Tag Archives: religion

I’m A Slave (4 U)

Secretary?

I won’t deny it; I’m not trying to hide it.

Sure Britney. We understand.

I was watching Secretary (one of my absolute favorite films) and I started making some connections (as usual) that I thought would be relevant to my commentaries on life, art, and my own practice. Afterall, if I enjoyed it so much, it must have meant something to me or it would have changed my perception of the world in some way etc.

Lee Holloway is a smart, quirky woman in her twenties who returns to her hometown in Florida after a brief stay in a mental hospital. In search of relief from herself and her oppressive childhood environment, she starts to date a nerdy friend from high school and takes a job as a secretary in a local law firm, soon developing an obsessive crush on her older boss, Mr. Grey. Through their increasingly bizarre relationship, Lee follows her deepest longings to the heights of masochism and finally to a place of self-affirmation.

-The Storyline of Secretary (2002) from IMDB (The Internet Movie Database)

Since I have had sex and religion thrown into my face for some time now, I figured this would be a good time to find new ways to approach my interests. Sadism and Masochism are very interesting ideas:

Sadomasochism broadly refers to the receiving of pleasure— often sexual— from acts involving the infliction or receiving of pain or humiliation. The name originates from two authors on the subject, the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. A subset of BDSM, practitioners of sadomasochism usually seek out sexual gratification from these acts, but often seek out other forms of pleasure as well. While the terms sadist and masochist specifically refer to one who either enjoys giving pain(sadist), or one who enjoys receiving pain(masochist), many practitioners of sadomasochism describe themselves as at least somewhat of a switch, or someone who can receive pleasure from either inflicting or receiving pain.

And:

…sexual sadism within the context of mutual consent should not be mistaken for acts of sexual violence or aggression.

From Wikipedia (my good friend)

Dr. Twardon: You know, Lee. There’s a long history of this in Catholicism.

Burt Holloway: You are the child of god’s holy gift of life. You come from me. But you are not me. Your soul and your body are your own, and yours to do with as you wish.

-Secretary, 2002

Very, very interesting. Especially within the context that I have been tethered to in the last five weeks. Every classroom discussion. Every conviction. Every single sweeping statement. I just had to watch this film again to find new meaning within the context. I just couldn’t help myself (Britney Spears would agree – ah, that great sage of our world today).

There has been some talk of objectifying the woman. There has been talk of ethics and morality. I’m a big fan of morality. I don’t think I’m unethical. I work for a living and I try my best. I have my own view of the world that I am comfortable in. I question all preconceived notions and try to find my own way. And yet, they come to preach to me what being a human being SHOULD be. I have commented on abuse and I have commented on questioning reality. And here I am, talking about romance.

Perhaps I should return to the classroom discussion today and stress on the importance of altering perception. I live to please myself and I think so do most self-respecting people. We all draw lines around ourselves but sometimes we like to question our own limitations (another boring word which needs dissection). So where does sadomasochism enter the “bigger picture”? Is it the indie (or alternative) value of this construct that interests me? Or am I just a freak on the edge of reality?

I was talking to a friend today about the value of pleasure. We make art to please ourselves and others. We take great pains (interesting word within the context) to express ourselves. We even hurt ourselves in the process (again within context). And all for the pleasure of it. To please ourselves. To please others. Pain is real. Maybe, these ideas led me back to this film I saw many years ago and adored. I am not a sadomasochist in my practice – or am I?

These are interesting questions for me. I used to believe I was programmed to be a masochist – given ideas that self-sacrifice is what makes you a good human being, a better person, a good woman etc. These ideals are widely accepted and thrown at you without much consideration innocently by every second person (be it a parent, a friend or just about anyone). I am not playing the blame game but merely making an observation. And then within that context comes subservience and obedience within religion. So interesting.

So we are to deny our human-ness for a set of beliefs? But we are also to deny perversion of a perversion? Denial is what, exactly if not perversion? Or if denial is within the religious context, is it not perversion? Can the words religion and perversion not co-exist within the same context? Is that not allowed? I feel these are valid questions. Why isn’t anyone asking these questions in my classroom? Yes, I am impatient and I do live in my own world. I also know (sadly) that my questions will be viewed as perversion. Or maybe I am underestimating humanity. Whatever the case, it will be worthwhile to atleast find out. If we are to redefine the world, we need to redefine everything in existence. That gives me some hope. That also helps me stay awake.

