I am attempting to review public conversation for and by the Indian family on Family and Sexuality on the Internet. I tell myself that on the content-rich Internet it should be easy to review this. I Google the search term ‘Family and Sexuality in India’. It’s an oops moment for me.
Combining the words ‘Family’ and ‘Sexuality’ in the same sentence doesn’t work very well.There are academic studies focusing on child sexual abuse, on adolescents and sexuality, swinging couples and sexuality across cultures and historical time periods. More searching yields some films focusing on an aspect of a person’s sexuality and that person’s relationship with their family and with the world. There must be some books too.
It appears that sexuality is either academic or wild, and most likely personal and private. Family is about community, values and shared things. Family is a safe word and sexuality is a dangerous word. The safest words appear to be ‘parents’ and ‘parenting’. I had better luck with ‘Parenting in India’. ‘Indian parents blog‘.
I discovered that parenting themes in public discourse now include matters such as teaching your daughter about menstruation before it ambushes her. In a list of links to news articles, I discovered someone writing about a comparative analysis between schoolgirls and schoolboys to see which group is more or less likely to have emotional problems. Girls it seems are more likely to have emotional problems. Now hidden in the haystack is a needle – “They said reasons behind this could include a drive to achieve unrealistic body images perpetuated by social media and an increasing sexualisation of young women.” This however was a BBC study being reported in the ‘Parenting’ section of The Times of India. You can read it here.
These little gems hide amidst school, exam and nutrition talk. You have to explore with great skill and perseverance. There is simply no direct connection made between the words ‘family’ and ‘sexuality’. Apparently, they don’t belong together. Does this, in the virtual world, accurately reflect the real world?
In the real world, families certainly do spend a lot of time and energy on school, stress, nutrition, vacation plans, reproductive health, pregnancy planning, career planning, the parent-child connection and other such crucial life activities and issues. Families discuss, debate and take decisions about these matters. I clicked many web links. They reflect these themes.
Parents India available at http://parentsindia.com has a community forum where parents discuss many things including hair damage, a link to a petition asking for crèches at the work place to be made compulsory, even something on philately.
The importance of grandparents.
Father and son bonding over sports.
Styling and furnishing kids rooms…
… and what appears to be an ad for cloth pads in a post that nobody has commented on…
Reinforcing gender stereotypes through trite statements is an article such as ‘Parenting tips to learn from your man‘. It makes familiar inane noises such as moms are overprotective, dads let their kids take risks, and dads’ love goofing around with kids without bothering whether the food is cooked or the clothes are ironed.’
Immediately after reading this I found the link to the section called New Age Mom. In it is a tiny nugget hidden away inside an article: “… it’s important to be a friend to your children than a disciplinarian,” says banker NehaTyagi. “I am happy that my ten-year-old daughter shares everything with me, even if it is about finding a classmate attractive. This way, it’s easier for me to put a check on her through friendly conversation.”
Attractive. A lovely word for family conversation. Not pregnancy, not periods, not pads, not contraception. Light shines through. Here in the virtual world is the real mother of a real 10-year old girl discussing an attractive classmate with her. There’s not a whole lot of it or about it, but now I’m clutching at every straw.
So I turn to the Indian parenting website. In an article tucked away called ‘Top 10 myths about parenting’ I find a paragraph exploring the issue of identity. As this word Identity leaps up at me, my fingers trip over themselves trying to scroll down the page. I read: “I see many parents start explaining an identity to the child and create boundaries. These identities are normally of religion, nation, caste. It’s being told that you belong to this identity.” So close. Just a hair’s breadth away from talking about other identities. We don’t cross that line.
Rivo kids is a site for parents and kids. Amongst the site sections they have ‘Health and safety’. A question put up on kids safety was “Safety when outside house: I have a 13 yrs old girl. I am always worried when she goes alone in the car, can you please advise on any tips on safety which I can share and make her aware.”
While the question seems incomplete and self-conscious, the answer seems to ignore the question about making the child aware: “SafetyKart is coming out with a very unique products which is a GPS device. You can keep that in your child bags and can track her movement through your smart phones. This is very helpful in case you don’t want to give mobile phones to kids.”Here, a wonderful opportunity for a family based discussion on a family oriented website trots away into the fog surrounding sexuality and turns to technology as a solution. Let us all rush out and buy the GPS device.
So, on to ‘Parenting community on the net’. Here I hit pretty much solid gold under the circumstances. I began with ‘Toy Story’ by Sunita Rajwade, a mother and a grandmother too. Toy story is her experience of the inadequacy of toy concepts that follow the trite, familiar gender norms. Her grandson would rather play with mixers and pressure cookers. She says, “While the rest of us are making buildings out of his blocks or running his cars up and down the furniture, he is making a loud ‘gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa’ sound of the mixer as he is grinding his imaginary food in my very real mixer.”
I was happy to read Nancy Sharma’s blog piece about three things she won’t teach her daughter. One of these things is about taboos associated with menstruation. She says, “I don’t want her to stand outside a temple just because she is bleeding. I want her to believe that it is normal and healthy for a female to bleed every month. And she can do anything and everything during those days.”
Gauri Venkitaraman writes on gender stereotyping and says, “One finds flawless female bodies with emphasis on bust, cleavage, thigh gaps and what have you. On the other hand, there are pictures of buffed up men with 6 packs, 8 packs or how many ever there are nowadays, muscles bulging out of their arms, thighs and God knows where else. These are touted to be the epitome of femininity and masculinity, respectively… For us, it has helped a great deal, talking to Macadamia and Pecan about what their vision is, of femininity and masculinity. What are the aspects which, in their minds, define these concepts?” (Macadamia and Pecan are her sons 🙂 )
Reviewing this content I am thrilled to read these thoughts written and shared by mothers and grandmothers. I think it is indicative of shifts happening within our families of which perhaps we are unaware.
Yet I am struck by the lack of material on family, and on family and sexuality. What is family? Is it synonymous with parenting? Are persons in a domestic arrangement, a relationship, or friends sharing a roof, or married without children, not family, not a cohesive or significant group? Nobody seems to sell them anything. Nobody discusses their nutritional needs, vacation plans, career decisions. But wait, the Jabong ‘Be You’ ad campaign approaches this, using the lens of love and romance rather than family. It’s a step.
If we seem to have a limited or almost no concept of family, how do we begin a conversation on family and sexuality? Family needs a re-think and sexuality needs a big think. We must bring the two words together. We have to understand how family and sexuality impact each other, because they do. We need to talk about it, in the real world and in the virtual one.