When women ask for it: Veena Venugopal


To me, the most memorable scene in Dev D is the one where Paro takes a mattress from home and ties it to her cycle. When she reaches the edge of the field, she abandons the cycle, lifts the mattress on her shoulder and marches to the clearing where she lays it down and waits for her lover. There are no words spoken and the camera holds her face close. Her expression is one of intense seriousness. You can see her desire is a field force of intensity that fuels every step. She is determined to see it through, to let that desire take over herself completely; not surrender to it but to let it explode out of her. You know that when she meets Dev, the sex would be passionate and powerful.  And yet, in the south Delhi multiplex where I was watching the film, most of the audience burst into rapacious laughter. The women smiled embarrassedly at each other. Which made me wonder, why is female desire a laughing matter?

I thought back to the movie and that scene because even now, in the last seven weeks that we have been talking about sex, sexuality, power, passion and crime, we are still, yet to talk about female desire. In the conversations about rape that we have had, there have been infinite references to provocation. That if women dress a certain way, they are “asking for it.” To my mind, what this means is that men don’t know when we are really asking for it. Because if I was “asking for it”, it would be a lot more than showing cleavage, or leg. If I am asking for it, dude, you will know it.

When did desire become a male privilege? There is so little conversation about a woman’s desire for sex that a lot of people simply assume it doesn’t exist. A Times of India article last month starts with this surprising headline, Women too have high sex drive. Did you not know that?  To my mind, understanding that there is such a thing as female desire is essential to knowing how we behave. There has, rightly, been a call for the Indian film industry, especially Bollywood, to introspect how it depicts its women. The whole “chhed-chhad” business, the near stalker-ish behavior that Hindi film heroes indulge in does influence how men on the streets behave. That it gives that boorishness credibility. And eventually, the girl succumbs. What is important to the girl, it suggests, is acceptance. She does not desire. She does not chase. She does not acknowledge, even to herself, that she wants this man. She gives in, relents, submits.

Truth is, female desire is as much a brute force as male desire. Sometimes it takes us by surprise, often we relent to it. Some of us take risks to indulge our desire. Some of us fight it, telling ourselves why this particular one is not good for us. It occurs to us just as randomly as it does to men. When we watch a movie, read a book, walk down the street, see someone hot, at the pub drinking, at the temple praying. Sometimes we fabricate it, filling our head with fantasies. Sometimes we deny it. Sometimes we fake it. Sometimes it’s a coiled spring. Sometimes it’s a warm breeze. But what is important for you to know is that we feel it. We know what it is.

In an early episode of Girls, one of the characters reads from a dating manual. “Sex from behind is degrading. He should want to look at your beautiful face,” she reads. To which the other asks, “what if I want something different? What if I want to feel like I have udders?” Because, you know, sometimes we do. In Saudi Arabia, where laughably a lot of people seem to think there are no rapes because women are “properly attired”, the intense segregation of the sexes makes us turn our desires to other women. Don’t believe me? Read Seba Al-Herz’s book, The Others. Because no matter what you believe, you can’t put a burqa on a thought or wrap a hijab around a feeling.

We probably don’t talk about what we desire enough. But we certainly think about it. So this will probably come as a surprise to you. When you proposition us, on the road, in the bus, or at a movie theatre, and we say no, we are not saying that we don’t feel any desire. We are simply saying that it’s not you who we desire.

(Veena Venugopal is a journalist in Delhi. She is the author of the book Would You Like Some Bread With That Book, published by Yoda Press in 2012. She is a contributing writer for Quartz and Mint.)

113 thoughts on “When women ask for it: Veena Venugopal”

  1. Thank you for this article. Finally! A young colleague the other day asked me ‘Won’t he think I am cheap if I ask him out?’. I was not surprised. We are brought up to think that if we as women go out there and demand what we desire, it would somehow make us less desirable – ‘cheap’ as my young colleague says. It is the true and ugly face of patriarchy that is called ‘chivalry’. ‘We will open doors for you, we will pull up the chair and of course we have the privilege to ask you out’. Often women who do express their desire are seen as shameless, ‘behaya’. Underneath it all I feel there is a strong fear of female desire that patriarchy has in its heart. Perhaps because it’s close to anarchy. Perhaps because they might feel ‘less of a man’ if female desire overrides the male equivalent. Perhaps because it might not ultimately desire their species :) Who knows! In fact, who cares! But unless we talk about it, write about it and more than anything else acknowledge its presence and force in our bodies and minds, nothings gonna change.

    1. I agree with you. And I won’t pretend that I, too, haven’t thought along the same lines. A few months back, I heard a girl say that, “If I find a guy good looking, I think that I owe it to him to tell him that.” It made me think about how I have always pictured a decent guy to be the one who asks his girl out and never the other way round! How, despite all the feminist thought-process and similar inputs I get everyday, I have somehow thought that the girls who take the inititative in a relationship are forward and how I have always disapproved of them! That was when I realized that unless and until there is more acknowledgement of the female desire, we would never get out of our deep-rooted orthodox upbringing. And unless more people acknowledge the existence of female “will”, we will never reach anywhere on the debate of recognising “marital rape”, which our government continues to ignore beacuse of it being an “uncomfortable subject”.

