Leaving aside the brain aneurysm inducing ludicrousness of the above statement (one amongst infinite reasons as to why the said psychopath is firmly an ex), and the understandable vomit inducing imagery it conjures up in our collective subconscious, his appalling statement essentially got me thinking, seven years or so after it was actually made.
What is this concept of ‘purity’ that people like to wax eloquent about?
Is it an issue with sex? Premarital sex? Sexual behavior? So girls who have sex before marriage with their significant others are morally bankrupt. Or girls who have sex irrespective of marriage period, are all whores*. Sex or otherwise, girls and women who kiss, hold hands, blow, give hand jobs are also harlots.
Is it an issue with what girls and women wear? Tank tops and short shorts are trampy. Skirts? Skirts practically screech come hither, unless they are at a length where they perform double duty as a means for community service by sweeping the streets as they swish by. How about figure hugging clothes? Fitted jeans, slim tees, sleeveless clothing, oh what the heck, lets throw in well fitting salwar/ churidhar kameezes into the fray as well. And corsets, halters, backless/plunging neckline tops and everything else that fits the trollop category.
Is in an issue with behavior? Women-and girls who sit around, legs wide apart, arms lax, without a care in the world. Women who talk too much. Women who don’t talk enough. Women who laugh loudly. Women who talk to the male of the species. Women who deign to go where they want, when they want. Women who just go out. Women who smoke. Women who drink. Women who do both and maybe much more. Women who do neither. Women who, who…
Who what, exactly? This boundless cyclic madness, this beast, when does it stop? When does it go away?
It never does, does it?
It starts when we are wee little girls, the censures, the disapproving looks, the first seeds of culpability.
It takes shape when we are teens, when we feel the first tendrils of desire snake its way up our spines, when it’s sheer forcefulness astounds us, because we are inundated with the dictum that these kinds of feelings are utterly inappropriate, while simultaneously ingesting the truism that the same kinds of desire experienced by boys and men are wholly acceptable and natural.
From this point on, it becomes an inexhaustible battle, a battle to rewrite and erase women’s sexual experience, a never-ending campaign to asexualize us all, because ultimately in a patriarchal culture, there is room for only one set of humans to possess desire, to flaunt it, to do with it what you want, because you are the only ones allowed to have it. And lest we scratch our heads as to what desire has to do with seemingly obligatory human choices like clothing or drinking or just plain hanging out (or what the fig ever), we must keep in mind that for one set of people, these are things which cannot be taken for granted. I cannot waltz into my closet and throw on whatever I spy from the corner of my eye and call it a day. I cannot tap dance my way to the nearest bar and unflappably order a drink. I cannot walk to the nearest liquor store and unperturbedly buy what I want to buy. I have to think these ostensibly mundane things through, I have to dynamically subject myself to a self policing, I have to go through a convoluted yes and no game and brace myself for who knows what if I do end up deciding to wear or do something deemed ‘unsafe’.
Maybe I want to wear something sexy. Maybe I want to go to a bar and buy a drink and pick up someone to fool around with because I am horny. Maybe I want to lounge about at street corners and scream catcalls at a person who is easy on my eyes. These wants, these laughably unfussy desires of mine are anathema to the Sri Ram Sene thugs, and I daresay, to a fairly large section of our illustrious population.
And all the little snippy comments at our clothing, at our actions, at our choices period, stem from exactly that: a fear of our desire and what we choose to do with our bodies.
So it comes as no surprise really, when the Sri Ram Sene barefacedly assault a couple of hapless women (while portentously gloating over their thundering accomplishment on upholding ‘Indian Culture’ in the process, because nothing gives you that shiny moralistic afterglow than brutalizing a couple of women, you see), who hath committed the heinous misdeed of choosing what they wanted to do with their time in a country that supposedly extended the same set of rights to all its people. Riiight.
It’s been wholly amusing to see the righteous ire pouring in from all corners, and make no mistake; I unquestionably think that it’s a good thing, but duplicity much?
I mean, the Sri Ram Sene’s actions were utterly deplorable and appalling, but what really gave them the impetus to do what they did? It’s not like we can pooh pooh them away as some fringe element, a crazed group of disgruntled boogeymen who assail people for no discernible reason- unpalatable as this may be, they are affiliated to a prominent political party. It’s not like we can disappear into the mundane rigors of our own lives by convincing ourselves that this odious incident was an uncharacteristic anomaly, we know all too well that it isn’t. So, what gives? What enables a group affiliated to a prominent political party to bandy about in broad daylight and descend upon a couple of girls like an apocalyptic scourge whose only ‘crime’ was to go to a pub and hang out with a few guys?
Us. All of us.
Not just the aunty who sneers reproachfully at our slinky clothes. Not just the uncle who rages on about vekkam-maanam illatha (badtameezi) women. Not them, not just them.
