Wednesday, December 31, 2014


On Sexualization of Indian Culture in America; How Non-Indian Men View Me

I know I have talked a lot about issues regarding India, but my blog is "Indian-AMERICAN Feminist" so I guess I should add some issues that are relevant to the average ABCD (American Born Confused Desi). 

Oftentimes I feel very conflicted when usually white people say they love something about my culture, especially men. I think that there is a stereotype that Asian women are very submissive and docile and I don't think that's true. I found this text and thought it would fit in well with this post: 

To start off, this is absolutely disgusting. If something like this happened to me, I would start feeling like a sex object every time I put on a "dimond". I think that there is a problem with sexualizing Indian culture and Indian women by non-Indian men. 
I feel conflicted because I do think I am mostly "white" on the inside, but having someone reiterate and call attention to my culture, and specifically in a sexual way, unnerves me and makes me uncomfortable. I hate that for some men, I am a fetish and what makes it worse is that I am the typical short Asian with a baby face and shy. They don't like me for me, they like me because they want me to embody the stereotype. 

And yet it is ironic that in my own home, I am desexualized. The Indian-American culture is remarkably similar to the Indian culture, perhaps even more regressive because parents are stuck in the mindset of what India was like 10,15,20 years ago. There is a post on FemWire about this, here is a specific part: 

The concepts of good and bad within Indian society, particularly when it comes to women and girls, are built around virtue. Ahem, chastity. This is widely known to be the case in India itself, where women’s lives and choices are largely restricted and controlled supposedly for their own safety. But in reality, these protections are meant to hinder their sexual freedom, not ensure their overall wellbeing. Similarly, the Indian American community and its values are not far off from this culture. The women are expected to be, and are viewed as, virginal and sexually submissive. The silence around female sexuality – everything from the onset of puberty to reproductive health to attitudes about sexual activity – is common in Indian American homes. And then young people take this with them into their personal and social lives, carrying stigmas about sex and judgment for those who break the rules. In this way, I was able to make the connection, even if only in the periphery of my adolescent mind, about what it was about me that was wrong. The curves of my face, my boisterous personality – versus many other Indian girls’ reserved studiousness – and my avid obsession with making mix tapes off of Hot 97: to other Indians, these things indicated something unrespectable and, indirectly, sexual about me. And it was like a stain that spread over the years.

Women of color were mostly unseen as partner options. And if we landed in the purview somehow, it was, at best, to be mentioned as perhaps pretty and then quickly dismissed (you know, the “Wow, you’re pretty for an Indian girl” line) or, at worst, to be ridiculed for our ugliness. This may sound extreme, but it’s the reality I lived. I undoubtedly stood out in this context – ashy knees in the winter, unruly mane of thick, black hair in a sea of pale midriffs and near-ubiquitous gold or platinum highlights – but I was also invisible. And that external gaze is powerful: the invisibility desexualized me.

After all these years, I’m single for the first time not in a collective setting of a school or university. I’ve finally come to see clearly the odd dichotomy I’ve been navigating of being seen as prudish and puerile and, alternately, overly sensual and almost dangerous because of the ways I step outside of that virtuous Indian woman trope, even if only in the way I speak, carry myself, and dress. I’ve found that I almost always worry that a guy is reading me in one of these two extreme ways. And I do an exhausting dance of guessing which one it is so I can counter it with the appropriate behavior. Only recently did it occur to me that this is not something I can control, that it’s not my fault. That realization in itself is helping me shut out the noise to slowly find the in-between – and with that, my authentic self.

Sexuality does not originate from your body, but the possibility of strange men’s sexuality is constantly in your mind, policing what you wear and how you perceive yourself.

What do you think about this topic? Any commentary or stories? Agree or disagree? Or how is it similar or different being a girl in India? 

Works Cited: 

Growing Up Brown: Desexualized and Hyper-sexualized by Zoya Haroon

Walking the Tightrope: Good Indian Girls, Race, and Bad Sexuality by Chaya Babu


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