  2. Yes, that female desire is the ‘will’ that is violated in rape, which is not only without your consent, but also against your ‘will’. Its what makes some of our young girls cross the barriers of caste and creed to marry an ‘outsider’ and makes 15 year old girls elope. ( A good thing that the ‘will’ leaps out only once in way, and mostly at a more appropriate age. But given the beating it tends to take in society at large, I consider is a precious thing, to be cherished, when it happens.

  3. I totally agree. Especially in the Indian context, when it comes to sex, a certain sense of shame is attached to it, so much so that women raise their daughters into believing the same and among other things, carefully avoiding the discussion of sex with them. Not only does it lead to putting their daughters at risk, given the misleading sources of information they will turn to if their curiousity isn’t appropriately satisfied., but it also leads to the development of the same unease and shame whenever it comes to sex. And this sense of shame is so deep-rooted, that I am debating whether or not to share this article on FB, because of the possibility of my family seeing it. What I have always failed to understand is how do Indian parents delude themselves into believing that their daughters will never reach the age where their body will demand the same!!

    But, seriously, amazing article! Spot-on!

  4. Excellent post Veena Venugopal! ‘if I’m asking for it, dude, you will know it.” ha ha ha!

    1. Really, best line in this post ‘If I’m asking for it, dude, you will know it.”
      But the society and the so called modern man has found a way around this too, with this statement – “I thought you wanted it” …!!!

  5. this is a very important topic to be discussed. i have the experience that even in women’ groups we would not talk about our sexuality beyond a point, due to the same feelings of shame the dominant society has introduced us to, as most of us still have. in my women’s group SAHELI in Delhi we did a survey amongst our own group, some 25 years ago, in which we were asked to remain secret. it did not take us far to understand what we really wanted and what we really think. anyway good that today women like Meena and websites like Kafila are taking up this issue. the whole issue of rape can be understood and overcome much easier if we would first try to understand the needs of both sexes, how we rxpess them and how we expect the other side to take them and also how to react to them. surely not laugh at them and surely not make us feel cheap. facts are that even today, even the progressive men do not behave they way they should be towards women who can express it and want their sexuality to be taken as a normal thing. the men think a really good woman will wait till the marriage to have sex with her fiancee and at the same time allow him to have sex with other women, because being a man he has greater urge and need to fulfill his sexuality. they, the women think they should supress their sexuality as long as the real man, the husband has not been found. the men on the other side think they have a right to enjoy their sexuality any time of their lives and so even going to prostitutes is allowed in their mind set and that of the society too.
    we have to create the social environment which can take women as normal human beings with normal sexuality. women themselves have to accept it for themselves!

  6. Rihaee – a 1988 film deals with the subject of women’s desire, needs – although not very convincingly, at least with unusual honesty; it talks about double standards in our society.

  7. Mind has NO gender!

    Veena’s article is a refreshing welcome note, as it brings another fundamental issue to the fore than just sex…

    Does mind really have a gender?

    I believe, NO. It does get conditioned though, in one or other way due to persistence of a belief, tradition, habit… whichever term you prefer.

    How many people are aware that women were granted voting rights in supposedly modern societies like UK and USA, as late as 1918-1919? And now in 2013, gradually the realization is dawning upon the world that a woman can work in any profession and shine. The issue of relative physical strength is not much relevant in any society where physical power is no measure of supremacy. So, it should be in the matter of desire for sex too!

    Where I like to deviate is… ‘desire for sex’, need not mean to be equated with ‘free-sex’, whether for man or woman. Appreciating one another, feeling attracted, initiating a relationship are all so naturally fine; yet allowing a friendship to reduce to a level of physicality alone is something one needs to debate about!

    Societies in Europe and the US have gone too far in letting their youth take free-sex as symbol of freedom, over the past century. As a natural consequence, the “family-structure” is gradually affected negatively, with little tolerance for one another. How many kids grow in a stable family where both parents are available to them while growing– is the issue, one needs to ponder over. In that sense, Indian cultural ethos of “respect for woman” as mother or sister in public-life is a time-tested virtue; worth preserving too!

    Integrity to the core, when it comes to relationship especially between man and woman, is a necessary precursor prior to ‘desire-for-sex’. Or else, we would be missing to learn from the undesired consequences of frivolous free-sex, that western hemisphere has already experimented with!


    1. Excellent comment about making a distinction between “desire for sex” and “free sex” for both men and women.

    2. I respectfully disagree. US and Europe are firstly pretty heterogeneous societies, and this free sex concept is a myth, a corrosive one too. Divorce rates are the lowest since the sixties, while divorce rates are rising in India.
      This concept of respect for our mothers and sisters is a fig leaf for our regressive gender practices, and is in fact highly constrictive to women. Respect should be for every human being, period. Unless you can back up your rather vague claims, I have to dismiss them.
      And finally whats wrong with free sex? What two mature consenting adults perform in their privacy is nobody else’s business.

