This weekend over a family dinner, I was seated at the ‘women’s table’ as usual, wondering when did I morph from child to woman, old enough to be the invisible ear for middle-aged Ladies who need to vent out their LadyEmotions through the forms of humour and snark. As the conversation turned to ungrateful husbands and disobedient children I looked at the table at the end corner of the room where a young mother kept on glaring at her daughter of about six years of age for hiking up her dress or sitting 'inappropriately'. I always had the same problem growing up; I could truly empathise and almost wanted to send her an invisible signal reassuring that she'd learn to ignore such comments soon enough as I watched her burst into tears later. Body policing is something Ladies Of The Dark Regions learn very quickly and rather subtly, only when someone points it out, the cracks in our disciplined bodies become visible. I remember reading Freud's theory on Penis Envy -- and rolling my eyes to eternity of course! -- and realising how bourgeois and Euro-centric the theory was considering MudSquatter kids like I and my friends weren't generally allowed didn't play with boys till about the time we were aware just how and why our bodies were different, we knew how girls were supposed to run, jump and be and how 'those boys' could be as carefree as they wished, to ever want to voluntarily see the little dudes up, close and personal to ever develop envy for that dangly appendage. In fact, after facing direct sexism and existing under the thumb of patriarchy as many DustyLadies do, then this supposed envy comes out, just so we can -- for a while -- be as unmarked as the culture lets us be.
The point is, as 'occupied bodies' the body -- theoretical or literal -- is a taboo subject to explore, discuss or even think about. There is a popular superstition that if a little girl swings her legs -- non-applicable to little dudes --, one of her parents will die thus effectively blackmailing the girl into sitting still and poised at all times. The body is something that hardly goes unnoticed out here which is directly ironic to how much effort goes into negating it. The motive is to police, tutor and chart it the way the DudeCouncil wants, which will make these unruly bodies into wives and mothers of the Dutiful Variety. I went to a Girl's Convent school and can still remember how certain Muslim girls would suddenly start wearing full length tights under their uniforms in sixth or seventh grade, the way other girls would whisper "she got the curse¹!" much to the poor girl's embarrassment. The shock on seeing classmates changing into the hijab or donning the veil everyday the moment they stepped out of school is still raw, I could never reconcile the Girl I Knew with the Girl In The Veil, to me they were separate bodies altogether, one marked as someone else's and the other as bits of 'herself'. I am not saying the veil is an imposition and there is never a possibility of it being a choice, rather that to a person who will never be expected by society or her religion to practice veiling, the invisibility of the veiled body bears a certain meaning to me, which may or not go along with the traditional space of hijab and its many practices.
So many things have happened this week -- besides the fact that I have the flu and writer's block -- and the Indian blogosphere is kicking and turnings its own desi arse and Handling The Situation more maturely than just donning ugly socks and drowning in coffee as I have. On to the link fest People of the Olde Interwebes!
As an alleged Indian, an alleged writer but more importantly, as a person with a blog, it is my patriotic duty to say something about that whole Arundhati Roy- Kashmir Kerfuffle. I think the most important issue here is how awesome for Ms. Roy to sorta-but-not-really quote Mr. T.
I PITY THE FOOL!
Anyhoo, I was also going to dedicate one another GIF to all the people that got maybe even just a leeetle more informed about the Kashmir issue because of this whole kerfuffle but I couldn’t find any such peepals. So anyway, next time can we please make this about Chetan Bhagat, Naxalites and genetically-modified eggplants? Because then peepal could use the Naxalites as an excuse to unload all their Chetan Bhagat hate (which is silly because nobody hates Chetan Bhagat. also SHUTUP YOURS BLEDDY FEMALE MOUTHS!!!! ANYONE HATES CHETAN BHAGAT MEANS SUCH FOOLS ARE ANTI-INDIAN AND AGAINST COMMON PEOPLES!!!) and they can do all this while totally not talking about the Naxalites at all. I feel the genetically-modified eggplants would lend a scientific touch to the whole show because science is awesome.
2. Amruta Patil's story about a young pregnant girl of fifteen in two vignettes of her beautiful art in 'Down Jacket'.
(This paper was presented at the IV International Congress on Islamic Feminism in Madrid, 21-24 October 2010)
I am delighted to be here, and I would like to thank the organizers, in particular Abdennur Prado, for inviting me to the Fourth Congress on Islamic Feminism. I am sorry that my co-panelist compatriot, Ms Fariba Alasvand, whose scholarship and writings I have been following from afar for some time, was not able to be here. I am grateful to Mr Joaquin Rodriguez for presenting her paper.
