This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Tejaswini Madabhushi. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

When Women Use Sexually Explicit Language: The Case Of Telugu Actor Sri Reddy

More from Tejaswini Madabhushi

Most of us are taught not to discuss sex and the sexual harassment that we face, or to then use elusive language to talk about it. In fact, we do not even have simple everyday words or phrases to describe acts of harassment and assault. For instance, in Telugu we say “nannu edipinchadu”  (“he made me cry“) or “nannu ibbandi pettadu” (“he made me uncomfortable“) instead of saying “he sexually harassed me“. So many of us face the repercussions of this silence, elusiveness, and lack of language in our lives.

I was molested on Hyderabad city buses numerous times, but there is one experience that I can never forget. I was 19 years old and was returning home from college. An older man was pushing his way through the women in the crowded bus. While brushing past me, he put his finger into my private parts over my clothes. I was infuriated and yelled “What are you doing?”, unable to express myself any other way.

He asked me mockingly “What did I do?” He repeated the question a few times, challenging me to spell out what he did. I froze, unable to handle the attention from the other passengers. I tried to hold back my tears. I felt utterly shamed and humiliated. More than his act of molestation, it’s the shame that keeps this memory alive. I was infuriated that I as a victim felt shamed and the abuser walked away victorious. At that moment I realized that this abuser had some power over me, though I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Naming And Shaming

After a few years I began to recognize what this power is: the abuser enjoyed this power because it is unacceptable for women to mention anything sexual in public. Women are not allowed to describe abuse because there is sexual language involved in that description. If we use it, we risk being considered ‘loose’ and ‘characterless’ and might be punished further. Men on the other hand are not shamed for using sexual language and many feel that it’s their right to use sexual language online and in person to ‘put women in their place’. A senior Bollywood director (who started his career in Tollywood) did something similar when, reacting to her criticism of his movie, he told a middle-aged woman activist that he will  cast her in his next adult film.

The way to change this unequal situation is for women to own sexual language, talk about sex and name sexual abuse openly. If we start talking, it will be one way in which we can challenge the power imbalance that men enjoy over women, and more particularly, abusers enjoy over victims. But it is not easy to use such language, because the consequences for such rebellions are victim-blaming, slut-shaming and sometimes further abuse.

A few years ago, I spoke on the need for sex education in high schools in a television discussion. Soon after, I got a phone call from an unknown number. A strange man at the other end asked me if I wanted to have sex with him. He assumed that because I believed that sex education should be imparted in high schools, I was in need of sex, that too from a stranger! This call deterred me from mentioning anything related to sex on television again.

An Unlikely Whistleblower

Recently, we witnessed an aspiring actress-turned-whistleblower use sexual language to describe sexual abuse and we are seeing its effects. On April 19, Telugu actress Sri Reddy,  now famous for raising the issue of sexual harassment in the film industry, called ‘casting couch’ in the industry, was on live television. She released pictures of herself with an alleged abuser. People reacted to the photo saying that pictures looked like they were both in a relationship. Sri Reddy then looked at the camera and told the viewers to take their children away from the screen. She then told the people questioning her that even though they were in a relationship at some point, she was forced to perform sexual acts she did not want. She said “who wants to suck his nasty thing” and expressed how she felt violated and traumatized.

This was an important moment on Telugu television and for the discourse on sexual violence in the Telugu public sphere. She told young and old women watching television in her own way that their partners cannot force them to do sexual acts they don’t want to do and consent is required in every situation and relationship; that women have a right to say no and describe abuse for what it is. She took away the power of the abuser by using sexually explicit language on live television. She refused to be shamed for being abused and instead shamed the abuser. She sought justice by normalising the use of sexually explicit language to describe the abuse she faced.

This was not the only time Sri Reddy used sexually explicit language in public. The most talked about incident happened on  March 23, 2018, when Sri Reddy was interviewed by a YouTube channel. It proceeded like an interrogation. The interviewer initially asked her if she gave a “commitment” (Telugu film industry’s word for sexual favors in exchange for work) for her earlier movies. She said “No”. But he repeated the question three more times as if he was not convinced, as if it was unbelievable that she got the part based on her talent. To her claim that she gained attention for her film “Aravind 2”, his pat answer was that she got recognized only for her ‘bold exposing’ (i.e., revealing clothes). His smugness was evident. He had put her in her place, presenting her as a sleazy actress aspiring for a chaste heroine role that she did not deserve!

At this point she said something that became hugely controversial. She asked him “Why can’t I expect lead roles?”, “What do I lack?”, “Didn’t you see my videos on FB?” and “Meeku 90 degrees avvale?” which translates to “did you not have an erection?”. The interviewer was flustered and tried to change the subject. She went after him a few more times, demanding an answer to her question. The hurt interviewer responded with more sexism and said her face
was not good enough to be cast in a lead role”. She smiled and threatened to walk away from the interview.

The term “90 degrees” is now used everyday by several people, mostly men, to shame Sri Reddy  and harass her online. They say that she doesn’t deserve to speak against sexual harassment because she uses sexual language on air. The term is mentioned numerous times in YouTube comments sections, in an attempt to shame and silence her.

Turning The Tables

This interview was a significant moment, when a woman could own up her sexuality and refuse to be shamed and refuse to be powerless. Sri Reddy refused to conform to the norm of a woman who must avoid sexual language at all costs. Even more remarkably, she used sexual language to silence the sexism directed at her!

Equally importantly, she reversed the gaze onto men as consumers of sexually explicit images and visuals. Even after many women came out with horrendous stories of the casting couch, the current focus in the Telugu media is still on the young actresses’ culpability—their willingness to give sexual favors and to ‘expose’ in films.

There is hardly any discussion on how the ‘casting couch’ has become a norm, or on the men asking for sex in exchange for work, or the normalised culture of male entitlement to women’s bodies. There is little focus on how filmmakers sexualise women, making ‘exposing’ a necessary part of the job.

By asking the interviewer whether he was aroused by her photos and videos, Sri Reddy brought the male consumerist demand for sexualisation back into the conversation.She pointed, through her question to the interviewer, to the vast audience for such images, which consumes them and then shames women for ‘exposing’. In this way, she pointed sharply to the hypocrisy of the audience which does not acknowledge its role in sexualisation and exploitation of women in the industry.

Her naming of the sexual acts has pushed the conversations on sex and sexual violence forward by a decade for the Telugu audience. When more women from the film industry came out and named one man who abused several of them, the anchor on a prime time television program used the term ‘blow job’ to describe how this man horribly abused several women and minor girls to overcome his erectile dysfunction. The use of this term in Telugu public sphere would have been unimaginable a few days ago!

Sri Reddy proved that using sexual language can be an effective way to show a mirror to men who shame women. Lots of haters (mostly men) are reacting with sexually violent and abusive language against Sri Reddy. This violence and shaming is relentless, but she remains undeterred. Many of these men seem to  mourn the loss of their power to shame women by, and prevent them from, using sexually explicit language.

Using sexually explicit language is not possible for all women and often has disturbing consequences. It doesn’t get celebrated or have any societal approval. Some people want to distance themselves from her fight against the ‘casting couch’ and sexual exploitation because she uses ‘vulgar’ language. But I believe that Sri Reddy is liberating us from the vulgarity of male entitlement to language and bodies.


You must be to comment.
  1. Pradeepa Venkateswaran

    I am glad you took this topic. Women are and still treated like commodity. More women must come out and talk about these issues.

More from Tejaswini Madabhushi

Similar Posts

By Sas3 Tranimal

By Mythili Kamath

By Harshit Agrawal

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below