      1. Appreciate your mail. Interactions are necessary to sort our views out.

        Firstly, it seems your advocacy of free-sex is based on your belief that all adults are matured when it comes to ‘desire for sex’. How many men you think may care for the feelings of women they may have free-sex with; OR do they simply see in them ease of opportunity to exploit? What men have to lose anyways? The vulnerability for women is far greater. You seem to be keen about statistics. I suggest, you move fingers on google and will have all the data on finger-tips. Whether teenage pregnancies, single mother with inadequate education and earning as parent, kids living with one parent, emotional trauma of all such people (due to absence of a proper family)…. are the most unfortunate fall-outs of free-sex. Desire for stable relationship is no lesser an objective for any one, whether man or woman.

        Barter of sex between two adults is not same as barter of things. It has implications for society at large, as its proliferation to all can destroy sanctity of ‘long-term commitment’ among people, and sexual-pleasures alone would dominate such a society, with little concerns for stable-relations.

        I think Veena’s key point is to emphasize importance of woman’s right to ‘desire-for-sex’, to which I entirely agree. I simply went a step further to present a view that desire for sex has an honourable place in life and deserves due dignity in a cultured society, both from man and woman ! That is all!

        No freedom can come without simultaneous need for discipline. Unless one considers having freedom of sex as the ultimate objective in life.

    3. Mind has a gender as mediated by the hormones and their levels in bringing forth more or less of the characteristics of one gender over the other. This is not to be confused with culture-based values that allow for or the suppression/repression of some of the natural gender-specific expressions over a host of biologic and physiologic variables. What is wrong are the social descriminations wrought upon women, ascribing them an inferior status by the two dominant relgious ideologies in the form of distorted versions of Christianity and Islam that overthrew their authentic, liberal versions. Since brain is the biggest sexual organ, and gender prejudicial notions took the pseudo-legitmacy of some moral dictates, those weak of mind swallowed the whole stock and barrel of what was mere political propoganda of the religious fanatics. The Canadian movie, Water, exemplifies this so well. So, yes, mind has a gender slant, and should be so, naturally.

  8. A very relevant and sensible article by Miss Venugopal. Girls who express their desires are indeed considered characterless! Why? They are also humans, they also have the right to love and want! Well said!

  9. Very well written Veena. I guess the men in India are in reality not that evolved. What you talk about is a reality that we cannot avoid or escape from. Female sexuality and desire is welcome, encouraged and here to stay. Kudos !!

    1. why single out only men from India . Indian men have become favorite punching bags . Very few realise that they are also victims. We Indians celeberate birth of a male child but never give as much attention to their grooming. On other hand the girls are groomed carefully for their role as they will be sent to different family. No doubt their life is difficult but atleast they are prepared and groomed for it right from childhood unlike the boys. So to come to the point the men also (here I mean the normal middle class and below) in India would not know how to express their of desire for sex although they supposedly have freedom to do it . The society has been equally forbidding to men in these matters . we cannot in ordinary course express such desires to someone whom we are attracted to. Even a male doing so is frowned upon. The Indian society has not devised an acceptable system like the western society has to do it.Where a man may ask a women whom he is attracted to out on a date in ordinary course. In India we have to adopt a lenghthy and complicated process, There is no simple forth right and straight forward way to do it. In the circumstances men are only aware that they are the ones who are supposed to take initiative, however tehy donot know how?. The result is that they end up adopting awkward boorish approaches in absence of grooming. Some do over a period of time acquire finese and polish in style no doubt , but they are very few. Most of them give up after a ” a happy arranged marraige” . So please let us stop making such remarks out of hand in every forum and oppurtunity that Indian men are so and so ,or the favourite one these days is “indian men are among the ugliest in world (especially Hindus)while the women are prettiest” and so on and on it goes on.

      1. Well said. 100% agree. How many of us talk to our boys about their desires? How to handle a no?
        Also due to dominant braiwashing of girls in their homes more gulz r inclined to say no…. It may or may not be a candid No but boys shoud be groomed to take it as face value and consider that the gul has lost on something sexy rather than other way round.

  10. Loved this post, shared it on my blog. Patriarchy and Misogyny can’t survive without controlling female sexuality. If the society stops punishing non-patriarchal expression of female sexuality, then nobody would care that chastity is romanticised and rewarded with ’approval’. Then rapes will be seen as crimes against people (not as crimes against honor, patriarchy or loss of virginity etc). Meaning, women will then be treated as people, and hurting them will be a crime. We will see other changes too.

    It will all begin with acknowledging that female sexuality exists.

  11. err! I am a woman and I too laughed for that scene. The laugh was for the mattress thing and I would have laughed even if a guy did that.the laugh was not in denial or embarrassment of my or any woman’s desire.

  12. Thank you for saying this. When did we begin to imagine that women have no desire? Perhaps of all the gender biases, I find this one the most humiliating.

