One of the stereotypical images we have all witnessed in the Indian cinema is the famous First Night after Marriage scene. So what does that image include? A shy bride decked on the bed and a confident groom who enters the room and initiates a conversation to break the awkward silence. Once he thinks enough words have been spoken, he slowly starts making his moves by lovingly removing her ornaments. Now all this while as the groom initiates the action, the bride remains the passive one, aiding him in his actions. Initially, she hesitates, owing to her shy nature before ultimately submitting to his will.
This particular bedroom scene is an enactment of much older traditional gendered roles that patriarchy expects men and women to play. It is the man who guides and drives the sexual needs of both and it is he alone who has the liberty to be vocal about it.
Men fear that if women are allowed to be expressive of their sexual needs then they would end up violating the norms of an ideal woman (prescribed once again by patriarchy). She would be ostracized as a bad influence on society. Men also fear that a sexually liberated woman will challenge their own dominant position in the bedroom. Granting a woman her sexual freedom comes as a direct threat to their own masculinity. There is also the fear of being mocked at as ‘emasculate’, ‘eunuch’, ‘unmanly’ and even a ‘coward’. To add to all these fears, society deems ‘women’ as the naturally vulnerable one; both physically and emotionally. If her sexual desires aren’t controlled, then there is a possibility of her being susceptible to the sin of adultery.
But what happens if a woman gets all expressive, vocal and free about her sexual needs? A simple glance at the CBFC Board and mixed audience response to the movie Lipstick under My Burkha would answer it convincingly. Forget about granting women sexual freedom, society is yet to accept a woman who is capable of having sexual fantasies and desires and actively seeks to gratify it.
But this wasn’t the state of women in the Vedic times. Both men and women were free about their sexual needs and no furore was raised over who controlled and dictated the sexual moves. One such myth from Mahabharata talks about the story of Draupadi who was once Nalayani, the wife of a sage. Her husband had a terrible skin disease and couldn’t consummate their marriage. But Nalayani remained a devoted wife. Pleased with her services he granted her a boon. She wished him to fulfil her sexual needs and the sage granted it, making love to her in different ways, in the form of different men. The Mahabharata also tells us about Ulupi, who openly request Arjuna to make love to her. When he denies, she reminds him that it is against Dharma to reject a woman who comes on her own full of desires.
It is no wonder that old myths have been forgotten and the new ones have taken their place. And it is sad to note that sexual freedom which was once seen as natural and human, is now only a myth for women.