sexuality

Take it easy bra(h)!

Posted on Updated on

img_0932

Women have a funny relationship with bras. From the myths of bra burning, to listicles showing what relief being braless once home brings to everyone who chooses to wear a bra daily. There are conversations about understanding all sorts of bras, some preferring one type to another and many, not wanting to wear one at all. I have always hated this piece of cloth since I can remember. As a youngster rebelling against anything that pleased others when the question of appearance arose, especially, demanding dorky teenagers to look all girly and feminine, I assumed that the bra was be worn to make a girl’s breasts look presentable. I remember cringing at the thought and deciding not to comply.

I can’t blame my childish self for presuming that. Back then, media selling lingerie danced to another tune as opposed to the current tune of making bras desirable for women for their own likes (hell, make them cheaper?!). Shreds of memories of men selling lingerie at counters and once that of watching a man pick out bras by testing out the strength of the cups while accompanying mother to the store left some very strong marks on my desires to wear one when the time came. I pushed the inaugural date by a whole year and I remember my friends all stare with widened eyes every time I would proudly say that “I am bra-free”. I can still picture the look of immense pride on my face, almost as if I had conquered the Kumbhalgarh fort and the judging eyes of my friends.

I would definitely say that I have had the most forward thinking mother, in a geography like Rajasthan, who had always set the example for me. She would talk about bright colours and rather nudge the deliberately prudish daughter of hers to buy the nicer colours. As I learnt more and evolved more, I did accept that these pieces of cloth weren’t that bad at all and that, at certain times, they are much needed as well. It is just a manner of choice and whatever is comfortable one must choose. Like your favourite cocktail, the best fit for you will always be different and no advert, model, film star or the salesgirl at the lingerie store should dictate to you what you would like best.

Why am I talking about bras here?

I was reminded of my entire bra journey recently when walking towards the gate of a reputed gated colony in Mumbai. Let me recount – as I was walking, I saw a lady in a yellow and red t-shirt and pink track pants sitting and staring into space, presumably taking a break from her morning walk. I only glanced at her from afar and continued on my way. As I passed her, I heard a loud yet attempted hushed up “listen!”. I looked at her and  responding by way of raised eyebrows asked her if was the one she wanted to talk to. Happy that I had heard her, she promptly whisper-screamed “its transparent, your top…its transparent, I can see it.. (you know what)”, all of it with a look of urgent secrecy and a mission oriented glaze in her eyes that my modesty, centred around the bra I was wearing was almost saved since my hero sat right there in pink tracks.

In response, all I could do was stop myself from bursting out in (actual and not mirthful) laughter and just nod and say “okay!” as I hastened to run and laugh as she gave me a look of utter annoyance at my not getting the point of bra hiding sisterhood.

I am not saying that I was always like this. When on my personal adolescent mission to not wear pretty bras to dress up for the world that looks at desirable breasts in one way, shape and size; I was a hater of halter neck bras. I did not see the point of those and I still don’t like them, primarily because of my bad neck. But, the point is that I had always presumed the possibility of this to be in a smaller city / town and not in Mumbai where school kids grow up way faster than women my age have. I still don’t appreciate school kids imitating pop idols or models and wanting to wear hot pants or anything to ‘fit in’. If it’s out of own choice and comfort, of course no one must say anything. However, it sure felt funny to be called out by a resident around for an allegedly transparent shirt (was not wearing cellophane or any NSFW shirt) while living in a locality with quite a few of those grown up school kids.

This brings me to my point again that feminism clearly isn’t anti men. Here, it was a woman telling me and requiring me to cover up something which was already covered up and she had no business doing that! It is against such mindsets that are rooted deep in our culture to surface in this top notch cosmopolitan city of mine. I realise today that I could have probably had a dialogue with her trying to communicate to her why the bra is not something to be so scared of, that a suggestion to the world that women have breasts under the cloth is not to be fearful of, that patriarchy controls the female sexuality precisely in this manner and hyper-sexualisation of the female body on media is just an economic gimmick. But then, I shall leave it for another time when I am more well prepared and not as taken aback, even humorously so.

Advertisements

Now trending: Feminism

Posted on

It is indeed a mystic thing that around the time that the movie Pink came out, I got to experience what is called the inability to comprehend the meaning of consent, body space and respect when it comes to sex even in the minds of those who seem well educated and believers in equal rights for all sexes.

I’ve known someone (male) who has been very vocal about respect and body rights of women and also those who from the sexual minorities – sometimes voicing a hatred for men. This particular dynamic of social development is of interest to me as well. However, I haven’t been as vocal or as expressive about knowing stuff as him. I assumed that’s just difference in personality.

Now, being a woman, one easy thing that comes due to our social conditioning which eventually gets passed on genetically as well, is the sixth sense; the gut feeling of knowing when someone can be a potential sexual threat.

I do not say I thought he was coming on to women or being lecherous. For most women who know him – and a lot of the people that surround him are women – he’s a gentle and nice guy who has his head on his shoulders when talking about gender politics. However, there was always this gnawing feeling I had – which I articulate today – that something wasn’t right about him. Somewhere his alleged beliefs weren’t what they were projected as. I let go of this feeling since we have two very good common friends.