  13. I get the point of your article, and I recognise the need for more writing such as this. I also realize that you are probably aware that the issue around women “asking for it” is slightly more complex than men misreading the signals. Here’s my two cents on the issue:
    When they say women are “asking for it”, I don’t think they mean women are asking for sex, originating from desire. I think what they mean is that women are asking for punitive action by men, for their immoral and provocative behaviour. And again, I don’t mean provocative in a sexual sense, but in a deeper, challenging-male-supremacy way.
    That is the typical attitude of the Indian “establishment”, by which I mean the cultural establishment, the religious establishment, the political establishment, the police establishment, the judicial establishment.
    That’s what needs to change.

    1. You’re right to point out that the more nuanced of the social commentaries we’ve seen in the recent past use the phrase ‘asking for it’ not in a sexual way, but in a punitive way.

      However, I think an acknowledgement of the existence of female sexuality would cause a great deal of the kind of change you are talking about in ‘the establishment’. And I think this is what Ms.Venugopal is driving at as well. A lot of these structures are based on the assumption of feminine submission that she has beautifully highlighted in her article.

  14. Actually the ‘matteress’ scence was funny but you took it so seriously as it was a woman doing it and you want to sort of defend her. What if Dev did the same? Then probably you would have laughed too ! Honestly you dont need a matteress in such a situation to make love !
    But I agree with everything else you say and love your courage !

  15. Bingo!

    I was thinking of writing a blog post on this and I think this does perfect justice to all that I was feeling. A woman is treated as a sexual object,t he centre of all desires and yet, And yet she is never a part!

  16. Because if I was “asking for it”, it would be a lot more than showing cleavage, or leg. If I am asking for it, dude, you will know it.
    Wow! Well put. It is the truth and people should come out of denial and accept it.

  17. A spot-on, very well written artilce !! Well done Ms. Veena. Sure this article’s way too hot for the men to handle ;)

  18. Part of the problem why there is so little conversation about female desire is that we as a group shy away from initiating the conversation. Forget conversation, I’m willing to wager many young women have trouble accepting their own desire!
    I think this reluctance for women to admit that they are sexual beings stems from the fact that doing that is considered taboo.

    Look at men on the other hand- each man/boy is more or less comfortable with his sexuality from the time they are teens. Young men talk about their desire to each other. And they grow up to become the writers,directors,lyricists and actors who then are equally at ease portraying male desire.

    I think the only solution is to start having this conversation. Now. Preferably first with the person in your bed .And then with the people around you.

  19. “When you proposition us, on the road, in the bus, or at a movie theatre, and we say no, we are not saying that we don’t feel any desire. We are simply saying that it’s not you who we desire.”

    Perfect! The last line hits it well :) Loved reading it!

    1. With full agreement with the rest of the article, I dislike the tone of this sentence “… it’s not you who we desire.”

      It’s called rubbing it in. From what I have seen, learned, read, etc., generally women tend to desire a very small section of men who are gifted physically, mentally, monetarily, etc… There’s no doubt about it that women have a hell of a choice of men to pick from, but they leave the vast majority in the category, “beneath notice”. I’m not saying its something women are choosing to do, it could be some subconscious hocus-pocus.

      Men literally have to have enormous faith when they have to leave a girl. They have to either believe being single is better than being with said girl, or have such strong belief that they’ll find someone else they like/love. Left to themselves, they’ll pick the first of maybe 10 girls, and stick with them, happy and content.

      So if you wish to make a point about human feelings, it might be better if you think about why it seems like the sentence is purely rubbing it in. It may not be your intention, but I can’t see it any other way, despite trying.

      1. What’s wrong with …”it’s not you who we desire”? If this point had to be made, I would presume that there was some persistence on the part of the pursuer who wasn’t getting the message. There is nothing wrong with putting feelers out there for anyone, however one cannot be insensitive to the responses they evoke. The challenge in reading the response or being in denial about what is seen and felt is the problem with many men.

  20. Bingo! Can this be made into THE COMMANDMENTS so that men can follow (read understand) it? Absolutely true….when we refuse, it is got everything with the fact that it is not you who we desire! Fab, fab, fab write up!

  21. ‘if I’m asking for it, dude, you will know it.” ha ha ha! ….. Yes and that is precisely right

  22. Excellent! Such a great article to read. The Dev D analogy stood out so clear! I remember watching it and being transfixed at the dominant Paro, and being stunned by the portrayal of the character while the couple friends I was watching it with were kind of snickering along. Such a profound thought towards the end too! Loved the line, “Because no matter what you believe, you can’t put a burqa on a thought or wrap a hijab around a feeling.”

  23. Thanks for this article. Well said, and good point. I just am still thinking about this one line – “Truth is, female desire is as much a brute force as male desire” Is that the truth? I wonder. Look what’s happening with the whole argument when women are fighting for “equality”. American women soldiers are protesting for the right to go to war and kill innocent Iraqi and Afghani civilians. Gujarati women are at the front lines of mobs burning other women. Is this the kind of equality we all wanted? So I don’t think different is always a bad thing, but it can be thought of positively.
    So I would not say female desire is as much a brute force as male desire. I would like to believe that it is not a brute force. It is a different desire than the male desire. It is different, and it is the only hope we have to get out of this cycle of violence. I hope it is something we all learn from!

