to see any real change in the situation we need to start young.

Catch them young, watch them grow

We need to bring in certain changes in the way we are bringing up our children. We need to talk about sex and sexual violence. It can be a tricky thing. We can’t talk about sexual violence without talking about sexual pleasure and desire. We have to teach our kids the difference. We need to teach our children what is good touch and what is bad touch and we need to teach them what sexual violence is so that they can empower themselves and protect themselves.

We can’t keep ‘protecting’ our children from something that s/he will eventually have to come to terms with. If your child has to learn swimming one day, why protect him from water, instead start teaching him how to swim from an early stage. No point waiting till he is drowning!

When we are teaching our kids anatomy, we teach them these are your eyes, these are your ears, this is your mouth, why do we just avoid the private parts and pretend that they don’t exist? Teach them what is what and call them by their anatomical name. They should own all parts of their body without any shame. They need to be in control of their bodies. And that can be done only when they own their bodies.

No’ is not a conversation starter

We need to teach our children the meaning and importance of consent; that a ‘no’ is a no and a ‘no’ need not be always followed with an explanation. If you want to say ‘no’ it is not mandatory to explain or justify your decision. ‘No’ is not a conversation starter but a full statement in itself. We have this culture of wearing down a person... where a guy keeps at it even when the woman has said no, hoping that she will eventually get tired of resisting and will give in. So, you try and try again until the ‘no’ becomes a ‘yes’. We need to address this. ‘No’ is a rather simple word. We need to tell our girls to say no when they mean it and our boys to understand that a ‘no’ means just that and nothing else.

But, it is equally important to teach our girls to say yes when she so feels. We have to stop making sex holy or dirty. Virginity is not some treasure that a girl needs to protect and then give it as a gift to her husband. When you label something as dirty, you make it more enticing. When you label something as holy, you make it a power thing.

Boys need to catch up

There is a line in the play where Shakespeare points out why aren’t men teaching their sons, why are only women teaching their daughters? I think that is still the main issue. We keep hearing that we need to educate the girl child. But when will we start educating the boys?

In the last 20 years we have been educating the girl child and now the girls are educated and self-dependent. But the men have not been taught how to handle that or how to keep up with the modern, forward-thinking woman. We need to take into consideration how to educate our boys and teach them to behave and how to be.

As told to Ananya Ghosh

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From HT Brunch, December 30, 2018

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First Published: Dec 29, 2018 23:59 IST