Words by MISHA CADE
Illustration by YASHA LAI
On the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco, there are two bodies of water that travel far and wide to come together to meet – but interestingly, their waters do not mix. The rendezvous between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea ends with them parting ways amicably, as observed through the clear line of demarcation between them – a density boundary – that protects both of their internal temperatures and salinity. They respectfully cross paths with neither body forcing the other to intertwine.
I envy the ocean. Such a body of water, robust and agile enough to swallow a city whole, is capable of demonstrating the notion of boundaries. Although similarly composed of seventy percent water, human bodies have been struggling to do the same. Considering the fact that two in five women in Japan have experienced some form of sexual violence at least once before turning 18, many of us are aware that it is merely a matter of time before we are coerced into mixing with the body of another.
Sexual violence is often discussed as an episodic loss of control, intimacy gone off course, or an accidental step into the deep end. If they didn’t say no or fight back, it was probably because they didn’t respect their bodies enough to do so or because they secretly wanted it to happen. But any body that has internalized this narrative and fears becoming just another statistic has already been stripped of its agency and forced into acceptance. And it goes without saying that coercion is not an act of intimacy, but a brutish form of violence: it is a murder of the soul that contaminates all life forms and ecosystems that had originally thrived within it, leaving nothing but a hollow body. While some are lucky enough to regrow the life they once had inside of them over time, more often than not, victims are left with toxic, murky waters.
But what is not often discussed is how this leaves hollow the body of the transgressor, too. To be raised to believe that violence, domination, and control comprises intimacy cannot possibly lead one to fulfillment. Saltwater, too, can become toxic if its salinity is too high. That is why, within this context, the notion of sexual consent is revolutionary. It is empowering, granting bodily autonomy to all individuals. Sexual consent means that only yes can mean yes and that both must enthusiastically and explicitly agree to engage in intertwining. It fosters the idea that mixing should only occur on the basis of equality within a relationship that isn’t tainted by the pursuit of power. Not only does consent promote empathy and respect, but it liberates us from the fear of vulnerability.
But consent is not always sexual. It exists well beyond the confines of the bedroom – in fact, it is conceived outside of it. Consent is the foundation of honest communication. That is why we always get permission before visiting a friend’s house as opposed to forcefully barging in uninvited, or why we ask if someone wants a sip of our drink instead of pouring it down their throats. Asking to do something beforehand is a form of respect and doesn’t ruin the fun – rather, it adds to it, and the element of surprise only ever succeeds in subpar romcoms, anyway. Consent is about giving the other the freedom to make a choice: whether it be to opt out midway or to untangle the bodies entirely, we should be free to make decisions for our own bodies without fear of retaliation.
Although sexual consent itself cannot entirely eradicate sexual violence, it is an everyday form of resistance that everyone can practice against hegemonic masculinity. Acknowledging the agency in all individuals to make a choice for themselves is a step towards disengaging from the objectification and commodification of our bodies. True strength should not be about showcasing power to its fullest extent, but rather, controlling it, without weaponizing it against others; the Atlantic and Mediterranean teach us this lesson by refraining from transgressing, while being fully capable of doing so. Ultimately, your body is yours, and the choices you make with it should not be contested. Like the ocean, we should all embrace an approach to power that respects the agency of others.
Misha Cade is a postgraduate student in the Graduate Program on Global Society.
THE KOMABA TIMES ISSUE 11, APRIL 2022