The way they look at women…

14 12 2010

I’ve always thought that nothing can cause more teeth-grinding than men being lecherous about women. Staring hard at the line of hip of a woman in a sari. Leering at women in shorts. Commenting greedily on the way the woman who passed by ‘was wagging her bottom and asking for it’. Sharing pictures via blue tooth of women with their boobs out. When I finally met the phrase ‘male gaze’ I was delighted. An actual name for these demeaning actions!

And then, imagine my relief when I started spending more and more time with women, away from those lecherous eyes and comments. Imagine my delight when I started spending more and more time with women who desire women. Now I would be far away from the ‘I sent you that photo, the one with all tits out’, ‘check it out, check it out, the piece in the short skirt’, and ‘she’s like a bicycle machan, anyone can ride’.

But no. Obviously, some women look at other women the same way most men look at women, because I still hear these comments and I still see these looks and I am still invited to gather around and look at the bodies uncovered by the bikinis and advertisements with luscious women. What a way to find out another example of the use of the masculine as the universal third person pronoun. Male didn’t actually mean male. Only. Lesbians can also do the male gaze.





What you fear you will become…

28 11 2010

“…our patriarchy is so elegantly engineered that women themselves voluntarily do much of the dirty work of oppression, so greatly do they enjoy and freely choose dudecentricity as the logical conclusion of their natural-born femininity. Many Western women hardly need more than the occasional implied threat to keep them on their little painted toes…”

Patriarchy on autopilot

I think the above refers to straight Western women and how they sometimes ‘choose’ oppression, hardly even realising it. But I wonder if there’s more to it  than that…

Why is it that butch dykes often cultivate the walk, the talk and the style of men? And why does male fashion so often dictate butch fashion as well? That is, pants, long sleeved shirts, boots…

If we reject the male and the masculine in all its forms, (do we?) why do we still slavishly acquire all the trappings and accessories of outward masculine appearance?

And it isn’t always just the outward that we acquire. Butch women often manifest many of the controlling behaviours, sexist attitudes and perceptions that men hold towards women in general. Exactly which man becomes a role model is often unclear, or why, but that the model is masculine is beyond doubt.

So why do so many lesbians occupying different positions on the scale of butchness so often feel the need to mimic male behaviours, while frequently claiming to reject the entire male species at many levels? Is this about comfort? Convenience? Or the seizing of a model that is obviously freer, more liberated and comfortable with itself than the one we are born into? Are we simply trying to trade places?

If we as lesbians reject so many male values and behaviours – an entire system of patriarchal oppression in fact – (one which is more apparent and obvious in our region than most), why then are we driven to ape that which we reject?

Do we even see what we are doing and how we buy into the masculine role model all the time?

Oppression elegantly engineered, indeed…





porn today – gone tomorrow!!

6 11 2010

The Daily Mirror reported that the Colombo Fort Magistrate has ordered police headquarters to publish in the newspaper photos of local men and women appearing in Web based porn sites. According to the Magistrate, they want to track these people and identify and punish them!

Bull shit!

What will the lives of these people be like once they are identified? The court punishment is one thing, but what about the ostracism they will receive from the wider community? Can they ever safely live in Sri Lanka again? What will their livelihoods be? How will the consequences for women be greater than those for men?

Furthermore, have they no realization that doing such a thing is not going to deter the making of porn, the demand for porn or from other people entering porn films? This is all assuming that those who are featured in the newspapers are willing participants in the movies. But we all know that there are many young people who are forced into such things, black mailed, and coerced. Some are even trafficked into the sex trade. And many are underage. Some are filmed without their knowledge. So basically what we are doing here is re-victimizing the victims. Is this the best way to address the problem? The government’s approach will only make it more difficult to help those who were coerced into the porn industry. A more productive policy would seek to reduce stigma to assure that those who are willing participants have proper access to medical care and those who were forced to participate could access resources that would help them reintegrate into their communities and rebuild their lives.

