Rape is not a compliment

1 04 2011

Rape and sexual harassment are not compliments doled out only to the beautiful and alluring. They are an extreme form of bullying, and they can, tragically, happen to anyone.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/30/rape-is-not-a-compliment?INTCMP=SRCH





How to Eat a Wolf

26 10 2010

– Sharanya Manivannan

Does all lust start and
end like this? Don’t get me
wrong. I loved my wolf.
I held him tethered like
a pussycat. I nursed
the rumble in his belly
with hands gentle as a burglar’s.
He lived on milk
and blood and ocean. He
had violets for his furs.

It’s just that he was
beginning to devour me.
He nuzzled me with claws,
fondled me with fangs
sharp as yearning
He snaked a tongue so
hungry in its kiss it
turned my body to salt.

How do you douse a
dervish swirl? I asked.
Devour it, you said.

So I fantasised
about eating his balls,
rolling them in semolina
seeds and roasting them
golden. I got blooddrunk
on the thought of the
crisp tender cartilage of his ear,
left to simmer in tequila
and cilantro. The dry teats turned
sweet when baked with cinnamon
applesauce, or drizzled with chocolate.
The tangy musk of austerely steamed eyelid.

I set traps.

Mine is the deepest void,
the deepest void you’ll ever know.
And so I lured him to a well.
A wolf can drown in its own
wetness. But mine swam
and lapped and doggypaddled
until I waded back in to get him.

Mine is the darkest smoulder,
the darkest smoulder you’ll ever know.
And so I conspired to let him burn.
A wolf can poach in its own juices.
But mine danced on coals and leapt
ablaze, until I pussyfooted back in to get him.

I became desperate.
I preached to my wolf
about suicide, proselytized
about reincarnation. Come back
as a sleepy kitten, I said.
Come back as a hibernating bear.
Come back as a snail with a flag trail of surrender.
But my love was indefatigable. It was
volcano and oceanic tremor. It was a black lace bra and
too much jazz at 3 a.m.
My love was as big as betrayal.
I pleaded and pleaded until

you finally looked up and said,
You can only kill a wolf
you don’t want to have,

and only then did I see that

your love
was exactly
the size of two fists.

http://sharanyamanivannan.wordpress.com/

Sharanya Manivannan was born in India on 30 July 1985 and grew up in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. She lives in Kuala Lumpur and Chennai. She is well-known for both her unique bilingual (English, Tamil) writing and performances. She is well-known as the first and only writer to use both languages in Malaysia’s modern underground independent writers’ community. She has received positive remarks about her writing from international writers such as Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Indran Amirthanayagam, Francesca Beard, Shreekumar Varma and Laksmi Pamuntjak.





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’.





Vasopressin shots for ALL lesbians, please!

13 08 2010

I am a little put out. I was reading up on this Casanova gene: the VASOPRESSIN RECEPTOR GENE. Yep. You don’t know what that is? These Casanova dykes are hiding it. That’s why you never heard of it. Here’s what it is: a vasopressin receptor is a cell surface receptor which binds vasopressin, which is a peptide hormone that controls the reabsorption of molecules in the tubules of the kidneys by affecting the tissue’s permeability and affects the central nervous system in such a way that it initiates and sustains activity supporting pair-bonds between sexual partners. Righti-ho.

Translated, it means the vasowhatever is a gene which makes you either stay faithful or fuck around. Men may be influenced by it and voles definitely have it (sounds absolutely perfect, that vole-male connection). Lady voles, on the other hand, have Oxytocin (fondly called OT by scientists) that make them prone to such things as staying with their first love and looking after everyone (i.e. men and babies).

But we need research to be absolutely sure that we humans have it too. So some committed scientists have patiently got hold of a number of Swiss men, unravelled their DNA, asked them and their wives/girlfriends questions like “How often do you kiss your mate?” and “Have you discussed a divorce or separation with a close friend?” and voilà! Link found between the vasowhatever and human stable long-term relationships (as in over 5 years). That’s us baby, humans.

My non-lizzy sisters. Now you know. You thought it was some woman’s short skirt and the famed 64 seduction techniques, but you don’t have to blame it on your fellow women anymore. Neither do you have to castigate yourself for his straying. Some of these poor things have the short end of the gene and it makes them absolutely need to have sex with someone nice that they see. (If you are already with one of them, don’t worry, I think an antidote is being developed).

And this is when it started smelling fishy. For my lesbean self, that is.

Lizzy sisters. Some honesty is in order here. That dyke you said can’t stay with someone for more than a year? And that really hot woman who just had to hit the dance floor to pull a girl (in a straight nightclub, for fuck’s sake!)? What about the lizzy friend you caught making eyes at your girl? Obviously there is a place I can get these vasowhatever shots in our community. Put ‘em on the table, girls! Not fair.





First love…

2 08 2010

1.

I had two first loves. The first first love happened when I was 13. The second was when I was 25. The second first love had more of a life impact on me, so I will make that one the subject of my contribution to this post….