Time went by, we all grew up and went our separate ways. He met someone and got into a relationship and constantly asked about my story or why do I not find someone. Then, I took it as a friendly concern and didn’t feel that it was totally against his ‘women are awesome and equal and don’t need anyone to be happy’ claims.

We have spoken twice in 6 months with him asking about who I am with as the central part of the conversation each time; more focused on my virginity. Now, virginity for me isn’t a coconut to be cracked before something new has to be begun nor is it a gold coin (biscuit, if you may please) that should never be lost. Virginity is just a secondary part of me. It is not something I think about day in day out, nor do I plan any milestones around it. It is simply something which isn’t a consideration in my mind in the daily life. So when he first asked me this, I assumed that this was again a friendly question, that he was just trying to be ‘Gossip Girl’.

Six months later, the poor soul is still battling with this existential question.  I again did not mind ’cause it’s not a hush hush conversation for me. However, what came next told me that putting a foot in my mouth and a slap on his face were the two best things to do.

He asked me if I needed his help to loose my virginity, in case I am still one. Now, I don’t want to call him a predator since he did voice his apprehension that he didn’t know whether this was a bad question or a friendly question but, just thought that loosing my virginity was of utmost importance and he would sacrifice himself to help me do that, even if it involved lying on top of me.

Anyway, me being me, I gave him the benefit of doubt still and explained to him how his girlfriend’s female friends who sought their male friends’ help to loose that “ugly” and questionable piece of skin in between their legs is not something that has to apply to every woman. Each woman is different like each leaf of the same plant or each cookie from the same tin. Just because we have a vagina, we aren’t identical. However, this effort was in vain since he felt that his benevolence was met with unnecessary aggression. I couldn’t help but, laugh at this. Women who voice discomfort and an opinion on any sort of sexual advance are always brash and aggressive. Even if, one talks only about one’s own choice when it comes to one’s own body. Typical.

When this happened, I was saddened and angered both by the fact that this guy was plain stupid pretending to be sly and more so, that feminism is becoming a fad now. I remember a filmmaker called Stalin coming to university and stating that he was a feminist but, was told by someone who has been fighting for women’s rights in Gujarat that he cannot be feminist. Why? Because he was a man.

This makes me question what makes a feminist? Whether the lady was right that a man can never be a feminist? Isn’t feminism equal to humanism since all it demands is to look at women as equal humans since they have always been treated as second class citizens? Dalit movements are called so because of a reason as well. Men shouldn’t cry here though – yes, patriarchy has been a bitch to them too but, they have had better advantage plus, feminism is against the system and not their sex so, calm down there.

Coming back to my point, my worry has been the lack of serious brain usage today when feminism is becoming a fad, a Facebook or Twitter hashtag. People don’t know what they’re talking about but, will use #saveourgirls frequently. It’s the same as Taylor’s factory view – herd mentality.

This experience has however, given me hope in retrospect. I think there’s still hope ’cause I called him out on this. I believe that’s what’s needed – one needs to call out an abuser when it happens without fearing the consequences. It might not even be sexual bias – it can be sexism of any kind, in any setting. It might boil down badly at first but, the next time they do it, your words will come back to them. Slowly but steadily they might learn. This much is enough for you to do your bit and speak out. I have learnt. You can too.

This is exactly where the crass and pop way the film portrays the different issues of consent, patriarchy, regional biases etc. movie comes in. I hated the way the stereotype has been put together and also the PR way that so many different topics have been dealt with but, in a society like ours such blatant street play type conversations are needed for people to wake up and understand, for people to not forget Nirbhaya and countless others who have been victims and / or survivors of this societal mental ailment of pride, honour and fear of sex. More on the film in another post then.

Aligarh

Image Posted on

1.jpgSource

I have been meaning to write this down since the time I have watched this film. Is this a film review? Haha, no. Is it a rant on homosexuality and the dire situation human rights around one’s choice of sexual partners in the country is? Not so much.

Yes, I liked the film but, thats pretty much what I want to say about it. More than that has already been said and done. The film is about the incidents close to the eventual death of Prof Siras of AMU. He died of alleged poisoning in his flat one lonely afternoon soon after the revocation of his suspension. He was suspended on ‘moral’ grounds for sleeping with a person of the same sex on the premises (his own apartment on the campus given to him by the university to reside). It was through the sincere work ethic of a journalist that it was highlighted that the suspension and everything else that followed, including his death, were the results of jealousy and envy of his colleagues since Siras was also Head of the Dept.

While I do not want to write much about the part of the debate around homosexuality focusing on the difference between the public and the private and how the ‘personal is political’ becomes his experience eventually. However, what I truly was left thinking about after watching this film was the subtle smartness with which the film handles perceptions of different people involved. Namely, those framing him to bring about his suspension perceiving a homosexual man as weak maybe, as someone who would necessarily be weak and would not speak up. That could also be related to what is the perception of people in their native place against those who are a minority, perhaps, in another land known to be largely oppressive? There is also the understanding of the perception of the media – the part of it that goes berserk sensationalising things / events / lives for business while there is also that part of the industry that just does its job and when done well is lauded by the cynical part of the society as an army of great crusaders.