In Uganda, some 100 photos of gay men were published in a newspaper – apparently to shame them – so we are going the Uganda way or what?





Pass me the plate with a red herring on it

19 10 2010

I read comments with more interest than the news itself! It happens all the time, like this morning when I read about the GMOA statement that male nurses shouldn’t enter labour rooms and that (female) patients should be able to choose. We don’t seem to have moved far from the time Elizabeth Blackwell tried to become a doctor. Many things about this news article bothered me.

If we ask for gender equality/equity  in employment, male nurses must be as acceptable as female doctors, engineers and mechanics. If one kind of trained employee (i.e. nurse) is not acceptable in a specific setting (i.e. labour room) because they are men, then shouldn’t other trained employees who are men also be asked to exit that setting? How is it ok for as many males to enter the labour room as gynaecologists but not even one male to enter the labour room as a nurse (or heaven forbid, an attendant) ?

It appears to me then, that this is what we must do. Let us allow the more privileged male to enter labour rooms but not the less privileged male. And let us not even point out the heterosexist nature of that discussion that has taken place because the next thing we know, the GMOA will want every nurse – male or female – to report on their sexual behaviour.

And above all, let us not encourage or demand professional behaviour or better systems in place to prevent abuse of patients in case we lose sight of that lovely red herring called ‘women’s dignity’.





You might as well be straight!

7 08 2010

Strange things flash about your mind while doing the most mundane things. Like when I was toasting bread this morning and remembered me’s cartoon on the butch-o-sphere. And it struck me in one clear line why I dislike butches (and other women but mostly butches) taking butchness too far.

IT IS NOT PLAY

Half the time I can’t say why I am attracted to the women I am attracted to. I don’t know why, but I can say what I like. A woman’s body in men’s clothing. Make up on a butch woman. But when it gets to the point where the lines are too clearly drawn it is not play anymore. ‘Eeek this is girly’ and ‘oh you are wearing flowery prints’ and ‘eewww look at your hairstyle, it’s too femme’ becomes the same as masculine vs feminine becomes the same as male vs female. When you stop playing, you might as well be straight!





National radio. WTF?

31 07 2010

A man gets into bed and taps his wife on the shoulder incessantly, wanting sex. His wife says no, she has to see the gynecologist the next morning and would like to be fresh and clean for the appointment. The man turns over grumpily but a while later is back tapping her shoulder again.

But you’re not going for your dental checkup tomorrow morning are you? he says.

End of joke. Ha ha ha.

Anyone would imagine that I overheard this joke at the rugby club or walking past one of those groups of balding, middle aged men holding onto their black label and chuckling at some Colombo party. But I didn’t. I heard that joke on national radio.

This is not the first time or the most obnoxious thing I’ve heard on the radio either, by far. And it’s not a characteristic of any one station. I hear the same insensitive, ignorant, racist patronising bullshit every time I turn the radio on…morning, noon and night.

So as if it’s not hard enough dealing with the inane chatter and slapstick humor that seem to be all one gets these days on every station, now you may also tune in to your sexist joke of the day. It seems to be standard material on many local radio shows. If you’re lucky, you will also get to hear the dj doing really funny Indian voices with lots of loud shouting in exaggerated accents. Ha ha ha.

What the fuck?





What a woman can be and cannot be

8 07 2010

https://aappathachchiya.wordpress.com/2009/09/04/gender-test/

For the last year I have been intently following the story of Caster Semenya. (For those of you who don’t know who she is,see earlier blog post linked above).

Well at last the South African world 800 metres champion was cleared to compete in athletics – as a woman.  The IAAF have concluded medical tests to ‘prove that Semenya is a woman and she is now being allowed to compete in the sport she loved. Thankfully as well, the medical details of the case remain confidential and the IAAF will make no further comment on the matter! Three cheers for confidentiality and dignity.

