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Sleeping with X, Y and Z

Posted: April 26, 2011

If my last post here was on one Twitter controversy (about under-age driving), the next one too is about an event that took place on Twitter – this time, an incident of abusive name-calling, directed at film-maker Harini Calamur. And of course, if the person being attacked is a woman, can her sexual activity/inclination ever NOT be questioned? The easiest way to attack a woman seems to be to explicitly or indirectly state that she has been sleeping with X – the worst insult is to say that she has been sleeping with X and Y as well as with Z.

The unstated assumption is that a woman’s body is the property of one man – her husband; before her marriage, it is the responsibility of her father and brothers to guard this property safely, and if she becomes a widow, why, it’s ownership doesn’t revert to her – as this recent widow-killing incident in Haryana reminded us. A woman who violates these rules by choosing the man (or men) she sleeps with is the worst sort of woman, according to many in our society, which is also why many of our abuses revolve around women’s sexuality. A look at the recent exercise by activist organization Blank Noise on compiling swear words will tell us how many.

It’s easy to say that one should ignore such abuses. After all, the abuse directed at Harini in this instance was so preposterous that even the dumbest of individuals would be unlikely to take it at face value. If anything, it only reflected poorly on the capabilities of the abuser – that unable to logically argue with her, he resorted to patent untruths.

The logical thing to do may be to point out that a) the abuse is factually incorrect and b) even if it were correct, who one sleeps with is no one else’s business. After all, the man who sleeps with many women is a hero. But – it still hurts. At some visceral level, none of us like being called names, even if the assumption behind those abuses is meaningless. Secondly, as Harini points out in her comments, “The problem is that there is a lot of sexual innuendo and name calling that some people resort to, especially with women. I feel, and i may be completely wrong on this, that i keep quiet on this basic stuff, it will escalate to cruder and cruder terms.”

This post may not do anything for you, Harini, but it is just to let you know that you are so right in calling this behaviour out. The Internet lumpen may not change their behaviour but at least a few of those who follow them will see them for what they are. This not a question of left politics, right politics, Congress Vs. BJP or anything political. This is a question of how our society tries to shut women up. The moment a woman is visible, there’s someone waiting to call her a slut. And with more women being visible on social media, naturally, the abuses are following us there.

But guess what? We refuse to shut up anymore.

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas

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  1. Even here, as Bengal goes to the poll, an opposition leader from the Communist party made open sexual innuendos about the leader of the opposition — Mamata Banerjee, implying she’s a prostitute etc. I think that as women show their independence in thought, words and actions, they seem to challenge the role that much of society wants to assign them to — that of sexual and reproductive commodities. So I think in a way, the sexual name calling is a desperate attempt to force women back into the mold. I’m not sure though — I agree on engaging directly with such people — because that’s exactly what they want. Writing an independent post like this is important and more productive.

  2. I agree, a woman’s body and her sexuality is everybody’s business.

    “The easiest way to attack a woman seems to be to explicitly or indirectly state that she has been sleeping with X – the worst insult is to say that she has been sleeping with X and Y as well as with Z.” I recently saw on a news channel a school principle saying the girl fell down from the window and was seriously injured – soon after he checked her for talking to boys, he repeatedly stressed how she was talking to boys. The students present there said he had been irritated while explaining some maths concepts and had pushed her in anger.

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