Slut-shaming in South Asian communities: Reputation and Dishonour

Puberty is a confusing time, and as young adults become sexually active it gets even harder to navigate male-female relationships. In the present day the pressures on young people to be sexually active is merely growing. In an era where smartphones are a first world staple, snapchat, instagram, and video chats make sharing sexually explicit material even easier, and are an active part of young adult’s social life. In sharing sexually explicit material there is always the fear of being exposed. But for young women there is an additional concern, a fear that we didn’t know was there until society told us so, and won’t go away no matter what we do or how we behave.

Getting a bad reputation.

I can recall various scenarios at school, where girls were slut-shamed behind closed doors and to their faces. But the truth is, no matter what a woman does or does not do, the threat of developing a bad reputation is always there. A woman only has to breathe to get a name for herself. The extent to which societal judgement branches out for women means that we are labelled for the smallest things, whether it be the way we dress, or do our make up, to the company we keep and the amount of time we spend socialising at night. The word slut has always been a social construct, along with every other name used to degrade women. Derogatory language used against women is as old as time itself. The way these terms are freely used, and hurled as insults at women are attempts to subjugate and restrict female freedom, as well at curb their ability to love themselves and their bodies.

This is one of many double standards that women suffer. But the added pressure on women from South Asian communities complicates this dynamic further. Growing up, young South Asian men are mostly free to do what they please, whilst South Asian women’s bodies are policed with the utmost vigilance. It is this cultural, sexual double standard that liberates men and confines women. In the most extreme cases, the penalty for female sexual freedom is death (honour killings are less common in the UK, but they still occur).

The perceived crimes aren’t crimes at all, but the policing of female bodies is perpetuated through everyday occurrences. In South Asian culture women are raised to be fearful of being caught outside with men. They don’t have to be doing anything to be shamed, they don’t need to be touching, just being seen on the street with a male is enough to be seen as ‘up to no good’ and have an aunty inform your parents of what you’ve been up to. If a young South Asian woman is seen kissing her boyfriend on the street – that’s a problem. If she’s seen with a man from a different race that’s an even bigger problem. We don’t need to be caught in bed with men to face the same reaction that we would get if we had been. Holding hands with a black man? Shame on you and your whole family – what will people say?!

Almost any interaction between a young South Asian woman and a man is perceived as an instant threat in the female’s family. The blame is almost instantly placed on the woman, and she is labelled a slut or whore, often by her father, though mothers are also complicit in slut-shaming their daughters.

I don’t give a damn about my reputation.

You’re living in the past it’s a new generation.

Although there has been progress within South Asian cultures in Britain, the role of women remains intrinsically tied to honour and shame. We are raised as the honour bearers of our families and once that becomes threatened we are shamed, branded with a bad name forever more.

This is one of the reasons why young South Asian women have to live double lives, where they can engage in romantic relationships behind closed doors, without their families knowing. We learn to cut off a part of ourselves, of our female sexuality, happiness and right to enjoy our bodies. This in turn teaches us unhealthy methods for navigating patriarchal society, and often leaves us in positions of suffering. For example, if we endure abuse in our relationships, we are left to bare it alone or else let others know our shame, and our secret lives. This is a problem. The structures that teach us to be fearful of being seen as sexually active women are the same that stop us from reporting abuse.

We are taught to fear female sexuality. That it’s dirty, unspeakable, and abnormal. In this way South Asian parents unconsciously teach their daughters to loathe themselves. When you are an expert at self-loathing you are more likely to believe that you deserve to be abused, should it happen to you. You are more likely to believe it’s your fault and stay quiet about it. Or else face the shame of being seen as sexually active, and ‘damaged’.

The sexist practices within our families are complicated, and I’m afraid I don’t have much advice on how to deal with it. All I can say is try not to let it fester in your mind. The name-calling and insults are rooted in something very dark within our culture, and are tied to the male need for authority and control. It isn’t a reflection on who we are, it says much more about those using this language than about the ones on the receiving end.

So what’s in a name? Slut. Whore. Bitch. These names were chosen for us before we were born. They have nothing to do with our actions. Whether you are a virgin or have slept with every man you have ever met, you will still be called a slut at some point in your life. Regardless of your actions, sexist ignorant men will still look at you with this lense. So there is no need to fear being called it. Being disowned is still a real threat in modern South Asian families, including my own. But there comes a time in our adult lives where we have to choose whether to continue hiding and being ashamed of our bodies, or be honest and proud of our sexuality.

As women we face hard choices in life. It isn’t what is done to us that defines us, but how we deal with it. It’s not how others feel about us, but how we feel about ourselves. This is why self-love is so important. If you are true to yourself, and firm in how you feel about yourself, it doesn’t matter what society names you. What’s in a name anyway?

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2 thoughts on “Slut-shaming in South Asian communities: Reputation and Dishonour

  1. Pingback: Suggestion Saturday: September 23, 2017 | Lydia Schoch

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