To Caster Semenya – you are an inspiration to more people than you realize. Thanks for turning on its head everyone’s ideas of what a woman can be and cannot be.





Like a virgin

30 06 2010

Did you know…that the hymen is named after Hymenaios, who was the Greek god of weddings and marriages?

And do you know what thousands of young women in Sri Lanka are anxious about?
It’s virginity.

A young woman once wrote to me saying “I am a 19 year old girl. I’m getting married in three months to a boy that my parents have found for me. I am bit nervous about the marriage and the customs. Can you tell me how I can know about virginity?”

Working with young people, I get asked a lot of strange questions but this one was tough to answer, not least because this is something I so rarely think about! I was saddened to learn that even in this day and age women are expected to ‘prove’ their virginity. This involves having intercourse on a white sheet, (or on the man’s new white sarong, worn at the wedding). The sheets are later examined by the bride’s in-laws and the bloodstains will decide her fate. If the sheets are clean, there is a problem.

The very idea freaked me out, but more than that I was intensely disturbed that in the 21st century this sort of thing still happens. So I wrote to her saying that as far as I knew virginity refers to whether a person has ever had sexual intercourse. If they have not, they are virgins. The only real way one can know if a person is a virgin is if they tell you. Of course some people associate virginity with the breaking of the hymen in a woman.

People also believe that all women are born with a hymen. (The fact is that about 0.03% of women are born without a hymen.). And as the hymen has perforation anyway, it technically doesn’t need to be broken.

But besides all this scientific information about the hymen and virginity, I told her the real problem was how the concept of virginity is often used as a means of controlling women’s sexuality. People holding power over women’s lives including parents, older relatives and community leaders, often control how a woman proves if she is a virgin and how important this is in her life as well. This is dangerous because virginity is then equated with morality and virtue. People who have never had sex before marriage are not necessarily better, cleaner or more virtuous human beings than those who have. Virginity has always been used to  judge and control women and this cannot be just or right.

This was the real message I wanted to give her but I wondered how, even if she received it, she would deal with the inevitability of her wedding night blues?





Superstitious sex

30 03 2010

As we have all discussed on this blog so often and as we all know, Sri Lankan society is deeply conservative and superstitious, and matters of sex and sex education have always been taboo subjects, mostly viewed with suspicion, shame and fear. There is also the belief that sex education leads to more sex.

As a result and as we have also ranted here, there are widespread problems of inappropriate, predatory and ignorant male behaviour both in public and private situations which every Sri Lankan woman would have experienced to some degree.

It is very clear that we need massive changes in attitudes towards sex and reproduction, starting from the top – through government policy, educators and parents. And one very important factor of change would obviously be educating young people about desire, sex and sexual health so that they can be comfortable with these concepts and reach a more liberal and informed position from which to deal with these issues in their lives. This would help empower people by teaching them to manage their own desires and not resort to masturbating in public, for example!

Part of my work allows me to advocate for this. It is a very complex and controversial field to work in and very challenging as well, but I do have a passion for it.

Recently I conducted a workshop with some young people from Anuradhapura and Vavuniya. Initially the boys were very forthcoming and open while the girls were much more reserved. But on the second day things changed and the girls started talking more freely. One of the activities that helped us break through the silence was this: we asked the group to each make a list of all the myths they knew regarding the subject of sexual desire and function. We then analysed and discussed each one. What we discovered was that almost all of them were designed to increase people’s fear and caution around matters of sexual interaction. Here are some of the things I learned:

Masturbation makes you thin.
Masturbation gives you acne.
Fat women cannot give a man satisfaction.
If you have pre-marital sex you will faint away upon entering the marriage poruwa.
Eating pineapple can induce an abortion.
How to increase penis size (1): Watch the sun set into the sea very intently. At the exact moment the last rays fade into the ocean, quickly throw sand in your mouth.
How to increase penis size (2): Tie a rock to it, using string.

Feel free to comment and add to this list if you can!





A small moan…

2 03 2010