The term ‘Islamic Feminism’ gained currency in the 1990s as a label for a brand of feminist scholarship and activism that was associated with Islam and Muslims. I was among the first scholars to use the term to speak of a new gender consciousness that emerged in Iran in the early 1990s, a decade after the 1979 popular revolution that led to a merger of religious and political power in the country. There has since been much discussion and debate and a growing literature on ‘Islamic feminism’, to which I have contributed. Inevitably, there are diverging accounts of the nature of this phenomenon, and of its origins and development. Here I want to revisit this term and offer some reflections on the heavy political baggage that comes with it—as well as with its component elements: ‘Islamic’ and ‘feminism’.
I have two objectives. First, I want to set the record straight and to explain the context in which I have used the term myself, and the kind of feminism that is involved. I shall reflect on the term in the light of developments in the intervening years, culminating in two events in 2009 that, I believe, show how far the debate has moved on, both globally and locally, namely, first, the launch of Musawah, a ‘Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family’, and secondly, the emergence of the Green Movement in Iran. Musawah, launched in Kuala Lumpur in February 2009, brings Islamic and human rights frameworks together to build an overlapping consensus among Muslim women from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and to push for legal reform. The Green Movement in Iran started in June last year as a protest against a fraudulent presidential election, but it soon became a broader civil rights movement in which Iranian women have been the most prominent actors.
A quotation from Michelle Tea’s Rent Girl, a memoir about her experiences as a sex worker:
Marina [a sex worker] had been abused by her dad when she was a girl, and she’d do coke and tell [a client] about it as he jerked off.
Marina! I gasped. I was astonished. She didn’t really care. It gave me flutters of anxiety, her blasé admission, the idea of the creepy man getting off on the rehashing of a child’s abuse. Maybe the anti-sex industry feminists were right, maybe this was evil work, work that tore the fragile scabbing of every wound a girl ever got, again and again, till pain felt regular, felt like nothing. Maybe we were encouraging the worst of men, helping blur their already schizophrenic line between fantasy and reality, what they’re allowed to have and what they’re not. I knew that some girls thought we were actually preventing rape and incest by giving the men a consensual space to act out their fantasies, and it grossed me out beyond belief to think that I was fucking would-be sex criminals, but I believed them. What I didn’t believe was that any of us, with our cheesy one-hour sex routines, would be enough to keep these men from hurting a female if that’s what they wanted to do. And what I secretly wondered was, were we empowering them sexually to go and do just that. Go and do just anything they wanted.
I love this quotation (I’m loving this whole book and I’m not even done yet). Here’s why: because I can relate. Oh yes, I think it’s full of problematic negative stereotypes about men, so I’ll note that up front. (Though this book sure makes it easy to understand where those stereotypes come from.) And I’ve never done sex work myself, so I don’t want to come across as co-opting Michelle Tea’s experience, or saying things about it that she didn’t mean.
But I believe I recognize those anxieties, because they come up for me sometimes, as a sex-positive feminist woman who can’t stand the idea of actual non-consensual sex. Hell yeah, I get angry about sexual abuse, and it hurts to think about it. Hell yeah, it kills me to think about sex workers who are trafficked or abused or desperate, who don’t get into the industry willingly (unlike so many sex workers I know who freely chose, who enjoy their jobs). And this quotation, its worries about cultural masculinity and sexual power dynamics, most reminds me of the unease I once felt so terribly about my own S&M sexuality. Unease that still surfaces sometimes, somehow, against my will. Surfaces, for example, when I hear about tragic cases like abusive relationships that masquerade as BDSM relationships.
How to reconcile being an S&M submissive?
Encouraging the worst of men. Fucking would-be sex criminals. Empowering them to go and do just anything they want.
Look, this is great. It will probably save someone from getting raped. Or, maybe it will just throw her/his attacker into an even more intense rage, and he'll just find another way to exert power and control.
Because rape isn't about sex; it's power and control; punishment and terrorism; to conquer and humiliate.
And this is where the whole "let's make it painful to insert a human penis into [presumably] her vagina" idea isn't really that great. Becuase this isn't about sex.
In some countries, the condom will prevent some attacks and no doubt help some women, but forgive me for hating these ideas that reinforce the idea that stopping rape is the responsibility of the victims. To me, this is just another example of victim blaming, albeit not in the classic sense. It is akin to people suggesting that women shouldn't wear short skirts and revealing shirts, in order to detract attention from men. As if dressing as frumpy as possible, thereby making oneself look less "sexy", will stop them from being raped.
