Shrill, Kill Feel, This Pill
It is especially the way contraception is advertised that makes us think, how little it has to do with women's liberation and is more a way of upholding status-quoist ideas on sex, gender, family, class
Pallavi Paul Delhi
What is my body?
The obvious answer is that it can be many things - chronology, history, conformism, subversion, doubt, pain, joy, comfort, pleasure, poetry, illness, sacred, desirable, ugly - but most of all, I feel, it is threatening.
Threatening for different people, at different points of time. For myself and my own image as "one of the boys", eventually, my worried grandmother, who didn't think I looked as nice as other girls my age; finally, for the rest of the world ... for now I am a sexualized, untamed, reproductive body capable of wrecking havoc on everything that is natural.
The 'natural' which is so painstakingly constructed for me everyday. My class - which entails the expectations society has of me, and those I ought to have of it in return. A pact, that tells me, I can have a house, a warm bed to sleep in, good meals everyday, access to education and the confidence which comes from societal acceptance - something more than 90 per cent people in this country can only dream of. In return, I have to behave myself, pretend that I know no bodily desire, and vow to uphold and live out a hetro-normative recreational paradise. Till I either drop dead, or my body becomes incapacitated to be of joy to myself or anyone else.
This wonderful symbiosis is called middle-class morality. Any danger to it is double jeopardy, an affront to the sacred laws, both of class and gender.
Naturally, when things are so sensitive the last thing that a society wants to do is trust a 'hysterical' human being with any kind of power. Hence, painful melodrama unfolds and grandmothers censure, fathers organise surveillance, mothers emotionally blackmail and mostly everyone plays each other's part.
But there are also mechanisms that function more like a slick, understated Hollywood classic. They sit you down, give you a cold glass of water and then begin in soft, steady, subdued and menacing tones about how a decision to pleasure your body outside permissible limits is criminal/hallucinatory, because outside of them the body is not supposed to exist.
Further, a recognition of these limits is critical to determine the manner in which patriarchy can/will exploit women: Canonised Goddess without agency, cheap domestic labour, biological incubator for offspring (preferably male), 'career woman' cum homemaker. A face-less 'type' trapped either in the oppressive iconography of the sister, mother, modern woman with 'Indian values' or the 'obvious' opposite of being sexually available at all times in the absence of a father, husband or son who can 'rightfully' claim 'territorial ownership'.
A case in point for such careful, strategised marking of boundaries are the 'friend of the liberated woman', the I-pill advertisements. First things first.
Thank heaven there is an emergency contraceptive and that people are being informed about it, that women have slightly more agency over their bodies and they can be less tense about physical intimacy with men. Also, they can save themselves from the harassment of a hair-raisingly painful medical procedure (both in culmination and termination) and unnecessary societal curiosity.
None of the advertisements, however, talk of anything other than the kind of condemnation a woman can (and by extension ought to) face in pregnancy outside of marriage. Even the ones that deal specifically with married women deal with the fear of pregnancy as a career threat or an economic liability which might be undesirable for the family. Not once is the language of a woman's control over her body and therefore her sexuality, foregrounded over images of nervous looking young girls or older women reprimanding irresponsible behaviour in hushed tones.
The fear of the woman is never characterised by that of the body but by that of the conscience. The all-encompassing megalomaniacal conscience which assigns responsibilities to everything it co-opts. The woman as the preserver of an order that actively makes her into a fetishised, moralised, affluence- loving, delicious quick mix; the men who partake of this delicacy (along with women) and even the I-pill which is taken away from the side of the subversionists and turned into a 'well meaning' 'let me set you right' whip on the back, 'never to do it again' gesture from the socio-smiths.
Not one set of images conveys to women that they need to be confident of their bodies, that reproduction is something they can choose both within marriage and outside of it, that decisions about childbirth must be taken keeping in mind its effects on the woman's body, that men responsible for pre-marital pregnancies need to be made visible in advertisements because dealing with an unforeseen pregnancy is not only a woman's problem, and the relief of averting it can't and must not be only hers.
It is especially the way contraception, particularly, emergency contraception is advertised in the country that makes us think, how little it has to do with women's liberation and how it is more a way of maintaining and upholding status-quoist ideas on sex, gender, family, class etcetera. At the level of the State it is a pragmatic way to keep population under control.
A misleading argument that is often made by people who have implicit and unshakable faith in the goodness of our upper caste, bourgeois, patriarchal State and social structure is, that the 'liberal' nature of our society is characterised by the fact that abortion, which was a topic of so much debate in the West, was so easily legalised in India. The question that begs asking, however, is how much this had to do with celebrating women's sexualities rather than being just an effective method of population control and meeting national goals of 'development'( which in turn have done little for women.)
The women in I-pill advertisements are the women that various forms of patriarchal authority try to manufacture in multiple ways. Women who can't venture out unescorted on the streets after dark, who can't have unnecessary conversations with autowallahs, bus drivers, paanwallahs and the likes because it is inappropriate; who cant be seen buying alcohol, who need to at all times hide the fact that they menstruate, and ironically (if they are unmarried), the potentially earth-shattering fact that they haven't! To say it most simply, they are the women who can do everything they want, only until it is insignificant enough to go unnoticed.
Just recently, I heard a silly song called no win situation. The band was called Honor Society. It makes me smile, the taxonomic irony, and gives me the comfort of thinking that like my body, the pill too can be many things. Only if it is sent out in a way that could reclaim the 'I'.