*Images sourced from https://www.indianart.com*
There’s nothing more that irks me when I hear someone say: “she’s a slag.” The word itself sounds abrupt, harsh to the ear and immediately conjures up a mental image of the disgusted face that you pull when you’ve accidentally stepped in dog excrement.
Slag. It’s one of those words which is so easily thrown about and aimlessly fired at people without thinking about how it might affect them.
The other evening, I had a conversation with a very good friend about South Asian women being called slags. The cruel thing that we realised was that we’ve probably been called a slag at some point in our life. She then suggested that we reclaim the word and make it work for South Asian women as: “Sexually Liberated Asian Girl.” It sounds a bit out there, but, I think it might have some potential!
I’ve never quite understood why so many people feel the need to judge or condemn women who are sexually active and assert autonomy over their bodies, sexuality and sexual health. It’s always felt quite old-fashioned and the stigma which surrounds South Asian women using birth control is one which particularly stings.
The sucker punch (so to speak) comes in when people accuse South Asian women of deviating away from and distorting their culture because their actions are reminiscent of ‘Western culture.’ Personally, I’ve always considered it to be a good thing , if a woman is taking precautions with her sexual health and uses birth control. To me it means that she is being safe and smart about her health.
“We end up becoming un-appointed ambassadors for our families, communities and ethnic groups.”
Growing up, I was often reminded that girls who were not ‘pure’ were ‘bad’ and that they were a bad influence. When someone refers to another woman’s body or existence as a source of family honour or pride, it’s hard to not feel a sense of helplessness. Naturally, as a woman, you feel as though such attitudes are indirectly aimed at you – even if it is not explicitly said. You feel like your body doesn’t really belong to you because it is constantly under the scrutiny of others.
In hindsight, not only is this belief highly impractical, but it is also incredibly damaging. It vilifies women who are sexually active, have some sort of autonomy over their bodies and exercise it. By condemning such women, we are inadvertently creating a subconscious anxiety within women and their bodies, which is entirely unnecessary,
The anxiety, which is created, is one rooted in shame. We feel a subconscious sense of embarrassment towards our bodies and feel the need to either constantly apologise for how they look or what they do. We don’t stop to think how incredible the human body is: it can build so much muscle, your skin can stretch so much without ripping apart, it can house life and repair itself.
Instead we find ourselves nitpicking at our bodies: ‘too dark, too fair, too thin, too fat, too tall, too short’ the list is endless and every time we remind ourselves of these ‘flaws,’ we move further and further away from regaining autonomy over our bodies.
“Women need to treat ourselves as well as we treat others” ~ Gloria Steinem
However, the concept of modesty is one which is slightly more complicated. On one hand, it is fair to argue that the vast majority of cultures across the sub-continent, advocate modesty in women because such beliefs have been upheld for so many years. But on the other hand, women did not cover their breasts in ancient Indian society, sex and sexual freedoms were considered to be the norm. Hence why sex (and tantric sex) was – and are – considered to be a spiritual experience. I believe that modesty should be left up to individual women: if one is comfortable not covering up, they should be given the same level of respect that women who do cover up receive.
An example is Sunny Leone; an adult actress of Indian heritage. She is generally shamed because of her work. The reasons behind this vary; firstly because the issue of pornography comes with its own set of challenges with regards to the treatment of women. Secondly, many people have suggested that Leone is a ‘disgrace’ to South Asians because of her profession. The irony here is that it is those who believe and vocally express such sentiments, are more than likely to be the ones who are watching the videos that she appears in.
It churns my stomach that archaic practices, such as the ‘two finger test’ to prove that a woman’s virginity is still intact and laws which deny and/or restrict women from accessing birth control or placing taxes on women’s hygiene products exist in this day and age.
The concept of having ‘pure’ girls and women is flawed, heavily idealised and problematic because it firstly presents an unrealistic image of how women should be – both to men and themselves. Secondly, such idealisations don’t address issues of rape and sexual abuse – this often has harrowing consequences for those who have experienced the latter because of its stigmatised nature.
Beliefs such as izzat and pushing South Asian women to become unappointed ambassadors for their families, communities and ethnic groups continue to strip us off any control that we might be able to wield over our bodies.
It is merely another way of policing women’s bodies and taking away any sense of autonomy that they could possibly have. In this day and age, I can’t help but think, that we need autonomy over our bodies now more than ever.