on how vulva owners walk on eggshells to toe the line between “promiscuous” and “prude” stereotypes
(This article comes from a cis-gendered perspective, thus in no way it is completely representative or universal. The crux of the matter being how all of us – people of all gender & sexual identities, socio-economic groups and cultural contexts have been brought up in the same society and been affected by the pressure of experiencing society’s complex ideas of womanhood in varying ways).
As a growing teenager, one of the sharpest changes that I observed with my body were the size of my breasts. It wasn’t late until the ordeal of bra shopping finally commenced. An ordeal? Well yes it was nothing short of it. A petite shop in a corner with narrow walls and peeling posters of white women conforming to “perfect” European beauty standards in lingerie; was the place where hushed conversations took place between a middle-aged woman who was the owner and my mom. They scanned my chest in seconds and blurted out a size as if it was internalized shame in a bubble. I was naive yet quick to realize how the color and shape of my bra and my morality were directly associated. This was brought to me with a daily dose of internalized misogyny, “you can’t wear colored bras, you’re too young for that, it’ll show through your uniform and that isn’t proper in front of boys.”
As absurd as it sounds to me now, back then; the color of my bra existed in a dichotomy of purity and pollution, the misogynistic conditioning of those around me was so powerful that a fourteen-year old’s bra was enough to dictate whether she is asking for attention from boys which is literally breeding slut-shaming.
Too young enough to wear a colored bra but old enough to wear a bra? Too young enough to wear a tampon but old enough to use pads? Too young to talk to the boys that I liked but old enough to protect my body from the coercive male gaze? On one hand, vulva owners are told to be daring, sexy, bold, and fiery because that is supposedly attractive but on the other hand, they are also expected to be submissive, reserved, modest, prim, and proper. Look at our pop culture and how villainized vulva owners are in the media: if we flaunt our sexuality or are bold and assertive, we are labelled loud mouthed, promiscuous, and unmannerly but if we stay reserved and demure, we are being stand-offish, prude and someone who thinks they’re too good than other people. We never signed up for this, and like many other unsolicited things, ‘it came with the package’ for us. Especially when you’ve been tight-lipped about your existence as a particular gender identity, not been allowed to take up space and voice, and intentionally misguided for somebody else’s convenience – it can particularly erode your understanding of how you see your body, thoughts, emotions, and personality.
If we follow the system and give in to the patriarchal set-up and conform, we are ideal. If we don’t, we are rebellious. Either way, we’ll be sexualized for anything we do (or don’t). This promiscuous-prude binary has been imposed upon vulva-owners since times immemorial. You could either be a harlot or a puritan. So much so, that generations of women in my family hated to become an independent, free-willed, and sexual being because they were taught to be subjugated, dependent and unaware about their sexuality. If I were to talk to them about these issues, I would have to address their beliefs, gaps, attitudes, feelings and only then can I work on establishing a healthier core – devoid of internalized sexism and incessant objectification, which allows space for sexual and emotional expression.
The alarming and enormous amount of intergenerational trauma that still exists in the crevices of patriarchal Indian family units is often missing out of the larger discourse around the ideas of feminism, comprehensive and inclusive sex education, and mental health. Therefore, institutional reforms need to take place on a more cellular level — breaking down the weak foundation, building up a studier one and moving onwards from there; by telling young vulva owners that their sexual practices or lack of thereof or whoever they talk to or even the color of their bra is not a trademark of their whole moral compass and existence.
This article has been written by Akshiti Chauhan, 2nd Year