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How I Became (And Unbecame) A Slut-Shamer

11/02/2016 8:13 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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I do not remember having a 'bird and bees' talk with my mother. My first 'sex' lesson came from Bollywood films. We were not frequent visitors to the cinema halls and had an on-and-off relationship with the cable TV depending on my school grades. The only rescue was the weekend movies on Doordarshan.

My first lesson taught me that when a boy likes a girl, she is not supposed to like him back immediately; they sing few songs and then hide in the bushes with two flowers rustling against each other. I did not understand, as a kid, what that metaphor meant and could not muster the courage to ask my mother because I was ashamed of it.

In school, any hint of sexuality from a girl was unacceptable. The girl was immediately labelled, made an outcast.

This shame had no basis. My mother never explicitly asked me to feel it. I had not articulated the reason for it. But, it did exist. In school, any hint of sexuality from a girl was unacceptable. The girl was immediately labelled, made an outcast. Then came my traumatic teen years, where my friends and I did like men but were too afraid to admit it. When we did, it was always said in chaste terms with no insinuation of sexuality, which, in my mind at 13, was immorality.

I remember one of my friends confiding in me about her first romantic relationship. She was in love at 16 with an older boy; this was her first love, and it ended bitterly. The boy had demanded sex, and she was livid. She furiously ended the relationship, and that left her heartbroken and disturbed for a fairly long time. This was not an isolated case amongst my friends, who only got comfortable with their sexuality in their late 20s.

In my film Shaadi, Sex Aur Parivaar, I asked a 19-year-old who was getting married the next day if she had had the opportunity to discuss sex with her groom, with whom she had been talking for a year. She cautiously replied that I would get her killed by asking such outrageous questions.

A woman's world becomes synonymous with prohibition in this country if she does not have the audacity to question.

Women do not explore the world of sexuality, unlike men. We have no or limited access to means of understanding sex. Many of us are shielded from discovering porn and we tend not to discuss sex in great detail with our friends.

Growing up as women in India, in itself, is a battle, and we are continually caught up in it. We are taught to look away from an unfriendly stare, to cover ourselves enough so that the excuse of 'she was asking for it' cannot be used, to walk away when groped and never use the same route again, and to come home before it gets dark.

My mother and I started discussing sex much after my teens. We never had a conversation about what role it played in my life. What we did talk about was the reason why it was prohibited to ask for it. A woman's world becomes synonymous with prohibition in this country if she does not have the audacity to question.

I spent my early teen years coping with the changes in my body, dealing with the emotional upheaval. I liked a boy but the moral police of my world would never approve of it, and therefore, I couldn't express my emotions. Eventually, I was made to believe that such emotions are sinful, and for a long time, I evaluated everything on this scale of prohibition.

When a man approaches, you are supposed to run away... This skewed understanding seeps into the relationship that we have with our body and with other men and women.

Recently, while talking to a postgraduate class of women after the screening of my film, the discussion was directed towards understanding sexuality. One student shared that she was opposed to sex because she believed that it would affect her emotional health and she was not prepared to take the risk. I respect any personal choice, but I firmly believe that women are too uncomfortable to react openly when it comes to sex. When a man approaches, you are supposed to run away, feel shy and not respond. This skewed understanding seeps into the relationship that we have with our body and with other men and women.

While, in college, I learned with each passing day about classmates who had lost their virginity, and my opinion of them altered in my head. It was a strange occurrence; I had nothing to do with their sex lives, and it would not have affected my life in any possible manner. But my attitude did change. As I grew older, I realized I was a woman shaming other women for exercising their choice. I was slut-shaming, and my gaze had become the gaze of the world. It made me face that after struggling with the morality of my world during my teen years, to my disbelief, I had become a misogynist of a particular kind.

We need stories of women who like sex and are not ashamed of it. Stories of women who ask for sex and do not become 'sluts' in doing so.

Much older and a few moments wiser, it dawned on me that I never saw women who liked sex, who wanted it, demanded it and were not afraid of it, women who took ownership of their sexuality, women who had an equal sexual space in their relationship. It left me to assume that sex was an act of crime. Therefore, the shame associated with it seemed somehow appropriate.

Interestingly, the only way many of us discuss sex and women's sexuality is when we talk of rape. This association makes it problematic to imagine sex as an act of love and pleasure.

For women, it takes time and maturity to start loving their body. This is made harder by the fact that we feel only a certain body type is acceptable. We need to hear stories of women who are short and dark, overweight and blemished to fight against the prescribed body type. In a similar fashion, we need stories of women who like sex and are not ashamed of it. Stories of women who ask for sex and do not become 'sluts' in doing so.

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