I was 25 and she was a year older than me. It was the first lesbian experience for both of us, so it was all very intense and consuming. We were good friends before we became lovers. We were both straight at that time and we both had boy friends. None of our friends knew and neither did our parents. (However her mother found out towards the end of our relationship.) We were together for two years before we broke up. During our relationship we read sad lesbian stories and books where the gay or lesbian character would often die at the end. Our favourite was ‘Lihaf – the Quilt’ – a short story by Ismat Chugtai. We both loved the sea and spent a great deal of our leisure time in the water…

It took us an age to break up…and even when we stopped being lovers, we continued to see each other as friends. Trying to keep up a pretence of friendship when you still desire someone is not a good idea. It was very difficult and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

(Next time it has to be a clean break and no seeing the ex for a good while I told myself!)

Are we still friends? Yes we are. Not the best of friends but friends nonetheless.

Sometimes when I see her I am reminded of our old relationship, but we never talk about it or discus it. I think an old flame is easily rekindled, especially the first. But we have never gone back. Some things are best left alone.

2.

As above, I have two first loves. Or I should, because I came to loving women later in life. But I spent the last few days trying to remember which boy or man I first fell in love with, and I can’t! I suppose falling in love with a boy is not really a life changing experience.

When I first met the woman I fell in love with I had no idea I would fall in love with her. If someone had told me at the time that I would fall in love with a woman half a dozen years later, I would have laughed. Some things become significant only after events have unfolded. Memories are strained through a sieve then. The sand is allowed to fall through and checked for specks of gold. The shiny stuff is kept separately.

What is chronological time when you measure feelings? At the time I used to think that we went our separate ways too soon, but maybe it was just right, that time. When the beautiful die young they are forever beautiful. Pardon my macabre sense of humor. But because there were beautiful things in it, we could remain friends. The shiny flecks could be sifted for gold and it didn’t have to be all thrown away. Why would you want to send away someone who knows you far better than most people around you, listens to the stupidest things you’ve done without judging you and gives you a hug when things are really bad? Such friends are fine gold, and I keep them close.

3.

I remember the first time I saw her.

It was such a long time ago, or so it seems to me now. Maybe that depends on the event too…and on the person. The distance and space it all acquires as time passes and you move on from your self. From the way you were then, the thoughts that passed through your head and the feelings that moved your heart and hands. The way you remember things sifting, shifting and maybe taking on qualities they never had at the time.

I couldn’t swear to any of it. What I am now is so different in every way, it could have all been a dream. There are doors in my head though, that were not there before, and I have to open a great number of them, one leading to the other like Russian dolls, deeper and deeper, into the very heart of myself, till I reach that place where I look at what I saw once and then lost and I feel the first tear burn my skin like fire.

But the pain that I imagined infinite then, has passed of course and I remember all of those events as a learning experience only, as a time in my life when I was transformed, and that is enough. I do not ask any more of it, of her, of myself now. It has been such a relief to forget, to cease wondering, to enjoy every moment of every day without waiting for the day I look up, look around and see her there again.

But when it was happening it was a continuing story in my mind, with all the passion and fire of any script, any song, any poem, any tale told to any child or lover. For it is mine, you see. It is part of my story and I am it.





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?





Whorephobia

24 06 2010

Whorephobia affects all women.
Women are brought up to think of sex workers as ‘bad women’. It stops them taking advantage of many freedoms…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jun/23/sex-workers-whorephobia





The need to pee

7 12 2009

Sometimes, when I need to pee badly and have no access to a toilet, I find myself wishing I was a man. It’s the only moment in my life that I really and truly wish I was a man and could piss while standing up. However, having said that, I must admit that whenever I see a man standing by the road with his arse half bare, pissing onto the stump of a tree or someone’s white wall or the foot of the road sign, I’m tempted to shout “Chee, chee!” (and I have often done this, to the dismay of my friends.)

But seriously, why do so many men piss on the roads as if they were in a public toilet? There are some corners of this city where the smell of human urine is so overpowering one can hardly keep from gagging. Yet, it is a perfectly accepted activity with no shame or penalty attached to it. So how can we get men to stop pissing on the road in public view as if the city was one big public lavatory?

I grant the fact that the rarity of public toilets in this country is the major factor in this problem, but is that good enough reason to expose oneself to every passerby? Surely women need to piss as often as men? But can you imagine the uproar if one of us decided to squat on the roadside and piss?

So what’s the difference? Apart from the fact that it is one of those gross things that men just like to do (along with gaping, belching, farting and scratching their balls in public), it is also because men are free to please themselves in this as in so much else, whereas women must be constantly responsible, well-behaved and submissive to every rule and tradition – social, political, personal. However idiotic, irrational, cruel or unjust, we must toe the line. The rules and regulations, such as they are, are all designed to privilege the male over female in all things great or small.

Now this is not an argument for women to win the freedom to piss in public. We wouldn’t be using that particular freedom even if we were encouraged to. But it is just one more example of the numerous ways in which South Asian Men are privileged over women, with no sense of responsibility or accountability for virtually anything they do.





Gender test?

4 09 2009

A South African athlete Caster Semenya has been asked to take a gender test by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)….

