Skip to content

Notes from a bachelorette party in New India: Swathi Sukumar

January 4, 2013

Guest post by SWATHI SUKUMAR

Last week, I went to a bachelorette party. The party props were unbelievable to the point of being ridiculous—shot-glasses shaped like body parts, kinky trinkets, balloons in unmentionable shapes and sizes—and other items that would have made many women of another generation collapse in horror.

At the end of the party, everyone was slightly drunk and a good deal of time had been spent asking the bride-to-be embarrassing questions and cracking dirty jokes.  I realized that our revelry had a close parallel in the cult classic “The Hangover”, a story of four men who go to Las Vegas to celebrate a very eventful bachelor’s party. Our party shared common themes from the script of the movie, including inebriation and the obsession with bodies, both perfect and imperfect. We missed the tiger and the stripper from the movie, but I am told that strippers are a very common feature in bachelorette parties in India.

Tigers are not common, I hope.

I was looking at a new class of Indian women: upper middle-class, educated professionals, several holding advanced degrees from reputed foreign Universities, self-aware and confident. A group of women who pay their own bills and are economically empowered. Many from the group will make it to the top of the organizations that they work at, and we will celebrate their success as an indicator of the empowerment of women.

Despite all of this, at the end of the party, I was left with some unanswered questions: What is the origin of this particular brand of fun that we have evolved that involves objectification of bodies? And what does this mean for the battle for equality that we are fighting on a daily basis?

We know that capitalism has deep links with patriarchy. Since capitalism prioritizes the value of income generation over other values, women in their traditional roles were marginalized. This lead to women, like us, who are trying to obtain legitimacy from the system through earning their keep. However, the struggle for economic independence has become a smokescreen that often conceals the misogyny of our everyday lives and social practices, which have remained largely unquestioned.

Now, in the name of equality, our interactions, ideas of recreation and entertainment often mimic those associated with men, particularly when it pertains to objectification of the human body.  Men who visit a strip club on an international vacation are “just being men”, and women who have a stripper in attendance for a bachelorette party are considered empowered.

Our mimicry of dominant masculinity is problematic because it disguises the inherent misogyny within. We have adopted objectification as one of the tools to assert ourselves, to prove that we are no less than the men, without questioning this model of empowerment. We have and will continue to perpetuate the same inequities that we fight against, which become increasingly difficult to recognize as they are hidden under layers of pseudo-feminism. Ultimately, through this flawed process, we may be able to relax norms on how little we can wear without being victimized, but we will not succeed in changing patriarchal notions of what our bodies mean and what they are meant for.

Perhaps, mimicry is a form of survival.  In the natural world, some species of snakes, spiders and butterflies have all evolved to look like other, more dangerous species, to ward of predators.  This is called Batesian mimicry, a good example of which is a fly mimicking a bee. Birds will not attack bees, because they sting. A fly is easy prey for a bird, unless it looks like a bee, so some species of flies have evolved to mimic bees. Similarly, women have often found a way to mimic men, perhaps to feign strength and to avoid falling prey to a system run on the strength of male privilege.

All of this is not to suggest, of course, that women are asexual, and that everything sexual is masculine. However, to claim that we’re challenging patriarchal norms when we are actively propagating them would be untruthful.

All people, irrespective of whether they are male or female, must be allowed to express their identity equally. However, equality is not achieved in translation. As assertive and independent women, we need to evolve new ways in which we can celebrate femininity.  The current political climate echoes deep discontent with the status of women in India, and the glaring lack of safety in our lives.

At this juncture of unrest, it would be worthwhile to think about what it means to be an independent woman today. What and who will define our identities? How do we reconcile the various social forces that operate on us? What would a world that is equal look like?

The scary truth is that in some respects, we haven’t progressed ideologically in several decades, and the fight for empowerment of women has been prematurely thwarted by the fat bank account. Our fading commitment to the real ideals to equality should be revived. This time, let’s try originality.

(Swathi Sukumar is a lawyer in New Delhi. She is grateful to discussions with Nizam Pasha and Supriya Sankaran that led to this post.)

48 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2013 5:58 PM

    All I can say is “Thank you for writing this” –

    Women really have to wake up from their slumber.

    Concept of beauty, wealth, right, success everything that women today are trying to achieve were defined by patriarchal system. Unless they break away from those and redefine themselves we will still be playing to the old tunes.

  2. Deepika permalink
    January 4, 2013 6:05 PM

    Well written article!
    Once in a while, a dirty look or a not-so-accidental brush shakes out the feeling of independence in me. I may be independent in many ways including financially but there are times when I feel threatened and scared.

    It is may be due to this parity, this difference in feeling that at times; one wants to assert a dominance over the other sex. Like you wrote, it is a form of survival.

  3. 3thirtynine permalink
    January 4, 2013 6:42 PM

    “Since capitalism prioritizes the value of income generation over other values, women in their traditional roles were marginalized. This lead to women, like us, who are trying to obtain legitimacy from the system through earning their keep” — in still trying, five years down, to work out why motherhood can be such a strain, one excellent point out of several in this very well-expressed piece. “… we haven’t progressed ideologically in several decades” — that too. This time, let’s try originality: wish this could be heard said more. Maybe the time is here.

