Perhaps the biggest impact of a white feminism dominated perspective on sexual liberation has been to establish ourselves as bodies that must be liberated. We learn that our progressiveness lies in accepting the fearlessness of our sexual presentations, circumventing all the many steps of claiming our bodily agency in between.
Meanwhile neither is this liberty equal in its reach, nor does it behave in the same way as it may for white bodies. Which is maybe why the general spectator continues to incorrectly assume that a seductive showcase of our best bodies on social media equals an expression of sexual desire.
In a world where white bodies have become a permanent fixture of erotic representation, it is hard to escape their omni-presence online. Through ads, banners, pornography and even Instagram accounts, white or fair skinned women seem to have achieved their goal of liberating their sexuality – albeit, of course, the nipple.
And so “free the nipple” rallies the unbridled crowd, asking for removal of censorship and equality. But it continues to forget that not the nipple or the breast, or any other forms of sexual liberation, are entirely possible for a large part of our living populations. For a lot of us living in conservative societies, sex is expected to be performed in a heterosexual marriage, and consented on by entire families. In fact, the desire to liberate ourselves sexually results in judgement, shame and assault.
This is why I fail to understand how removing boundaries from sex work online has helped prevent harm to women or bring more sexual pleasure into our lives. In fact, it is the reductive representation of the human body as its sexual parts, enlisted in a check-box of categories, which has created ridiculous notions of desiring a specific “body type”.
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Through traditional advertising, dominated by men, we are made to believe that good looking people are having a lot of sex. This encourages predatory behaviour towards them through social media. In anime, feminine characters are often incredibly infantilised. So with its growing fandom in India, young girls or “weebs” do not shy away from performing this juvenile femininity. On YouTube, the top results for all regional movies in India have large breasted, fair skinned women as the cover for clickbait.
Through the internet, our sexuality has been made into a simulation of our body which is only arousing our specific visual fetishes. These are all manufactured through our extended exposure to chosen media and the specific type of porn we may enjoy. We have become extremely specific about our sexual performance, restricting ourselves into roles and positions. This is simultaneously creating dissatisfaction with ourselves and our potential partners.
“Send nudes” is the escape of an entire generation, coyly masturbating in their bedrooms to avoid “relationship drama”. Sex toys may liberate us from patriarchy but will not help us confront our own trauma, which prevents us from seeking trusted companionship. Somehow in this notion, both the secular intellectual and the religious believer are on the same side. Call it “no nut november” or “brahmacharya”, the ‘honour’ earned by restraining from sexual activity seems to unite all mortals.
In India, an ever increasing number of women who experience body altering conditions like PCOS, spend an exorbitant amount of money on medications and procedures to emulate hyper-femininity. There is an equally massive market for men who experience conditions such as erectile dysfunction. We forget the fact that these sciences were created to enforce whiteness on our bodies and have no relation whatsoever, of us forming loving and sexually satisfying relationships with an understanding partner.
Simultaneously young people have become eager to use their bodies to communicate with their viewers. When financial independence remains the greatest challenge to women in society, women have responded by removing free access to their bodies or sexuality. And this has definitely helped liberate women’s choices, providing them agency.
However, criminal behaviour is not within their control. It is the spectator who decides when their paid membership has become exclusive access. We can not know when attraction transforms into a strange obsession which can lead to harassment, coercion, murder and rape.
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The acceptance of this sexualisation in young people is troubling, as they are falling prey to adults who take advantage of a child’s limited understanding of our society’s evolution. Cybersex with young girls especially becomes easy as her own understanding of emotional manipulation in her early years is rudimentary. Their desire to perform sexual labor through a screen is not well informed. In the absence of any adult guidance, they risk being trafficked. And in the odd moment of realising their unmitigated exposure through the internet, they risk self harm.
Therefore what goes undiscussed is our incomplete understanding of paedophilia and how it equally affects young boys. Somehow to this day, the stigma of sexual abuse in men is so severe that men cannot open up about their own trauma at the hands of older family members and relatives. And then they become participants in continuing oppressive sexual practices, reliving their own brutalised past.
The establishment of “childhood” as an important part of life has made us insist that children are at a high risk, but we ignore that it is adults who abuse their power over them – knowingly. Therefore there are circles in society that encourage grooming young people, as our own primitiveness is insisted through decontextualised philosophy on sex. Ignorantly celebrating male celebrities who partake in these practices, re-quoting the writings of Foucault. Or Jung, whose initial works interpreted women’s dreams of assault as “erotic conflicts”. Modern online dating gurus continue to propagate ideas of biological essentialism in their advice, suggesting we are just ‘females’ looking to find ourselves a sexually active man to mate.
The simulation of only certain types of bodies online, has created the hyperreal sexuality, where our physical pleasure is removed from its visual consumption. The orgasm has become the singular goal of sexual pleasure. But the imagination of sexual desires from these bodies we see on a screen, is performed on bodies which may not conform to their representation. Our collective sexuality becomes a porn sub-category, instead of us communicating through physical intimacy. And increasingly for a lot of young people, the struggle to define our personal sexuality tends to either control or completely inhibit our sexual desires. For victims of abuse, sexual human touch almost becomes a thing of dread.
The performance of physical sexual labour is expected from dates, partners, spouses or the sex worker. It is these bodies which create physical pleasure and endure physical violence. It is not that these bodies cannot open an OnlyFans account, get a camera with an internet connection. It is this body that is accessible and serves our humanity through sex. But in the wrong influence, gets abused or forced into sexual slavery for the sake of survival. It is these bodies which endure the physical impact of a simulated arousal, created through cybersex on a screen. And whether they enter into it through consent and agency, the absence of protections put them at unparalleled risk of harm.
The accessible women of our world are objectified through unknowable instances, of her living freely on the street or her own home, where she can not be aware of the man watching her. The man who fantasises her only sees her as the parts of her body he feels aroused for; she exists only as the fantasy of his manufactured desire. The rest of her, even to herself, is made quite unnecessary for sexual activity. So finding fulfilling sexual pleasure remains a repressed fantasy for a society that refuses to seek joy through meaningful physical interactions.
Unlearning whiteness also means questioning these ideas which inform us on what it means to be sexually liberated. That while we may be free to be sexually experimental online in so many ways, it is not free from the sexual history of our physical bodies and their oppression in present day society.
It is the uneven, blemished skin which feels the arousal, pleasure and the pain of sexual activity imagined from white bodies. We must recognise that caste and colonisation created a deep and profound impact on how we view our own sexual attractiveness, therefore how we enact it on another body. And in that our sexual liberation will always remain unequal until the idea of sexuality is expanded to include the gentle, soft reverie of intimate sensuality.
Sumedha writes to highlight the need for non-conformity and for practical politics free of labels. She is also a certified cat lady.