19th century women’s voices #1

Sc 1

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Denys the Menace!

I have hardly had anytime for the blog for the past couple of days as I have been busy making trips to the library in a last moment rush to finish my research paper for this semester. To add to all that worry my research guide called me for a meeting a day before the deadline to declare that while my paper was very good, the nature of it was very different from what the university needed for this coursework.

I of course was flabbergasted on hearing this. a day before the deadline. If it was any consolation he added the paper I had already written could very well be a chapter in my dissertation. But no I did not want a chapter for my dissertation but a paper on the survey of historical sources I wished to use in my dissertation. Big difference. Denys of course was helpful enough to suggest that I ask the MPhil coordinator for a deadline extension and how he would put in a word for me.

Very obviously I have not gotten around to asking for an extension, finding such special treatment unfair. So it’s a crazy busy night ahead. And here’s hoping that Denys will better communicate his ideas to me in the future and also not reject my “futile” work of three months.

 

the rain

Passing Tulips in the Rain by Anne SwannellYou should have come back before

If you were going to bring with you the westerlies

I teased, slyly telling him

I missed him.

If the rain gods were on my side

There would be a cyclone he bantered.

I knew however

That  when a cyclone overcomes a drought

it pours.

 

Tales of Birds and Bees

By Joanna Walsh

Last night over drinks on a girls night out at the Wine Company, with my cousin and sister-in-law, a bit light in the head, the moody buoyant, we started discussing our first thoughts on sex, when we came to know about “it” etc etc. In retrospect, and hungover, the tales we told each other seem innocent, tragic and appalling at the same time. I knew I had to blog hungover or not.

My story:

I first came to know about sex when I was around ten. A close friend of mine told me who in turn had been told about it by an older boy. So the information had to be valid. I remember shocked and disgusted and yet I found it incredible. At that time Small Wonder was really popular on television and I remember thinking that Jamie’s parents kiss each other, but my parents never even kissed so forget about sex.

In my convent school, in the name of sex education two things were done. One they showed us an anti-abortion film called “Silent Scream” which had girls reeling with disgust and Christian piety. Two they got a nun to talk to us about sex or rather to prohibit us from luring men with our wiles. She said something to this effect, “You know boys are very innocent. They come and tell me, sister sister I need help. I was taking a girl on my bike and she was pressing her boobs to me. Sister sister I don’t know what to do.” She then asked us not to seduce men and that would be a sure shot way of not getting pregnant. This happened when I was 15 and I kid you not!!! It’s hilarious and sad at the same time the kind of things they teach young girls. They taught me to be ashamed of my body so much so that till now I am uncomfortable in male company. They teach you that if a man comes at you it is your fault. (Another blog will have to be dedicated to just this.)

My sister-in-law’s story:

Okay this is very embarrassing and remember I am confessing to it only under influence of alcohol. I know from the the glint of your eyes you are going to blog about it. Anonymous please. Anyhoo I came to know about sex in college. (At this time we had spilled our drinks out of shock.) Yes yes I know okay this embarrassing. No it’s not like I didn’t know about sex sex per say but I had different theories about it growing up. That’s what happens in a small town. No one talks about it. Till college I used to laugh at all the dirty jokes the boys made in class because they perfectly fit my theory of sex. Oh you want to know what I thought. Okay I wouldn’t tell you all because I am not that drunk but initially I remember I heard someone saying that if you lie down even for five minutes you get pregnant. Though now I understand the inherent lesson in this dictum being that even five minutes with a man is enough to get you pregnant but at that time in my innocence and stupidity I thought it meant that a girl can get pregnant if she lies down naked for even five minutes. Of course this is ridiculous now but I really believed it. It is not even that surprising that I believed stuff like this. Our teachers refused to give us sex education lessons, and not only that they were so uncomfortable and prudish that they wouldn’t even teach us the lesson on “feelings” in our moral science class.

My cousin’s story:

Erm. Not as late as college but I came to know about sex when I was around 15. I was again shocked and incredulous. But I remember going through a terrible time as a 14 year old just because I didn’t know what sex exactly is. I started my periods in my fourteenth year. I knew that girls can get pregnant after this. But I didn’t know what impregnates you. So I remember this one time when my periods got a bit delayed. I thought I was pregnant and from that day started my vow to celibacy. No what was that in my 14 year old brain. I thought you get pregnant if a guy touches you. So in school I would not let boys touch me or if they did I would take a very obvious step back. Even at home I wouldn’t let my father and brother to touch me. That’s how paranoid I got. It was traumatic. It was all very logical in my head.

 

Honey I Stung the Kids: Talking of Birds and Bees

Last year in January, in the wake of a gangrape in Delhi, the Justice Verma Committee report was released which not only recommended some major changes in the rape laws in India but also called for a cohesive sex education program in schools which would have a direct bearing on gender violence. Of course this program was resisted by the so-called keepers of Indian culture (the Members of Parliaments that is) as

“Our country’s social and culture ethos are such that sex education has absolutely no place in it. Basic human instincts like food, fear, greed, coitus etc. need not be taught, rather control of these instincts should be the subject of education… To focus Indian education on ‘instinct control’ should the important objective and for that the dignity of restraint has to be well entrenched in education.”

Lets try deconstructing this statement. It says two things most importantly. One sex education has no place in the culture of India and two instinct control and restraint are to be taught instead. There is an inherent contradiction in the statement. How do you teach control when you have not taught the kid what it should restrain from? The entire process of repression has in my opinion somewhere fed into the rape culture in India. The so-called culturalists would argue that this is because of over-exposure to western media, assuming the child to be asexual. Indian parents continue to infantalise their kids till the time they are married and expect them to flower into these fertile sexual creatures on the marriage bed to produce grandsons to play with. 

The second statement I find even more interesting. It reminds me of Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process where in he argues that as a civilisation progresses it will create greater restraints and controls on manners and behavior. However there will come a time when the civilisation will be comfortable with its status and relax a few of these controlling mechanism. 

There is a need to look at the hypocrisies that exist in our culture to understand how shame is constructed around women’s bodies and goddess figures. While Delhi is known as the rape capital, there is a need to undo the repression and inculcate the ability to talk about sex freely with our peers, family and teachers.