Cartologising Contraception Edition Of Cemented Stereotypes

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.

This week while watching T.V. with my mum and her progenitor, we saw a contraceptive ad furthered by the government to educate the masses about the safety and availability of contraceptives . Here the discourse of contraception takes place between two rural women, drawing water from a well — for what is more stereotypical of the village native than the Olde Water Drawing Trick? People in cities have taps and other modern things. Apparently — talking about not taking responsibility for the next child one of them is carrying. Then her friend suggests a visit to the DoctorLady (because a dude doctor would be so uncouth in a situation like this, obviously!) for a box of trusty contraceptives. At first, I came very closely to cheering loudly as having women firmly stating they didn’t want further children reeked of agency to me and was enough for my uterus to sing. Only on further analysis, I remembered a similar ad from a while ago and the problems came rushing back.

This video is another Government funded video encouraging the use of contraceptives.

Here too, the discourse is gendered and controlled, women discussing contraceptives, each firmly rooted in all sorts of locks, clasps and binds of Indian Femaleness, being wives and mothers. Both dress and talk traditionally, bowing down to all forms of sanctioned patriarchal expression. The thing that irks this LadyBrain the most in this ad and many of its genre is how words like ‘choice’, ‘agency’ and ‘freedom’ are strategically missing from the discussion and ‘family planning’ is used in its place, blunting whatever effect having two women talk about their reproductive choices had. The LadyFriend who ‘educates’ the other — and the viewer by extension — is fully or will show hints of urbane-ness. From a glazed accent, to perfect diction to attesting superior knowledge (here signifying she is a doctor) places her on a pedestal and immediately reveres her to the afore-mentioned coloniser’s superior shoes.

Perhaps the most disturbing and striking message of these ad films is ‘Only Married Ladies Talk Contraception’, as if pre-marital sex is a fantasy West-inclined people have made up. Sort of like Coca-Cola or Equality, “such things exist only there. India has moral values, we’re not like those culture-less Western buggers”. Obviously, this attestation flies in the face of all “honour killings”, but somehow we never talk about that. And I can see the anxiety over untutored feminine sexuality that keeps up the DudeCouncil up at night (innuendo not intended); for if a dude doesn’t regulate your sexuality, can you, a mere Lady be trusted? If you chimed in Yes! Of course! then I suggest you read the part where the DudeCouncil is anxious again. In such a context, imagine an ad that depicts two unmarried women discussing contraception and then picture the Collective Shattering of Supposed Cultural Values; for even hinting at female sexuality, let alone choice, consent or freedom is a recipe for disaster. And on top of that, ‘Those Sluts! How Dare They Not Be Punished For Every Time They Exchange Bodily Fluids (even voluntarily!)  Outside Of Marriage?’ type of societal moral indignation is a tad hard to deflect, especially when the majority chimes in at the exact spot. Even more so, if that majority is the policy-maker for your State.

While I don’t resent the depiction of rural women as having quasi-agency — even when shielded by ‘family planning’ — what doesn’t sit well with me is the idea and the conception that Urbane Feminine Sexuality is inherently deviant when contrasted with rural or married women’s sexuality, precisely because it is largely unministered by the DudeCouncil. By concretely codifying feminine sexual mores into dichotomies in the Urban and the Rural slots, we’re further fissuring very notion of women’s sexuality, rigidifying some sexual behaviours and consciously making a few others invisible.  Like the poet Radhika Gujjala points out, “representing absences does not make the absent present/ but re-presents (to us) absence”. The Woman With Choice roars in her cage, and we pretend she doesn’t have a voice.

