On Taking The Bus

This is a guest post by Deepti. She just finished her Masters in communication. A connoisseur of good and meaningful writing, she spends half her day glued to the thousand feeds on her Google Reader. She spends the other half, nurturing an unhealthy obsession for American crime procedurals, cinema, and dissing popular culture. She researches telecom policy and accessibility for an NGO in Bangalore and waits for Fall, when she can go to Grad School and get her PhD.

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It’s never a random decision. Oh I think I’ll take the bus… nope can’t do. Not dressed like that anyhow.

Being a girl in India means many things.

It means you’re valued less, you’re harassed more.

It also means that you have to be very very careful about how you choose to cloth yourself when you go out. Am I going to a conservative neighbourhood- definitely not the skinny jeans then? Can I walk around in boxers in my home? Sure but always be ready to pull the fastest trick change into pajamas if a guest comes calling.You’d be amazed how many times I have changed from perfectly okay clothing to go somewhere because; well… it’s just not okay to go there.

I know all about, I have the right to dress how I want and not get raped.

But I also know something else- I most definitely don’t want random men to stare at my legs when I walk down the road in a skirt. I don’t want to be whistled at by random teenage boys on bikes. I don’t want to be standing in a bus and have to bear uncomfortable staring from the men at the back because my shirt is clingy.

Does that mean I have to always dowdy up? No not really, because you see my upper middle class privilege lets me do all kinds of things. It lets me have a car that I can drive around in wearing whatever the hell I please. It lets me go to malls and restaurants and coffee shops and plays in revealing clothes where I can walk in confidently with the expectation that no one will look at me threateningly. Because that’s not what ‘people like us’ do now is it?

But yes, I police myself. I don’t wear skirts to work even though I want to because I have to take the public bus. And even if this is Bangalore where its quite okay to dress how you like because this is where the cool people live, And even if the bus I take is a nice red Volvo with air conditioning and padded seats and really helpful drivers and conductors and ‘a better class of people’ who can afford the Rs 30-40 fare and who don’t ‘ostensibly’ engage in leching (It’s called ‘checking out’ if it’s done by software techies instead of day labourers, I believe), I don’t because I still have to stand everyday at a bus stop for five minutes waiting, when I all I want to do is be swallowed up by the earth because I can feel every single man staring at me.

This constant mortification, even for five minutes, is not a price I am ready to pay for the joy of baring my legs. Call me a coward, call me a bad poster example  for liberation, but I won’t do it.

The skirts meanwhile, lie unworn…

P.S. Any comments which hint at malice or scorn over the fact Deepti doesn’t wear the clothes she likes, and is bringing down the name of Feminism by extension will be promptly deleted. Before you think of commenting, keep in mind the geo-political location of the writer, that will curb a little privilege showing too. I’d also like to remind you about this wonderful page that is still open for guest posts.

The Landscape Ahead: Who Will Identify The Individual?

Identity—the very essence of who we are and how we interact with others—is in the middle of a period of extraordinary tumult. The Internet and a host of new communications technologies have transformed the concept of identity and redefined our relationships to businesses, governments and constantly churning networks of friends and peers.

Growing numbers of digital natives now define themselves by their Web presence as well as their real-world presence. Indeed, they move seamlessly from their online to offline lives, and they expect to assert who they are on their own terms.

Call it the audacity of self-identity. I am whatever I say I am.

J.D. Lasica, Identity in the Age of Cloud Computing (emphasis mine)

There are several types of identity by which we all are known.  The two identity types that most people are familiar with are:

Self Identity – the way one person is defined by one’s self.  It is the act of a person telling a group – “This is who I am”.

Group Identity – the way one person is defined by a group of people.  It is the act of a group telling a person: “This is who you are”.

Most of us employ a mixture of group identity terms as self-identity.  We use language, which we did not invent, to describe who we are.  Often, we did not even choose the words we use (i.e. fat, skinny, smart, gay, man, woman, tall…and so on).  Labels, judgments, names, terms – all consisting of language.

It is society, in this model, that decides how ‘best’ or fully to recognize someone and define them.  What are a person’s rights?  Society will decide.  What is good behavior in personal appearance, sexual preference, gender assignation?  Society will decide.  Who is good-looking?  Society will decide.  Basically, when the question is ‘how am I to be identified or valued?’ Society will decide.

Regarding labels, let me briefly touch on some reasons why they are unreliable, right out of the gate:

Language is a metaphor. The words we speak and print are substitutes for things that we use to communicate.  The words ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ are not people.  Each of us is our own self, made up of different atomic mass, independently operating, existing and thinking.  We don’t even look or sound the same from one person to the next, based on differing values and sensory perceptions.  ‘Gay’ or ‘straight’ mean different things to different people and they mean different things simply if the label is applied after or before two people meet for the first time.

