Sage advice (not)

Updated: Feb 23, 2020, 08:09 IST | Paromita Vohra | Mumbai

In a college in Bhuj, 60 young women were asked to remove their panties to prove that they were not menstruating. How should we deal with these recurrent stinky blasts of outlandish sexist theories?

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Paromita VohraEvery now and then a man in robes utters something nonsensical about women's roles and bodies. In a college in Bhuj, 60 young women were asked to remove their panties to prove that they were not menstruating. Subsequently it emerged that a Swaminarayan guru, followed by the college board, had said women who cook while menstruating will be reborn as 'kutri' or bitches.

How should we deal with these recurrent stinky blasts of outlandish sexist theories?

How about by barely engaging with them? Here's why.

Sure, these are people who have the power to influence their followers. But does anyone really imagine that attacking them will change their followers' minds? If anything, in these polarised times, it will only strengthen the loyalty of their followers, while amplifying their message. Yet, led by the cult of Swami Clickbait, yaniki the media, we all intone OMG, sometimes in sarcasm, sometimes in outrage.

At a certain historical moment, witty and sarcastic responses, like the Pink Chaddi campaign, held political potency. Their unexpectedness, shifted the paradigm. In the time of social media, the responses of snark, online contempt and manipulated virality, often keep discussions circular and binary. They become moral referendums, masquerading as 'your voice' rather than enabling discussions.

Gatekeepers of tradition homogenise women. When we meet them in their paradigm, we risk homogenising women too. All those who menstruate are not alike and nor are all menstrual cycles alike. Some breeze through it. Some experience inordinate pain and depression and the last thing they want is to play tennis in white pants or serve up their menstrual cycle at the altar of capitalist girl-power messages. While everyone encounters the hush-hush around periods, menstrual segregation is absent in some homes, shockingly prevalent in others. Some people are still using cloths dried covertly, hence never properly hygienic. Sanitary napkins have their own environmental implications that need to be resolved. Some women are able to scoff at all of this. Some can't imagine that possibility.

Most women do not really know what a healthy period might be, whether it is just their lot to bleed till they are dizzy or whether they have PCOS, endometriosis or a related menstrual medical issue. Why? Because we are never able to take the conversation away from taboo or not taboo.

In the scorn about Swami Whatsit's views, the women whose privacy and bodily dignity was violated have slid to the margins of the discussion. We risk exacerbating the shame and hurt their own communities are causing them—for women often get blamed for bringing shame through public exposure—rather than offering an alternative inclusive and helpful frame, which focuses on their rights, instead of gender generalisations.

Why should anyone have the right to strip another person? These invasions on bodies, society and state feel free to visit on women, trans people, minorities and Dalits. This discussion should be about the violation of these rights and bodily autonomies. Without diffusing its particularity, it needs to be linked to the variegated cruelties and restrictions visited on young women seeking education, mobility and freedom in the world. Let us strengthen the freedoms we uphold and value and give zero minutes to so-called sages and judgy vasudevas whose #BoreMatKarYaar theories are born from their clingy desire for power, from their fear and loathing of women's bodies, desires and freedoms.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at paromita.vohra@mid-day.com

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