  4. ratna permalink
    January 4, 2013 7:17 PM

    Now that you have first hand experience regarding bachelorette parties,, maybe ,the next time you are more such… you could refuse to attend? And for the record what would be the percentage of women holding bachelorette paties..when compared to the national average of women who marry without holding bachelorette parties?
    Ratna Raman

    • Swathi Sukumar permalink
      January 5, 2013 10:39 AM

      Hi Ratna, I think you walked past the points I was trying to make.

      • January 7, 2013 7:56 PM

        Swathi, with all due respect I think Ratna has a point.

        Even amongst women who hold bacheloretter parties and naughtily drink from body-part shaped coktail glasses, true sexual liberation will most likely an elusive quest.

        Can a young, single, twenty-something candily reveal her previous sexual encounters to the man she hopes to marry? Or ask her father for dating advice?

        As you pointed out, rightly so, young, urban female professionals only mimic the liberated, Sex and the Cityesque lifestyles of their Western sisters.

        Female sexuality is so stigmatised in India that most men, no matter how egalitarian they claim to be, will tar and feather a woman who is brutally honest about her sexual history and her enjoyment of sex.

        Women aren’t supposed to like sex or be interested in it. A woman who is candid about experiencing sexual pleasure is a whore in the eyes of most Indians. She’s asking to be raped, dontchaknow?

        So bachelorette parties may be the latest hip thing PYTs have imported from the West, but their spirit, that of expressing unbridled enjoyment of hedonism, of sexual pleasure, is not a lived reality for most Indian women.

        How many Indian women chase the mythical O with the same zeal as the protagonists of Erica Jung’s novels?

        We’re still struggling with sexual violence, so the male body is less an object of lust and more a predatory construct used to violate and humiliate women.

      • January 12, 2013 11:52 AM

        @ biwo
        Does it have something to do with the fact that most men in India, no matter how ‘privileged’ they supposedly are, don’t have such a starry sex life either? The Great Indian Family (TM) is created on the tombstone of the hedonistic side of human sexuality.

        I feel that if these so called ‘egalitarian’ man had sexual experiences as varied as the women do, they’d have been far less queasy about her past (provided you didn’t talk too much about the gory details, no one actually cares all that much about that).

        But again, I might be wrong and you might live in an entirely different world than the one I am talking about.

  5. ayesha khan permalink
    January 4, 2013 7:35 PM

    The disquiet is very understandable. It is this schism which in many ways tends to alienate and even perhaps deflects the attention from the actual concerns and issues. In a sense it also smacks of hypocrisy, for these women/girls in some way are perceived to potray women empowerement. Being like a man is not necessarily liberation.


  6. Reshmi Dasgupta permalink
    January 4, 2013 7:55 PM

    This is soo true — women try to be men in order to seem equal. It started off by being party to off-colour jokes in office to be “one of the boys” and it has evolved into adopting male practices… The sooner we realise that being equal is not being identical, the better!

  7. January 4, 2013 8:40 PM

    Some inchoate thoughts –

    I am using what i think is a reasonable analogy to the above which suggests that our thinking needs to be more complex.

    Example: Women who have access to an urban public space (and who are of the social and economic class that I think Ms. Sukumaris referring to) often wear clothes initially designed for men – think shirts, jeans, trousers etc. This is acceptable in certain urban spaces (at any rate, more than men wearing clothes designed for women).

    1. This does not necessarily imply “mimicry” of men – women (as it appears to me) have managed to make these items their own (which is why men and women have different sections in shops that sell such clothes). Perhaps women could take bachelorette parties and make it their own? I have no idea how one would do it but in my defence don’t think levi strauss/wrangler knew how to do it either when women first started wearing jeans.

    2. As a result “mimicry” is not neccessarily about “survival” in any sense other than the trivial sense of having to wear *some* clothes in public spaces (as opposed to being naked) which is not a gender specific issue. I agree it may take time to suitably appropriate masculine norms but we should expect that. If the march to freedom were short, I’d be in Tahiti sipping cocktails for breakfast.

    3. The choice not to follow masculine norms (rejecting jeans, for example) can become complicated if in certain circumstances, following them can be a mode of resistance (think universities regularly asking women students to stop wearing western clothes).

    • Swathi Sukumar permalink
      January 5, 2013 9:29 PM

      Hi pd: I think I understand what you’re saying, but let me know if I’m wrong. My point in this piece is that the emulation of objectification in the name of empowerment, is counter-productive, and that we need to evolve indices of empowerment that are more complex than mimicry.

      Indeed the struggle for equal rights has required women to assert that they are entitled to the same rights as men, including for example, the right to vote. I am not suggesting that this is mimicry.