Perceptions vary. What looks blue to me can look violet to the next person.  I can look at a 30-year-old person and see someone young.  My daughter can look at the same person and see someone that is ‘very old’.

My working theory is that labels are most effective when a person uses them to describe one’s self.  They are much less accurate when someone is labeling another person.

None of this is new or revolutionary, but it’s important to bear in mind for this conversation.

The dynamic between self-identity and group identity is mirrored in the competition between self-determination and herd/mob behavior.  This struggle has been in the mainstream conversation for over 200 years, because it played out in the struggle for democracty and liberty in the United States.

The evolution of ‘the rights of the individual’ is interesting because the topic is framed within a context that rights are granted by government, society, the group.  The Declaration of Independence opened the door a crack with the following language:

all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This document is essentially a list of ways that the group (US Government) will recognize people.  The Bill of Rights, furthers this assertion of primacy in the description of individuals.  People exist as rights, because the document (as proxy for the group) says so.  Also, the document states the manner in which people will be recognized, not just who but what.

For its time, the documents above were revolutionary.  Everyone’s frame of mind was in the collective…parish, village, family, clan, tribe, kingdom and so on.  They took group definitions ‘out onto the skinny branches’ where they were dangerously close to being more about the individual than the group – by asserting that in some ways the group must recognize the individual.

From there, the definition of the individual has been tested, refined and broadened to extend these rights to include blacks, indigenous peoples, women and children.  As grew the rights of the individual, so grew the expectation of autonomy from one group of individuals to the next.

Looking back, I think that the biggest crack in the herd model was the First Ammendment.  Free speech, freedom of assembly basically left open the barn door, eventually allowing the herd to roam free.  There have been attempts to slow the exodus by trickery and fear-mongering, with lines drawn in the sand even now, on issues like gay marriage, gender rights and more.

A common thread persisted however, that when these individuals spoke up for and demanded their rights – it was over the larger group’s objections and with their permission or decree that rights were granted.  The framework of the group granting the individual a definition of rights persisted.  It was still about smaller groups fighting to have rights as individuals.

Over time, the framework for the conversation shifted.  The model for a group demanding the rights of its individuals had been established as precedent.  Namely, that individuals could wrest power from the mob.  Eventually, people began to ask other questions, changing the context:

What other rights do we have?

What rights to I have?

Why am I asking for my rights from the group?

The cat is out of the bag.  Not only are people asking these questions, but we are coming up with answers.  Free speech gave power to the individual.

The Herd or the Individual?

The herd-mind is everyone working for the group.

The hive-mind or herd-mind can be inefficient, dishonest and manipulative. The herd-mind behavior is assumed to be a coordinate effort by many to achieve a common goal.  Even if the coordination is merely a reliance on tradition and allegedly proven ways of success and the common good. The messaging of herd-mind labels and definitions of who people are and what they should be doing, comes from religion, government, advertising, entertainment and corporate culture settings.  Dress this way, speak this way, think this way…and so on.

It is in reality, many people operating for the benefit of a few or for no coordinated reason.  Whereas most people in the herd are working, making money, spending money, paying taxes and going along with things because it is a past-looking view.  A patriarchal view of the idealized family structure imprinted upon the society at large.  It is also a convenient responsibility dodge for the timid masses.  As if people become clones of Sgt. Schultz “I see nothing!” becomes the mantra.

It is the status quo.

The individual mind is one person working for their own benefit.

The examples of selfish individuals, concerned only with themselves and their own successes are in everyone’s life.  That is the unhealthy version.  The image of a balance individual is not one propagated through history.  In élite circles, certainly these minds exist, but as ‘shakers & movers’ and ‘captains of industry’.  For a very select few, the whole slate of freedom and individuality have always been available.

The model of an individual naming one’s own self in one’s own terms is not a common one – until now.  What has been needed is for individuals to stop defining themselves on the group’s terms.

Neither a society of only individuals or only the group can be viable..  There needs to exist a middle ground, where the health of the group and the individual are both supported.  Throughout history, the balance of power was tilted toward the group.  With overpopulation, starvation, disease bearing down on us, we will either choose now to find that balance or soon find ourselves without a say in the matter, as military dictatorships place us all under their thumbs ‘for our own good’, using the urgency of the world crises as justifications for their draconian dictatorships (see Bush/Cheney right after 9/11).  We can look in our past and our present for some likely examples: Somalia, Ethiopia, India, Burma, China, Darfur…and that shameful list goes on.

Our societies are in crisis and status quo political and religious organizations propose that we eschew science for religion, and reject birth control for rampant breeding.  Both strategies good only for swelling the ranks of poverty.

