the body political
I had a flaming argument in the morning about this, so this is not only what I think, im also hopping mad. and a little scared. the argument pulled me up and reminded me just how little women in India own their bodies. the issue was about clothes – the old dupatta story - but for me it stood for more.
clothes decide if youre worth a job, youre a trustworthy person, or if youve status (whatever the hell that is)? it becomes positively scary when clothes even dictate if you "deserve" to be harassed, raped, stoned to death or humiliated.
but im not particularly bothered about that.
it pales into insignificance when I realize that my body isnt mine in the first place. im taught that it belongs to my employers, it belongs to my colleagues, to my college, parents, relatives, peers - even to some vague unknown guy on the road (maybe him most of all).but most. certainly. not. to. me.
and each of those people can exercise an absolutely arbitrary irrational control. example? the case of the erotic armpit.... thats right. did a double take didnt you? i dont blame you. how ridiculous does that sound?! yet, wearing a sleeveless garment - be it a sari blouse, salwar, t-shirt or gown - is irrefutable evidence of a continuum from hipness to sexual availability. all based on probably the least erotic part of the human body. (especially in our hot weather, i wonder what on earth people have running in their heads that makes them think of underarms lasciviously!!)
especially if youre way down there on the social ladder - a woman or child (and its worse if youre poor as well into the bargain), you have even lesser say on what you will do with you body. - the husband owns the right to the womb, parents own virginity, and patriarchy is notorious for exploiting womens bodies for every perverted sexual fantasy it can pander to whether by means of pornography, rape or sexual slavery.
so we don’t really have a say in reproductive healthcare, birth control options, sexual rights, or about having to undergo female or male genital mutilation - naturally sexuality is an alien concept. its irrelevant whether its by an obscure societal authority, or a formally chosen state authority, basically you dont have personhood when your body is hijacked. it’s the easiest way of denying your existence as an individual. you are no-body. literally.now, the multinationals have joined the game too. they decide that you must have this shade of skin, this composition of chemicals, this body structure, this texture of hair.. or else youre to be kicked out as a pariah. if you are accepted in the system, its no big bonus either - youre merely a conforming unit, made in the same stereotype as billions of other molded specimens. that this often happens with a tagline like "be yourself" and “express your attitude” would be hilarious if it werent so grim.
the more I think about it the more convinced I am of the power of the nude. I suppose it has been possible to vilify, humiliate and degrade the body so badly only because we feel so defensive about its being covered up. to stand forth without shields takes much courage. (and you bet society will hate any effort to be that strong and independent of its suffocating clutches.)
look at the women of horsley*. that’s reclaiming the power of the nude. look at our own north eastern women - when the army was raping women and the government didn’t bother intervening, housewives gathered and stood before the army quarters stark naked challenging them “take our bodies if you dare”. the body can so easily be the supreme gesture of human power and dignity.
as a woman who has been privileged enough to get some kind of education, it infuriates me to be taught helplessness and insecurity. its maddening that im supposed to be responsible, independent, earn, support people - but quietly hand my brains in at the end of my work day at 4pm and chant conditioning lessons like a zombie. damned if I will!
* the photograph is from the horsley calendar. it was made to mark the anniversary of the rwanda genocide when so many women's bodies were treated with inhuman savagery. the women of horsley have framed a powerful message that womens bodies can be instruments of strength, power and resilience. do see that calendar! :)
Related: Children and dress sense