The (Othered) Woman In The Veranda

The past two weeks, the US-ian leaning feminist blogosphere has been on campaigns against the horrid and religious-state sanctioned policy on codifying when can one press charges for being ‘really’ raped; this way the State-Religious-Oligrachal system that embodies most US-ian policies, can re-define a person’s right to abortion, which in not so pleasant terms comes down to only when the State deigns the person to be ‘really’ raped¹. I don’t need caffeine in my system to conclude that this is one of the most heinous laws I’ve come across; I’d probably file it under the law that proposes to normalise a particular hijra body over another and above the one that anyone who is NotWhite needs to identify themselves and prove their ‘legitimacy’. Last week I was chatting with a self-proclaimed ‘White Feminist With More Privileges Than You Can Count’ when she said, “I’m just glad that abortion in India is legal and you don’t have to fight such basic human rights”; and these words haven’t left me. She’s not wrong, well not wholly anyway considering abortion laws out here are pretty diffident to encroaching on human rights — there are definite loopholes when it comes to trans*, hijra, ‘mentally unstable’ bodies — and that the Govt doesn’t seem to want to start an overt war over reproductive laws. Not yet anyway.

But, like most narratives seen only through the Western lens, this one is too simple too neat too easy to consume without challenging it. Under this narrative, our only challenge is access and the patriarchal control of female — queer identities get erased yet again, of course — bodies; but when we look at it theoretically, the law is in place to all protect the right of uterus-carriers at least. This assumption is all too familiar that all we have to fight against is Our Orthodox Culture, the age-old trope that if we have to be patronised ‘helped’ it is to ‘save the brown women from the brown men’ and that our ‘problems’ exist in this horribly restrictive frame only. Here, the Third World Woman’s body — quite literally — becomes a palimpsest to be written over, She is simply a medium through with competing discourses of Imperial Feminism and Irate Conservative-Nationalism represent their claims, yet again written over with words of other’s desires, other meanings.

If I am to go by traditional representations of women from both nationalist as well as imperial feminist perspectives, the feminine body is more or less coloured invisible, especially since both ask us to choose between the ‘woman question’ and anti-colonial discourses, dichotomising not only our (in)visibility but also lived-experience. More often than not, it’s at the intersection of race, gender, class, disabilities, caste that the Third World Woman is positioned in; and choosing one over another is almost always impossible — though it does not have to be the only alternative — and as we fail to choose, the gendered Subaltern is once again robbed of a voice.  Quite predictably, one of the most theorised topics in Indian feminism by the First World is female feticide, child marriage, honour killings and dowry deaths, all in the name of furthering philanthropy; while at the same time, this system as seen as quasi-acceptable as there are no ‘real’ barriers to abortion, theoretically speaking. Barriers of access — caste and class based — social stigma that is at once local and specific most ‘female’ bodies, that follows abortion and counter-conception discourse around gets ignored as once again we laud the legal framework. Such imperial hazing-over largely ignores the sanitising space the ‘Home’ is, where the vile idea that ‘females’ and feminine-identified bodies should only be Seen And Not Heard, where the ‘Home’ in essence must remain unaffected by the Evil Scheming And Cultureless West, Untouched By Material Realities and that ‘Woman’ is the embodiment and representation of this dance that sways to supposed equal parts tradition and ‘progress’. Meanwhile, the ‘Woman’ remains ‘bound’ in the Inner Veranda or the Inner Courtyard², steps one more step toward invisibility.

Reproductive rights are close to non-existent when we look at minority bodies of Dalit or tribal women, if you add disabled to this mix, these reproductive laws get chipped away even further; when we see here too there is a State-sanctioned and controlled framework when it comes to human rights — usually funded by the West. What is interesting is how the Third World Woman is at once the object of pity, of wonder, of disgust and of ‘well-intentioned’ condescension; she simultaneously is the pitiable statistic of female feticide as well as the one with ‘free’ legal access to abortions. Meanwhile, in the ‘real’ dusty realities we are too fighting to be heard and to be visible when speaking out against sexual assault considering many rapes against caste minorities are State sanctioned. Just like E. M. Forster’s ‘memashib’s in A Passage To India, many imperial feminist constructions of the Third World Woman locate the blame in native men, in their attempts to forge alliances with the ‘colonised’ woman who at times is the center of her sexual frustration, as well as a model of kinship as both seemingly live under fairly patriarchal standards. In the words of Mrs. Callender from the novel, “The best thing one can do to a native is to let him die”, the fight over possessing and territorialising the Third World Woman is between two inherently masculine modes of discourse, which slice her body in half, both want to ’emancipate’ her on their terms.