1. Ask Barthes, okay? He’ll explain.



Hark! I Hear Whispers Of ‘Hysteria’ Again*

As it is required by the Handbook of LadyBusiness, I do have a mandatory LadyFriend who helps me pick out books and bags, nods in agreement after I’m done talking and sometimes talks; and even then only talks about me. Fine, I embellished a little. The truth is, often we agree so intensely on so many subjects, it seems like we’re speaking a language only the two of us understand. It’s an equally flattering and jarring experience to see yourself reflected in someone else, to such an extent. So a few weeks ago, I was down with what are commonly known as VulvaBlues, where once a month a monster looms over you and everything you say comes out lined with fire. In the middle of one such rant, I lost it and started crying, hysterically. She managed to calm me down after a while and we left it at that. Later that week, she confessed she had these fits of emotions too from raging fury to a suicidal calm, from feeling euphoric to wanting to be left alone, all in the span of a few hours. She thought she was the only one with these “mood swings”. Over the next few days as I discussed the same topic of ‘Female Hysteria’ with my professors, friends and some ex-students of mine, one thing became clear. We’re all ‘hysterical’. Just like the time in Victorian England, a woman would be silenced and put in the attic — Who can ever forget Bertha? — under the notion of being ‘hysterical’, seems like we are also labelling ourselves ‘abnormal’; for this ‘fury’, ‘rage’ and ‘anger’ that we feel can’t be normal, can it? Especially when we know just where the problem lies. Or that was the assumption, anyway.

All these women I speak of are either feminist, Marxist, (closeted) atheists,  political activists or involved in some or the other form of an anti-establishment philosophy; in addition to occupying traditional patriarchal spaces of being wives, daughters, sisters, mothers and so many other categories that are too complicated to ever pin down. I don’t mean to insinuate that somehow these women I speak of are ‘different’ — and by extension inherently superior (Ick!) — or that women who don’t fit any of the above labels have never witnessed the same ‘fury’, but rather that I identify strongly with these women, I could discuss at length and even seek permission to personalise and localise this collective ‘Cultural Hysteria’ that we feel. As it turns out, despite being so politically active, most of us lead ruptured lives, where what we are in our Personal Skins is so radically different from what we perform to be in our Family or Public Skins, revealing the TrueSelf only in a few safe spaces, having the Public Performative Identity gulp down huge chunks of our Private Skin. And to say from this fracture between the Public and the Private comes the ‘fury’ and ‘hysteria’ would be to easily and anthropologically further fissure our fragmented lives. Also being ‘culturally hysterical’ myself, such simple unraveling is a tad hard to achieve People of The Olde Interwebes.

This ‘cultural hysteria’ I speak of is a common experience that manifests itself in the simplest and in daily tasks. Some detest the idea of having to ritually bow down to patriarchal authority of their fathers, husbands or brothers; some feel oppressed by the system that requires them to be ‘good mothers’, some are simply frustrated for not being allowed to voice themselves, some face direct and systematic sexism each day (LadyFriend, I’m winking at you!), some are just freaking pissed off for being a part of such a model that encourages and ensures women’s silence. In brief, we’re those Pesky Angry Ladies you were warned off, ready to snap your head off the moment you cross a line. Or not. In fact, one of the biggest problems that face us everyday is this deep stated inaction and not the other way around. I can state my views firmly on the Olde Interwebes, but at family dinners and other social events, I am silent. Rather, I’m required to be silent; like any smart Oriental woman who knows what will happen when this silence isn’t granted, I comply, often against my will. Like many others, the fury seethes and dances right under my skin, the words almost tumble out of my mouth and then I remember where I am and then the tongue is heavy and curled inwards again. Another Pesky Angry Lady told off her superior and she lost her job, one cannot reconcile the idea that she is supposed to be an obedient daughter-in-law for people who think daughter-in-law is the NewAge code for Happy Servant! And SpineLess worker! What is interesting here is how our ‘hysteria’ turns inwards and comes to bite us. Similar to Lee Maracle’s beautiful poem ‘Hate’, we are too “Blinded by the niceties and polite liberality/ we can’t see our enemy/so, we’ll just have to kill each other”. This sentiment of having our hysteria paralyze and disable¹ us isn’t new. The very fact we’ve internalised it isn’t exactly a revelation. What really struck me here is the way this ‘cultural hysteria’ manifests itself; like the Madwoman In The Attic, if we’re not careful this ‘hysteria’ comes out and spews venom before we can stop. One artist I know says she waits till she is ‘furious’ enough to paint; crying and painting at the same time and yet can’t seem to decipher how those rips and tears come up on the canvas. Sometimes I write a post or a poem and when I re-read it I can’t almost believe that it’s my writing that is so dark and jagged, out to wound instead of heal. After these outbursts of ‘hysteria’ comes the deep sense of helplessness, we cry and then reclaim our senses. Stop. Rinse. Repeat more times than humanely imaginable. My LadyFriend confessed she is ‘going completely nuts’ every other day; and then she said something that still chills my bones. She said, “At least, this is the one constant companion I know I have” and again she mirrored what I felt, said something I didn’t want to put it in words. We exist on the hinge, choked to claustrophobia with ‘hysteria’, yet comfortable — where comfortable is the new learnt helplessness — being this numb.