      • January 6, 2013 1:23 AM

        Thanks, Swathi

        I agree with the point of your piece whole wholeheartedly. What I was trying to say (although not entirely clearly) was that mimicry can be good in some cases and therefore a not entirely correct target (I.e. mimicry itself does not tell us something ethically relevant (good or bad) about a particular situation).

        As a result, fears concerning mimicry are unfounded. What I think is the real issue is the objectification bit. It is nt a good thing to do whether dne by men women.. And therefore that may be why women should not try to mimic men. Thats not because mimicing is in itself bad, its bad because ones disagrees with what is being mimiced (objectification). I hope I’m making better sense this time. I think we are more or less on the same page though.

    • January 7, 2013 12:09 AM

      Hi PD

      Just on a lighter note….

      You mentioned that shops have different sections for male and female clothes… It is true because of the difference in size and body type ….But I have noticed increasingly and alarmingly, :-) that but for the size, women’s western clothes sections in shoppers stop, westside and other such stores look very similar to men’s clothing even in cut….and surprisingly such clothes are being worn and maybe even appreciated by an increasing number of women going to work and after work….I for one hence, always find it difficult to buy affordable western wear coz of this reason….:-) Hope those supplying clothes to these stores take note of this…

  8. arkkane permalink
    January 4, 2013 9:11 PM

    the only point in this entire article that seems valid to me is about originality. i dont think having fun with objects of sex is objectification as long as it does not hurt the sentiment of someone being objectified. in this case, the stripper i am sure, was having a ball of a time! i would like to know if he was or wast. there lies our answer to your guilt.

  9. Ramesh Narendrarai Desai permalink
    January 4, 2013 9:19 PM

    Everyone of us male or female is neither 100 % male or feminine. We all have what I call MQ (Masculinity Quotient) or FQ (Feminity Quotient) which is defined as the %age of masculine or feminine attributes possesed by a person out of all the possible masculine or feminine attributes possible in a person. Depending on the FQ of the type of females, they would try to compete with the males or stay content and confident of their feminity. It takes all kinds to make the world. Let us not pass any value judgements on anyone. To each, his/her own. If interested, look up my blog and the posts titled Ninad, my friend for the concept of MQ and Julie, my de luxe niece for that of FQ.

  10. January 4, 2013 9:53 PM

    EVen though I agree with most parts of your post, but certainly not with the conclusion in the last pragaraph. If this conclusion refers to only the instinctive sexual attraction, then yes we havn’t. There is no equality found in nature..nothing is equal or exactly the same. Balance is what makes it tick. Since the time we have discovered medicine and contraception the rigid roles which mother nature set for the genders have diffused, The educated metropolitan male is not averse to wielding a frying pan or changing nappies. But, unfortunately this assertion is marred by an inherent flaw epitomised by this response to women wanting to be like men, “Be ambitious”.

  11. Samhita permalink
    January 4, 2013 10:43 PM

    You say “As assertive and independent women, we need to evolve new ways in which we can celebrate femininity.” And yet you dismiss the way in which women have chosen to express themselves. The celebration of sex and of bodies is hardly patriarchal. I think it is important that we make it ok for women to be sexual beings. I don’t think women are “mimicking” men when they objectify bodies. Maybe men have just been able to for longer than women have been able to. Plenty of women enjoy sex for sex and it doesn’t have to be within the terms of what you think is ‘femininity’.

    What does this (the kind of revelry you described) mean for equality? Simply that maybe women will act as they wish to and that there will still be people who question their sexual enjoyment and expression. The struggle for economic independence has hardly concealed the “misogyny of our everyday lives”. If by ‘misogyny’ you’re referring to the objectification of bodies, then are you saying that objectification is solely carried out by men toward women? Some women like to strip, some women enjoy it. Some men enjoy stripping. Some people like to watch. Yes, yes it is empowering for women to move beyond their traditional roles and to express their sexuality freely and how they wish to.

    • Swathi Sukumar permalink
      January 5, 2013 11:02 AM

      Hi Samhita, the point I tried to make is that the objectification of female bodies comes from patriarchy and capitalism. We often mistake our mimicry of objectification as empowerment, without understanding the underlying system of beliefs.

      “Plenty of women enjoy sex for sex and it doesn’t have to be within the terms of what you think is ‘femininity’.” I don’t know where you got this idea from. This is not an anti-sex article or about what I think is femininity. Its about what dominant masculinity is, which is oppressive not only to women, but to men, children and sexual minorities as well.

      The rest of your comments are based on a misunderstanding of the article that I have tried to clarify above.

      • Samhita permalink
        January 5, 2013 10:36 PM

        That is a rather huge statement to make. That ‘the objectification of female bodies comes from capitalism’. There is a large body of work that shows quite compellingly that even in Soviet Russia, when the revolution was realised, patriarchy didn’t end and the objectification of female bodies itself didn’t end. I think we need to be clear that the objectification of female bodies exists across the board. There are forms of it that manifest more identifiably in the world around us because we live in a (largely though modified to some extent) capitalist society.

