Saturday, October 25, 2008

(Statue of Aka Mahadevi,. Source : Wikipedia )

“Artistic experience lies so incredibly close to that of sex, to its pain and its ecstasy, that the two manifestations are indeed but different forms of one and the same yearning and delight” (Poet Rilke)


Ariel Levy, in her book “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture”, states that there are two types of feminists: "lipstick feminists" and "loophole women." According to Levy, lipstick feminists believe, for example, that stripping is empowering and that putting on a show to attract men (be it through makeup, clothing, or girl-on-girl gyration) is not contrary to the goals and ideals of feminism. Levy disagrees with this view .It is interesting to find that the Play boy magazine and the Femina (the magazine which sponsored and organized beauty contest for India ) are run by women .Levy named these as "raunch culture" in which women internalize objectifying male views of themselves and other women.
The feminist like Catharine MacKinnon (1987), Germaine Greer (1999), Pamela Paul (2005), and Dorchen Leidholdt (1990) argue that sex positive ideas have historically benefited men rather than women and that thus, the indiscriminate promotion of all kinds of sexual practices merely contributes to female oppression.Even in Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, a negative view of sexuality is shown emphasizing sexual violence against women rather than the redemptive value of female sexuality.
In Western; as far back as 1935 Margaret Mead wrote about the need for freer sex roles. Mead , as an anthropologist, believed that women should be able to take part in more activities usually associated with men. From 1960s , the idea of free sex immersed with third wave feminists and there was a ‘Feminist Sex War” among anti pornography feminists and sex positive feminist started from 1980s,when Andrea Dworkin and Robin Morgan attempted to place pornography at the center of the feminist explanation for women's oppression . Sex positive feminists oppose any legal or social efforts to control sexual adventures and activities between consenting adults and they stand firmly behind sexual minority groups like homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender, and cross dressers .As the most of the sex positive feminists are either bisexual (like Camille Paglia and Susie Bright ) or lesbians , they focus more on these alternate sexual behaviour than heterosexual activities and men don't necessarily embody a problem and aren't typified as the oppressor.The another result of this social movement was that sex-positive feminists merely catered to men's desires because of the sexist notion that only men could enjoy sex in the first place.The third point which made sex positive feminism a controversial subject that it admits and encourages pornography ,BDSM and prostitution .as (according to them) they are healthy, and fun.But accepting sex as fun and healthy does not require accepting violence, humiliation though they have been sexualized over the years by these activities in the centuries long patriarchal tradition .and the culture at large.
In this so called ‘sex war’, I think, the actual importance of the issues like ‘sexual freedom of a woman ‘ or ‘woman’s right over her body’ had been demoralized and became insignificant. . The sex negative feminists often forget that they accept the sex-negative characterization of feminism that has been imposed on us by people who are not feminists, and who in fact are generally our opponents . On the other hand the sex positive feminists also always forget that the value of sex depends on the people involved, what they want to get out of it, whether they’re able to achieve that, and whether they are causing harm to themselves or others. That requires the ability to think again while they are supporting pornography or prostitutions or BDSM .
Sex never was introduced first in Human history as a tool for any exploitation or any hegemony. Sexuality is always an integral part of the personality of every human being. Its full development depends upon sharing ness of the satisfaction of basic human needs such as the desire for contact, intimacy, emotional expression, pleasure, tenderness and love.
Never any idea of feminism supports the portrayal of women as sexualized objects catering solely to the man’s needs .But it is also a fact that feminism’s primary concerns is a woman's life and respect for her body.By denying role of sex , we are indirectly denying the women rights over her body .My argument for sex is not in favour of pornography or with BDSM..I consider sex as the possibility of women and men engaging as 'equals' where as pornography usually dishonours women, men, children or even animals. I have stated before that feminism should not be gynocentric and misandrist any day and it should be aimed at full civil and legal equality for women.
The state,society and judiciary can never accept sex for any purpose other than reproduction .But in art and literature sex always played a vital role in literature and it keeps itself away from pornography .Could we say all the classic erotica from Kumar Sambhav of Kalidas to Ulysses of Joyce as porno ?Could we put these writings as objectifying female as only a sexual tool ?The erotica described in these literature involves emotions, love, passion and tender sensations; while a pornography involves lust, carnal desires and sexual excitement with no emotional ties.
In 6th century BC , Mutta , a female disciple of Buddha , wrote: “So free am I, so gloriously free, free from three petty things - from mortar, from pestle and from my twisted lord”. [Reference :Tharu, Susie and Lalita, K. (Eds). Women Writing in India Volume 1, 600 BC to the Early Twentieth Century. Oxford University Press. New Delhi. 1991, p.68] . Translated from Pali, this text proves the first attempts of an Indian woman to choose religious escapism as the only way out for women who were frustrated with a life inside the home. Mutta asked these women to join the Buddhist sangha (religious communities) in their attempts to break away from the social world of tradition and marriage. I think ,perhaps this is the first poem about freedom of a woman from household chores and sexual slavery.
Although the early forms of writing addressed the issue of personal freedom, the poetry that followed later was a celebration of womanhood and sexuality. The Sangam poets that dominated the era between ca. 100 BC-AD 250 wrote extensively about what it meant to have a female body. The translation of Venmanipputi Kuruntokai's 'What she said to her girlfriend' reads :
“On the banks shaded by a punnai clustered with flowers, when we made love my eyes saw him and my ears heard him; my arms grow beautiful in the coupling and grow lean as they come away.” [ibid, p.73]
The content of the poem is bold for its time because it is expressing a woman's pleasure in sex. The poems written around this age echo a sense of sexual liberation.
In 12 th Century AD ,the social and spiritual revolution of Akka Mahadevi, the Kannad Bhakti woman saint can be considered as an attempt to liberate woman from sexual male hegemony .She was married to a local king Kaushika ,but found herself in love with Lord Shiva and ran away from her life of luxury to live as a wandering poet-saint, traveling throughout the region and singing praises to her beloved Shiva .She refused to wear any clothing by saying : “When all the world is the eye of the lord, onlooking everywhere, what can you cover and conceal?”
(Reference : )