Disclaimer (I LOVE disclaimers): This is in no way a conclusive survey – and I do not mean to offend anybody’s religious (or sexual) sentiment whatsoever.

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Sex and Religion

For some strange reason, the subjects of sex and religion pop up in classroom discussions a lot these days. Mostly, it seems like every discussion turns into talk about religion and the way it is seen and the way it really is etc. These conversations lead to no solid conclusion but it seems to be some kind of a trend. This is my observation and it sometimes interests me and worries me all at once.

What worries me most is their underlying smug belief that they have this perfect religion that is supreme and above all others. Perhaps, I read too much into their expressions. Perhaps, this is what most people are. I insist that we must not judge somebody for what they are and I try not to do so myself but I worry sometimes. It frightens me too. Am I afraid of religion? I don’t think so. Am I afraid of what I’ve been told is narrow-mindedness? Perhaps. But then what is narrow-mindedness, really? Am I narrow-minded in my fear?

Maybe we all draw the line somewhere. Maybe that is how we survive in our minds. The absolute conviction they have might frighten me but maybe they need it to understand themselves. When it will bother them, they will find something else to believe in just as strongly. Maybe they will believe in themselves. Maybe they will believe in something I can’t even think of. To each her/his own.

Sometimes we talk about perception of the body. These are also very interesting discussions (and less frightening). I have a class mostly of young women (and two young men) who are very opinionated about everything. Gender perception is also considered and they talk about it whenever they’re not talking about religion.

I have been thinking about the sexualization of girls in the context of the body. I think this is a subject that needs to be discussed. Recently, I realized that many people use the term “hot” to describe a woman’s appearance. In a comment on facebook, my cousin innocently remarked “Apa (sister), you are looking hot in this picture.” My mother also commented on the same picture asking me what hot really means. That actually made me think about it. It does have a sexual connotation but it is used so commonly that nobody ever thinks about it much.

So what is hot, really? I think it means to be sexually attractive. Why is that so easy to say here in Pakistan where in some circles, women actually believe a vagina is best ignored. It makes no sense. This took me to the idea of sexualization (make sexual, endow with sex, attribute sex to) and it seemed like something to think about.

So I googled it and found some material. A commentary on the CNN World Edition led me to the American Psychological Association’s website which particularily interested me. According to the APA’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls’ report:

There are several components to sexualization, and these set it apart from healthy sexuality. Sexualization occurs when

  1. a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  2. a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  3. a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  4. sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization. The fourth condition (the inappropriate imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children. Anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not sexualization by our definition, nor is age-appropriate exposure to information about sexuality.

I feel the relevance of this study in what I’m trying to understand. “Hot” used for women in this context makes sense to me. The question that arises is that why can’t women just be “pretty” or “beautiful” anymore? I’m not assuming that those words did not objectify women (or children or men) but they sound harmless enough when compared to people being sexual objects.

In study after study, findings have indicated that women more often than men are portrayed in a sexual manner (e.g., dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (e.g., used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person). In addition, a narrow (and unrealistic) standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized. These are the models of femininity presented for young girls to study and emulate.

This brings me back to female bodies. I am ignoring art-history here and just considering pop-culture (which I believe is a phenomenon not unrelated to art-history but that is another story altogether). We speak a funny language. We express lust so casually. Oh, we say, she is SO HOT – without batting an eyelash. And then we get on with our lives without giving much thought to what we have really said. Or implied.

I don’t mean to nit-pick here but it’s something to think about. I believe people have the right to do whatever they want as long as they don’t force others to do the same. But then the question of social responsibility arises and everything becomes murky or too intense.

Which brings me back to religion-talk in the classroom. We want to be open-minded and accept every opinion and consider every side. However, sometimes, a line is crossed and strange arguments pop up which leave me flustered. As an educator, it is difficult to negotiate between the various belief structures of my students and the need to help them break away from preconceived notions. It is a daunting task that keeps me on my toes. But it also drains me but that is an acceptable price for what I’m trying to accomplish – guide my students to an understanding of themselves that would help them articulate their words and pictures. I suppose that is the best I can do. If the talk of religion and sex helps them, then so be it. To each her own, really.

Disclaimer: I realize a lot of words I have used in this post are quite cliched. I am just recording my concerns and observations. By no means do I intend to enforce “social” laws based on my own understanding on my students or other people. Also, I am heavily medicated for anxiety and whatever I have written comes from a place far, far away from the rest of me. However, it will help me function normally tomorrow and that’s what counts.