        For the next part of what you said, when you define objectification as belonging solely to masculinity you deny the very real desires of some women. If you can’t conceive of this because you may not have the same experiences at least don’t dismiss it as mimicking (i.e. mimicking desires expressed by men or masculinity). I think its important to see that they are associated with and not belonging to masculinity. And this is what I mean when I said you had an idea of femininity that excluded some things. Because you see objectification, quite rigidly, as belonging to dominant masculinity. Just because more men may have been able to express it for longer (being in a position of privilege) doesn’t mean that women don’t want to do it too. There’s also an erroneous assumption that objectification is solely a bad thing. For me objectification can be about enjoying bodies in different shapes and sizes, an enjoyment that might be sexual at some point.

        Rigid gender roles or stereotyping are harmful to both men and women. So when you try to define what ‘dominant masculinity’ is, I think you are harming and shaming those women who might express very real desires and their enjoyment even if those desires might be associated with masculinity.

  12. Kruttika Nadig permalink
    January 4, 2013 10:48 PM

    You make several pertinent points, but there’s nothing wrong with saying that sensual bodies look more sensual unclothed and from close range. How do we distinguish objectification from appreciation of the human form, male or female?
    I don’t see an inherent problem with unveiling and presenting a human body for viewing pleasure. (strictly consensual of course) Objectification and other nudity-related issues originate in the mind of the beholder, not in the subject’s body itself. Those who understand this can attend a strip show without objectifying the dancers for a moment. But then why, you may ask? For the false flattery! For the attention from an attractive dancer. For the beauty and glamour and escape and brief erotic experience. Are we going to judge people for that?
    As for mimicking “dominant masculinity”, I wouldn’t approve either if a woman deliberately changes herself to be “equal” to men – be it attending strip shows, wearing pantsuits instead of skirts or using abusive language. But the fact is that there are women who genuinely like strip shows, pantsuits and cussing! And they would say, “I don’t do this because I want to be like a man, I do it because I want to be me.”
    I agree there must be a public discourse about objectification and the harm it can do. But in this case let’s call a spade a spade. It’s just a few girls having some fun watching handsome men do crazy things that their own boyfriends/husbands might not be sporting enough to do!

    • Swathi Sukumar permalink
      January 6, 2013 1:01 PM

      Kruttika: Thanks. This is not an anti-sensuality or an anti-nudity argument. Our notions of equality have to be renegotiated. Take for example, the obsession with hairlessness that has come to characterize female strippers, models and actresses. The bodies of women are governed by very oppressive norms set by patriarchy. The number of painful procedures that women put themselves through to achieve the elusive goal of being attractive, speaks volumes on how little we do to challenge patriarchal norms. You will notice that a male stripper works by the same script as a female stripper at a club, in terms of the “perfection” of form.

      The problem is that we are so steeped in this framework, that is becomes difficult to recognize what is truly empowering and what is blind adoption. So yes, by all means, celebrate bodies, celebrate attractive people—but don’t translate a model that is already severely problematic and crippling.

  13. Lakshya permalink
    January 4, 2013 10:51 PM

    I agree with the views expressed in this article. A truly ’empowered woman’ need not try to make a point by doing what men do. There are many ‘traditional’ empowered women in our society, who quietly rule their homes, earn the respect of the men in their families, may wear a saree, and generally do the things considered non-modern. True empowerment is about being confident in whatever you do and is a state of mind, whether you work in an office or in the kitchen at home. It is a feeling of self-value because you are convinced of it within you. It does not come only because a man has given approval. Women have to stop hating their own femininity. They do it either by suppressing it or flaunting it.

    • Samhita permalink
      January 5, 2013 10:43 PM

      I really think we should move beyond this kind of talk. Gender roles are rigid and harmful. Gender is a construct. How much clearer can it get? Just because society has defined masculinity and femininity for years doesn’t mean we should continue to buy into it.

      “Women have to stop hating their own femininity. They do it either by suppressing it or flaunting it.”

      You know why? Because all women are not the same. Women are people. And they express themselves differently. So if they don’t fit the traditional gender roles or things that go along with their gender, they aren’t ‘suppressing their femininity’, they’re just people who make different choices and don’t fit into that role.

      • Swathi Sukumar permalink
        January 6, 2013 2:14 AM

        I think you need to decide if this is solely about your personal experiences. “If you can’t conceive of this because you may not have the same experiences at least don’t dismiss it as mimicking (i.e. mimicking desires expressed by men or masculinity).”

        And this is not a confession of my desires or the lack of it, so leave personal attacks out of the conversation.

        The point is that this vehicle of empowerment of a public strip show evolved in a capitalist context, because the roles of women were defined around what was necessary for the entertainment of men. Even the way a stripper’s body looks is dictated by patriarchal norms, including the obsession with depilation and the insistence on an unnatural and exaggerated body. Male strippers are in an unfortunate position, because they have to now emulate the “perfection” associated with female strippers. Is this your idea of empowerment?

        You repeat yourself without making any new points. You want an example of empowered, sex-positive show where bodies are celebrated and not objectified to mimic dominant masculinity—-have you heard of lesbian burlesque? If you haven’t, look it up.

