I recently watched A fantastic Ted Talk by Meera Vijayann entitled Finding Your Voice Against Gender Violence.
It really resonated with me. So I started reading some of the things she has written, and her article, What’s behind India’s tide of sexual violence really hit home for me. She talks about what no one is talking about – the fact that talking about sex in Indian culture (and others) is just something that you don’t do. There are many problems with this. In my case, the biggest problem was since no one ever spoke to me about sex, when I encountered my own horrible episode(s) of sexual violence as a child – I couldn’t tell anyone.
I couldn’t tell anyone for several reasons:
- How do you tell someone that something happened to you when it’s not socially or culturally acceptable to talk about that something?
- I wasn’t even supposed to know what sex was – it was never explained to me
- Talking about such taboo topics is awkward, uncomfortable, and not proper behaviour for a respectable young girl
Effectively, Indian girls are raised with the goal of marrying well. You study hard, you work hard, you behave, you respect your elders, you don’t date (at least it wasn’t OK when I was a teenager), but then you all of a sudden change from being your parents’ well-behaved innocent child to being a wife + answering to another set of parents’ rules. This oppression of feelings, desires, curiosity, hormones, etc., leads to lots of problems: people can’t suppress or even express their urges, and then bad things can happen.
This is an extreme situation, of course. But even in the most liberal of families, where parents are not obviously biased towards having or raising boys, inequalities still exist. Cultural norms like, women do the cooking, cleaning, the bulk of raising the children – all of these things still exist and fall under the responsibility of the woman of the household (even if she works full-time in addition to her husband).
And then you have things like dowries, segregated cultural events, women not being allowed near holy sites while menstruating, women who can’t leave marriages when they’re being mistreated because they’ll be shunned by the community, gender-selective abortions, women being ‘given’ away to other families when they’re married, child marriage, general discrimination… and the list goes on.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on trying to find non-face-whitening face wash or face cream in India. But that topic is for another post. Next time, I’ll bring my own, thanks.
Another video I came across cites some truly horrifying statistics:
Although a lot of this points to the country itself, a lot of this can be applied to the diaspora. It’s quite common for those who aren’t of the first generation (and not in the country of their roots) to hang on to the foundation, beliefs, and traditions of ‘the old world’; meanwhile the culture in the root country evolves & essentially becomes a different one than that of the diaspora.
I remember my first trip to India – I was shocked. And for one reason only – that Indian attitudes towards things like sex were totally different to those values that had been instilled in me. I remember sitting in my hotel room in Mumbai, flipping through the TV channels just to see the adverts, the news, etc., and I saw an advert for the morning after pill. I was shocked to my core – this was coming from my people! My people who never discuss anything of the sort. And yet, there it was. It is a huge step forward; you’d never hear or see this in the diaspora community. But then again, there is still a long way to go. After all, the conversations about sex are still difficult ones to have with your kids or your parents, if they are even had at all.
I left India feeling proud, at home, and just generally impressed that attitudes were so much more advanced than those that I had grown up with. Attitudes toward sex and women’s rights in India still have a long way to go but it was really refreshing to see people talking about things for a change, which I truly had not expected at all.
What I’ve learned from this is that I will talk to my child about these things, awkward/uncomfortable/socially acceptable or not. Because if your kids can’t come to you about these things, who are they going to go to?