Question from the Audience
One very brief question. Well, it’s a comment as well as a question to the woman who asked the previous one. It is clearly a crisis situation economically, socially and psychosexually, in every way possible. I also work within the South Asian community and I am just wondering, even in terms of the audience here, and in view of these very critical issues that are being raised, how many people, who are educated, in this room and who are South Asian, recognize the need to discuss the overall, not only this generation and the one following, the future, the fact that sexual repression in South Asian countries has a very, very long and complex legacy. It is not only about the immediate effect that causes these terrible, terrible things to happen, the causes are many. But is there a dialogue and discussion going on in the universities, the community centers, at the temples, discussing the fact that most South Asians cannot talk about sex even with their boyfriends and girlfriends? This is in America, because I work with them and I know some of the most educated, sophisticated South Asian men have a very difficult time discussing, much less approaching, defining, and talking about sex.
I had a similar experience when I was very young with a neighbor and I knew something like that happened in our family. It never really left any scars on me really. I was about nineteen years old when I first saw it or actually remembered it as abuse and that was at a university in a class and a suddenly realized: “Oh my god, that was abuse.” It only happened once or maybe twice. Most of the South Asian friends I subsequently spoke to about this, either they had been abused themselves by a relative, or they were aware of some instance where that happened. I mean, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, one of my roommates told me about this instance of his knowledge of child abuse in his family. Nearly everybody that I have spoken to about this, they have openly spoken about these issues and come out with their own stories.
I think part of her question was not simply about abuse but what I heard was, talking about healthy sex, normal sex, sexuality, bodies and all of that as a whole. That’s the way I heard the question, not just about sexual abuse. Somebody else could respond to that.
The issue you brought up was about sexual oppression, not the issue but the label. I find that to be extremely, extremely simplistic and stereotypical. I have been with South Asian and non-South Asian boyfriends in the country and I can tell you although the non-South Asian boyfriends although we went and saw the movie were borderline pornographic and there was lot of activity going on. Whatever they said on the subject of sex was couched so much in terms of their definition of masculinity that it had no serious content, no identity, they were playing to an audience. These men, non-South Asian men would use terms like “rape” as saying, ““I am going to rape you.” That was supposed to be a good thing, that was supposed to be an expression of their knowledge of sex. Being a slut--this was supposed to be a good thing. It was supposed to be an expression of how, in ways, they could deal with sex. On the other hand, my South Asian friends never talked about sex, never talked about it in terms of “Let’s talk about it around the coffee table.” They never did that. True. However, they were able to integrate their sexual feelings, their sexual urges better with their identity, with their pleasure, with their joy, all of that. A great deal more, I felt, as a woman, the expression that I was able to achieve in the bedroom with the South Asian men despite their not talking on the subject than the other way around. It is quite interesting.
The video is now available in Hindi, Bengali and Tamil. I just came back from India. It's already been dubbed and I had an interesting experience, quite frightening actually. The people who were doing the translation were men, older men. I sort of panicked about the script and made sure that women checked the translations after they were done so the way in which the dubbing was done was not going to be offensive. I don’t understand Bengali. Tamil was no problem. What was interesting is that there were certain words that were left in English like “genitals”. So I said:“Look, this is dubbed, you know.” Basically, I was told that we couldn’t do that because it would sound vulgar. Unlike English, where there are many words for sex, many words for incest, in our South Asian languages there is not, so it's going to be very clinical, but we cannot help that. What was very interesting was that these were men working in the media doing translation. They were very linguistic types.
So, when the script went to the women activists they had no problem with it. They came up with many words. There was a vocabulary. Clearly, some people have the vocabulary and some people don’t or some people are using vocabulary, which is the old vocabulary, that does not speak to certain kinds of experiences. I know for example in Sri Lanka as well as the Tamil language, the English translation, the singular translation for “rape” was “losovona” that means blackening her face, loss of honor or taking away honor. This did not, at any point, capture the violation on the person. That has now changed because of the work of feminists, because of activists doing this work. So I don’t know the experience you have with South Asians is because immigrants are stuck, they are from thirty years ago. Maybe the vocabulary they are using, the ways in which they talk comes from a different time. At least in South Asia I have also seen a shift. South Asians in South Asia are the first ones to say we need to start talking about sex in a way that is comfortable. Absolutely, they are saying that. It's not just in terms of the intimate relationship--you need to do it in school. I think it's a much more complex thing. The language is such a complex thing. It’s not linguistic language, it is also emotional language.