We need to localise our histories, forge bonds with hybrid realities and identities in order to fully and faithfully engage with the ‘Woman Question’. Neo-colonising-Empire-licking practices will simply not do.

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1. This game can also be used to determine Who Is Really Oppressed as we all know that any form of oppression exists solely in a void and is quantifiable, no?

2. Most traditional houses have ‘women’s spaces’ in the Inner Courtyard, where there are barriers — physiological and psychological ones — between ‘women’s spaces’ and the world outside.

Trigger Warning?

I was recently asked to provide trigger warnings for some images and links we posted on the SexGenderBody Tumblr and Twitter feeds.

This is a topic that I have struggled with since we started the site.  We don’t get many requests for this, but when we do – I take stock of what we are doing, how it might impact people, where we are accountable (or want to be) and what choices we make as we go forward.  So, I thought I would share my thoughts and open it up for discussion.

I take such requests very seriously.  SGB is designed to honor the terms of our individual identities and that is no easy thing to do.

We cover a lot of ground at SGB: anything to do with sex, gender, body.  This includes not only the first things you might consider regarding these topics, but everything else.  Including but not limited to: sexuality, asexuality, age, gender, queer, body mods, tattoos, kink, vanilla, celibacy, non-monogamy, relationships, family, friendship, politics, feminism, rights, advocacy, activism and a zillion other expressions and conversations about the human body.

Every person on the planet has their own definition and terms that they use to define their own sex, gender & body.  Some of these are common and some are less so, making for a very large (almost 7 billion) sample of variations.  Additionally, we each have our own ideas of what we like / don’t like / are attracted to / offended by.  These too come in common and uncommon variations.

Many of us are survivors of assault and when we read about such things it can be very difficult for us.  We may wish to avoid such things or at least know that they’re coming, so that we can manage it in some way.  Even if someone is not a survivor per se, they may simply wish to avoid such topics for some other reason.  Certainly, the desire for such advance notice is a reasonable request.  So, on one hand I would like to honor that request.  That’s one element of this issue.

The elusive standard.

My struggle is in addressing a pair of considerations.

One problem is: what is offensive? What words or image qualify as “offensive” in their mere existence?

The next issue is: What is it to cause offense? What actions does a writer take that are by definition – an offense?

Do we give a trigger warning for “likely”  or “possible” offense?  What determines “likely” or even “majority“?

Not to be callous in any way, but I have yet to find something that deals with sex, gender, body that does not run the risk of offending someone, somewhere.  With so many people, so many cultures, histories, languages, conventions and beliefs – finding a majority view of “offensive” or “inoffensive” worldwide, is a very hard thing to do (much less actually prove).  It seems to my untrained eye that location and language determine whether something is considered “offensive” more than content or anything else.

A picture of Charles Atlas on a beach with no shirt will not get many people fired…

but a picture of a “topless” woman on her vacation could very easily do so.

Even the word “topless” is more slanted toward the meaning of a woman with no shirt.  If a man goes topless in many places, it is of no concern to anyone but him.  He might be called “shirt less”, but not very often “topless”.  While at the same time, a woman would be arrested for doing so.  Again, this varies from one culture to the next.

We have readers and contributors from across the globe, so the question of what is “offensive” becomes even more difficult to answer.  In each of our own personal lives and the communities we touch, we get a sense of what we think is a generally accepted definition of “offensive”.

That said, it seems like a “no-brainer” that some things should come with a warning: murder, rape, torture.  But, a “no-brainer” it is not.

The newspapers are full of murder stories daily.  If murder is offensive, then the NY Times should have a trigger warning on the top of the front page.  But, that would be silly because we are used to reading about murder, mass murder, genocide, starvation, disease, famine, queer bashing, kidnapping and a slew of awful things done by humans to other humans.

When it comes to rape, that’s in the papers, too.  Rape is as foul a thing as there is on this planet.  There are very few absolutes and rape is not one of them.  Some people have healthy sexual fantasy and role play that involves consenting adults in a rape scenario.  Their voices are no less valid than the rape survivor who cannot stand the mention of the word.  They are just different people with different identities.  The site will deny neither identity nor the expression of those identities.  They are not the same thing and neither one is better or worse.

In a very similar comparison, torture and kink can have vastly different expressions of identity and reactions.  The key distinction is the presence or absence of consent.