    1. I think what you are saying is what a majority of our society ponders on but you didn’t get her point, desire is not gender driven, that’s it!
      Its a personal thing, a person might want to go and fight and the gender might be a WOMAN and a person might not want to do it even if forced and the gender might be a MAN…
      N nobody is wanting equality, female are EQUAL if not better. Period.
      All we want is the society to realize the facts and act accordingly…

    2. Oh yes, because when a woman desires, she sings love-lorn songs, wrapped in a sari, plaintive, bashful, coy and nervous; Bollywood style.

      She can’t be marching around, mattress strapped to bicycle, looking firm and formidable, can she?

      I am a woman and I will directly contradict your assertion. The few times I have felt desire for a man, I’ve gone weak-kneed, so strong a physical sensation it is.

      If I am in physical proximity of a man I am attracted to, I become tongue-tied, my mind goes to forbidden places and I am sure that the object of my desire can feel the sexual tension.

      If I hadn’t had to act like a “good Indian woman”, I’d have told these men just how crazy it made me feel, a self-possessed, seemingly asexual Bharatiya Nari.

  24. This is a great blog; keep at it and turn it into a book and when you do let me know. I am a heterosexual man and I think even if I think and feel selfishly, female desire, and the respect for women’s freedom, their decision to say yes and no, and to change their minds about men or positions or which restaurant to go to is for some reason what I obsess about. I will move back to Delhi the day that happens!

  25. Wow…kudos for handling such a subject where women expressing ‘desire’ is totally no-no…BTW, this is global phenomena… You wait for the guys call if he is interested…you try to make him interested by various acts…why can’t we simply say – I like you or I love you or I want to sleep with you…Why this desire expressed by women is considered so degrading??? Why men have have to chase women all the time? why the first movers is disadvantage in relationship..? May need another century to get to the level where we consider it to be acceptable.

  26. brilliant article. The desires of a women, a topic suppressed for long even by women couldn’t have been explained any better.
    /We are simply saying that it’s not you who we desire./ loved the ending.

  27. This is the best I read in recent past. It’s a common thought in India that women who shield themselves from sex r good . Others ask for it by revealing a thigh or a cleavage . Sad conditions around. Now valentines day is also one of the reasons for increasing rapes . Mera bharath Mahaan where many don’t have demarcation between love sex and rape . They think all three r same . If we have people who think rape is surprise sex I feel it will take decades for many to learn the difference between having sex and being raped . To hell with these ppl and love love the author venu gopal!

  28. Tomorrow tables may turn on the givers.. what about boys wearing crotch tight jeans.. also asking for it? Or pose for briefs and chaddi ads.. also asking for it? Or, leaving bars late and drunk .. alsoi asking for it?Maybe the Indian male half of our species ACTUALLY wants to be treated like they are worse then cattle/ worshipped as Ma OR gangraped..yes, we women can also rape men. We need to immediately cater to their demand and start raping them.. believe me, this nonsense will quickly stop. If we want justice, we definitely to start giving it back to the men who say we are asking for it. Instil fear in these morons and see how they wilt away.. men need gangs and groups to prop each other up.. women walk alone..

  29. Great stuff, We were never a society who shuddered away from sex and desire or else we never would have potrayed neked women in sex positions as a mark of our history , As Osho says that man found himslef lacking in woman (we can even have more orgasms in a row ;) ) in so many ways that they though best was to dominate her , her will and body so that is why desire is emerging as a new concept now
    This Blog of yours speaks to the women we try to hide under the name tag of being descent.
    Freedom is not about living in a free world but living freely.

  30. ‘….we’re simply saying that it’s not YOU who we desire.’ Oh Veena! That was awesome! So razor- sharp! Can’t remember the last time I had an A-ha moment as this. Very sexifying, I must say, hahahaha. I always believed that men are not a patch on us. We can beat them hollow in anything, even in the levels of passion and desire. Excellent read, Veena!

  31. I remember the scene from the same film, where the heroine after a failed attempt, tries to pacify herself by pumping a tube well, vigorously, a movement that resembled how she would move, sitting on top of her man. I loved that bold portrayal, yes it’s true and there’s no reason shrouding it under the veil of so called ‘satitwa’!

