By Ananya Saha:
Apollonian? Good. Dyonisian? Bad. The mind is a yes, but the body is a big no. Never mind the words in the lexis related to the act of sex; uttering the very names of the sexual/erogenous/reproductive parts of the body, especially female body are still considered to be a taboo in an alarming number of households in the present times. I am aware that there are quite a few demographic factors to be taken into consideration here; such as rural v/s urban, affluent v/s impoverished and so on. But for the sake of sheer convenience and a holistic overview; let us keep those aside for a moment.
The female body has always been a site of polemics in the historiography of social orders. The female desire is a threat to hierarchy, and, therefore, must be curbed or labeled hysteric. A million contributions to this discourse have been made but nothing is ever enough. But this piece is not about female sexual rights par excellence. It is a step before that, the rights to knowledge of the body.
One will be alarmed if they check the number of queries that are generated by the primary search engines (Google and Yahoo as reference here) regarding the anatomy of the vagina from females themselves. Though partially arbitrary, one can common sensibly guess from the approach, attitude, language and even the usernames that many of these are from females belonging to younger age groups of India, if not exclusively so.
One would be alarmed about the lack of knowledge in basic biology, which should be a part of every school curriculum within the tenth grade. There are actually questions such as, ‘How many openings does the female genitals have? Is it two or three?‘ ‘Are the vaginal and the urethral opening the same?‘ Or, ‘I am not a whore to sleep around or something, but when the time comes, would he know what goes where?‘ Which ensued a rough debate about the use of the word ‘whore’. Thus, the original question remained sidetracked. As any reader with knowledge of Biology 101 would know that there are three, and no, the vaginal and the urethral orifices are not the same. But the fault does not lie with them. It is in the predicament that they are brought up in.
Leave alone indulge in the pleasures of the body; to talk about the body in open, to write about the body, to utter words such as ‘vagina’ and ‘clitoris’ inadvertently invites body or slut shaming. Girls are often taught not to indulge into the knowledge about their sexual organs because it would be ‘immoral’. Hence the aforementioned questions. If one would refer to this article, one would find that the talk about ‘birds and bees’ is still not a common phenomenon in many Indian households. Children usually learn from their peers through debatable sources, which often result into confused half knowledge. I have actually encountered some pre-teen girls who believed a kiss on the mouth would impregnate them.
Yes, it is a rite of passage to talk about the body and share little secrets with same-sex friends as a phase of growing up. But it should also be the duty of the parent to disseminate clear information to the growing child about the anatomy, hygiene and functions of the private part. Especially the female child, as our genitalia is not as outwardly situated as the male one. Ladies, our ‘inner plumbing system is high maintenance’, as Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory would say. Hence, grab a mirror, refer to the online health posts, take the help of the GYN/OBG (An annual visit is a must by the way); but familiarize yourself with your body. In this stage, especially if pre-teens and adolescents are concerned; it does not have to do necessarily with sex. Hence, alarmed parents, there is no need to be alarmed even more. It is essential to encourage a healthy body image without excluding or eliding over any part of it. It is not something dirty. It is completely OK to talk about it as well. One cannot protect their darling girl child from unsafe sex through a lack of knowledge. But a thorough set of information about the pros and cons might do the trick.
Being a scholar of literature, I am reminded of the 20th-century novelist Ford Madox Ford’s work, Parade’s End in this context. Herein, the young Valentine Wannop, the games teacher of a girls’ school in London finds a book about sexual health and knowledge in the changing room. The other teachers are in favour of finding and punishing the owner of the book, as, according to them, it is unsuitable for the students.
Valentine argues with her colleagues that the title suggests that it is for girls who are to be married which some of the students would soon be old enough for. She convinces others that the lack of knowledge would make the soon to be married girls unhappy in matrimony and it is better if they are informed well about both the male and the female body. This is the first half of the twentieth century that we are talking about. And if we peruse through another article, where it has not been clearly mentioned; but a lack of knowledge of the body can still be a prominent reason for divorces caused by sexual dissatisfaction. Some, of course, put up with it still as the ‘good wife’ is supposed to do, which is hardly ideal. The temples of Khajuraho, the caves of Ajanta and such other sites have celebrated the erotic beauty of the female form. One must not praise them and shame the woman curious about her body in the same breath. Know thyself; said Socrates and body need not be alienated from the discourse.