        “For me objectification can be about enjoying bodies in different shapes and sizes, an enjoyment that might be sexual at some point.”

        This is your personal preference, and unlike you, I don’t like to waste my time on personal attacks on your preferences or experiences.

        “Rigid gender roles or stereotyping are harmful to both men and women.”

        As I’ve explained above, I think you missed several points that I was trying to make. I didn’t call for gender role stereotyping. I was asking feminists to be more imaginative in reconstructing the gender roles that we take apart.

  14. Anon permalink
    January 5, 2013 7:51 AM

    Capitalism has deep links tp patriarchy? As opposed to communism, socialism etc? Weren’t women marginalised due to other isms?

  15. Amar permalink
    January 5, 2013 8:09 AM

    First, I’ll address the contention that bachelor parties, as a show of “dominant masculinity”, are “inherently misogynistic”.

    A guy goes to see a movie that has Deepika Padukone in an item number. He’s deeply (physically) attracted to her. He doesn’t know her, and never will. He thinks she has a beautiful face, and a great body. The next time he’s beating off, it’s to an image of her.

    A month later, a friend of his is getting married. He gets invited to the bachelor party. There are risque props and lewd jokes. He gets wasted. It’s all good fun. Then the stripper shows up (of her own free will), and it’s Deepika Padukone. He watches her performance, goes home, and beats off to her again. He still doesn’t know her, and still never will.

    Now, what harm has come of that? What harm may come of that?

    Is he objectifying her? Yes.
    Does he hate her? No.
    Does he hate all women because of her? No.
    Does it skew his outlook on women? No. I don’t think people take their kids to these things. By the time you’re old enough to attend a bachelor party, your views on these matters are already firmly set, and genitalia-shaped shot glasses or strippers aren’t going to change or reinforce them.

    It’s just purely physical attraction. And that is something people experience all the time.

    Objectification of women (or men), per se, is not misogyny (or misandry). But a misogynist uses objectification as a tool to express and promote his (detestable) views. I hope that distinction is as clear as I think it is.

    Objectification of people by both sexes, done every day without any ill feeling, is nothing but fantasy. And you cannot be accused of thought crime.

    The goal of objectification isn’t a feeling of empowerment. I’m quite sure women having bachelorette parties aren’t doing it as an expression of feminist ideals. They’re just indulging in some harmless fun that women in another era might have enjoyed but couldn’t. You’re welcome to cast a disapproving eye, but in accusing them of perpetuating a practice as abhorrent as misogyny by participating in an activity so trivial, you’re just being churlish.

    • Lekha permalink
      January 5, 2013 11:24 AM

      Ah yes, the time-honoured defence of sexists: “I may treat women like they’re a piece of meat but I don’t HATE them so it’s not misogyny. Go read the dictionary.”

      While ‘misogyny’ originally meant hate of women, in today’s usage, objectification “per se” (LOL!) is also misogyny. Do read up on the controversy surrounding Julia Gillard’s speech in the Australian Parliament where the exact same criticism was levelled against her, as though the use of the word misogyny invalidated her entire speech. They actually went and fixed the dictionary after that.

      • Amar permalink
        January 5, 2013 12:55 PM

        Since it’s semantics we’re quibbling over, you may want to look up ‘sexist’, and then point out where I made a “discrimination based on gender”. Everything I said, I think I made abundantly clear, applied to both sexes. What wasn’t as clear, perhaps, (even though I put out a rider) was that your thoughts and fantasies (and not words and actions) are yours alone, and that visual stimulation aids sexual activity. The man Julia Gillard spoke out against was accused of sending out sexist text messages. I wouldn’t condone that kind of behaviour.

        Also, I share your contempt for Latin. I’m frankly quite embarrassed I used ‘per se’. Sorry about that.

    • Lakshya permalink
      January 8, 2013 2:49 PM

      The problem in our society is its deep divisiveness between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’, esp. when it comes to women. And this is reflected in mind-sets.
      You may go and watch Deepika or some other actress in an item number and be Ok about it, if you have grown up in an urban middle-class family and have gone to an English medium school, with sisters or cousins doing the same. (Just giving one scenario) Perhaps your education has somewhere (hopefully, I mean) taught you restraint, and respect for the opposite sex.
      But a guy from a lower middle-class background, a migrant laborer for instance, who watches the same show, gets attracted, does not really know how to handle or channelize his impulses, does not think about motive, etc. He thinks of the ‘item girl’ merely as a sex object, nothing more. Maybe that’s what it is meant for. But in his mind there is not just lust, there is also contempt and then judgement and then hatred. There is also frustration.These lead to far-reaching consequences for other women. Why?

