Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sexual Frivolousness and Innuendos: Freedom of Speech or Peddling Insensitivity in the Name of Humour of One Kind or Another?

I must admit that this blog is instigated by what I have been hearing recently, comments such as ‘It is too difficult to open my mouth front of you’, ‘I’m scared to speak in front of you’, and then the last night I read a frivolous insinuation/references to bestiality and drunken orgy. It angers me, fills me with disgust and tells me something about the person. For a while, it makes me doubt the people I associate with, work with or share my life with. All the more when it comes from people who are development workers or who speak of rights.

I have often heard people recounting second or third person account of trauma of rape or child sexual abuse that another person they know, has gone through. The retelling usually has the reteller in a saviour or compassionate role, somebody who lent support or is lending understanding and support. And the next thing I come across is completely casual or frivolous conversation replete with sexual desperation, titillation and filled with sexual innuendos. Such comments or way of communicating are meant to be about harmless fun, genuine humour, about making light of ??? and being able to talk in a relaxed manner.

Let me say that, in my view, sexual insinuation or jokes and communication filled with sexual similes are not funny. They are outright offensive and insensitive, to say the least. Do these people realize that when they are retelling another’s trauma, they are robbing that person’s right to tell her own story and tell it to the people she would like to tell and not some random individual or group? I think not. Do they realize that they may be triggering trauma to survivors of sexual violence? I think not. And when they talk in a sexually insinuating manner, do they realize that they are reinforcing insensitive stereotypes, myths, sexual perversion and indulging in cheap titillation. I think not; as I hear, it comes under the ‘freedom of speech’ and being able to be themselves. Being themselves, yes definitely, they are being themselves.

Do I object because I feel that nobody has a right to make light of or a casual conversation out of somebody else’s trauma? Yes, it is one of the reasons. Nobody has a right to expose somebody else's life and identity and put himself/herself in a do-gooder position by recounting something in second or third person. I do feel that the freedom of speech is being abused when language becomes the vehicle of transporting stereotypes and of sustaining perversion. I feel that nobody has a right to joke about sexual abuse when they no idea of what it means to be abused sexually.

I have been told that women of my kind are hyper sensitive about sexual jokes and innuendos. Yes, I am and I know so many others who are, even when they do not say it. Such language or communication is uncomfortable even when they appear funny to the person talking. For anybody with access to information sources, it is impossible not to be aware that vast numbers of women and children across the world are sexually abused and kept in sexual slavery. So why is it so hard for them to understand that they might be triggering further trauma or trying to make light of a widely prevalent form of human rights violation? And if they can’t mind their thinking and language, and reform their way of thinking and behaving for the sake of protection of women’s and children’s right to be free from sexual violence, what sort of belief do they have in human rights?! Just simple thinking of how they feel when they come across ‘making light’ of a behaviour that they had to face. If they do so, even if sexual abuse may not be something experienced by them, they can, at least, imagine how it would feel, because they would know how a similar behaviour when directed at them, feels to them.

Many women do not react to such sexualised communication and children fall in the no-right-to-speak zone. They may take it as a given way of talking and communicating but does that take away the need to change this way of thinking and talking? No, it doesn’t. A form of abuse or perpetuation of an environment that sustains abuse should not continue because the world is quiet about it or there isn’t enough ‘mainstream noise’ about it. One abuse is too many and calls for reform.

Sexual jokes and innuendos, whether coming from women or men, are not about things that are only matters of pleasure, they are not only about things that happens out there, somewhere unaffected by our own beliefs and conduct, to people who don’t really mind this kind of communication or are a good-sport-to-take-it-in-a-good-spirit (as I have heard sometimes). Sexual jokes and innuendos reveal the speaker, they are about me and many women and children around me who have seen sexual abuse day in and out, in public and private, and they are about how much violated and angry we feel about it. As a woman who has grown up being pawed in public transport and streets, ignoring sexual gestures from fellow commuters and others, dealing with the abuse faced by self and working with those who faced such abuse, I do not believe that sexual frivolousness or innuendos are about individual liberties or the freedom of speech.

I can’t even remember how often I have ignored such communication, often in public life and sometimes in personal realm. And I hate myself when I keep quiet. I feel my tiredness is letting me down, that I am being a person of acute double standards. And sometimes, this builds up and I jump with such revolt and anger that later I feel that I should have given the benefit of doubt to the offensive person, that s/he didn’t really mean to be a pervert or promiscuous. I feel that I could have tried explaining to the person that the joke/innuendos/behaviour was not funny. But experience also tells me that not all are willing to think that their way of thinking and the absolutist sense of their right to act and talk the way they want, makes them feel that it is an infringement of their individual freedom. Sometimes their resentment is quite obvious.

I just don’t understand how sexual frivolousness and insinuations can even qualify as humour or fun. Something that can violate a relationship of trust, care and protection or violate the bodily and mental integrity of another person, even in my wildest imagination, cannot count as wit. Crash crudeness, may be.

I wish, sincerely, that people would see this as an issue, first, of being aware of the abusive dimensions and sensitivity that awareness calls for, and second, of questioning that why jokes and titillation are usually at the cost of those who are socio-politically weak or rendered silent by the social structures. Why something that is atrocity and violence against some, can be normalised as a spicy way of talking?

Awareness means going beyond reading about abuse and meeting people who were abused. It is about understanding the extent to which their way of communication may contribute to the prevalence of an environment of abuse and in normalizing such behaviour and communication. They need to slap themselves hard in their brains, each time it tells them to behave or talk in a certain way that is offensive. Otherwise they would never see that they are part of the patriarchal pack; it would not cross their mind that their way of behaving or talking may be the norm but not necessarily right. Oversights and lapses are not meant to be reoccurring and if they tend to be, they reveal that the person is either abusive even when not accepting it or that the person prefers to keep clouded vision because they actually derive pleasure despite knowing that they are causing harm.

When people can make an effort to gain knowledge about how, for example, trade systems can aggravate poverty; I do not understand why they do not try to understand that their sexually frivolous behaviour and innuendos reinforce the patriarchal claim over women and children’s bodies? How is it possible that the people who study, decipher and advocate theories of poverty, development and change, peace and conflict, fail to see that the established norms of ‘personal’ or social behaviour and communication legitimize the option of not thinking, not understanding and not seeing the effects of their sexually insinuating behaviour and communication; that it gives them a choice not to change. Women and men, who behave or talk in this manner, may not be against women’s or children’s rights but they need to see the connection between their intentions and consequent actions.

Sphere: Related Content
Sexual Frivolousness and Innuendos: Freedom of Speech or Peddling Insensitivity in the Name of Humour of One Kind or Another?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend