Where Women Must Always Be Shrinking Violets

I’ll begin by admitting that I used to think that the job of the chief of National Commission for Women is ridiculously easy for all the perks and pay it gets you. You jet-set across the country and out of it business class, you get to stay in the best hotels, you get to be on TV frequently with the anchors hanging on to every pearl of wisdom you have to offer. All you ever have to do for all of this is to sign some files and to speak on the benefits of women empowerment–which in itself should not be too difficult if you take care to compile and memorize a hundred odd stock-lines and also take care to rephrase them appropriately to pre-empt complaints about your speeches being all the same every time.

And of course you must also take care to look your part by wearing only handloom saris and sporting a big round bindi–and maybe even some tribal-looking jewellery to up your style quotient. A pair of horn-rimmed glasses, which impart an aura of erudition, complete the look.

Well, guess it’s time for a rethink–the recent furore over the NCW chief Mamata Sharma’s remarks on the word ‘sexy’ has brought home to me the fact that the job ain’t a cakewalk–not all the time anyway. You may land in hot water for the most innocuous of statements. It’s a tough call to not offend anyone when you are required to make speeches all the time–it doesn’t help that the speeches have to be about women( and honour and sexuality and the works). Many a time the moral police pounces on you even for stating the obvious.

Ms. Sharma has my sympathies in this instance. I understand where she is coming from. The way I see it, ‘sexy’ at the most only means sexually attractive. It is not even a term reserved for women–men can and do get called sexy, and I am sure they find it complimentary enough. ‘Sexy’ is also very commonly used as an adjective for anything– from a car to a mobile phone–  that is sleek and attractive in appearance, and that has rendered the term all the more benign, as it were.

So why is the moral police acting like a cat on a hot tin roof? An army of women’s groups are up in arms and calling for Sharma’s resignation.The BJP’s state vice-president for Rajasthan declared that the Ms. Sharma statement appeared to condone objectification of women.  Huh? How? How exactly can being called sexually attractive objectify any person?

Another defender of Indian culture went to town about the remark being against ‘Indian ethos’. Okay, I kind of understand that one. The dyed-in -the-wool Bharatiya Nari is expected to recoil in horror at the idea of being found ‘sexy’ by anyone not her husband (and probably even her husband). If you suggest to her that it isn’t really a big deal, you are guilty of putting ideas in her pure, ever so impressionable mind and committing an act of treason against ‘the Indian ethos’. The great Indian Culture will be dead and gone the day good Indian women begin to take pride in being ‘sexy’.

There are people who have voiced concerns about Sharma’s statement being seen as ratifying street sexual harassment and emboldening harassers. Really?

To my mind the one and only thing that emboldens those who are given to sexually harassing women in public places is the knowledge that they can get away with it.

Sexy may not quite be a parliamentary word but just because the cat-callers love to call every passing woman sexy doesn’t mean that it should be treated as a dirty word–if they find every woman so attractive sexually let that be their problem. It  is true that the harasser’s intention is to offend–he obviously feels that any mention of the ‘S’ word will make the woman cringe  and so he throws it at her. How exactly is the harasser being emboldened if the woman refuses to be offended by the word?

Yesterday they were discussing the incident on a news channel, and one of the (male) panelists said that ‘sexy’ is offensive because ‘ no man calls his mother or sister sexy–beautiful,yes, but never sexy’. I was wondering why nobody told him that the reason for that is that nobody generally finds his mother or sister sexually attractive–is that so difficult to understand? And anyway, does anything which does not come up in one’s relationship with the mother or the sister automatically become dirty? By that definition sex itself must be something terribly dirty, even if you have it within the confines of marriage. It’s time we as a country took a long hard look at our convoluted sense of morality.

So far the NCW Chief has stuck to her guns. I wouldn’t be surprised if she is sacked over this non-issue.

Edited to add: In retrospect, her speech wasn’t as innocuous as I initially believed. While I agree with her in that sexy is as good or bad as beautiful or charming(which is what the moral police had issues with), she certainly had no business telling the audience what they should or shouldn’t find offensive. Looks like she has managed to do the unimaginable by offending the moral police and the feminists equally.