      Because the women in his setting are treated as doormats, not allowed to express themselves in any way. And he gets his power and confidence in life from that. He is the product of a thoroughly patriarchal, brahminical INTERPRETATION of Indian culture that has nevertheless when it comes to the woman a common denominator: women are meant to be subjugated. So what does this lead to?
      Next when he sees a ‘modern’ woman, even if she’s just wearing jeans and going to work in a BPO, she becomes an object of his lust, as well as the other things. Her ‘modernity’ thus becomes an excuse for the would-be molester. How dare she? She must be stopped. His self-esteem, in a bizarre manner, is at risk. Isn’t this what might have happened with the Delhi girl and then the NOida case? I am talking of unconscious motives and in no way justifying this behaviour. That is why our ‘liberal’ govt. must wake up and force the police to do their job. There is no excuse for inaction, because as police you are there to do your job and are paid for it. Such crimes must be given the strictest punishment, whatever the convoluted motive may be.

      Dear friend Amar. Actions arise from thoughts. We are all inter-connected and hence responsible for each other. We do not live in isolation. Wherever and in whichever manner, women are degraded into objects, even when a woman does it, it must stop.

      Objectification of anything is not as simple as it looks like. You are divorcing the body from the ESSENCE of the person you are objectifying. And by doing so, you are unthinkingly DEVALUING. This devaluation happens whether you watch someone or do it to yourself. A stripper (male or female) may be one person but he/she is a symbol of the larger community of human beings (beyond gender) to which we all belong. Time to get back to our HUMAN roots.

      • January 12, 2013 3:54 PM

        Two things.

        Firstly, I agree about the divide between the urban and the rural, the modern and the traditional, BPO employee and migrant labourer, etc., and that it needs to be addressed, but you’re digressing. We’re talking about bachelor(ette) parties here, and I don’t think they’re very big amongst village folk yet. A typical attendee at one of these things is, I’m guessing, a young, educated, urban middle-class person who has no excuse for regarding the goings-on as anything other than entertainment, and the entertainer as anything but just that.

        Nextly, I don’t agree with the unthinking devaluation theory. At least, I hope it isn’t so. When you divorce the body from the essence, as you call it, I’d imagine you’d be aware that what you’re witnessing is part of a whole. An alluring part, no doubt, but just a part. Isn’t that very evident?

        And in all honesty, that should enhance your respect for them. Do people really sub-consciously lose respect for someone who stirs their loins? Actually, you’re right. Some people do. But the majority of us, I’d like to think, know better than to want to go out and burn effigies of Sunny Leone.

  16. Dinesh Venk permalink
    January 5, 2013 9:26 AM

    Men are not so conscious of their own gender mainly because the main discrimination and ill-treatment they face are from other men in superior positions. Often, this power means access to women. So, women may not be achieve empowerment without men achieving empowerment, and vice versa. What we need first is equality of all people.

    • Swathi Sukumar permalink
      January 5, 2013 11:06 AM

      Dinesh: You make a very valid point. Dominant masculinity is oppressive to men too, and it is important to address theories of masculinity in feminist studies.

  17. Arpan permalink
    January 5, 2013 1:45 PM

    A thought provoking article on what it is to be a sexual object and a sexual being. Yes, in the age of “literature” like shades of grey, which I hear women embrace readily, our bodies are being defined by a misogynistic culture. And we need to be alert. The space of the body is problematic, it inverts a lot of established rules. Contemplation is required. Article does a good job of making us think a little more.

  18. Doubting Thomas permalink
    January 5, 2013 2:10 PM

    One thing we can realise is that fashion as implemented in the West, is the perfect business:

    Short skirts have benefits – They force men to control themselves and tolerate women. that’s the good side. The bad side is that the person selling you the short skirt prices it high in the name of fashion and sells a third the cloth that would be needed in any other female garment. So fashion is actually the perfect business model – you sell less cloth because the woman feels liberated, the men feel titillated and the businessman sells less cloth for higher price.

    While women always love to shop for new clothes and shoes and make-up, fashion forces women to throw away recently purchased garments with the trick of peer-pressure.
    This too has its good side – women enjoy shopping, trying out a variety of garments, adding variety to their look, and when the rarely used clothes go out of fashion, they are either given away to poorer women, sold off as junk. Those clothes make it to the poorer women and girls.
    But, note that this entire engine runs on pressuring women into buying clothes that meet some imagined current fashion requirements.

    One step removed from fashion is objectification – USA has the highest number of rapes in the world – because of the rampant and vulgar objectification of women. Also, their culture doesn’t have the Rakhi and they don’t give that much significance to Raksha Bandhan.
    That has its advantage and disadvantage. Women don’t feel the need to suckle up to the brother for protection. Whereas they also don’t have brothers considering that other women are sisters of someone. To be fair, though, we don’t bother about that either. So maybe we shouldn’t really give any importance to Raksha Bandhan as an actually useful thing – obviously it doesn’t seem to produce any decent results.

    We even have a pledge in our school textbooks – All Indians are my brothers and sisters. How many of us laughed at it? Be honest to yourselves. If people actually took it seriously, at least the sisters part, that would be so awesome.

    I would say in conclusion that while our women unlearn their traditional “slave role”, they should beware of not walking into the modern western “foolish woman to be fooled and exploited” role.