This however, was somewhere on the fringes. The main perception that the script questions and that grabbed my attention was the idea of one homosexual person in the minds of those actively involved in getting human rights in place with respect to sexual orientation. That is shown by way of the protagonist not bothering or fathoming his identity as a homosexual man at conflict with the law as disinterested in the court proceedings, using the time there to translate his poems or simply done off. Another beautiful dialogue resonates the thought when he talks against the need for society to label a feeling in his heart as a three letter word (read: gay) questioning how merely three letters could express the intense attraction or feeling he might feel towards another human, albeit of the same sex.

When engaging with the community myself or simply browsing through pictures of pride parades etc., I have always had this question which I never dared to voice – all participants or at least, the representatives of the community, seemed exactly the same to me. Now, I am not totally critical of this because looking at where we as a society come from, a community / support group is needed when one is targeted simply for being who one is in one’s private life. However, there used to be this constant question if such cliched representation would not be bad for the community and wasn’t stereotyping the persona actually a contradiction to the idea of the freedom to just be?

After watching this, seeing where Siras seems to be a victim of not just envy but, also loneliness after the stalwarts who were the face of homosexual rights go back to where they came from leaving him alone in the same town where his dignity was undermined for a multitude of reasons using his personal life as the excuse. I can say that I like the film for maybe answering these questions of mine. Maybe the homogeneity of the group in fitting with the perceived stereotypical image is their way to talk to the ones who don’t understand in their own language? Just, maybe.

And, the boy cried wolf!

Posted on Updated on

Exasperated! That’s what I feel every moment I think of these difficult or rather, unnecessary questions as they would call it.

Without all the fanciness of education and scholarly privilege, the most basic of childhood experiences will tell you the (un)importance of sexuality as something that should publicly define one. Theroux in one of his books had described the Indian society perfectly for me! Paraphrasing the same, he’d called the Indian society comprising of frustrated and closeted people who truly exist/live behind closed doors. Pardon the drama but, reading that always gives me the image of a throng of people, dressed exactly the same walking with their heads down but, their faces covered with the ‘Anonymous’ Guy Fawkes masks. The mere functioning in the society has been reduced (god knows since when!) to the mere appearance and the need to conform with what is the collective right or the moralistic Indian way, the truth (even if the damned statue of truth, sach ki moorti, itself has been blindfolded, who cares, right?). However, in the behind-closed-doors way of functioning, one thing that was made clear long ago; sex is something we all indulge in but, that is only for those tied in the holy relationship of a marriage and anything else outside is not acceptable! Where this clearly laid the understanding that sex and sexuality are private matters, people were left gaping and political parties petitioning against an actress who expressed her understanding of premarital sex being fine! Oh, how that led to all aunties getting into relentless gossip sessions, seemingly uncomfortable with the audacity of the actress and the uncles to ‘respectably’ glare at the television sets while the news anchors went bonkers talking about the controversy. For us, its okay to have teasing sex scenes in cinema but, otherwise in ‘reality’ such (read: the ones open about sex) people are those belonging to the scarlet category. No morals, for sure! Even though I can go on and on about how this reflects the understanding of what we perceive sexuality to be and whose sexuality wins the power battle, I’ll state the relevant inference I draw from these point- the fact that the contradictions of Indian society can be seen in the fact that while it is not okay to talk about sex, or had it been possible for the thought police, even to think about pleasure and sex; it is important for the same aunty jis and uncle jis to know about one’s sexual orientation. If one truly believed in the idea of sex being personal/privatte, shouldn’t sexual orientation be left just as it is, personal choice?

Raised in the grand and free democracy that Indians call India, I assumed from all this education in school etc., that sexuality is something personal, if one may please that is. And, no, I do not think that its a completely Westernised thought and the Indian culture is about something more reserved. Reserved and dignified, we are? Then, that does call for one to live the kind of life one chooses to live? No, not talking about Sen’s development is capability but, the old man isn’t all that wrong, is he? Maybe a little vague for the Science and Maths crazy country of mine but, well all the acharyas and saints also did occupy physical and philosophical space here, all right!

So, is Indian culture/existence all about fear? Fear of loss of power? Are we homophobic simply because we’re forced into the complacence of the behind-closed-doors way of life? And that’s why, as Foucault pointed out, we termeverything alien to the routine as insane? Simply because it challenges the social structure of power and masculinity? 

There are so many hypocrisies that are part of the Indian experience that most, if not all, have succumbed to these norms and kept their seething angst inside. This itself, in my opinion is another way of living hypocritically. On the other hands those like me who choose to be too vocal about their beliefs (ideals, for some) and constantly question (be it their own parents) the validity of the norm/custom, we are not really appreciated, to say the least.