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10 Responses to Where Women Must Always Be Shrinking Violets

  1. R's Mom says:

    Well for a change I am agreeing to you…yayayayya! *First time perhaps :)*

    no but on a serious note…you are right…I use sexy pretty often, to describe my mom’s sexy rasam to my MIL’s sexy figure…and I dont use it in any derogatory manner…I love them, I admire them and I find them sexy..whats wrong with it…

    I understand that there is always a place and a time to use the word, but on an overall level, if anyone called me sexy (Never happening in this janam!) I dont think I would be offended

    • No RM, not for the first time. I remember you also agreed with the abortion post 😉 😀
      //if anyone called me sexy (Never happening in this janam!) //
      hahaha you are really cute RM 🙂

  2. Actually she said if a girl is walking and four boys pass a comment and call her sexy she shouldn’t find it offensive, so while there is nothing wrong with the word – ‘sexy’ – I don’t think a girl would like any kinds of comments – not even an innocent “Hello Madam”.

    • IHM, I do agree that a girl shouldn’t have to put up with any comment at all.

      I think that the NCW Chief said it in the sense that sexy is as good or bad as charming or beautiful (or even hello madam) and I think it is true–I wouldn’t find sexy any more offensive than Oye hoye madamji, for instance.

      Where she did indeed goof up was in telling the audience that they SHOULDN’T find it offensive–she certainly had no business dictating what should or should not be found offensive–she could just have said that sexy isn’t really a dirty word, is as good or bad as charming/beautiful and should have left it at that.

      Not that it wouldn’t still have kicked up a storm, going by what is being said about ‘sexy’ being against Indian ethos, and how it was demeaning to a woman’s dignity, and how being called sexy was tantamount to being objectified. This is what really got my goat.

  3. Ashwathy says:

    one of the (male) panelists said that ‘sexy’ is offensive because ‘ no man calls his mother or sister sexy–beautiful,yes, but never sexy’. I was wondering why nobody told him that the reason for that is that nobody generally finds his mother or sister sexually attractive–is that so difficult to understand?
    Why are these guys confusing up the whole issue? 😯 Sheesh! 🙄

    I’m not even sure the NCW chief even knew what was talking about. 😐 Was she trying to be cool and fit in with today’s generation? If so, she made a complete mash out of her half-baked ideas….ending up neither here nor there…with incoherent bits of thought!

    • Welcome here Ashwathy 🙂

      I agree it was not the wisest statement to make but I think I agree with the bit about sexy not being too different from beautiful/ charming.

      Incidentally it was this bit which has drawn the sharpest reactions from the moral police.

      The reactions have been pretty bizarre and the long and short of them seem to be like, a woman Must mind being called sexy, it’s against Indian culture, you are being objectified if you get called sexy and so on. Drove me up the wall.

      That said, the NCW Chief did goof up big time when she took it upon herself to tell the audience that they ‘should not’ find the word offensive. Who’s to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t find offensive? I think that was the part that (rightly) drew the ire of IHM’s commenters. Mine too, in retrospect.

      So yes, I do not support her whole statement, only a part of it. The NCW Chief has apparently accomplished the unimaginable by making a statement that enraged both, the moral police and the feminists, equally!!!

      • Ashwathy says:

        She was claiming that it’s ok for guys to comment on girl on the streets as ‘sexy’. That’s not only ridiculous (who’s she to decide that?) but also dangerous and making an already bad situation worse (as if street lechers need further encouragement to harass women!).

        I think people reacting to it focused on the wrong side…debating about whether sexy is right or wrong. When will they realise that, that is not the point here at all!

      • Ashwathy says:

        Blogrolling you BTW 🙂

      • Thank you for blogrolling. I look forward to having you here more often 🙂

  4. Scribby says:

    I hear you and I have the same opinion about the word ‘sexy’….what when your husband or your boy friend or even your girl gang calls you sexy? That ways it’s acceptable,ain’t it? also like you said ‘sexy’ is not restricted to complimenting a women alone…it is used for men, things, commodities too….so what with that?

    Or we have to categorically apply ‘sexy’ ‘s definition? Ha!

    My brother in law has a habit of saying ‘yarr, sex matcha diya’ meaning it was outstanding performance or movie or we had a splendid time etc..you know on those lines…so does he need to be reported to the police because of his usage of word ‘sex’ in general language? 🙂

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