Now what is a gender test?  Isn’t it a sex test they are trying to do? They want to know if she is a man or woman. Why don’t they just ask her and her parents (since she just turned 18) – is Semenya a girl or boy?

The same thing happened to the Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan – she –  unfairly and unjustly – was stripped of her medal in 2006. What did she do? She tried to kill herself. That’s what this kind of public scrutiny makes people do.  And we all know how easy suicide is as an option amoung young sri lankans.

If Semenya has grown up a women and she believes she is a woman then she IS a woman – this has nothing to do with her gender – which is separate from her sex. If the IAAF had any doubts as to whether she was a man or woman, they should have done their tests BEFORE she was allowed to compete insead of embarrasing her and making a big deal out of it.

Besides, this notion that sex is only dual is so archaic and not in touch with the reality of today. What about the hijras in india – are they male or female? This idea that people have to either male or female is old fashioned and redundant. Only nations and organisations who live in the last century think along these conservative lines. Today’s world is much more complicated and we need to accept this and get with the programme…

more on Semenya: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/08/is-the-south-african-runner-a-man-or-a-woman.html





What does it mean to be a man?

11 08 2009

There are some dominant characteristics that constitute being a man in south Asia. Being physically strong and attractive, being the protector, the leader, the chief decision maker, being sexually successful and being heterosexual are just some of them. These definitions are commonly referred to as Masculinities. The plural form “masculinities” conveys that there are many definitions for being a man and that these can change over time and from place to place.

These dominant forms of masculinities are instilled in men from birth onwards and perpetuated by men and women, mothers and fathers, in schools and on the streets, throughout a mans life. Once instilled, men are required to constantly prove their manliness. Men are taught from an early age that to be a successful leader you must be ready to put up a fight. Adolescent boys for example think they are proving their manliness by engaging in risky behavior, like driving too fast and too rash, or drinking and driving, or proving them selves to their friends by going through with certain dares. Ragging in universities is a good example of this in Sri Lanka. Some men consider beating their wives an expression of their manliness. Many young men are initiated into sex by their friends. Some are forced to visit sex workers whether they like it or not and rarely refuse for fear they will be considered less of a man.

These aspects of masculinity are encouraged to prevail for a man to be a “real man” and are endorsed by key institutions, such as in business, politics, the military and in sports. Such institutions are structured and designed around these masculine roles making it extremely difficult for women to play a leadership role. We see this from the few number of women in parliament in Sri Lanka for example.

However, these behaviors have a cost to society. Ragging for example has lead to countless closures of our Universities and even to the death of some students, most notably S. Varapragash in 1997. Drunk driving and the resultant injuries and deaths from road related accidents amount to millions of rupees in losses. These are costs that can be easily avoided, lives that can be saved.

What if a man were to develop and take on characteristics that are not those of the dominant man, if he were to become for instance a secretary, or a kinder garden teacher, or a nurse, would that make him less of a man? At least as women we are given the choice today to either wear pants or skirts, to work and pursue a career or to stay home and bear children or both. A young girl can be a tomboy and get away with it, but a boy who is sissy is called a “sothiya” a “ponnaya”, laughed at and taunted. A man who is not naturally aggressive or competitive is forced to pretend to be or face scorn. In fact, “feminized men” are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Studies in our neighboring countries India and Bangladesh show that feminized men are more likely to be abused as adolescents, most often by members of their own family. They are also more likely to harm themselves and commit suicide than their peers. It seems like the worst insult one man can hurl at another is the accusation that a man is like a woman.

One reason for this is that women are less valued than men in our society. We know from the rates of female infanticide across the region that this is true. The girl child is seen more as a burden and liability to the family. When compared to boys, girls are less valued hence less educated, less fed, given less opportunities, confined and treated as less than human in many instances. Our culture and the rituals associated with it celebrate the male child, while a daughter’s arrival is not half as jubilant.

Certain jobs associated with caring and rearing, are considered too demeaning for men to do, almost unclean and dirty.

But no man can possibly live up to the dominant characteristics of being a man all the time and still be human. As a society we expect too much from men. We expect them to be super human; men are looked down upon if they show emotion or if they cry, men are expected to do tough physical jobs, they must succeed at all costs, they are expected to be assertive, to know all about sex and how to perform in bed (in reality young boys get even less sex education that young girls[1])  We place too much pressure on men. And if men cant live up to the pressures we place on them, they turn to other ways to vent their frustrations like drinking, violence, abuse and the like.

As a society we need to redefine what it means to be a man. This will not only allow men to develop deep and rich connections with others, including women and children but also with other men. These connections are what make life full and rewarding, but they require vulnerability. We need to allow men to explore their softer side without being ridiculed and tormented instead of narrowing their emotional range and depth. This will be good, not just for men, but for women too. By redefining what it means to be a man, there will be less violence against women and more harmony between the sexes.


[1] In a recent review of the Millennium Development Goal indicators for young people from 9 countries in Asia, no country reported more than 50percent level of sexual knowledge among boys with some countries reporting as low as 3percent. Redefining AIDS in Asia, 2008