When I see the words ‘bodily autonomy,’ the first thing that comes to my mind is violence. As a child, I was never told that my body belongs to me alone and I decide what should/shouldn’t be done to it. The first time I encountered harassment was when I was 11, while walking back home from my music lessons. I had no clue what to do and I still wasn’t explicitly told that my body is not a public property, but was told to carry a pepper spray instead. Growing up amidst instances of everyday street sexual harassment, my understanding of the extent of proximity allowed to a person was extremely fuzzy. So much so that last year, when I was being harassed by someone who was supposedly a friend, I couldn’t fight back and rather, just lay there, frozen.
Having survived all of this, my notions of bodily autonomy and pleasure have gone from being non-existent to being shaped in a way that today, I can conduct workshops for children about the same.
Informed conversations about female sexuality are hard to find and it is surprising how threatening female sexuality is for a society that thrives by making asinine amount of money out of it. For the most part, I grew up believing that sex and masturbation were the biggest ills a woman could commit, especially when it’s for her pleasure. In 2013, I graduated from high school saying, “I don’t wish to even talk about this, when it’ll be time (read: marriage), I’ll know about it and I’ll know it from the right person (read: husband).”
Fast forward to now, after my experience of harassment last year and amidst everyday experiences of street sexual harassment, I masturbate on days I’m too frustrated about something someone told me that I shouldn’t do. And sometimes, I do it just because I feel like it. In that moment, I know I am in charge of my body, pleasuring myself in a way that the society doesn’t deem fit. This act of self-pleasuring has now become nothing short of a form of resistance for me, which sounds rather absurd considering how it isn’t that big a thing at all (and you know this only when you do it.) But that’s how stigmatisation works. Even the smallest acts come to be seen as such a big deal for the people around you.
Having said that, there are still days when my semblance of having autonomy over my own body goes for a toss; when my mom asks me to change clothes when some random (or sometimes not-so-random) men come to my house or when I’m going out, when I desperately want to get a Semicolon Tattoo because of the significance it holds for me, but end up being shunned with things like, “Since when did you start having such absurd desires?”, or when my experiences of public spaces are never without the fear of being groped or harassed and despite the fear, I end up being harassed some way or the other.
It is an ongoing struggle. Nonetheless, for as long as we keep challenging the idea that we don’t get to decide what happens with our bodies, we’ll keep finding our ways of resistance. (Like, I found mine when I got the tattoo I wanted without telling my parents.)
Content Editor, FeminismInIndia.com