  32. Hi there, thanks for the great article. I’m a man and I agree with your point of view, except for one thing.

    “If I am asking for it, dude, you will know it.” : That’s perhaps true in the more open-minded, forward-thinking West but here in India? You’ve got to be kidding me. An educated person knows that just like men, women too have a sex drive. But let me tell you that 90% of Indian women (you can make that 95% if you please) simply do not show it. For the sake of culture and tradition, they suppress these desires. And this is true even in urban areas. There is an innate fear of holding onto the Indian culture (reeti-rivaaz, parampara, blah blah) and not upsetting the invisible moral police. In my time in the States, I realized that its normal for a man or a woman to walk into a pub and go home with a stranger. Let me tell you that even now, that sort of thing rarely happens here. The way I see it, our women are far more paranoid than their Western counterparts. And of course our wonderfully orchestrated culture is to blame. I have even spoken to some of my women friends about this and they too admit that they are scared to follow their desires. Even if they see a handsome guy at the pub/mall/metro station, they’ll not do much more than a few seconds of eye contact. ‘What will people say?’, ‘What if they call me sl*t?’. I wouldn’t blame women for their fear of being ostracized in the community. But the problem is much deeper than that. To sum it up, I’d say that when it comes to any sort of sexual equality, our culture is flawed. Really flawed. Logically speaking, I can see this problem being around even 20 years from now.

  33. Can’t agree less! Recently I saw this movie Cocktail and absolutely loved this character portrayed by Deepika Padukone, only to be disappointed in the end. A girl with an I-care-a-damn attitude, dresses the way she likes, drinks and parties like a male (!) and has no inhibitions about her desire. Alas in the end her behaviour is attributed to being abandoned by her parents and all the other emotional atyachar. So a girl cannot be like her unless she is mentally and emotionally bruised. In fact the character of Saif falls for Diana Penty, a girl next door, puja path karne wali and of course modest! So much for societal hypocrisy!!

    1. Agree! Cocktail was one of the regressive movies hyped and glossed up for urban viewers. Coming from Homi Adajania & Imtiaz Ali, I expected it to be bold and path breaking, only to have it fallback into ‘safe’ cinema territory. This cocktail was sour. So what even contemporary directors think is that girls like Deepika have to become girls like Diana to get a boy. Wah! This is the same Indian cinema which gave movies like Arth and Astitva!

      On that note, even the American TV show Sex and the City falls back to ‘safe’ category after Season 1 starting with all of them vowing to behave like men when it came to choosing partners/sexual partners. Only Samantha’s character stood out of all.

      It’s everywhere….not just India!

  34. This article is a welcome breeze in a most pitiful environment of clamor – from aging politicians, sensationalist wannabe journalists, an uneducated police force, a slow and inefficient legal setup and predominantly unimaginative Indian cinema houses. Thank you Ms. Venugopal.

  35. Ha… so true. It happened with me when i made a move on my (ex) boyfriend when he wasn’t making any after heavy duty make-outs even after we’d been going steady for quite some time. He was so shocked, like feeling desire and actually DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT was unthinkable in a ‘decent’ girl. I think that was the beginning of the end for me.

  36. I think the article was brilliant!
    So many women think that they are protecting themselves when they refuse to acknowledge their desire. What’s worse is when they ostracize women who do express their feelings on sex and sexuality just because what they say doesn’t fit within the set standards of what is acceptable in our society.
    In a social system as patriarchal and misogynistic as ours, expecting change in the mindset of men to take place is something that will require a lot of time and conditioning. ( Our education systems, out media *everything* needs a major revamp) but I believe it will be so much easier if women speak out on what they want.

  37. Wonderful !! and finally we talk about us !!
    Indian women need to talk about their desire and sexuality a lot more…
    may be all the time !
    I think it will make the Indian man think harder about how much more he needs to work on himself to be desirable. The average Indian guy is so content just being born male that he puts in so little effort- aggressive smelly over weight unattractive burping pigs …. a lot of them. They fail totally in comparison to how amazingly attractive Indian women are!

    I hope that in the very near future- as a result of more women expressing their desire openly – men will meet the challenge of being more desirable themselves.
    Think how much more exciting life would be for them. … ha ha ha

  38. A friend of mine was arranged to meet a boy, ‘groom-searched’ by her parents. The gentleman eventually asked her ‘the virginity’ question. She replied , Are you ? Proud of souls like her :)

  39. There is a mountain stream .You with ur passion or hallucination can swim across. when you reach at the other side the desire may surrender to an offscreen ,ordinary image. Everywhere there is a war between the weak and the strong.In male and in female how many can capture victory ?It is not like gathering someone under selected trees for shelter.The entire society have to survive .Overall what is actually desire and desirable?

  40. Thank you for this wonderful article! We, too, in the United States refuse to acknowledge female desire/sexuality except to put women on display as men’s sex toys.

  41. God Created Man and Woman equal. (Genesis 1:26-27). Jesus came down on the men’s behavior. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew5: 28).The Talmud tells the religious man, in effect: If you have a problem, you deal with it. It is the male gaze — the way men look at a woman — that needs to be desexualized, not women in public. The power to make sure men don’t see women as objects of sexual gratification lies within men’s — and only men’s — control. However, the Jewish law came down on woman’s action.
    The Jewish Law and monotheistic religions treat women as a mere appendage. This is part of a larger battle being waged in between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of society over women’s place in society, over their very right to have a visible presence and to participate in the public sphere. Is it possible for a religious demand for modesty to be about anything other than men controlling women’s bodies?