    What happens if models start saying no to semi-nude poses?

    What happens if Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Bipasha Basu, Vidya Balan, Asin, and Preity Zinta start saying no to scenes where they are objectified?

    What happens if some supermodels refuse to do “hot posters”?

    What happens if some of these glamourous ladies start endorsing pepper spray products and if Shilpa Shetty produces martial arts videos to train girls in self-defense?

    What happens if a few movies are made about Indira Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu, Rani Laxmibai (good work for those who made the TV serial), Capt Laxmi Swaminathan, heck, even Jayalalitha?
    Not to mention we have scientists in ISRO who are ladies, chiefs of banks who are ladies.
    No credit for being intellectuals?

    We have just the one movie on Phoolan Devi and another Chak De. Not enough.

    There will be a 100 other women alive right now who deserve a movie – not just physical prowess, but intellectual prowess, social work and many artistic fields that women excel in.

    This is the part we don’t copy from the West – they have Eat, Pray, Love and Million dollar Baby to show among others
    We don’t even have a movie on Mary Kom or Saniya Mirza or Saina Nehwal (from Haryana nonetheless, that land of misogynist rapist goons)

    • Radical wimp permalink
      January 10, 2013 12:12 AM

      I’m not sure how better to put this, than to say that most of the icons you’re endorsing are women who have unfortunately, innately, succumbed to success that is defined in patriarchal ways. Sports stars, bank CEOs, etc are examples of that.
      Women have been so oppressed, and for so long, that very rarely have any of them been instrumental in deciding what constitutes success and what doesn’t.
      The biggest challenge that this movement (and hopefully it will culminate into a full blown one) will face is to find ideologues amongst women who have succeeded in inherently feminist ways. The problem could be that we don’t even really know what that is anymore (in India at least).
      As was depicted in English Vinglish, Sri Devi’s character’s husband devalues his wife just because she is good at making laddus. But laddu-making is one of those activities that men can never match up to women in. And therefore, in a man’s eyes, this is not to be valued or praised. Other women, instead of celebrating a laddu-making lady, are influenced by her husband and also devalue her. I don’t know about you guys, but when I bite into a laddu, rolled together with love, I melt. But in our patriarchal culture, laddu-making doesn’t compare with being a big bank CEO.
      While I do admire people like Chanda Kochhar, I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that she could be a classic product of patriarchal upbringing (don’t bother with making laddus, go be rich and powerful, because that is what liberated women do – going to Swathi’s point of replacing female liberation with a fat bank account).
      Women and feminism are in desperate need of finding what they really want and how they want to socially interact with each other and with men.

  19. beingbride permalink
    January 7, 2013 2:34 AM

    somehow I am not able to understand the point you are trying to make. But honestly i had a party and I was so annoyed that my male friends (most of my friends being men) did not get me the ‘willy cookies’ or the male dolls and there was no hint of going to anywhere called a famous show bar in a city like edinburgh and all we did was get shots after shots until I passed out. And Oh! they did not give me a T-shirt with ‘last fling before the ring’ and that was so annoying

    Personally I dont see why women cant have all the fun ! and although I do respect the views of people saying lets not objectify sexuality etc and lets not try aping the men etc but than sometimes for some people like me – it can be pure damn fun ! so lets not be judgmental about it because being judgmental and typifying is probably the biggest problem we have !

    • Swathi Sukumar permalink
      January 7, 2013 2:54 PM

      @beingbride: There’s nothing wrong with having fun. Whatever that means for each one of us. We just need to recognize that patriarchy lives and thrives within each one of us, and a challenge to patriarchal notions has to come from within, and it can never be imposed. For too long, we have thought that this is a man v. woman problem. It is not. Dominant notions of masculinity oppress men and women, heterosexuals, LGBT individuals and everyone in between. So by all means, have a grand party, but we each need to understand how our actions contribute to the giant mess we find ourselves in today.

      • beingbride permalink
        January 7, 2013 4:43 PM

        Well again i dont understand how typifying and defining what constitute ‘dominant masculinity’ would help?

  20. Shambhavi Mitra permalink
    January 7, 2013 6:21 PM

    Perhaps some women go to bachelorette parties just to have a good time and not to ‘celebrate their femininity’ or ‘act upon their empowerment’ or crap like that. More power to such women, I say. The liberated woman does as she pleases.

    • beingbride permalink
      January 7, 2013 9:40 PM

      and I guess some women are just judgmental and believe that the world should not have fun because they are not having fun or maybe they consider having fun and a good laugh and easy moments with friends is not feminine. Power to them too :)

    • Swathi Sukumar permalink
      January 7, 2013 9:50 PM

      Yes, that’s exactly what we need. People who don’t think. You’ve really cracked it.

