I remember an Indian man, whom I briefly was acquainted with here at grad school, who had been extremely discomfited and near outraged when I spoke of sex with an active female partner. He considered it completely wrong, because sex to him was a man thrusting into a hole, and he expected everyone to have the same idea about it. Worse, he expected every woman to have the same idea about it and to be content with that. He was well-educated. He was called intelligent. He was all for equal opportunities in professions for men and women. He was not sexually inexperienced. He is what constitutes most of modern India. Sex is a gateway, it is a rite of passage, it is cool, it is modern - young men and women, blessed with prosperity and economic independence, go wild on it with all the wrong notions. They are getting to do something that was forbidden to their parents, after all. Then they get ready to marry. The men wish to marry virgins. The women lie about being virgins. Both men and women lie about their sexual history. After the marriage, all hell breaks loose. The woman usually gets more of the blame. After all, the parents and the other meddlers say, the man is a man – it is expected he would have been a little wild in his youth. Perhaps it is just the case in that country, I thought, and I came here, to find that a woman promiscuous is a slut while a man promiscuous is a stud.
As long as we mix sex and sexism, we aren’t going to go anywhere better.
I spoke to a friend after a long time, and she was teasing me about euphemisms that have crept into my language over the last two years. Yoda and I were speaking yesterday about the sexual repression in this country. It is different from the kind practised in my motherland. In India, repression results in poor sexual awareness, poor know-how of how the other gender works, gender discrimination in terms of opportunities, dowry and other evils. Here, though, it results in divergence – greater divergence between man and woman, practised from kindergarten where girls wear pink and boys wear blue, to high school choices where boys are encouraged to go into the hard sciences and the girls fall behind and stick to the arts. There is nothing wrong with choosing science over arts, or arts over science, if you have actually made the choice without playing to the gallery. The emphasis on the difference between genders here, shown in everything from kids’ toys to job choices, from clothes to everyday merchandise (Bic for women!), from political speeches to religious brouhaha, makes it harder for young women and men to make choices without being influenced.
Something I came across a few days ago, intended as satire, raised many of these questions again for me. It is sad but true that women are seen as legs (and heels), breasts (and bras), 3 orifices (2 if you are conservative) and a womb. That’s all you are in most male eyes, usually, despite education or achievement. I don’t think we are going forward, most of us. In some circles, things have changed, for the better. Those are as rare as oases in the desert. Everybody talks about this. Everybody agrees (mostly) on how things should be different. The terms are all agreed upon – objectification, repression, awareness, discrimination, rape-culture, sexism. If we are still not making progress, then perhaps it is time to think about what we have been doing wrong. With concerted effort as this, we should have been somewhere else, and that somewhere should have been a better place for men and women. We aren’t there. We’ll never get there by talking about and signing petitions about bras and heels, or size zeros and plus-love, or pink, or equal opportunity laws or anti-discrimination measures. All of that might take us a bit further, but no more than that. They are important but they are not what will get us there finally though. We’ll need parents and teachers who think and don’t fail to point out nonsense to the kids wherever they see it. I think that might be all that we need.