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?





“…a lousy, smelly, idle, underprivileged and over sexed, status-seeking neurotic moron.”

20 07 2010

“If you are a lousy, smelly, idle, underprivileged and over sexed, status-seeking neurotic moron, give me your money…”

Recently, as we have posted below, there has been a flurry of activity by various organizations to clean up the city, and purify youthful souls, while certain discussions such as this one have also been raging idiotically across the local blog world… (although the latter has more to do with local homophobia than issues of morality.)

All this emphasis on virtue and morality is beginning to get me down. Why are we as a nation so defensive about all things sexual? And why is there a special panic button reserved for women and their virtue in particular? Do we need to be policed more than men? (One of the lovelier comments on the indecent hoardings story ran as follows: “Very good suggestion. Rape will drop quite a bit if women do not invite people to rape them by dressing indecently…”)

Now even I, with my limited understanding of feminism, know that the issues surrounding the sexual objectification of women are important in feminist theory. And most feminists would strongly object to sexist or exploitative advertising in any form. Now however I wonder – where does the feminist agenda on this issue cross with that of the moral police who are, as we speak, tearing down every hoarding or billboard in Colombo and its suburbs that has an image of a woman on it, (barring the ones portraying women wearing saris and being traditional housewives that is).

Are the feminists cheering? Or do they mourn another step towards conservatism, censorship and state control? Who decides what is indecent and who decides when it is exploitative and are the agendas simply one and the same? If not, where lies the difference?

Dharshini Seneviratne puts it much better than I could in her article ‘When media mould women’. She says:

‘Fortunately or unfortunately, cultural puritanism has meant that the local media hardly objectify the woman’s body. So even for the wrong reasons, the right thing is getting done. Unlike in the western film and television circles, where women are filmed in a particularly sexist way that focuses on parts of their body, Sri Lankan films largely avoid these portrayals (except in sex scenes) mostly for cultural reasons. Because it is ‘bad’ to do so. Not, mind you, because of feminist arguments that object to the same thing because it demeans the female through the objectification of the body. But beauty queen contests and highly ‘sophisticated’ advertising in Sri Lanka continue to ape the West in this sense.”

So is there then, such a great difference between someone vaguely claiming that advertisements portraying women are ‘bad’ (or ‘against our culture’) and another stating clearly that ‘they demean the female through the objectification of the body’?

When the end result is censorship, it all seems to conspire towards reducing women’s freedom and power, not increasing it.

Maybe the problem is with an unsophisticated and uneducated consumer and people simply need to grow up and learn to view advertising as something generally manipulative and devious; not to be taken seriously and never to be considered as anything more than an appeal to the “lousy, smelly, idle, underprivileged and over sexed, status-seeking neurotic moron” in all of us.





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?