Disclaimer – I am a 24-year-old Delhi girl who feels like all other things, sex is a topic which should be openly and easily discussed. If you are scandalised by such information, please don’t read further.
I have faced contradictions in my life that most children of migrant parents encounter. My parents are both from Bihar, though me and my siblings were raised in Delhi after my father’s job brought my parents here. Having done my graduation from DU and post graduation from JNU, I had the privilege of listening to and being a part of intense discussions and debates on many matters of life and society. As my thinking evolved with each such discussion, I came to realize that it may be impossible for me to see eye to eye on questions of morality and ethics with my parents, especially my father. With all the recent progress being seen, Bihar continues to be a deeply patriarchal and sexist society.
At any rate, it definitely was when my parents were growing up. However, just like I am aware of my parents’ upbringing and mindset, they are very much aware of mine, and so either we find middle ground on certain issues (my father knows that I have many male friends and has met some of them but I am not allowed to invite them home) or I simply choose to not tell them what I think and they choose to not ask (topics like homosexuality, sex before marriage, religion and so on).
Even though she comes from the same societal setup as well, I’ve felt my mother listens to me when I tell her what I really think about these issues. She does not agree with me most of the time, but she knows the disagreement in her comes not from a place of reason but simply tradition. And hence, she does not argue. I feel sometimes she desires for herself the kind of independence I was given, what with her getting married at 17 to a completely strange man much older than her.
During one of these conversations with her late one night, I brought up (with somewhat caution) the topic of sex. To my surprise she seemed okay with discussing it, presumably cause she thinks I’ll be married soon myself. As she has always been a friend to me before anything else, I asked her what most people never bring up with their own parents – her sex life with my father. Honestly, I thought it would be a funny little conversation with us giggling for a while and dozing off. I never thought I would go to bed feeling this bad for my mother.
The more she told me about it, the more I realized how unsatisfied a life she had led. Feminists always say that the way womankind has been oppressed across centuries is by oppressing their sexuality. I never quite understood that link, up until this conversation. In their 30 years of marriage, my father had never gone down on my mom. On knowing this my immediate question was did she pleasure him orally? “Well, of course. That’s part of the whole thing.” When I asked her what all positions do these guys usually do, she told me it’s always missionary. She used to be on top sometimes very early in the marriage, but my father didn’t like it a lot, so they stopped. “Mom, but do you orgasm in missionary?” I was really perplexed. She looked at me with an emotion I don’t think I will be able to completely fathom ever, and said that it has never been about that in bed. Ever. They were done when he was done.
Maybe I am not supposed to be this surprised with all this information as we have always knows that many Indian men are usually selfish in bed, but somehow I thought that it would not be like this with 30 years of marriage and with all the access to global pornography and erotica. It’s not like she doesn’t know that she’s also supposed to derive pleasure in the process, she just never spoke up. When I asked her why didn’t she, I came to realise that a certain level of under-confidence and a feeling of inadequacy had been created in her over the years by my father’s words.
Let me tell you, my mother is an extremely beautiful woman. I know external beauty should not count for anything in this world, but even on the benchmarks set by patriarchy, racism and sexism in Bihar (and other Indian States), she scores full marks – she’s milky white, average Indian height, looks more like my sister and is just really really pretty. My father on the other hand looks just average, if not below. Even then, very systematically my father would constantly tell her how she was not sexy enough for him. How it would have been better if she was taller. How her breasts weren’t firm enough. How her private areas had a smell he didn’t like.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was appalled. Disgusted. How could he say those things to her? When you are married at that young an age and have one partner for life, you inevitably seek validation from that person. The whole world tells my mother how beautiful she is, but she never felt she was adequate for my father, and thus she never felt she ‘deserved’ to be pleased in the act of lovemaking. She was only there to please him, try her level best to make up for all her imperfections.
When they talk about objectification of women, I think this is what they mean. Reduce her own sense of self worth so much that she sees herself as only a means of ensuring the other’s pleasure. Not a party to but just present during intercourse. She spent her entire life without sexual intimacy.
I don’t know how many of us have these conversations with people from our parents’ generations, but with all the sorrow it brought me, it truly gave me an insight as to why so many women innately consider themselves inferior to men, and thus deserving of the oppression they face. I will make sure I have a very different story to tell my daughter.
If you would like to share how you think patriarchy controls women’s sexual pleasure, write here.