    • Lakshya permalink
      January 8, 2013 3:07 PM

      Didn’t know that being ‘liberated’ meant being IRRESPONSIBLE. “With great power comes great responsibility”. To indirectly say that I will have my FUN, never mind the rapes and abuse of my sisters in society, is really unfortunate. This debate has been sparked off by the horrific incident, right? And if someone points out this selfish attitude, show some righteous anger and yell ‘judgmental’. If my so-called freedom results in violence somewhere, it is not freedom anymore. That way I’m free to walk on the road, waving a stick and you better keep out of my way. Wow!

      • January 8, 2013 6:24 PM

        “To indirectly say that I will have my FUN, never mind the rapes and abuse of my sisters in society, is really unfortunate.”
        What a stupid argument. Do you stop eating in restaurants because the majority of your countrymen live off less than two square meals a day. Do you sleep on the floor and avoid buying beds because there are millions of homeless people all around?

        Since when did feminism descend to moral policing other women from having fun?

  21. Samhita permalink
    January 10, 2013 12:25 PM

    I can’t reply to your post, so I’m just going to put this here. First of all thank you very much for replying so comprehensively to each of my comments. I didn’t intend what I said as a personal attack. It was more that I felt that the article didn’t accept a certain experience of female sexuality. And I probably therefore saw it as a personal attack, which is why I defined objectification. As I defined it, it doesn’t fit in with the pursuit of “perfection” that you mentioned. So I think we’re talking about different things.

    I do agree with you, we should be more imaginative in our deconstruction of gender roles. Thank you for lesbian burlesque!

  22. January 14, 2013 10:29 PM

    Hi. I think it is an interesting idea that you have explored in this article although I am a little ambivalent about certain ideas. The idea that we need to define a new way to relate to our bodies is quite a fascinating one. Although I think that this new form has to avoid commodifying the body the way capitalism does, I don’t think objectification is in itself bad or patriarchal and is infact an integral part of sexuality.

    For example during your bachelor party the stripper was reduced from a person to a commodity meant for consumption and pleasure but if say the same act of stripping was an intimate gesture done may be your spouse or partner or well just someone who likes you, then the act takes on more meaning without being demeaning to the person. The stripping for someone else’s pleasure becomes not just an act of trust and comfort (the person trusts you enough to shed their clothes in front of you) but also of love (they are willing to do it for your pleasure even though it may be scary for them to do so). In that sense I don’t think sexuality can exist without objectification. The person who is stripping is after all just an object at that time, a body (you don’t care about their personality, intellect, etc at that time) but the act becomes a meaningful expression of love and passion.

    I think capitalism has in one sense perverted pretty much all gestures by commodifying them but I am not sure of the gesture itself can or should be condemned. As I said I am ambivalent about these ideas. One could argue that the intimate gesture is actually not as meaningful as I want to believe it is coz you can get the “same” experience for a few thousand bucks. Its hard to escape that fact when engaging in any activity under capitalism let alone sexual activity. So yea! perhaps, a completely new way of being sexual. :P

    Its wonderful that you wrote about this. :)

  23. Kaveri permalink
    January 18, 2013 10:05 AM

    Very well put! However objectification of the body may not be only a “masculine” thing. It is a “power” thing at some level. To be able to treat someone as “flesh” rather than “person”. Which is scary, whether it be a man or a woman who likes to take part in this power play.

    I am in total agreement that a lot of what qualifies as success, or power, or even so-called equality is measured in misogynistic and patriarchal terms. But then, have we questioned ourselves to know what our terms are?

    After those bold women in the 60s and 70s risked being shunned, to shake the paradigm and call for equality, we have pretty much not really done much. Equality is being mistaken for sameness! We are not men. We are women. That makes us neither less nor more than men. We are just another sex of the same species. Equal but different.


  24. April 29, 2013 5:28 PM

    A very well written article. But, I don’t agree with the generalizations. As Swathi’s rightly put it, every individual must be able to express himself or herself the way he or she wishes, but who are we to be the judges of these expressions? Do men and women actually have that different aspirations? In fact, do all women have the same wishes and expectations? Swathi, human nature is extremely subjective and difficult to generalize.

    We owe the changing trend of women behaving independently to globalization and the softcore hegemony that’s helped in bringing it about. Translation: Women have realized that they can be doing whatever they want, which is in contradiction with them thinking “they can do what men do” as pointed out with you. Why can’t a woman want sexual objectification as long as it isn’t derogatory or even if it is? Why cant a woman be believed to have a mind or thoughts of her own instead of contemplating if the seed of thought in her head has been planted by a man or feminist? Again, the subjectivity factor comes in.

    I’d say these women today are actually on a very positive growth curve. They are shedding their inhibitions and opening their minds in a novel manner. I don’t see them following in anyone’s footsteps. They aren’t trying to make a point saying, “hey, we can do this too!”. They are just having a good time.

  25. December 25, 2013 11:47 PM

    Almost a year late, but nevertheless – agree with almost everything you said. If women need to slap-back with the boys, show them that we can be drunk and talk dirt, wear impractically short clothes to flaunt equality or independence; I don’t know what’s the value to such an equality. We needn’t just because we can.

We look forward to your comments. Comments are subject to moderation as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 71,863 other followers

%d bloggers like this: