Opinion | A new film from Tinder India looks at a young couple navigating the minefield of consent
Two days into an online friendship and the guy starts sexting. A break-up ends with private photos uploaded as revenge porn. Say hello to someone and he sends pics of his body parts.
Just a few nightmarish scenarios in the lives of those pursuing digital romance, which is practically everyone from Gen Z. In my own younger, simpler days, a sweaty hand tried to hold yours in a darkened cinema hall or a smug little popinjay decided you owed him a kiss because he had treated you to chow mein and Fanta. Simpler yes, but the dice was as loaded against women then as it is today, with violation of consent as rampant as before. So it’s entirely apposite that popular dating app Tinder India should step into the fray with a short film, part of their ongoing #Let’sTalkConsent series.
The film is about a young couple who met on Tinder, started to date, and then broke up because Ved misread Rhea’s no for a yes. Meeting up a year later, Rhea now reveals why she had walked away, telling Ved she wishes he had simply asked if she wanted sex rather than assume she did. It goes on to show Rhea in a new relationship, where her boyfriend asks for permission before he holds her hand or kisses her.
At first glance, the film seems like an extremely simplistic approach to a subject that bristles with complexities, but on second thought, perhaps it’s good to keep it so basic — an ABC primer for dating — given India’s near-total sexual ignorance. Look around at the entitled, boorish young men and unreal romance-inspired women, and you see the price we’re paying for the absence of healthy, socially-sanctioned male-female interactions. We have bred a cultural illiteracy that leads most men to imagine any woman seen online is available for sex because “good girls” won’t be online but rolling rotis in a kitchen somewhere. Women on dating apps are thus already slotted, and male responses predetermined.
If this film literally spells it out — check to hold hands, ask if you can hug, take permission for a kiss — it’s doing nothing more than educating young men in the most elementary of dating courtesies. In fact, as much as the mechanics of sex, such conversations need to be part of school curricula, built around respect for all genders, friendship, love, physicality, boundaries. The longer we postpone talking about it, the guiltier we are of encouraging rape culture.
Having said that, I hope Tinder will go on also to make a more evolved film around consent because this one’s oversimplification is likely to create its own problems, for instance, in the stereotypes it echoes. Look at how Rhea explains her actions to Ved: “I didn’t have the strength to say no”; “I didn’t want to look bad and seem difficult.” While it’s true that women find it hard to say no and men typically use this to force intimacies, I would hate popular culture to reinforce the idea that women should continue not wanting to look ‘bad’, wanting to ‘please’ the guy, afraid he will be upset if they deny sex. Generations of socialisation have tutored women to always be ‘nice’, to want to be ‘liked’, and they must undo this. They must refuse, push back, storm out without fearing labels like ‘difficult’, ‘repressed’, ‘tease’.
Interestingly, in the film, the beauty salon employee does this. She simply shoves off the boyfriend when he gets fresh, doing what the upper-class Rhea could not do, showing indeed why a woman’s ‘no’ doesn’t have to be wrapped in gauze. When women stop feeling guilty or awkward to decline intimacy, when they stop worrying about male approval, that’s when they’ll be truly free. Anything less is still a compromise.
Also, teaching men to respect consent, verbal and non-verbal, can continue as an ongoing project, but healthy sexual bonds can’t be built by second-guessing or asking artificial pre-set questions. It comes from equality and respect. Two people in love or lust will be driven by passion, impulse, desire, all of which is instinctively non-verbal. If they truly respect each other, consent will neither have to be asked for nor granted but will flow from one to the other naturally. Whether online or offline.
Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.
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