Signs of change and a way forward.

Social media is a playground for creating new identities on the fly.  People are practicing the craft, the thought process, the experience, the creativity and the rewards of creating themselves in their own image – for their own reasons.  Web presences in various formats abound with new ones being created daily, from pictures, email addresses, names, avatars, moving characters, sounds and operational / functional creations each serving as a new identity.

Here in the phyisical plane, we are seeing an explosion of ways that people identify themselves in their own terms and for their own reasons.  In terms of sex, gender, body – definitions that have been taboo or criminal for centuries are now simply someone’s way of saying ‘this is me’.  Which, is what they always have been.

Conversations in the lives of trans gender people are among the most rich and fertile examples of the choices and fluidity of self-identity.

Sex-positive groups, blogs and other social meeting points are a place for individuals to practice this new craft of individuals existing in their own terms as a healthy group that can sustain itself and its members.  It is a very exciting time that we live in.  We are watching the birth of a society built upon the strength of individual identity.

This is a weekly post by Arvan. Remember the Open Guest Posting Policy? It still works!

Tales This Tongue Didn’t Twist

There is a story my father likes to tell when people ask him what his eldest daughter wants to do ‘with her life’. It seems that I was 13 and determined when I’d interrupted his important business call to say, “When I grow up, I’ll be a famous Lady Author” with hands on my hips and my eyes defiant. He says, almost always laughingly, that was the day he’d started worrying about me. Quite predictably, the writers I admired were White Ladies or Dusty Men — say hello to the child born on the brink of globalisation — and I had a grand scheme of writing a book by the time I was 25 and saying wise things like, “Oh writing is like breathing for me, I may have never consented to it, but it keeps my veins full”¹, appearing on TeeVee and inspiring little ladies everywhere to write, pretty much like Jo of Little Women, maybe with pants instead of frilly skirts though. And then, between all these juvenile fantasies, words and tongues I started opening up to, it became clear how alien and few Dusty Ladies were a part of my daily vocabulary, how little I knew of my culture and it’s deferential treatment to anyone who identified as female within its folds, or that I’d never really felt represented in words as much I could in this hued writing. It shocked me to see that I didn’t identify as strongly with Anne Eliot as much I had previously thought after reading Ismat Chughtai’s stories or that as much I suffered with Clarissa Dalloway, truth was she would probably never see beyond the hue of my epidermis tissue. This is where I stumbled into wonderful — feminine-identified — Indian writing, my world began to fill with names like mine, and people who too found themselves stuck on the fringe between being Western or Dusty, and of course the silences accompanied this writing too.

I’m still adjusting to this shift, from the open prose of George Eliot, which is ‘open’ and ‘free’ in the way only a few people in this world are allowed to be, to the heavily veiled writing of Dusty Ladies. I’m still haunted by Abburi Chaya Devi’s protagonist in ‘Sleep’ who grows up in such a restrictive environment that she doesn’t know what to do when she wants to laugh. I can replay the scene in my head when at the climax of the story she wakes up her mother to say anxiously, “Mother, I feel like laughing. The laughter is bubbling up, what shall I do?”. Years later, I realised it was a snippet of her own life where she was punished for laughing by her parents for laughing at a professor’s joke. I’ve always reveled and lost myself in Emily Dickinson’s verses — to an extent, I still do — and then I stumbled somehow to Eunice De Souza whose verses give silence quite an another underbelly altogether. This silence intrigues me as sometimes it enters my writing too, it’s something a lot of women have noticed and re-negotiated. It seems if you identify as a Lady out here, some people just cannot wait to bind you in rules and borders, asking and clearly specifying the lines you are not allowed to tread. Last year I attended a writing workshop where the speaker started with asking about things we, as the current youth demographic of India, wrote about or were sensitive to. The most common answers were politics, religion and sex. Then the speaker asked how many people would fearlessly write about these topics, and it was quite telling that most people who raised hands were dudes; most girls in the room and I shared guilty looks², for not letting that part of us out, as if we’re betraying ourselves in some strange way. Of course, then the speaker went on to explain how we should ‘break free’ from these cultural chains and just give in to writing urges with the loathsome self-assurance that only Upper Caste Hindu Dudes in India enjoy. The truth is, we can’t wipe away gender — whether assigned or taken — as if it’s a dark stain, scrub away till it lightens its way to disappearing completely; in fact the more we try to hide it, the more it reeks up the prose³.