At World Congress of Sexology , held in Hongkong on August 26, 1999 , the following rights are recommended to add as a part of Fundamental human Rights :
1. The right to sexual freedom. Sexual freedom encompasses the possibility for individuals to express their full sexual potential. However, this excludes all forms of sexual coercion, exploitation and abuse at any time and situations in life.
2. The right to sexual autonomy, sexual integrity, and safety of the sexual body. This right involves the ability to make autonomous decisions about one’s sexual life within a context of one’s own personal and social ethics. It also encompasses control and enjoyment of our own bodies free from torture, mutilation and violence of any sort.
3. The right to sexual privacy. This involves the right for individual decisions and behaviors about intimacy as long as they do not intrude on the sexual rights of others.
4. The right to sexual equity. This refers to freedom from all forms of discrimination regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, social class, religion, or physical and emotional disability.
5. The right to sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure, including autoeroticism, is a source of physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual well being.
6. The right to emotional sexual expression. Sexual expression is more than erotic pleasure or sexual acts. Individuals have a right to express their sexuality through communication, touch, emotional expression and love.
7. The right to sexually associate freely. This means the possibility to marry or not, to divorce, and to establish other types of responsible sexual associations.
8. The right to make free and responsible reproductive choices. This encompasses the right to decide whether or not to have children, the number and spacing of children, and the right to full access to the means of fertility regulation.
9. The right to sexual information based upon scientific inquiry. This right implies that sexual information should be generated through the process of unencumbered and yet scientifically ethical inquiry, and disseminated in appropriate ways at all societal levels.
10. The right to comprehensive sexuality education. This is a lifelong process from birth throughout the life cycle and should involve all social institutions.
11. The right to sexual health care. Sexual health care should be available for prevention and treatment of all sexual concerns, problems and disorders.