We are all enablers.
We uphold and enable a culture which makes it possible for glorified thugs with penis issues such as the Sri Ram Sene to be affiliated with a prominent political party in the first place.
Every time a parent ostensibly cheers the unreservedly fucked up decision of a college to impose draconian dress codes on its students, based off the even more outrageously fucked up premise that girls are all vile temptresses and boys are no better than raging brutes suspended in a state of perpetual horniness shock! gasp!, we enable this madness.
Every time we blame girls and women as if on autopilot for street sexual harassment, and harangue them for their clothing choices, instead of, I don’t know, blaming the guy inflicting the harassment, we enable this goddamned lunacy.
Every time we slut-shame a girl or a woman and gleefully hold her feet to the fire for her actions or her non actions- because lets face it, you don’t have to do much to earn the tag, in fact the slut label can attach itself to you with the unparalleled tenaciousness of type II Herpes for splendiferous reasons such as, wait for it: she looks vaguely different/ she does not wear a dupatta/ she smiles a lot/ she sits around with her legs wide apart (oh woe!)/ insert asinine non reason here. This is not to say that calling someone a slut for their sexual proclivities is warranted. It is never warranted, it is not necessary, it is petty and mean and vicious and it works to keep women and girls choking in a miasma of everlasting ignominy. And yes, every time we shame women into constructing smaller and smaller and even more appallingly smaller cages to curl up and putrefy in, we.enable.this.derangement.
So it should come as no surprise really, that this was bound to happen, sooner or later.
We perpetuate this crap after all, by creating and maintaining a cultural environment which does nothing short of perform the rumba, line up a string quartet and roll out the red carpet for ‘political outfits’ like the Sri Ram Sene. And twits like Sagarika Ghose and her hackneyed ‘editorial’ on the Pink Chaddi Campaign which reads like the hand wringers gospel to fruitfully creating an air of bogus umbrage, does nothing to alleviate the terror these girls have been put through. Her column is so appallingly banal that I cannot even bring myself to pick it apart and laugh at her preposterousness.
But I will say this- please cut the crap Ms. Ghose. Seriously, cut the crap.
Just because you bog your readers down in needless verbiage and manage to magnificently contradict yourself every four syllables or so (of which I am assuming that it was deliberate, nobody can be that incongruously paradoxical and be blissfully unaware of what they manage to spew out on paper at the same time), that doesn’t mean that we cannot see through your bile. Through the quagmire of your moronic Nehru and ‘Sex and The City’ references (lol wut?), do you actually think that we are dim-witted enough to fall for your “I’m noble enough to see the point of view of the hooligans who beat the shit out of you, but I’m still one of you ladies, yea! Girl powerrr!” bull-feces?
So stop, just stop. Your phony umbrage and your feeble solidarity charade ain’t fooling anyone. If you are so intolerably dense so as to not be able to comprehend the utter subversive brilliance of the Pink Chaddi Campaign, then the least you could have done was to not write a column which basically sided with the execrable Sri Ram Sene’s horrendous actions, even if you didn’t intend for it to be that way.
I just. I don’t know. I wanted to write about this as soon as I had heard what had happened. But I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. Every time I sat in front of my computer, the blood would rush to my head and my fingers would go pallid and lifeless and I would just sit there, my butt fused to the chair and my eyes glazing over, the words tumbling over themselves in my brain. But the dread, the sheer dread and the denial and the horror, stifled them. They wouldn’t parse themselves into neat little sentences on paper. They just wouldn’t.
Lest you think I am overreacting (because loony harridans always overreact, get with the program people),
First Mangalore, now its Bangalore. I keep asking myself, when does this madness stop? When will it become apparent that all this moralistic pearl clutching about 'women’s purity' and 'the vile influence of Westernization, hurrr' and the like, are nothing short of glorified shams?
* I've always wondered as to why or how the word 'whore' or 'prostitute' actually functions as an insult (or not). But this deserves a whole separate post in itself.
It somehow seems weirdly appropriate that I mark my ‘spectacular’ reemergence with a clichéd soliloquy about the diaphanous qualities of rebirth as a metaphor for my entire existence, but fuck that shit. If I had to recapitulate my activities of these past eight months (eight freaking months! Has it really been THAT long?) in 25 words or less, I would say: My spirit was broken in more ways than one, and I took my time in putting it back together again. And that’s the end of that.
I’m afraid that I will have to resort to some kind of formulaic scaffold of sorts, because I want to start from the beginning. I mean literally the freaking beginning. This doesn’t mean that I will wax eloquent about the intrinsic worth of having a clean slate, I don’t believe in them. The past has a place and a purpose. But I digress.
