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The roots of male pedophilia run deep in our culture, are sanctioned and normalized by it; a ‘couple’ needs to be an older man and a younger woman as wife.
Trigger Warning: This speaks of child sexual abuse and violence against women and may be triggering to survivors.
I only ever had one conversation about sex with my mother, when I was separating from my first partner. She was asking me what exactly was making me unhappy enough to take such a momentous step. And among other things I told her that our sex life was shot.
And hardly were those words out of my mouth that she cried, ‘What? How can he blame you for it? He is the man. It is his job to make you how he wants you to be.’
I was taken totally aback. I had no idea what she was talking about. ‘Make me how he wants me?’ What the hell was that?
I finally got it a few years later while reading a novel by Mahashweta Devi. In it, a terrified 13-year-old child bride, standing before her 45 plus disapproving husband on her wedding night, pleads with him to ‘make her as he wants her’ because she does not know how to ‘serve’ him.
That is when things clicked into place for me. Both the novel and my mother were talking about grooming — in the sexual context a process in which a grown man trains his child sexual victim to be obedient, submit to his sexual demands, to follow orders and perform as expected. In general grooming means just that — training someone to do your bidding in seemingly loving and gentle ways. A younger woman, even a child.
It was quite a shock to me that my mother had heard of the practice, and that it was something so perfectly normalized she did not sense anything wrong about it.
But that was also hardly surprising because her own mother, my grandmother, was abducted at age 12 to be married to a 28-year-old man from a family of zamindars — my grandfather (that is another story altogether.) Her grandmother, my great-grand-mother, was married off to a guy said to have finished college (likely 20 plus years of age) at age three. Her uncle, her father’s elder brother, married a girl of 15 at age 50, after his first wife passed away when my mother was already ten years old. Grown men, even middle aged men, marrying children was totally normalized in the culture.
The family actually had ‘cute funny’ stories to tell about child marriages with zero recognition of the trauma of the girl children involved. Outside the sexual context it was common conversation in the family how it is good to marry girls off early before they have well defined personalities so they ‘adjust well’ in the sasural — which I have heard too. And which I now recognize as as another socially sanctioned grooming practice.
So as a child or teen it is quite probable my mother may have heard and absorbed what she repeated to me in any family conversation. She herself was married at age 17 to a man 10 years her senior, so she may have heard such stuff applied to herself, and again, at that tender, hopeful stage in life, swallowed it whole.
I wish I could have talked to my mother that day in more detail about what she meant and where she had learnt what she said to me. But she, like most women of her generation, was never open to conversation on the subject of sex and it was a miracle she talked at all. I don’t have hope that she might want to talk if I talk to her about the subject now. So what I am saying after this is my guesses on what the context might be.
When I look back at that brief conversation with my mother I wonder, why did she think that the daughter who she had taken trouble to educate so she could have a career and be independent, needed to be sexually groomed by her husband? Why could she not think that I might have sexual needs too and might want to walk out of a marriage if they were not met? It was not as if she was not aware of her own sexual needs. I had overheard her having furious fights with my father about her sexual frustration in her marriage. So why could she not see the same need in me?
My guess is that like a lot of women internally crippled by patriarchy, she was also divided between wanting liberation and believing the patriarchal myth that was drilled into her at a very tender age. While her own sexual frustration might have bubbled up as a natural reaction to years of oppression, her belief system about the older man younger woman relationship might have just stayed frozen where it was.
And to emphasize the central point of this post — that the culturally approved male pedophilia hardwiring in our society is deep and alive. The history is too recent to overlook. My grandmother was married as a child. My mother grew up believed in grooming, and was married before legal age of consent. I married an older man in my thirties and initially welcomed his grooming — not sexually per se but in psychological terms — because while I did not expressly believe in grooming, there was the unconscious conditioning. My daughter experienced something similar at age 19, but was thankfully able to walk out of it soon, given the fact that she has access now to better resources to figure out abuse and inequality in a relationship than I or my mother did. That is the most recent four generations of my family’s women.
It is not an accident that men of all ages feel entitled to getting a docile younger woman who they can influence easily — they have been told by our toxic culture for ages and ages that they are entitled to an endless supply of female docility. It is a long job for us women to examine that jargon deeply and reject it, along with our own conditioning thst makes us unconscious victims of men trying to groom us to be their handmaids.
Image source: a still from the web series Bulbbul
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Aparna Pallavi's current callings are as a therapist, contemplative writer and researcher of indigenous
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