Sex and the City: Sexually empowered; Myth or reality?

The Indian woman’s plight and sexual identity can in no way be simplistically labelled as ‘liberated’ or ‘shackled’ without some broad strokes being made. An Indian woman from Mizoram, Madurai, Meerut or one from Mumbai are all subject to undercurrents of discrimination even today.

It could be argued that the urban woman in a short skirt who enjoys her Long Island Ice tea at a pub is far more sexually empowered than a rural woman who covers her head and cowers under the weight of her father’s, brother’s and husbands expectations. There is thus no universal standard by which sexual empowerment can be judged or commented upon without us first agreeing to some facts.

We know that the burden of family expectations weighs down heavily on women when she doesn’t tick boxes that slot her as the wonderfully integrated companion piece to the stories and adventures of great men.

We also do know that India has always been a country of extremes. Extreme zealots. Extreme poverty and richness. Extreme racial and social segregation. Extreme melodrama. Extreme culinary flavours. Either our women are portrayed as ‘goddesses or sacred mothers’ or they are ‘gyrating exotic dancers and flirty lasses’ who can be leered at and chased around on screen.

Sex and the City: Sexually empowered; Myth or reality?
Adam Cohn

So how does sexual empowerment fit into this rather murky picture of what a woman must do according to everyone else as opposed to what she feels like doing so she can look in the mirror and feel like she is being honest with herself? Female Sexual Empowerment can thus be defined as the right to enjoy one’s femininity without being answerable to a scrutinising or policing entity about what she wears, whom she loves and certainly what she expects in bed. Personal choices need not feed public chatter.

Would it be fair to say then that Indian society has come a long way in accepting and respecting a woman’s sexual journey and needs? To a large degree, the answer to that is ‘Hmmm’. Where do we even begin? While the internet has given people glass screens to hide behind, privacy isn't always private. While dating apps have given women an opportunity to pre-screen the men they date, there is no screening criteria for compatible temperaments.

While women are free to enjoy sex whenever they are comfortable and with whoever they are comfortable, there is no guarantee that the 'neighbourhood aunties' won't spread rumours about 'today's girls' and their ‘wayward tendencies’ during their evening strolls and prayer meetings. While a girl may fall in love, she will often have to pitch her decisions to a family committee who may not respect her choices.

The international media enjoys coffee table chats on ‘the girl child’ being still in danger in a place like India due to our high rape statistics - while on the other hand, several discussions also support the fact that Indian women today far more openly discuss their sexual preferences, bodily needs and use their considerable expertise and creativity to more than fairly compete in the global marketplace.

As a country, we have been limping along when it comes to giving our women a voice towards self-determination. The irony of the world’s largest democracy hardly being the place where a girl gets to decide what she does with her life is indeed an ominous theme to discuss. Where there is a failure to anticipate, there is also the love to participate.

Women have choices to make and the moment they realise that their choices need not please any common denominators, they will be — free as they should be.

We know that it’s challenging for our girls (sexually empowered or not) to take even a few steps without having to constantly look over their shoulders for an imminent threat either to their modesty or to their identity. This is a truth filled with pathos.

Sometimes you will spot the tagline “A learned woman is a sign of progress” on rickshaws in Mumbai and yet you will hear the man driving that rickshaw talk about how women need to be ‘reined in’ like cattle. Where does sexual empowerment factor in when an entire mindset of female subservience and the stubborn viewpoint on the ‘right thing for a girl to do’ still largely exists in all parts of the country?

When women fail to support each other’s causes and stand together to defend their right to ‘free thought and action’, that is when the empowered get decidedly disempowered as the ‘rutt’ is celebrated and the ‘struts’ are calibrated.

For true sexual liberation to begin, a journey must be embarked upon. A journey called ‘Let’s all mind our own business — shall we?’ The best person to decide what a woman should do ‘is a woman herself’. Educate her. Let her skip and travel. Let her not be a princess if she’s born to be something else. Only then, can she be sexually and emotionally empowered.

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