Since historically marriage has mostly been another way to barter and trade ‘goods’ and since many women in our societies still live under this oppressive model ; admission of these sexual rights only can rescue them from the worse situation .On the other hand , so called ‘raunch culture’ makes woman nothing more than a product. If we once adopt ‘sexuality’ away from this so called ‘raunch culture’ concept , we find the individual achievement in one’s life , what Mutta or Akka Mahadevi have had in the history .Sexuality is the pure form of human realization and it is the factor responsible to enhance our creativity .That is why despite the blockage attempts of society , state and judiciaries , sexuality has its own role in art and that is why we find poets, writers, artists, musicians and others in creative professions are more likely to exhibit a tendency toward sexual affinity in their lives . Nietzsche also shared this thought in his ‘Will to Power' , where he says , “The force that one expends in the artistic creation is the same as that expended in the sexual act: there is only one kind of force.” This is why he thinks the (male) artist is typically quite chaste.


  1. SAreojiniji has boldly opened the Pandora's box. In yhtology it is not a bad thing to do so. It would bring us great knowledge and treasures. So, Sarojiniji has revealed a new dimension to feminism, where sex is not a thing ugly or clinical. SEx is a sublime aspect of human life, and for that matter, the whole system of life. How could we deny a bliss we enjoy and say it is not moral? I feel there is a contradiction. Is it not women folk who are always quarrelsome about other women and sex? SEx is spiritual nd physical. If it is merely physical it would end with the physical orgasmic stage. If it is merely spiritual, it would end with chanting of a few hymns. It is a bliss where man-to-woman cooperation and spiritual unity is essential. Art without sex is meaningless. With all our traditions of Khjuraho and Konarak, we are the most conservative people. We are , so, agfter the neighbour's spouse. you cannot speak to your husband or wife about real sex, because that would lead to a household quarrel; but you can speak this to the neighbour's spouse when her/his spouse is absent from the scene. There begin Indian hyporisy and adultery. Let us be realistic. Feminism is not a matter of cohabitation, but a matter of declaration of rights. As I have my rights over my own body and mind, any woman has it. If one does not have this right, man goes mad. We very often call this madness as spirituality.

  2. Dr. Sarojini Sahoo is an experienced and veteran feminist practitioner. what she has spoken about woman's right over her body is true but it excludes such rights as showing one's nude body publicly as of profession and business. Right does not mean that the wife can cohabit with anybody as man too cannot, other than in exceptional circumstances and when in love even beyond one's control for this man-woman relationship is not limited to body only, she too admits, so the right cannot be that a woman has right to do anything and everything with anybody whereas she has every right to decide about her life including sexual life. Domination, forcible or moral cannot be accepted. She has legitimatly excluded pornography and harlotry out of the scope of such rights.

    Though kama or lust is one of the four phases of life accepted in Hindu tradition and sex-life has been integrated with religious life as it too is essential for normal human growth, whether it is sublime or it leads to spiritualism is a subject highly debatable for we know the lives of great mystics, rishis and munis who did not indulge in sexual life even in modern age. Take the greatest example of the life of Swami Vivekananda.

    On the whole the discussion by Dr. Sarojini is quite lively and thought provoking.

    (c)Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2008

  3. DR.Sarojini Sahoo is veteran feminist. She has nicely argued in this blog about the rights and freedom of woman on her body and sexuality and excluded nudism and right to show woman's body in public as she has excluded pornography and harlotry. On the whole the discussion is lively and encouraging.
    (c) Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2008

  4. Hello Sarojini. I very much enjoyed this article and the questions you raise about sexuality and feminism. It was especially enlightening to read the 11 sexual rights as determined by the World Congress of Sexology. I think if you were to post this to Red Room, you would have many interested readers. If you would like my assistance with that, I will be happy to help.

    Thank you for letting me know about it, I look forward to reading more.

    -Max Sindell, Author Liaison, Red Room

  5. Anonymous3:17 PM

    Hi Dr' Sarojini Sahoo
    really intersting issues you have raised.The key issue however is the issue of women's right over thier bod ies.Let us hope that society will help us exercise this right.
    keep the struggle for life aliv e
    cheers Gopa

  6. one needs only to drop

    greed, anger and ignorance

    and this ' dialectic of sex' that predominates economics.

    far beyond
    frog leaps

    this is good "stuff" that you posit...


  7. Excellent article
    Good to see Jagannath Prasad Das being quoted
    Havent heard of him for a very long time

  8. Anonymous6:24 AM

    Excellent piece, thoroughly enjoyed..ashok