Once upon a time on a magical island lived a young girl named Almas. She was in love with a handsome boy (let’s not bother with his name). This could have been the beginning of a beautiful fairytale-like-love-story, but, unfortunately, this was real life and real life has real issues! Almas always found herself questioning her lover, “If you can do it, why can’t I?”(and no, her questions were not related to any extraordinary things). All she wanted was to know why she could not continue to be friends with boys who were her ‘best friends’ even as her lover continued to have ‘female best friends’; why did he feel angered at the prospect of her joining the social network Orkut even as his contacts on social media grew. Very legit questions some would say, but not the handsome young man. For him, the questions could only be answered by another question, “Almas, why do you always want to compete with me?” It took her quite some time to realize that she wasn’t inherently competitive, as was being pointed out to her, but was only asking to be treated as an equal.
This feeling of self-reproach for trying to ‘compete’ with a male partner, be it a husband or a boyfriend, is common among many women. Our society (not men alone!) constantly feeds us with the idea that many activities are natural when performed by men, but a woman doing them is surely someone to abhor. The chances of coming across someone calling a woman a ‘slut’ or a ‘whore’ is way higher than the chances of a man being called a ‘man-whore’ or a more refined ‘gigolo’. Of course, I have reservations against all these terms but we could set that aside for the moment.
Any attempt by any woman to tread into areas, and especially taboo areas like sexuality, that have been historically patriarchal, meets with strong opinions, opposition and, in the current digital age, parodies. A woman attempting to be ‘equal’ to a man is considered to be trying to make the man ‘inferior’. It’s not very surprising, then, that the Internet erupted against Deepika Padukone for starring in the video “My Choice”. Mind you, not against Homi Adajania, the director of this video, who, coincidentally, has a Y-chromosome; not even against the leading fashion magazine, which came up with this video as a message promoting the empowerment of women. No, the Internet erupted with Tweets and Facebook posts targeting Deepika and the other women who starred in it. The video was blamed for being too shallow. Everything about it earned comments – from the fact that the video featured beautiful, slim women being criticized, to the addition of rural women being termed ‘a failed attempt’, to Deepika’s bra strap being visible being indecent, to the inclusion of ‘sex outside marriage’ as a promotion of infidelity and to the use of the term ‘I’m infinite’ as philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Parodies of the video flooded my Facebook timeline. The messages were misogynistic: it appeared as if being slim was a sin in the very discourse where Aishwarya Rai was body-shamed for gaining weight post delivery; it appeared as if empowerment was only for rural women and women in our urban areas are all already empowered; it appeared as if Deepika choosing to display her back is indecent but her cleavage being focused on by newspapers is not; it appeared as if ‘sex outside marriage’ does not happen in the rich-in-family-values country that is India and it was sure that the ‘infinite’ was not enough! And of all these, the winner of the many controversies was ‘sex outside marriage’.
‘Empowerment’ is not ONLY about ‘sex’, they said. It got me thinking. If ‘sexuality’ were really a non-issue in our country, would this hullaballoo ever take place?
Extra-marital sex is considered the sure-shot way of breaking a family. But, wait…is it really considered so? Bollywood abounds with movies where ‘pati-vrata’ wives (chaste, devoted and loyal wives) ‘forgive’ their husband’s mild sojourns with other women because you know, men will be men! Most Bollywood women having extra-marital sex also end up feeling ‘guilt’ and ‘remorse’ and return to their beloved husbands. So, a little bit of sex outside marriage is shown (even if in a bad light) but there must always be a reunion with the family. Bollywood gives a clear indication of what the Indian society’s stance is – in any case, the family structure has to be maintained. One cannot ponder if the woman’s sexual needs are satisfied within that family structure or even if she is allowed to say no to sex. Even if she is unhappy, disrespected or abused, the family must be preserved. No matter what, extramarital sex is a great threat.
Of course, in some instances, we can sanction extra marital sex in the way some groups legalize polygamy (and continue to prohibit polyandry). It then BECOMES the family structure, rather than breaking it. So what if all this translates to a slight tilt of balance towards men? The family has to remain together. So what if the woman has to bear a slightly higher burden? Men are men and everyone must deal with it!
In an ideal world, every couple would deal with ‘extra-marital’ sex differently. Some may consider it cheating, some may not. For all we know, ‘sex’ is not the only way one can ‘cheat on’ one’s partner. But, this is not an ideal world. Here, ‘choice’ is an alien concept, especially for one half of the world’s population. And so, each time a woman talks about making choices for herself just like a man can, her choice itself falls under the scanner and the whole point of ‘being able to choose’ is shoved under the carpet. Women who question this are criticized for male-bashing.
Meanwhile, women-bashing continues!