The issue at hand is that however any one person identifies themselves, they are welcome to share their identity here.

Is a warning just a warning?

When someone places a “NSFW” tag on a picture of a naked human, what is communicated?  It seems to mean “if your job will fire you for looking at naked people, then don’t look at this”.  This usually includes pictures of sex or genitals, but some companies have different levels of acceptable flesh that they are interested in their employees looking at.

But, that’s not all it means.  Some companies apply that directive at such topics as politics, (competing) religion, workers’ organizing, education, media, human rights and many more.  Depending on the culture of any websurfer, the list of “NSFW” can include a wide selection.

Language and images are not neutral – they carry a great deal of meaning besides the initial, immediate usage would indicate.  For example, when “NSFW” is used concerning nudity or sex, it also reinforces messages regarding the value of people based on their gender, sex and race.  So, when we throw “NSFW” up, we run the very real risk of reinforcing a truckload of patriarchal value statements on whether or not

Do we consider the impact of our content?

Yes.  We think about it – a lot.  We consider whether or not we are reinforcing value statements about someone’s body being devalued based on some gender, sex, body term of devaluation as well as whether or not it may be “offensive”.  We think about  a great number of considerations.  Hopefully, we find voices that are less frequently heard, perspectives that are unique and assumptions that are largely ignored to be examined.

Are we responsible for people’s emotions?

No.  This is not a flippant or dismissive response.  It’s a fact.  The only person’s emotions that any of us are responsible for are our own.  Many cultures and individuals believe and agree with each other that they are either responsible for other people’s emotions or that others are responsible for theirs.  I am not talking about a physical contact, actions, drugging / poisoning or some physical act that leads to an emotional / physical response.  I am talking about words and images.  In this case, all the agreement in the world is nothing more than agreement and it is still not a fact.  A person may believe that other people are responsible for zie’s emotions, but zie still chooses zie’s emotions inside the context of those beliefs and not because of any actual causality between one human and the next via words or images.

We are responsible for our own words and if we are preaching hatred, intolerance, lies, cruelty and encouraging the rights of others, then there are laws to protect society from such cruelties.  That having been said, I also know from personal experience that words can be very upsetting.  In the case of blogs, we have a simple recourse – close the browser window.

What is “acting with responsibility?”.

This can also be defined from person to person, based on their values.  The values of this site are to foster an open discussion on sex, gender, body that allows people to articulate the terms of their own identity and to hear / accept others as they articulate theirs.

In the end, I suggest that when people read something upsetting (here or elsewhere) – don’t read that site again, or for a while, etc.  Put some space between one’s self  and that information / image that caused the upset.  That is good, rational behavior.  The world is full of things that will upset each and every one of us.  We share this world together and it is unreasonable to think that we can ask the world to stop talking about things that upset us or to label them on our behalf.  We need to find a way to accept that by moving about in the world (and on the Internet), we will bump into things we don’t like very much.

If we don’t like what we see, we can move away from it.  I completely understand that.  It’s a smart thing to do.  I don’t want anyone to be upset and I don’t want anyone to think that we are deliberately ignoring their concerns.  To the contrary, but we are also hosting conversations about the entirety of human corporeal form and identity and nobody is going to like or be comfortable with all aspects of those conversations.

If you don’t like something that you see here or on our other outlets, I apologize.  I wish that it was not so.  If you need to leave our site and never return for any reason, then I completely understand and honestly, sincerely wish you to be happy.  If you have to tell everyone you know that you think our site is the worst possible thing on the planet, I fully support your right to say and believe that.  I won’t agree with you of course, but you won’t get any argument from me about  you doing what you choose.  I am with Voltaire on this one:

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

If you are at work and you could get in trouble for looking at nekkid humans, then don’t surf sites with the name “SexGenderBody” in the title.  Even if it’s not ours, I could win most bets by guessing that you’d see some flesh.  Do your spreadsheets and check us out when you get home.  That is a good, responsible thing to do on your part and only you control which pages you view.  We don’t have pop-ups, spam or any of that stuff.  You can only see our site by coming here of your own volition.

So, to conclude: I leave it up the each contributor on the site to include or omit trigger warnings.  I will not be adding very many trigger warnings.  I don’t want to say never, but I am having a hard time figuring out just exactly where.  Other writers on the site may include them on every post and that is fine with me.  It is their choice, and I am very proud to support that.

