This week, I’m feeling a mix of apathy and irritation. I’ve actually been feeling like this since I watched the interview between former adult actress, Sunny Leone, by Indian journalist Bhupendra Chaubey.
I have to say that, this was not the best PR moment for backward South Asian attitudes towards women to rear its ugly head. It showcased the very best of misogyny and was a glorious moment for shaming female sexuality.
While many will say that: “Well it’s not an attitude exclusively aimed at South Asian women, it happens to women of all colours and backgrounds” I firmly stand by what I’m about to say.
The interview, and Chaubey’s attitude, is just the tip of the iceberg, in how many South Asian communities attempt to morally dismember women who are independent and express themselves without feeling a sense of regret over their actions.
‘Every girl feels a sense of regret, no matter how modern she is.’
It also revealed how deeply ingrained ideas of shame are when it comes to South Asian women in the Diaspora and the motherland. There is the expectation that we must always feel a sense of shame if we express things such as sexual desire, behave, live or speak out of term.
I wholeheartedly admire the unapologetic attitude that Sunny displayed throughout the interview; she doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. What did strike me was the insistent attempt made to reinforce an antediluvian view of how ‘every girl feels a sense of regret, no matter how modern she is.’
We see the dichotomy of women being defined as virginal Madonnas or sinful whores whose behaviour is held up as being responsible for the moral state of society that they are supposed to represent.
At one point, I remember thinking: “I didn’t realise that all South Asian women – regardless of where we are born and how we grow up – are indirect ambassadors of India and Indian society.”
The attempt of blaming Sunny Leone for the rapes and sexual assaults in India was simply ludicrous – the root behind that widespread behaviour is one which goes beyond the actions of a former adult actress. Ironically, the root is more or less quite similar, but not in the way that you would initially think.
We should never feel a sense of regret about how we choose to live our own lives.
Rape and sexual assaults are actions which are not committed to experience sexual gratification or pleasure. It is about power and exerting that power over someone (the victim) helpless.
Throughout the interview, the evidence of power play that Chaubey was trying to exercise was as clear as day. It probably isn’t the same level of power that rapists exercise over their victims, but it is a point worth considering. He may have only been doing his job – to get the goss – but he accidentally revealed his own attitude towards Leone in the process.
There is a sense of power one feels when the person that they are talking to admits a shortcoming. It places that person in the stocks – morally speaking – and the other up in their ivory tower of self righteousness.
It would have proved that despite being born and raised in the Diaspora, she still felt the sting of South Asian female shame that we have felt at some point in our respective lives.
It would have shown that she compromises her own sense of self-worth, happiness and self expression at the expense of appeasing what ‘the community thinks’ in the same way that thousands of South Asian women do in the Diaspora and the motherland.
It would have shown that she is still a ‘good, Indian girl’ whose sense of regret immediately roots her in an image of a South Asian woman that is recognisable in terms of behaviour.
But her answer proved to herself, and to South Asian women across the world, that we should never feel a sense of regret about how we choose to live our own lives.