First, second, and even third-generation south Asian immigrant women often find themselves balancing their two worlds. A western world, where possibilities seem endless and breaking boundaries can be tempting, and a traditional world, defined by their cultural expectations and peers.
Whether it’s career choices, a later marriage, or simply wearing what you want, it can be hard to balance cultural values and your own identity. Bring sex and female sexuality into this, and things become a lot more hostile.
Generationally, South Asians are raised with the idea that sex is strictly for procreating within marriage and nothing else. However, as society progresses, younger generations are internalising less and less of this message. The ideas of enjoyment and pleasure are slowly being recognised as part of the sexual experience.
Bollywood films have started to openly exhibit some scenes of intimacy between characters. Music videos feature themes of sex appeal and lust. Still, these productions are largely controlled by men and for the enjoyment of men, and women aren’t usually in control regarding these decisions. Amongst the South Asian community as a whole, sexual liberation is limited to men, and women are simply not welcomed to embrace their sexuality at all.
In regard to South Asians in the western world, sex is becoming less of a taboo topic, and therefore fewer parents try to deny the existence of sex altogether. Yet sex outside of marriage and sexual autonomy has remained unchallenged, and, in this regard, women are almost certainly always expected to uphold the perfect standard compared to men.
South Asian men have been acknowledged as “simply being bachelors” and therefore get away from cultural expectations. That option simply does not exist for South Asian women, which stems from the general misogyny within the entire South Asian community. A community that expects women obediently to follow the rules and exercise considerably less autonomy. If you take these ideal characteristics into the world of sexuality, sex becomes something that is either done to have children or done to a woman for the enjoyment of a man.
By consistently limiting and policing the role that women play in sex, a narrative has been born of a disgraceful and disrespected South Asian woman who engages in sex for pleasure and controls her own body and sexuality. It bleeds into the idea that women who engage in casual sex or sex before marriage are identified as “hoes” and women who do not value themselves. Why not look at it in a way where a woman values herself so much that she refuses to confine her body to society’s expectations?
It’s important to remember that the policing of women’s bodies and their sexuality is not only done by men in the South Asian community but other women too. Both genders play a part in condemning and judging women who openly explore and engage in sexual activities. In fact, it is the relentless regulating of women that often causes many women to internalise these views for themselves. You end up with a generation of mothers, aunties, and grandmothers warning their daughters of the shameful dangers of sex and forcing upon them the false ideals where a woman’s virginity is a direct reflection of her family’s honour.
What is the product of this? Decades full of women who feel that they have no control over their body, that their body is only of service to a man and not themselves. For generations, this attitude towards female sexuality has produced environments where women are so uneducated about their own bodies and feelings that they easily fall susceptible to sexual abuse within marriages. Those mothers, aunties, and grandmothers who refused to have open conversations with their daughters about sex consequently failed to educate them on how sex is supposed to be an enjoyable and comfortable exchange for each party involved.
For decades South Asian women have struggled to accept, exercise, and even understand their agency, which further aggravates the existing problems surrounding gender equality and misogynism.
In recognising this agency and control that South Asian women have a right to, women can feel less obliged to hide or feel ashamed about their sexual experiences and therefore enjoy sex in an environment where they are respected and valued. By having open conversations with all young South Asians, both young men and women can be educated in their views towards female sexuality resulting in less of the ‘slut-shaming’ that still occurs within society.
We welcome all women to be more vocal and embrace our sexual independence so that future generations of South Asian women can feel comfortable and free in their experiences, relationships, and identities.
Aman Kalkat is a British Punjabi living in Valencia studying Spanish and a Content Creator with Pardesi. An aspiring journalist, she loves writing and using her words to uplift communities in all different capacities. Kalkat is especially excited to support and encourage South Asian womxn across the world through this platform, believing that they have so much to offer the world with their personal stories. In addition to Pardesi and studying Spanish, she enjoys sunbathing, cooking, blogging, and traveling. You can find her work and follow her professional journey on her Instagram.