People that think condoms with teeth are going to help the rape endemic across the globe are missing the broader question: what is it about society that creates so many men that rape?
Before we start mass distributing condoms with spikes, we should perhaps address that question first.
It’s incredibly easy to lock myself high up in the ivory tower, to think I am the only one from India writing about the Olde Woman Problem, that I am that whinyarse proverbial ‘lone’ voice and ad nauseam in this vein of self-pity. Only when Arvan asked me if I was interested in doing a weekly round-up of Indian feminist blogs, did that tower come tumbling down. As I read these women’s words, I felt reflected, mirrored and most importantly, just belonged here. So here a few voices from the Empire, speaking out. Give them your love people of the Olde Interwebes!
If we don’t do things that we wanted during our one life,then when will we ever do it?Looks like the purpose of educating us and teaching us to aim high was to get married off without allowing us to do what we wanted in life.Then what was the need for spending/investing/wasting money on us? The problem is when parents expect us to do everything in the traditional way.They are happy and proud when we top school and college.But they show frowney faces and wrinkled foreheads the moment we tell them that we would like to post-graduate or work abroad
2. Unmana in ‘And, in More Sexist News‘ discusses the overtly sexist IAF policy that restricts women from being put in combat positions.
I am not surprised at the IAF’s policy; I am not surprised at the obvious sexism in a government agency. I am appalled though, that the Vice Chief Air Marshall doesn’t seem in the least embarrassed about his own sexism – or about making such sexist statements as a defense of those sexist policies.
Even as a child, my blood pressure shot up when I witnessed such scenes of violence. I longed to barge in and give a piece of MY mind to the bullies and their pliant victims. My blood boiled in anger and roared in my ears. I clenched my fists in anger as my heart raced. I so wanted the women to object to what was happening, hit him back and throw him out of the house. I wanted the women to stand up and look the perpetrator in the eye and say, “No, you will not!” None of them did of course. Some of them groveled trying to please their Lord, others stood dumb, some answered the questions he hurled but got hit anyway, others argued or even abused in return which then became a free for all. But none of them stood up straight looked the man in the eye and said, “No you will not!”
Since the advent of the industrial revolution, there are apparently only the two sects of people in the world, the People With Machines and the People With Farms and Dung if I were to believe Marx for every word he ever wrote — and I don’t — between all the fine print where he justified colonisation as a system that would oppress the MudSquatters to the level that they’d achieve the level of the European proletariat to fully become human and worthy of attaining the shiny badge for unbourgois workers and other places where he seems downright uncritical of imperialism. But it seems that the world does endorse this view, so we have extremely clear dichotomies that pit these two kinds of people against each other to the extent they become different species and even speak different languages. After about 150 years (and more) we still relish these manufactured differences a tad too much; not because Marx still drives us so but because of the underlying ulterior motive we’ve planted in there, facelessly¹.
I remember reading the words, “India is an agrarian economy” from my school years in almost every geography book, at the same time being unable to imagine more than 80% of the population slaving away on the fields, having never seen a field myself, outside of a Bollywood film that is; till I realised most of these fields are located somewhere in Europe as well. As a member of the privileged class who has never had to do any manual, back-breaking physical labour in her life, or ever worry about meals; as a child I’d have a tough time imagining how the villagers must look like, what they must sound like and so on. For quite a while, media representations were my primary and the only source to form deeply tilted view of ‘them’. Typically the bumbling village idiot, speaks in broken English, zie represents Old India or Orthodox norms and then the city would civilise him — raise your hand people of the Olde Interwebes if this sounds ridiculously close to colonisation — or an urbane protagonist would, disseminate proverbial knowledge and wisdom akin to the (ironic) role of the ‘Good Native’. Where the villagers are plot devices to further the UberLiberalHumanist tendencies every urban character inherently is born with; sort of like a DesiDoucheColonial enabler on zie’s own and the villagers welcome this taking over of bodies and idea with vapid simplicity. Some ‘liberal’ films will show the villager as a loyal servant to his ImperiallyKind Babu to the extent that boundaries between Master and Servant are blurred and they hop and skip all over the realities of bonded labour, zamindrai exploitation and systematic bankruptcy in the span of a two-minute dance number. Conversely, ‘edgy’ films made from the villager’s point of view — produced, written and directed in the city, of course — place the urban antagonist in the coloniser’s shoes, critique the ‘loss of Indian-ness’ and ‘our values’ while lamenting in the previously mentioned European fields where the scenes are shot. Any way this LadyBrain looks at the dichotomy, both groups are determined to lock each other out, only to the satisfaction of the Center that openly rejoices and engages in further wall-building.
