Friday, March 2, 2012

Much ado about a four-letter word

The first time my children chorused that the sambar I had cooked was really ‘sexy’, I took the new association between a laden word and the spicy concoction in my stride. The alliteration did it, methinks! Gradually, I realised that everything—just about everything—seemed ‘sexy’ to my children and they aren’t kindergarten tots; they know what the dictionary has to say about the word, and more, I presume. Clearly, the connotation of the word had evolved. Even when the children’s friends gathered at our home, I heard the word flying around casually. It wasn’t uttered in hushed tones. None of the gang seemed uncomfortable using it in my presence or thought they were being disrespectful. The controversial word had somewhere along, acquired an asexual personality. So, from “Hey, that’s a sexy top” to “I just finished reading I have a Dream. Sexy book!” to “Masala Magic has sexy corn cutlets” to “What a sexy room”, the word was thrown around nonchalantly, without the worry that it would raise my hackles. So, in its new, ubiquitous, multi-dimensional avatar, used to describe everything but women, it meant trendy, cool, beautiful, good, fantastic. However, Ms Sharma of the National Commission for Women (NCW) said at the seminar at Jaipur, that women should take the word positively, if someone compliments them. But, not every woman likes to be branded ‘sexy’, especially by a lascivious male whose intention is to convey that she is the answer to his bedroom fantasies. Eve-teasers and their ilk have a field day throwing the epithet, with lustful glee, at unsuspecting women. Also, every woman should reserve the right to either accept it as a compliment or feel affronted, depending on the occasion, the intention of the user, and who is paying courtesy. After all, it’s a volatile word! Rakhi Sawant or Poonam Pandey (with due respect to the ladies and their prerogative to choose their stance) may not object to being referred to as ‘sexy’ because it is their portrayal as desirable women that brings bread, butter and jam to their breakfast table. Both women have no qualms about projecting themselves as bold and covetable. Ditto with other Bollywood actresses—some of whom may be offended at being referred to in the same breath as the aforementioned twosome, as they project a different brand of ‘sexy’—but won’t take umbrage at being described as alluring to the opposite gender. But, try saying that to someone who’s just not interested in being a ‘sex symbol’ and you’ll have a situation on your hands. Imagine telling, say, Mamta Banerjee that you feel she’s a ‘sexy’ politician—‘sexy’ here meaning honest and efficient, no less! Her reaction could be nothing short of a political upheaval. Imagine the government being toppled by a four-letter word! You may say the problem is not with the word, but with the mindset. But, there are many, who will take the word at face value, refuse to acknowledge its tweaked character, and not without reason, given that it was originally used to objectify women and is still bandied occasionally to that end. Years ago, when Karisma Kapoor gyrated to the number ‘Sexy, sexy, sexy, mujhe log bole, the hit song from Khuddar, opportunists, social activists, feminists and a host of other people voiced their protests loudly, and subsequently, a tamer version, Baby, baby, baby...was produced to smooth ruffled feathers. I don’t know how many women were soothed by this version which infantilised them. Honestly, it’s Hobson’s choice between ‘baby’ and ‘sexy’ and being infantilised and objectified. As to whether Iwill take the word positively, as Ms Sharma suggests...well, it depends on whether I feel complimented or commoditised at that point of time. The context decides the overtones and the reaction. But, if you ask me about the weather now, I’ll say, “It’s sexy!”