Whenever I’ve given any such exotic — all Lady-Prose is exotic! — prose to read to my male friends, the most predictable plea they come up with is, “Maybe be a little less intense? I know you’re oppressed, or your protagonist is, but does your writing have to be this violent? It’s frankly upsetting sometimes”, which is when I explain that I didn’t give in to half of my hysteria while writing and they hastily change the topic to something less ‘dark’. This self-de-tonguing steps in earlier than we let on. In Storylines, most writers speak of this ‘looming monster’ that prevents them from broaching subversive topics, too fearful of what their parents, community and spouses will think or say. This doesn’t mean that women writers in India only talk of unicorns and babies, but they have to negotiate a lot of guilt — self-imposed and otherwise — for guarding their tongue and measuring syllables and in the privacy of their Shelved Selves, the guilt of giving in to societal expectations. Sometimes I’m amazed that we get any writing done at all considering how our time is different from dude’s concepts of time and space: it’s cyclical, lunar — Ladies remember the block of time when they did so and so household activity more than the analogue or digitalised time research, by one French Feminist says so — and excruciatingly repetitive, and that for many writers today, time and space are still just abstract concepts they don’t have possession over.

This blog turns one today, however I can safely say I’ve concealed more than I’ve bared myself. Every time I write something I’ve to carefully step over spots so as to not hurt or overtly expose who I really am, or my parent’s concept of ‘me’. For all my feminism and dedication to activism, there are a lot of things that are left unsaid and buried. Maybe one day this tongue will truly uncoil. Who knows? Today, I’m just glad for all the conversations and ideas we could initiate despite all of this.

P.S. Special thanks to Wallamazoo, Arvan and Veronica for being such kickarse friends and all the adorable guest bloggers without which this space wouldn’t have been as interactive as we want it to be.

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1. In my defense, I was 13. You can’t fault a 13 year-old for daydreaming, can you?

2. This doesn’t mean women don’t write about religion, politics or sex. Just that in that room, we definitely didn’t own up to writing about these topics even if we did.

3. The Dude who was organising races for the Next Best Prostitute will tell you a lot about the female stench.

 

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

UnVeiling Hued Bodies

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.

On a personal level, the body stands as a space for negotiation of meanings and values, albeit this transaction is unheard and often airless. My cook gets very uncomfortable seeing the scar on my hand endured because of a vicious assault some years ago, she always asks me to wear full-sleeved things around her, whereas I think it is a reminder of what transpired and what is left of me despite of it. But I do wear full-sleeved clothes in public to make sure no one knows or thinks it appropriate to prod further with inane insensitive questions and remarks. If I’d be forced to reveal my ‘marked’ patch in public, I’d be acutely uncomfortable too, just like Muslim women of Maharashtra will be if the latest effort of the Shiv Sena to police ‘heathen’ (which is any non-Hindu entity) bodies comes through. While there are real security reasons behind this burqa ban — or so they’d like us to believe — the other motive is to reveal, bare, break Her resistance and ultimately make her available, a body that has adjusted to being perceived a certain way due to societal and religious norms. This UnVeiling is just as political and lacking in agency as it sounds, especially when the ‘ripe’ availability is offered to the DudeCouncil to benefit from. Like the DoucheColonial Empire, the State becomes the Coloniser of bodies in this scene, operating under notions of ‘liberation’ and the deeply paternalistic notion of ’empowerment’, which when stripped of all its high-minded aims just becomes a dance of ownership and control with the aftertaste of stealing collective agency. The desire to see is overwhelming, a powerful motivator to go behind the Purdah, without even an inkling of concern or consent. Branded with caste and sect by the LocalColoniser’s Eyes and Race in the GlobalColoniser’s Gaze, the UnVeiling of such hued bodies is a sight akin to non-consensual ventriloquism.

As a student of Postcolonial Studies, even references of the ‘marked’, ‘possessed’ and ‘occupied’ maps, lands are offensive for they bear reminders to the invasive seeing of our bodies and minds for me. We argue that the ‘rape’ between the coloniser and the colonised country is possible because of the feminisation of land and spaces; what about the feminisation of the BODY? In Discourse From The Empire — colonial or present day — almost always, the ‘body’ that is under subjection, scrutiny is the Female Body (for which other body fulfills the role of complete powerlessness?). What is this but another form of colonisation, exposing bodies and by extension ‘forbidden’ horizons piece by piece, under each veil? On whose terms do we want to blur these boundaries of marked bodies, to whose benefit are questions that have been silenced, in its space the bigger farce of National Security² ebbs, till those words are inscribed on the skin. By this time my mum was giving me the Olde Glowering Eyelid, bringing me back to one ‘women’s space’ as I left another one behind. Who knows, maybe that little girl did hear me after all.

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1. It’s amazing to what lengths we can go to avoid the term ‘period’ or ‘menstruation’.

2. I am certain there are other, less invasive methods of securing National Security, IF we want to avoid mass-control of bodies  that is.

 

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