Wednesday, November 23, 2005

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! :)

Children and dress sense



Blogger Aditya Bidikar said...

I think this is one of your best posts. We've already heard bits of it said by many people, but when put all together, it's so creepy.

About the power of the nude, you might want to check this site. It is interesting, to say the very least:

11:29 am  
Blogger m. said...

i saw that... what courageous women!! thanks a LOT! :)

5:47 pm  
Blogger Anurag said...

Hey, you have conveyed some strong emotions very well. You are right that most women don't own their bodies. It's owned by parents before marriage, and by husbands afterward. Very thought provoking...

8:35 pm  
Anonymous Avish said...

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). - m.!You often prove to be an Eye-opener!
womens bodies can be instruments of strength, power and resilience - Hats off!

12:44 am  
Blogger ReBeL said...

Today I was talking to a bunch of collegues at work and one of them said that a woman's dressing sense determines whether she will be sexually harassed on the road or not. If a woman is dressed "provacatively" then its obvious that people are gonna harass her.

We had a huge argument with no one giving up their point of view. I was so amazed to see that women in this day and age think in this manner. They are the ones who r letting these leches control their body.

1:03 am  
Blogger KoPoS said...

As much as i try to understand and contemplate without judging on everything you write, i just happen to hit the wall, everytime. maybe sometime later ill learn to understand what you say completely, minus that rage and the judgemental stand.

power of the nude is undeniable. but what makes you think, it would stop people from being judgemental based on the anatomies of the individuals, male and female?

2:28 am  
Anonymous amit said...

select "Avish's blah", ctrl+c ctrl+v!

1:28 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@ anurag : hi and thank you :)

@ avish (& cc amit!): hey! nice to see you two still are around!

@ rebel: bound to happen i guess. just as there are men whove been deeply conditioned by patriarchy, there are women too. it isnt easy to break free of things youve had dinned into you from birth. but yes, its SO sad when we internalise the standards and judgements used to oppress us. intellectual freedom is easier to achieve than emotional.

@ poorna shashank: yes, i know you dont agree with most things i say! i think, going by some earlier exchanges, that may be because i have not managed to convey the distinction i make between patriarchy and masculinity.
but in any case, there is no reason why we absolutely should agree either - life would be frightfully boring if we all had the same views and thoughts :)

6:28 pm  
Blogger Senthil said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:54 am  
Blogger Senthil said...

Once again, extremely well-written. And once again, on a topic I had never really pondered upon. I shall now withdraw to ponder. Wish I was home, so I could have a heated argument on this over beer with Anurag & Co.

5:54 am  
Blogger m. said...

thankoo! and yesh, you need the right "spirit" for a debate eh? :))

7:12 am  
Anonymous Saurabh said...

While the points you have raised are quite pertinent and though provoking, I still find it hard to fathom how shedding clothes will empower women. Given the way our society thinks, the issue will get trivialised after being the cause of much mirth and the subject of many jokes.

1:34 am  
Blogger Anand said...


Like the piece. Agree with you entirely. But i'm mostly an escapist. Therefore, would not be able to fight the world as you do, in your own way.
p.s. would you mind if i mark you on my blog?

9:34 pm  
Blogger IdeaSmith said...

You go, girl. Somehow a lot of men think this is just ranting and cribbing...well, I guess u have to have walked in these shoes (or rather painfully-constricted-stilettoes) to know.

3:16 am  
Blogger loverBoy said...

This is pretty strong. However, I do stand by you in your opinion. It is indeed very sad that we in India do not give women their well-deserved respect in the society. I absolutely oppose those who say that the way a woman dresses influences flirts or rapists. But the war for equality must go on through educated women like you who keep us men in check of our actions! :)

5:46 am  
Blogger Brown Magic said...

"the husband owns the right to the womb, parents own virginity"

that was beautifully put.

12:36 pm  
Blogger iyer education said...

hi... came through megha's blog... you write damn well... you portray feminity in your posts without trying to be a feminist or an activist... and thats wonderful... kudos... and keep up the great work... will visit more often :)

9:35 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@saurabh: er, its not that "shedding clothes will empower women"! i meant that clothes are used as a means of control. we have so much baggage attached to what we wear.
if merely the fear of being ridiculed were to stop us, we would still think that the earth is flat. most issues relating to women will anyway get trivialised and distorted by media. whats important is that we discuss them anyway, so that the real message has some chance of reaching the right people.

@anand: hey! hmm. i dont much care for battling, but sometimes i get re-ally mad when i look at things around me! and no,wouldnt "mind" being linked, would be verrry happy! :)) thanks a lot

@ideasmith: thanksh! yesh.. thats what makes male feminists very interesting methinks: youd have to be really mature and secure to be able to be a man in feminism!

@loverBoy: *cheering* hear hear! lol.. its good to know that men can hold honest views like that :)bully for you!

@ brown magic: thank you, and wow! i LIKE the name: are you a "brown is beautiful" campaigner?

@ iyer education: wait a sec while i pick up my pieces will you? im shattered! and there i was happily proclaiming that i was a feminist :))all the same, thanks very much, and youre most welcome to drop in :)

9:53 pm  
Blogger iyer education said...

okay then make that activist... does that serve as fevicol to your shattered pieces :)

10:41 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@ iyer education: hehe, tis a lost cause my friend - im an activist (or at least hope to be one again) with a feminist mindset! ;)

10:45 pm  
Blogger iyer education said...

okay then i dont hate feminists and activists anymore... i probably used to do it sometime back... but i am able to see the other side of the picture too... and let me re-iterate again... you write beautifully... i just read "Basics Of My Blah" and believe me... you just ROCK (lot of ppl must have already told you this... so let me just add to the queue)

12:29 am  
Blogger m. said...

lawks, thanks awfully! *shy is coming!* ;) but yaay! one more joins the feminist bandwagon huh? :D

8:49 pm  
Blogger Jake said...

oh the poor fellows, how many more are going to get suckered ?


11:42 pm  
Blogger sinusoidally said...

There is no doubt that women should not be restrained in decision making power...but having a dress code for place of work should be an equal thing for either gender, I think.

8:23 am  
Blogger FM said...

Great experience visiting your blog for the first time.

with regards

11:35 am  
Anonymous Abhi said...

The Bard has already stated, to be or not to be
Far be it for me to comment on whats decency
Interesting post it surely is, but are the codes within by decree?

3:22 am  
Blogger m. said...

@ jake: tsk! tis a cheeky ragamuffin...

@ sinusoidally: hey-lo, thanks for coming by... *sniff* :D

@ FM: hey! thanks :D

@ Abhi: thats entirely your call! :)

5:13 am  
Blogger Geo# said...

you rock!

9:57 am  
Blogger m. said...

@geo#: thanks, and welcome here :)

5:57 pm  
Blogger Arunima said...

One of my friends recommended your blog. I am not disapppinted.

8:43 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@ arunima: er... glad to have met expectations?! :) thanks and welcome to the turf

5:05 am  

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