Thursday, February 19, 2009

Of verbal slips, binaries, and a very quick dip into feminism

Months ago, I had been tagged to do a post on feminism. It should have been easy, especially for someone who has publicly declared that when it comes to the word feminist, "I don't care how you define it. I am it.'

But oddly enough, it isn't easy. Not when the words you borrow to speak about it are already hoarse with overuse. And how large is my experience of feminism anyway? It scarcely moves beyond outrage and argument, chafing and resenting. But perhaps it is time to think a little bit more about women and their battles. My trigger came from here. From the first comment specifically, which amused as much as it angered me.

I will, for the moment, just focus on the way the said gentleman (or woman, one never knows) chose to express his disapproval. "Show us how advanced you are.... open a brothel... Let us f*** you for free..."

My immediate reaction was to point out to the said gentleperson that the idea of a brothel involved remuneration. No freebies. But then, I got thinking about the links in his mind that led him to say this. Is that how they think of 'forward' women. As a huge brothel where you don't have to pay?

I'm not sure what to feel insulted by - the suggestion that I am a prostitute, or the suggestion that I should let future sexual transactions be unencumbered by monetary considerations, or the underlying idea that women who go to pubs must forfeit their claims/rights to payment even if they are prostitutes.

There is an interesting, amusing polarity being set up here. The gentleperson - and there might be billions of people all over the world who agree with him on this - seems to suggest that women can be one of two things. One - forward, loose, pub-going prostitutes who are not looking for, and not entitled to money. Two - backward, socially and sexually conservative, non-drinking (at least in public) non-prostitutes.

About this latter category, two further deductions are possible. One, 'they' (said gentleperson and the billions that are on his side) assume that non-prostitutes, not being prostitutes, do not seek money for sexual services. As a corollary, they seem to suggest that non-prostitutes are the ones who actually do deserve payment, because the rest of us (forward, loose, pub-going prostitutes) do not.

In the latter case, there is a problem, because the moment a person starts accepting money, however indirectly, for sex or related services, he/she becomes a prostitute, whether or not he/she goes to pubs, falls in love, holds hands by the sea, wears chaddis, etcetera. Some of those billions out there might wish to add to the list of prostitution pitfalls - any woman who wears jeans or skirts, any woman who wears red, or white, or pink, any woman who smokes, any woman who wears make-up, any woman who laughs loudly in public, any woman who doesn't cover her head, and maybe her face too. But then, let us not venture into that territory.

Let us focus.

In the former case, there is no ostensible problem. Here's a non-prostitute. And she is not asking for money. However, if she started going to pubs, or taking lovers, then she would turn into a prostitute, even if no money enters the picture.

So there are two factors to be kept in mind if one wishes to remain a non-prostitute. One, you cannot ask for money. Two, you cannot go to pubs or fall in love. If a woman goes to a pub with her husband (who is not paying her for sex, of course) and/or happens to be in love with him, then she is treading a very fine line. She risks being a prostitute. Perhaps, a prostitute with a protector who insists on exclusivity.

But if she is not going to pubs and is not taking lovers, she is neither forward nor loose. Which is what 'they' would like all of us to be.

There is still the curious matter of the assumption that a man is entitled to freebies at a brothel. Because you see, the world is full of prostitutes (by 'their' definition). And you might well choose to make them pay for it. Beat them up. Or quite simply, f*** them for free and leave them. But then, since you would have have availed of and, in the process, rendered sexual services, and also made the other party pay for it, you would by default become a prostitute.

So if 'they' are now a collective brothel, there is this question of whether or not they should be f****d for free. If no, then they are exposed as illogical hypocrites. If yes, then that makes the world one big brothel, except there is no immediate, explicit monetary transaction involved with neat breakdowns in columns and rows. Which is exactly what the world is, by and large.

Which would bring us to the question of 'which way forward?'... It is all very confusing, isn't it?

I am concerned with words because they hold the key to social understanding. We use some words pretty loosely amongst friends. 'Prostituting our art'. 'Prostituting our souls'. 'A slut for chocolate'. 'Book slut'. 'Cinema whore'. What we mean, really, is that we are either doing something only for money, or that we are passionately devoted to something, to the point of not being very discriminating about the object of our affections, or else, to a point that seems to be unreasonable to the rest of the world. Prostitution is defined by a need for money. Sluttiness is defined by passion or devotion.

Therefore, gentlepersons leave amusing comments. He was confused, of course. Because forward, pub-going women don't do it for money. So, you can call them prostitutes, but you cannot tempt them by the rules of the protitution industry. And you can call them sluts, but you cannot win their devotion so easily. So obviously, it isn't that easy to f*** them, unless you use force. Or unless they let you. Difficult position, no?

As a society, I think it would do us good to think about words and concepts a little more. To think about what we mean before we open our mouths (or hit the 'send' button). Maybe we should introduce this as a subject in high school. It is not enough to just pick up words and start using them in grammatically correct ways. We also need to relearn and reexamine why we use those words, where they come from, and when it is time to stop using them.

For instance, I think it might be advisable for both interviewer and interviewee to read just a little bit about the brassieres, their predecessors, their purpose and what they symbolise to the female spirit aching for independence from sundry crushing expectations. It might also be advisable to look up 'psychotic' in the dictionary and a brief history of the feminist movement, so that next time the word is brought up, there is no need to point it towards someone like an accusation, and no need to defend onself from the charges of being one.

Monday, February 16, 2009

New means, new genre

So, here's some of what has kept me busy over the last few months. Incidentally, the article misquotes me slightly. What I said was that I hadn't written poetry for six months, but I was working on other kinds of fiction and non-fiction. Also, this is technically not the first play I've written. But it is the first full-length one written entirely in English.

I didn't win eventually, but the shortlist brings some reassurance. Perhaps, I'm doing what I should be doing, after all.
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