  42. Indeed and echoing the words of many here, ‘Spot On!’
    Reason being that unfortunately men alone have been bearing the brunt of this entire sexual fiasco our society has undergone. while most definitely it’s not at all an all male born problem. In fact if I consider freedom and expression as a fundamentally important part of being human, Indian men are much more alive than women in general. And the reason as pointed out so well in the article above is women curbing, undermining, hiding, being ashamed of their desires.
    Now again, it’s definitely not something which women would intend to in ideal conditions, but as such to have come to this point in our culture where this is such a tipping issue, women too have had a role to play in making things the way they are today. And all the bull about Men not letting Women be free and expressive is just cowards (which exist alike in both sexes), crying out because they don’t have the courage to demand what is rightfully theirs, their freedom.
    Also one has to understand that men can’t really go and solve this problem, even if they want to now. I as a guy wrote about this as the root cause of all problems associated with sex, but a guy saying this it will never reach a girl. That’s the whole point we need to reconsider from the start. What’s this barrier between guys and girls in India? Why have we been sitting in separate rows in so called ‘co-ed’ schools? Why do men have to act differently in front of girls? Why do we have to hide from our parents that we have female friends? Why is a guy and a girl being friends in school a taboo? That’s where it starts… what are we teaching our children, both guys and girls?
    One thing which I observed about India when I was abroad was that, in India alone, guys and girls have different desires, personalities, ambitions, lifestyles, expectations, lives etc. In Europe there used to be just no difference at all between a guy and a girl. (eg. I have never met an Indian girl who doesn’t want to marry, while half of the girls I knew in Europe were undecided on marriage or didn’t want to marry. They know they have a choice, it’s not the only way to live their lives and they are open enough to consider that choice) And for the first time in my life, I was ‘just friends’ with girls in Europe, it was just that natural, girls there for once were fully evolved human beings capable of having personalities, choices, desires and ambition.
    Now while I am not generalizing things for all Indian girls, I am definitely saying that it’s a very rare sight to see a free, independent Indian girl, and I am willing to dedicate a lot of what I have to offer to change that, because there is no sight more beautiful than a girl who is in the driving seat of her life.
    So way to go girl, for writing this… As a guy my voice would mean very little to change anything in this subject, but girls, please all you have to do is learn to speak up more….

  43. Loved the article. Couple of things came to my mind when I read this:
    1.the movie Aitraaz where akshay kumar is sexually harrassed by priyanka chopra! Love it and guys -its a true possibility! women have sexual desires- why shouldnt/wouldnt they
    2. when I was in school and had sex education class I had asked my teacher about girls masturbating and got a look which said ” am i crazy”!! I dont think so…coz it is truely possible that girls can pleasure themselves just like girls can have an orgasm-not that many indian men or as a matter of fact even women want to dwell on this …

    its strange how sex is considered as something to give men pleasure…how much more chauvenistic can men get! but again i doubt that only men are to blame for this. It is the social upbringing that if women want/need or ask for sex they are besharam… its funny how we women are supposed to be so full of sharam but the moment we are married off (in an arranged marriage) we are expected to have sex with the guy immediately…and people rejoice if we give birth within the first 9 months… are women supposed to have sex only so that they can produce babies? I would be ashamed to get pregnant immediately after an arranged marriage- to me that means I have no shame!!!
    All this is very interesting to talk about and hopefully the next generation can be more open about life and equality of men and women.
    Veena I really liked your blog. thanks for writing the same.

  44. It is sad and unfortunate that so natural and blindingly obvious a thing has been forced to remain hidden for so long and has very often been presented in a distorted way…Kudos to ladies who are standing up to this highly patriarchal society and shouting out the truth so that the deaf can hear and understand it…

  45. Hi Veena, your perspective on women’s sexuality is very refreshing. In fact I have felt very disturbed by the skewed reactions of women and men on the issue of all forms of sexual assault after the unfortunate and brutal Delhi incident. The reactions were highly focused on dealing with the crime in the aftermath by creating more stringent laws and effective implementation of the laws. What is missing in these reactions is a balanced approach that promotes a healthy view of women as persons to be respected and they have sexual desires like men ( this point you have highlighted very well). Along with all the laws we enact and implement there isa greater need to bring up children both male and female to respect each other and giving them a healthy respectful attitude to each other. The parents and many other key influencers need to model this behaviour. The family, the educational system , religion and larger socio-cultural systems need to work very closely with the politico legal system to bring about a transformation in society. It is ironic that we compare brutal sexual behaviour to animals for there is no rape in the animal kingdom. The male animal does not force himself on the female. He only can have sex with his female counter part only when she is ready to receive him. Rape exists only among humans. Humans are behaving worse than animals in their sexual aggression.

  46. Nice. And I wonder how it is that we miss such obvious truths. Virginia Woolf wrote of the “Angel in the House,” who existed to serve men and so denied all needs and desires of her own… sex, too, perhaps??? As a lesbian, I wonder about the idea that segregation of the sexes “makes us turn our desires to other women.” Is there a possibility that this desire, too, is natural? That segregation simply makes manifest what is already there.
    Thanks for this thoughtful reflection.

