If a sexist, privileged, entitled man openly fantasizes about underage women on a food group by comparing pink ginger lemon pickle to a ‘blushing virgin after her first kiss’, he needs to be called out.
I reserve my right to find men past sixty fantasizing openly about underage ‘blushing virgins’ problematic because I was the ‘blushing virgin’ who had to pay the horrendous cost when these fantasies were enacted.
Recently, in a food group I am a member of, an elderly male writer with a certain amount of fame and success to his name (and obvious entitlement) wrote a post about ginger root pickle. And he compared the roots, which apparently turn pink in contact with lemon juice, to ‘a virgin blushing after her first kiss’. He compared his passion for this pickle to a man harassing a young girl, and ended the piece with an invitation to the reader to ‘enjoy the blush of his beloved’.
In the resultant outrage, I was really taken aback that a lot of women actually came out in defence of the post, calling it ‘poetic’, lavishing high praise on the writer for his extremely very bad grace apology, and telling other women they were overreacting.
The whole incident reminded me of a food related incident from my own life.
I was exploring Dalit food with my ex partner, and after trying out intestines of goat and chicken, lungs of goat and the head (not brain) of goat, I one day proposed that I wanted to try out the balls of a goat.
In Maharashtra the Dalit movement has created this category of food. Certain cuts of meat, certain levels of spiciness, certain specific dishes are recognized as foods of the Dalits and taken pride in. Also offal is regarded specifically as Dalit origin food. Which is where the goat balls come in.
When I suggested this, immediately, the atmosphere in the house changed. My partner suddenly grew sarcastic, started calling me a ‘danger woman’ (Nagpur street language, not bad grammar) who eats balls (aand-khayi, a woman who eats balls. Aand is the colloquial Marathi term for goat balls which are otherwise called andkosh, I believe).
This calling me names continued for two full weeks, many times a day.
I could not figure out what had happened. If I questioned his sarcasm which was getting unbearable with time, I was told I needed to grow a funny bone. And he consistently refused to go buy those goat balls — I naturally did not want to go for fear of the stares I might get.
Finally I went out one day and bought a pair of goat balls in the teeth of all the stares I got from the men in the butcher shop. My partner hovered around me as I fried them in hot oil with lots of chilly powder, repeating his ‘aand-khayi’ ‘joke’.
He was the same man who had objectified my body in a hundred similes of edibility, had romanticized it as ripe tomatoes or sweet raisins when he was in a romantic mood, and turned right around and fat shamed it as golgappa, tarbooz, or sack of potatoes when he wanted to. But for him I was a ‘danger woman’ for wanting to eat just another part of a GOAT — no reference to a male human body even.
So when I finished cooking — the recipe was his — he eagerly joined me in eating those fried balls. That is when I finally lost it and told him his ‘joke’ must stop. That I was no more ‘danger’ for eating goat balls than he was.
And he did not want to stop. I had to shout loud and long to make him stop.
So, it is ok for men to objectify women’s bodies as food, or sexualise food by comparing it to women’s bodies? And women should learn to take a joke! But a woman is dangerous if she wants to eat GOAT balls.
I think I don’t have to explain any further why that guy is now my ex.
So coming back to the incidents around the famous writer’s ‘blushing virgin ginger pickle’ post. I am told that he went on to post the same write-up in several groups and had to take it down over similar protests, and finally put it on his own timeline where he arrogantly defended it.
I am not surprised. I have not seen guys with a certain amount of success and power, guys used to getting their own way, learn or change. I am not even surprised that the male admin of my food group found it ‘sexist BUT not deeply offensive’ — as if anything sexist can be NOT offensive. And to add insult to injury, added that ten years back such a thing would have passed muster!
Men are still addicted to their patriarchal entitlement to objectifying women and I don’t see them giving up easy.
What I was shocked and deeply disappointed at, was all the women who rose in the defence of that write up. Who lionized the man for apologising at all, even if it was a fake apology. The women who tried to tone police those who found that post offensive.
It was a sobering experience, telling me how deep patriarchy is still entrenched in the psyches of a large number of women. How eager they are to take crumbs from men and how scared to ask for what they deserve. And how normalized the male gaze still is for a large section of educated and supposedly empowered women.
Maybe it is not my call to tell those women that there is another, more empowering way to see things. Maybe in this moment there is nothing for me to do but to accept that this is how a lot of women are in this moment.
But I do reserve my right to find such writing offensive. Because my body has had to live with the painful consequences of casual male objectification of the female body.
I am the one who has had to sit through men joining each other in such activity, my flesh crawling and my gut shrinking to nothing, while being gaslit that I was the one lacking a sense of humour.
I am the one who has had to walk the streets with men calling out which foods my body parts reminded them of and how they would like to devour me. Or when in crowded buses and trains they did not stop at fantasizing, but reached out to grab a bite off my young or no longer so young body.
I reserve my right to find men past sixty fantasizing openly about underage ‘blushing virgins’ problematic because I was the ‘blushing virgin’ who had to pay the horrendous cost when these fantasies were enacted. I guess other women too have had to pay a similar cost, but they choose for any reason not to make the connection it is not my business to tell them they are wrong. But it is no one’s business to tell me I should not be offended either.
And oh before we part, here is the recipe for those fried balls which taught me such a deep lesson about patriarchy.
Take a pair of fresh balls (goat, not human). Marinate them in salt, chilly powder, ginger garlic paste and garam masala for five to ten minutes. Heat oil in a pan till it is smoking. Drop the balls into the oil and let them sizzle and wrinkle up and shrink. Fry them like this for five minutes. Turn off the flame and transfer them to a plate. Close your ears to the male voices telling you you are dangerous because you eat balls, and dig in.
Image source: a still from the film Ishquiya
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Aparna Pallavi's current callings are as a therapist, contemplative writer and researcher of indigenous
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