So, the damn beginning. That’s what I want to talk about. Biology. The reproductive system. Hormones. Ovulation. Menstruation.
I cannot shake off the sensation that I’m flogging a dead horse repetitively. That I have spoken enough about the redundant pointlessness of menstrual seclusion, about the natural inevitability of such a process, about the inexorableness of a fluid secreting orifice, and don’t all human orifices secrete some sort of fluid or fluid-like substance, be it blood, sweat, mucous, piss or shit? What makes the menstrual secretion that much more frightening, than say, a greenish viscous liquid dripping down a person’s face? Is it the blood? Is it the vagina, that most iniquitous orifice, weighed down overwhelmingly with several thousand years worth of cultural baggage? Or is it the combination of the blood and the vagina, a disagreeable substance associated with pain and suffering in conjunction with, to all cross purposes, a disagreeable part of the female anatomy?* Except when used for baby making, in that particular instance, all notions of disagreeableness vanish and get replaced by a veneration that forces the hapless vagina wielder onto a pedestal. And we all know how much I detest pedestals. But this is not about menstrual seclusion. This is not about pedestals. This is simply about my reproductive system, and the collective reproductive systems of the female of the species.
In less grandiose terms, I am not my reproductive system. It does not define me, or my life or my whims. I am not at its mercy, I do not function at its beck and call, and I have not succumbed to pubertal vulnerability. It does not delineate me; it is simply a part of me, as innocuous as a sweat gland on my arm, or a taste bud on my tongue. But it becomes necessary for me to state that which is excruciatingly obvious, over and over and over again. It becomes necessary for me to reinstate the fact that I am not an ill fated victim doomed to be caught in the throes of my perfidious monthly ovulatory cycle which deigns to ensnare me in its web of Unhinged Emotional Batshittery™ using a myriad array of lethal weaponry, including the dread PMS and the like.
Now let me state on the outset that I am not painting the discomfort felt by me and/or other women during their menstruation cycles as non-existent or a peachy keen experience. But what I am questioning is the pervasive rhetoric of ‘illness’ or ‘disease’ that hangs around menstruation and the female reproductive system like an oppressive miasmic fog. Take PMS for instance. Pre-Menstrual Syndrome. Pre-Menstrual Syndrome? Am I the only one who finds this terminology problematic? Again, I will backtrack a little bit and state pervasively that I’m not denying anyone’s difficult experiences on, during, or before their period, much as I hate to make fucking caveats. But to mark it with the ‘syndrome’ tag strikes me as a little odd. Assuming the popular rhetoric surrounding PMS for a second, what are its markers? What constitutes the syndrome itself? A quick Google search gives me an imposing list of over 160 odd symptoms, anything from life threatening epileptic fits to conjunctivitis to low blood sugar to asthma to heart palpitations to glaucoma to increased appetite to constipation and on and on and on, the exhaustive list continues. If this is indeed the case, then we have nothing short of a global health crisis on our hands, a pandemic to end all pandemics, so AIDS please move over. A pretty convenient bind, I’d like to think.
As women, we’ve had to walk over hell and high water to have people (read: male doctors and physicians, I’m not going to pussyfoot around this) take us seriously, to have them acknowledge the fact that our bodies undergo changes every month. Unfortunately, as these things are wont to happen, the powers that be responded as they’ve always done when presented with something different (however big or slight the difference may be); they immediately decided to confront it as an aberration, putting forth cures and such for this malady plaguing the wimminfolk.
The setback with such an approach is not in the existence of the difference in question, and there are always going to be women out there who require medical attention for debilitating physical changes in relation to their menstrual cycles (full disclosure: on occasion, I’ve had to go to the hospital myself, because the nausea and pain was nothing short of agonizing), the problem arises however in the framing of the issue itself, as an abnormality, and by extension, a malady in need of a ‘cure’.
If bodily changes related to one’s menstrual cycle are indeed deemed as an anomaly of sorts, then what constitutes the state of being normal? What sets the norm? The male reproductive system? And there lies the freaking bind. Caught between the pervasive discourse on menstruation that places the male body and the male reproductive system as normal, and the repercussions arising from such a framework that puts all of a woman’s worth in her reproductive capabilities, there can be no leeway for a woman to attain normalcy without rejecting her biological markup and believing in the popular discourse that she is naturally unclean, monstrous, abnormal.
How then, can research worth any salt be performed on women’s menstrual health (and by extension, women’s health in general) when the basis itself is problematic, leading researchers to ask all the erroneous questions and formulating their own conclusions based off the results? I don’t know if I have the answers. But I do know that something’s gotta give. And I sure as hell do know that my body is fucking normal, menstrual blood, pain, nausea and all.
* Obviously I'm not literally referring to blood or the vagina as disagreeable.