-arvan

My Rape Story

Jaded16’s Note: Heavy trigger warnings for child rape, molestation and other PTSD symptoms and language.

—-

I was 12 or 13 years old, back in ’72 or ’73.   It was summer.  I played outside with my friends and did whatever young boys do, with time on their hands and no supervision.  My friend Bob and I were outside goofing around.  We ran into Jimmy, a man who lived in the neighborhood.  He was tall, thin, had a mustache and long hair, in his late 20’s or early 30’s.  He often said hello to me as he walked by.  Bob and I saw him and we got to talking.  There was a forest preserve across the street from my house, where I often played.  As we walked along talking, we entered the woods. I had no reason to be suspicious.   I was always in those woods.

Somehow, Jimmy and I became separated from Bob.  We were alone in the woods.  He told me that he wanted to tell me a joke, but that we should go further up the hill, away from the path.  Once we were away from the path by a good measure, he told me that he wanted me to “do him a favor”.  I had become nervous, but I was too frightened to move.  I feared that I might upset him if I did.  I began to think in my mind as to how I might control this situation.  But, I was not the one in control.

By now, he had a hold of me and was pulling me to the ground.  He said that he wanted to “lean on me” I didn’t know what it meant, but I was terrified. He pulled me down and his grip was very strong.   I remember thinking of what I might be able to say, to make him think that I was not going to run and at the same time, get free of his grip.  I remember pleading with Jimmy, begging him to stop, to let me go.  He was still trying to get me to lie down and was taking off his shirt or something.  I remember him loosening his belt and pants.  I remember him dropping his pants.  It was all happening so fast and I didn’t know what to do.  I was crying and asking for him to stop, but he wouldn’t stop.

Then, I think we heard Bob on the trail, looking for us.  Jimmy still had me, but now he was asking me to promise to keep this a secret.  Not to tell anyone.  I was so frightened but I was so relieved that I might be able to get away from this place in the woods.  I promised him that I would.  Suddenly, I was aware that I was free from Jimmy’s grip.  I felt as if I had come back from the grave.   I saw light returning to the forest.  I could hear things…birds, cars, planes.

I found Bob, and Jimmy came up right behind me.  I didn’t tell Bob anything right there.  He looked at my eyes and we just got out of there.  We separated from Jimmy and he asked me what the hell happened.  I told him and he said that he thought as much.  We discussed what to do…go to the police, tell our parents…what?  We didn’t tell anyone.  We were pretty sure that we were the ones that would get in big trouble.  I was sure that I would. We told no one. I told no one – for years. I think that I told my parents about 15 years later, when we were all liquored up one night.

I was lucky that a friend came back to find me.  If he had run into another pal and taken off to do something else for a while, I might not even be here.

I saw Jimmy around the neighborhood a few times more and then not again. Bob and I stuck together for months.   I never went outside without knowing for a fact that Bob was around.  I felt lucky that my parents and nobody else knew.  I was a skinny kid and the common insult back then was ‘fag’.  I didn’t want to be called fag for the rest of my school days.   I didn’t want to be in trouble with my parents or police or have Jimmy come looking for me, if he found out I had told on him.

I pretended that it never happened, but it did.  It took me years – over a decade to admit that I was not the guilty one.  When I could bring myself to think about it, I was clear that Jimmy was not gay.   He was a child molester.  They are not the same thing.

My rape story is one that has some lucky breaks – I lived.  My story is a survivor’s story.  It has colored my world view.  I think that it allows me to stand one step closer into someone else’s shoes. Thousands of children go up into the woods every day and do not come home.  Children are raped and killed in every country in the world.  Children, barely able to think for themselves.

At the top of the human social ladder is .01% of the population running empires of weapons, oil, drugs, finance and bureaucracy that exists only to make them richer.  While at the very bottom of the pile, being starved, raped, mutilated, burned and murdered – are hundreds of thousands of children whose lives are forever shattered every day.

I don’t know how the world gets fixed, how the economy turns around, how jobs come back and how we fight terrorists.  I don’t know how anything gets solved.  I do know however, that I don’t know how to fix all this crap, all the lies and all the cruelty. I do believe that until the children are safe from the absolute worst of humanity, we have accomplished nothing.

P.S. Any comments or e-mails that discredit the views of the author will be deleted without much consideration. I will not entertain any e-mails complaining just why your horrendous crappy comment isn’t showing. If I still have to explain to you why is it important to hear survivor’s stories without any shaming or accusing the victim, then you need to exit this blog.

 

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