Women are held hostage by reputation. We aren’t supposed to dress provocatively, speak openly about sexuality or take any actions without wondering about what people will say. Everything we do can destroy our reputations and we all know reputation is the most important ornament a woman has, but what if we destroyed our own reputations? Here’s why I did it.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
I remember the first time someone called me a slut. I was fifteen or sixteen and in a school play. None of my friends were in the play so I spent most of my free time around rehearsal reading by myself on the concrete steps behind the outdoor stage. One evening a group of older girls whom I knew to be “popular” approached me and started talking to me, we had what I thought was a very nice conversation and before they left they informed me that they had always thought I was a bit “strange” but after talking to me they had come to realise I was very “nice”. How nice. The next day when we all came in for rehearsal I saw them standing huddled together, I approached them and asked them about their day. They turned towards me, rather dramatic, and stood facing me.
“We asked around about you,” she said, “We thought you were a nice girl but you’re just a slut.”
As they walked away, I stood there, unsure as to what had just happened but more importantly, I stood there wondering — Why does being a slut make me not nice?
It’s not that I was naïve, I knew exactly where those girls were coming from, and I knew how the process of smear campaigns that are just accepted as a part of “girl world” go. They asked someone about me, the person they asked defined me by the information that I was seeing a guy in college (and presumably having sex with him) and that made me a slut. I’d say “girl world” (by which indefinitely mean the patriarchal influence on women and not women in general) was generous with me, most women are sluts for much less. I knew what they were thinking because of social cues though, logically-speaking, none of it made any sense. There is no “slut-gene” that cannot coexist with a “niceness-gene” nor does there exist a mathematical reason why sleeping with multiple people (that is what slut means, yeah?) makes someone not-nice. Yet I knew even then, all that “logic” doesn’t matter to anyone. By that age I was no stranger to scandal and I had seen first-hand how women are controlled through their reputations and have their lives destroyed by the threat of having them ruined.
I suppose it begins at home when you are told that what you wear helps people determine how respectable you are as a woman. It starts when we cover the legs and arms of three year-old girls because their baby clothes might be too revealing. It grows in school where no act is beyond scrutiny. Girls’ bathrooms in schools have more explosive potential than the chemistry labs. Then as you grow older this phenomenon permeates everything. You cannot take a job that is too “forward” because what will people think? You cannot fall in love, because how will people know we control out children so well if they make their own choices? You can’t drink too openly because everyone will think you are a “loose” woman. You cannot swear because, what will people think of a girl who swears? You cannot be too “aggressive” because girls just politely bear casual sexism and sexual harassment, that’s the deal we make with that vagina-thing. Oh and you definitely shouldn’t say vagina, what will people think of a woman who uses such words? You can’t do better than your husband professionally. You can’t hang out with “other men” if you’re a woman married to a man. You can’t get on a bar counter and shake yo ass. You cannot articulately express an opinion lest your being right offend your “elders”. You cannot have an abortion, haw, you cannot even talk about it. I mean, fucking hell, I once told an elderly friend of my grandfather that I was getting married and he chided me for announcing my own wedding myself, apparently you can’t do that if you are a vagina-haver. You also definitely cannot hit on people or (gasp) have sex before marriage (I’d say you can barely even be raped without suffering socially for it), that’s exactly the type of influence our saffron-clad leaders are warning about!
A woman’s life is best exemplified by the white paper napkin they wrap around women’s alcoholic drinks at parties in weird clubs from the British-era. If anyone sees what you are doing in the glass, then you’re a slut, sweetie. Don’t worry, though, society is right there for you, holding the paper napkin up, so you can hide your life lest you offend someone with your choices. They’ll call you a slut!
You know what?
Boo-freakin-hoo. Call me a slut.
After that weird incident with those girls which led to no one in the cast or crew of our play talking to me (because, slut cooties, I guess?), I came to a very important decision that changed how I would live my life, forever. I decided to opt for radical honesty. All those secrets people tell about you? The ones that help them determine you are a slut by way of calculus-level equations? I just started telling them myself. It was harder when I was in school in a strange town I never did grow to love, but once I was an adult, I was out of there. Once I was out of there and an adult, that was it for me. I stopped hiding anything. I swear when I want. I kiss and tell. I smoke wherever it is legal to do so. I don’t care that I am my husband’s “second wife” or who knows it. I don’t care that I haven’t just been with just one person sexually. I don’t need to hide that I was in a dysfunctional abusive relationship. I don’t care that I order vibrators that come in boxes that say “massagers” on the cover. I go to bars alone. I used to get routinely tested for STDs and just demand the tests (because gynaecologists in India will absolutely make you feel like a whore for that). I am perfectly happy travelling alone. I don’t care if I spend the night “in the same room” with a man even though I am married to another man and I don’t care if that makes people believe I’m cheating. I don’t care if my dress shows a lot of boob, you think it is too revealing? So do I, now what? I refuse to live in the confines of reputation. Say whatever you want about me, I can bet good money that I’ve said it myself first. I refuse to be scared of being “too much” of who I am. We aren’t supposed to do this, though. I know we aren’t supposed to do this.
We’re supposed to happily live in hostels that lock us up by 8 PM and we’re never supposed to make the case that we don’t want that because we want to be able to fuck and go out like any man. We have to pretend it’s because we have to study at night. We’re supposed to represent our family’s respect and honour with each decision we make. We’re supposed to watch our drinks and moderate our speech and never complain because we’re allowed to speak na? Why can’t we just be polite at all times? We’re supposed to pretend every person who touches our body is “the one” and we don’t actually like sex, it’s just an emotional need for us. We’re supposed to wear clothes that “flatter our body type” lest we offend by having curves and visible flesh. We’re supposed to do “wrong” things in secret. Quietly and make damn sure no one ever finds out. We’re supposed to check for cameras in every hotel room because of course if someone illegally films us having sex, the story is that a woman had sex and now everyone knows it, so she’ll probably have to move to France or kill herself. We’re supposed to be scared of the consequences of our choices.
But when you stop, you realise all this fear is just one crazy man screaming about immigrants raping everyone and taking their jobs. It’s fear-mongering and it stops working the moment you stop being scared of the truth. For a country founded on satya we really are way too afraid of satya. No one can torment you with secrets when you have none. No one can hold your truth over you when you hold it supreme. No one can strip you to get to your hidden insides when it’s all outside. I’m not saying this process is without consequence, it isn’t, because people are both crazy and way too invested in the lives of others. People have judged me. People have chided me. People have stopped talking to. My college roommate’s boyfriend tried to institute a rule in an apartment I paid for that I wasn’t allowed to bring guys home. I mean. People will attack you, verbally and physically. People will also tell you that you deserve to be raped or imprisoned. I wrote about abortion, someone told me they would kill me if they saw me in the street. People are fucking nuts.
However, no matter what they say, I am true to myself. I have integrity. And the way I see it is that people would have judged, attacked and threatened even if I hid all my truths and pretended to be a “nice girl”. At least this way I get the confidence that comes with knowing I am fighting for things that are fair and important to me. I know who I am. I am really okay with who I am.
I’m an outspoken, promiscuous, sailor-mouthed, constantly outraged, reasonably intelligent woman married to a divorced man, who has lived with two other men and been with several other people. I’m a weird extroverted overly-honest smoker who doesn’t want kids and who says the words vagina and pregnant like they’re not dirty. I refuse to be enslaved by concern for my reputation. I’m a slut. There I’ve destroyed my reputation for you.
Whatcha gonna do now?