I’ve been working on a long article about my experiences with sexual dysfunction. It’s a project that’s been in the making for quite a while, but now that I don’t have so many distractions I’m ramping it up.
This is a complicated and difficult subject for me. I have a satisfying sex life now — I’ve gotten pretty good at communicating with partners, setting boundaries, seeking what I want, and masturbating to orgasm. It took me a long, long time to get here, though, and I had to get through a ton of confused feelings. Not just about coming into my S&M identity, though that was certainly a factor, but also dealing with feelings around the orgasmic dysfunction itself — for example, feelings about how my apparent inability to have orgasms meant that I was broken. (I had and still have some vaginal pain, too. Not every time, not even most times, and nothing overwhelming — but enough that I’ve developed coping mechanisms.)
In order to write this article, I’ve been going through a lot of years-old journal entries. One quotation particularly struck me:
[My boyfriend] comforted me the other night when I broke down and cried. I wept and wept and he said it was okay, you’re not broken, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s okay, he said, not to want sex. But I do want sex, I’m just sickened and terrified and disgusted by it, and I don’t want to be anymore. I want to be able to watch sex scenes and not be enraged and disgusted, to read sensitive ones and not collapse in tears.
I wasn’t entirely sickened and terrified and disgusted by sex, of course: I often liked it. Loved it, really. Sex usually felt good even before I could have orgasms, even before I’d found S&M, even before I’d parsed out my feelings and learned more about sexual media such as porn. And I’ve talked a lot about how awesome and sex-positive my sex education was.
But I knew I was missing something, something crucial and integral to my sexuality. And I hated the way society seemed to always be informing me how to sexually act: I felt crushed into approaches that obviously weren’t working, weren’t meant for someone like me. It was hard to walk the line between craving sex and being unable to stand it.
As a country dedicated to be a hub for Westerners to feel 'at home' or to 're-find themselves', India peddles a lot of things right by your nose -- to the delight of the omnipresent DoucheColonial Gaze-- as long as they fit the frame of being 'exotic' and condescendingly charitable. Like the handmade paper by limbless workers, the Snake Dance performed by devdasis or Temple Dancers or anything that evokes the same sentiment that Slumdog Millionaire did: consumable, understandable and decoded culture, set to lively Bollywood beats, ready for you to devour it and then feel better for being as far away as possible from a culture or space that 'terrible'. In this process of re-packaging and selling culture, we've started buying it ourselves. That our religions or gods were indeed some mystified beings, that they did really exist at one point, and we will seek legal proof of just that -- as opposed to the previously held belief that they were well written and formed myths or epics -- that festivals need to be celebrated collectively, publicly, catastrophically till all semblance of an 'I' is washed away and in its place remains the bigger, more heavily inscribed 'We', till the act of worshiping god becomes an exhibitionist ritual while the personal in religion is coloured invisible.
Eyes glowering. Sometimes raised, sometimes fixed. Rock steady.
The last two weeks have been what we call in India 'Navratri', where most of the overtly Hindu regions of the country break into a folk tradition of dance and celebration to felicitate the myth of a Goddess who slayed a Horrid, Horrid Monster some centuries ago and in her memory we perform this ritual. There are ambiguous reasons behind this Goddess Amba some say she is another avatar of Shakti (the root of all feminine folklore), some believe she existed outside Shakti and some believe she is tied up with Creation itself, seeing how she is the Mother of the Universe. Whatever the reason may have been for her creation, today she is one of the ideals of femininity; an extremely non-threatening one at that. The myth I grew up with was the demon Mahisasura had got himself a boon of immortality and specifically speaking requested that "No god nor animal" will be able to match up to him, conveniently forgetting to include 'Woman'. So the Gods from their Heavenly Seats decided to make such a woman, where each God gave her some of his special powers, she was given extra limbs and a weapon in each arm, to kill the demon. One thing that strikes me is how she is ManMade, how she is created with a specific purpose in mind, she has utility for the DudeCouncil and that she wouldn't exist at all -- or even occupy the few hundred lines she does in our epics -- had it not been for one vain demon. Just like Eve, she too is half, incomplete without her demon; she has no role to play except fly into a rage, use her Shakti to restore peace unto Earth, displaying sanctioned amounts of rage on the source of 'Evil' after which she dissolves into obscurity without a trace.