We are, all of us, trying to hold steady, and to hold space for each other and for ourselves. And so, instead of trying to put together a collection of ‘all new’ articles, this time we are republishing some ‘ever fresh’ ones on the theme of Sexuality and Representation.
There have been several recent examples of actors, movies and events being called out because of their lack of representation, like for the Oscars. With social media it is easier to create and distribute diverse art and also to voice the need for diversity. So it needs engagements and awareness in society. Change will happen once enough people demand that change.
This question of appropriateness is, for me, at the heart of all questions around sexuality. Each of us carries within us our own private benchmarks for which expressions of sexuality we find appropriate, and which ones, in turn, have crossed an invisible line. The ones we believe belong across the border, in the land of the inappropriate, of the too much.
The lip colour then enters into a rather queer state of existence as it refuses to stand by the label it is expected to conform to. It moves and escapes categorisation. In its queerness, it renders itself as a paradox. At the heart of paradoxes is the understanding that something is what it is also not. Similarly, the colour of this lipstick is nude, but it is also not. It is possible that it is because of this slippery nature of the paradox that my sexuality as my identity too remains slippery, in motion and fluid.
The virtual world allows me to challenge the hold of patriarchy on my ‘effeminate’ body; in a sense, it allows me to evade the policing of desire that my body shares with another, its flows and slippages, the messy and the unkempt. While virtual sex offers a window to revisit the sensual, it is also not immune to limitations and insecurities.
As I began to read about feminist methodology in academic research, it felt like I finally found words to articulate my experience. Feminist methodology addresses problems in traditional forms of scientific and social research, such as giving high regard to objectivity and rationality, and the power equation in the researcher-subject relationship.
My friend’s son, too, likes wearing tutus and frilly skirts. Every time they go shopping for clothes, he heads to the girl’s section and picks out the frilliest outfit. At check out, invariably the cashier asks if the pretty outfit is for his sister and he confidently says it is for him. Often he wears these outfits to school. His confidence comes from his mother’s acceptance of him and her understanding of his gender expansiveness. It helps that she is a sociologist, but there is a constant pushback from society including from his peers at school who bully the little boy. But it is the constant support from his mother and family that allows him to remain confident and thrive whilst being different.
No two human bodies are alike, and our different bodies arouse curiosity. But our fascination for the aesthetics of the perfect human body has historically created a space within art, science and religion for the examination of the ‘abnormal’ and the ‘imperfect’. As a result, some bodies are normalised while others become oddities. Freak Shows, and to a large extent, circuses and even exhibits in medical or anthropological museums particularly stand out for dehumanising and objectifying these different anatomies, and oftentimes subjecting these bodies to violence and discrimination.
Attire and sexuality in the common imagination and approach as represented (and also as received) by the mainstream media tell us a lot about prevailing attitudes to both. Advertisements bombard us with all kinds of representations, negative and positive, of human sexuality, sexual expression and desire. In the creation and marketing of attire and fashion, there is a great awareness of sexual buy-in or rejection by the market – that’s us.
Sharp and evocative, Kalki Koechlin’s spoken-word poem The Printing Machine lays bare the cycle of ceaseless and desensitised consumption engendered by the media. Kalki’s short and hard-hitting sentences, keys tap-tap-tapping, and the chrrs and grrs of printing machines bring out the urgency and sensationalism media narratives embody, turning incidents of violence into a stream of headlines that make us gasp and forget, gasp and forget.
I long for much more than a greater representation of brown women. I long for a complete overhaul of the racial, gendered, and economic systems that structure our suffering. But I also long for representation of all people, including brown women, who are in love, who are loveable, and who are — in the absence of love — lonely.
Dalit women are primarily viewed as victims and survivors of various kinds of violence. Reification of the Dalit identity has led to the boxing of our existence whose dimensions are solely defined by the savarna (dominant caste) gaze. Our self-assertions of identity are commodified to create a warped limiting of our lives, creating an image that is voiceless in the minds of our potential suitors. We are not seen as being capable of desire, love or happiness; we don’t exist as individuals outside of violence.
Of course, one needs to acknowledge that this word did not magically turn up in the vocabularies of the ‘good girls from good families’ that came to a convent school to learn ‘good things’ everyday. The extensively gendered environment which promised to manufacture highly-marriageable ‘young ladies’, aided by the insistence of middle-aged spiteful teachers to absolutely destroy any kind of existence that does not constantly bow it’s pretty, two-plaited head to the heteronormative male gaze, created a suffocatingly toxic atmosphere.