Within this numbness, another thing we do piece and byte ourselves further — some overplay the Public Performative Identity, some of us blog to retain what was once there and (perhaps?) retrieve it, some chain smoke cigarettes though they hate them, some indulge in violent sex as a release. And after the chosen method of UnRaveling the Self, we conveniently slot ourselves as ‘Pre’ and ‘Post’ fit of hysteria; as if they are two neat shelves where our Skins sit, as if we really have a choice which Skin will manifest itself. We blame the cavity between the Personal and the Private for this ‘fury’, understand when the Dudes we associate don’t get our ‘hysteria’ as they’re not the ones being robbed off agency and choice and then tell ourselves, “this too shall pass”. Little do we know, how completely it chars us inside. We say we know where this ‘hysteria’ stems from, it’s the freaking society that makes us so, and we all fervently hope for the Unicorn Revolution to come save us. At least, this LadyBrain does. But like everything else, it’s not simple to get the root of this fury. The best I can do is, say it’s like living the inside story while being an outsider to your own life. And somewhere caught in between, is the TrueSelf; amalgamated with the Madwoman In The Attic. Waiting to snarl and bite. Am I the only one who feels this way? Or this is just another ‘hysterical’ woman writing from her hysteria?

1. I don’t mean to trivialise disability but instead shed light on the real side-effects of this ‘hysteria’. Some women I mention have sunk into depression, been catatonic for days. Sometimes when I’m ‘hysterical’ I forget words and meanings and need sedatives before the tiny fit becomes a full-blown panic attack.

* I can’t write just about me, because in cases like this, the collectively felt ‘cultural hysteria’ is both at once a public and a private experience; to obliterate other’s voices would mean losing mine too.

Using The Oldest Excuse In The Book

Hello dear BLOG! reading person. As a few of you know, I’m recovering from double attack of flu and submitting-overdue-assignments. In this vicious circle, I seem to have lost all time to collect my thoughts and sit down to freaking write something. I could go on a long-winded explanation or I can just say, “Patience”. Meanwhile, I’m posting a poem from a while back. Be nice people; for it isn’t every day I feel foolish brave enough to put something like this up.  And a special shout out to Nina for writing to me and encouraging this one!


Breathing Out.

Pity whispered in my ear,
“Dear girl, get out while you can.
This may be your last chance,
Don’t you just want to run?
It will be good for you, even fun.
You can still save yourself”, and left.

Anger raved in my head,
“If you don’t do something,
It’s the bastard’s mirth and glee,
Listen to pity, go flee.
If you stay where you are,
Then all you are is a farce”,
Then she left my boiling pit.

Scorn chuckled in my eyes,
“Do you see what you are?
A heartless doll, unsellable now,
Waiting to be pushed, pulled, shoved.
Molded, bent, ephemerally changeable
Are these the seeds you let them sow?”
Then they left, robbing me of sight.

Love stated in my mind,
“What is keeping you here
Are nothing but invisible shackles,
Just as hard to break as you fear.
We can help, if you let me.
We’ll do everything,
As long as you want it”
And departed before I could,
Shut my mind, boldly; tight.

I can muster my cowardice,
With more than a little effort,
Stand up from my crouch by the floor.
Clear my voice, ready, now
To show the hypocrites the door.
When I open my mouth,
Words fly out, run to my heart,
And the only thing I can say is now,
“O wise sages! Came hither to
Advice, force, help and change,
Can’t all of you see?
I am too fond of my cage”
As you form again a frown
I can do nothing but
Return to the ground.

P.S: Look out for a new feature on the BLOG! in a few days people who legally stalk follow me.

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 77 other followers