  47. I remember a particularly embarrassing moment when I was chatting with my friends in first year of college, and I asked them something to the tune of ‘do women get turned on’? everyone burst out laughing that was enough to drive the point deep in my head, i was probably 18 then and had absolutely no idea about female sexuality. I knew they liked men but guess my enculturation was so bad not to deduce the obvious.

  48. I totally agree with Veena Venugopal’s observation that the entertainment industry tends to portray women as ready to submit against their own will. According to the characterizations in movies, No still means Yes. Why don’t I see more people putting the blame where it clearly belongs? Brava, Veena.

  49. I believe this concept of ‘gender equality’ is perhaps largely misunderstood – both by men and women. I think when we talk of equality, what we actually want is equal opportunity – without prejudice, without presuppositions. To be given an opportunity because one is of this gender and denied it because one is of that gender is in my opinion unfair.

    We each have our part to play in the natural scheme of things, and that does make us different from – or if I may cautiously add unequal to – the opposite gender. But being different or unequal is not being better or worse than the other!

    What I greatly appreciate in Ms. Venugopal’s article is the idea that thought or desire – not just sexual desire but any desire – in essence has no gender. Societal conditioning makes us think in a particular way. And it is that which needs honest and thorough questioning.

    I was walking in a park with my husband the other day when I overheard a man speaking in Hindi to someone on his mobile phone, “Lipstick lagaana auraton ka kaam hai, use taste karna humaara kaam hai (it is a woman’s job to apply lipstick, it is ours to taste it).”

    I am still stunned.

    We have a really long way to go…

  50. First of all, virtually all ‘civilized’ cultures have condemned and repressed our most natural and beautiful gifts. What is even worse is that they have done so asymmetrically – while male sexuality has been repressed somewhat, female sexuality has been repressed a hundred times more. The resulting aggression and manipulation, the war between the genders has been apparent for thousands of years and the only response we seem to know is still more force and violence. When will we ever learn to heal the rift?

  51. I think acknowledging and responding to a woman’s desires is one of the most fulfilling things a man can do. For himself too. It’s about time we understood that. Thank you, Veena.

  52. You really look forward to comments ?

    1. Men are interested only in having sex with women, the more the merrier.
    2. Women have sexual desires, which if let free and uninhibited, will result in women willingly having sex more.
    3. Men go out of their way to suppress women’s desires/sexuality.

    Spot the logical fallacy there? If letting female sexuality loose would result in more sexual activity, men logically would do everything to enhance that state, would it not? So where/how does the men-as-suppressors arise?

    1. Hey Regular Joe! Sorry, but there is no logical fallacy in the article but you didn’t link the facts appropriately. Letting female sexuality loose is NOT the equivalent of legalising prostitution. All that the writer meant was that letting female sexuality loose would eliminate the shame that is assosciated with the concept. It would mean more and more people accepting it and acknowledging the existence of it. It would mean more holistic discussions about why rapes and other forms of sexual violence happen. A female’s desire is the female “will” that is violated in rape. Hence, it only makes sense to discuss the crimes from her point of view too, and not just in a way that suggests that “men are meant to protect women and hence, they shouldn’t rape.” I am not saying that that’s what you are suggesting but the fact that so many men conveniently ignore the existence of female desire results in the grossly inappropriate comments made by self-acclaimed leaders of the moral police.

      Also, what the writer meant when she says that men (albeit, some men, not all of them) go out of their way to suppress women’s desires/sexuality is that men suppress female sexuality so that they can suppress their freedom. Now before you shake your head vigorously at that, imagine a society in which women are not ashamed of their desires/sexuality and are very much aware of the power which it gives them. Don’t you think that in such a society, women would be far more powerful and independent?? And that realization has made certain men (men, who are so deep-rooted in patriarchy that they can’t imagine living a life where women enjoy the same freedom as men) to suppress and even dismiss the possibility of the existence of female desire.

  53. Just like Dev D, Trivandrum Lodge has a interesting character portrayed by Honey Rose, who talks about planning to”fornicate with abandon”, I am sure we will see more such characters as society begins openly accepting female sexuality…

  54. This is a really good post. You’re absolutely right. Desire is not strictly for men and women don’t need to be ashamed to have feelings. After all, it takes 2 people to have sex so why should the man be the only one who wants it? Physically sex is harder on the woman so she should have more say in the ordeal right? Our bodies go through much more than men do.

    As for “asking for it” I think that’s just a gross misuse of words by men. The term “asking” implies a verbal statement, not the woman picking out clothes hours earlier in the day nor walking in a method developed over the course of her life. It would be impossible for the woman to know what turned the man on anyway and unless she was wrapping her legs around him and trying to get his pants off he couldn’t definitively say she wanted sex. Last I heard ESP is a rare phenomenon and I just can’t imagine that so many men would have it.

  55. Excellent post and a very necessary conversation to have. This is a suppressed issue that really needs to be aired – not just women’s sexuality, but sexuality in general. I would say that this is not isolated to India, but the world over, where sex is literally a four-letter word and far removed from being a natural, human drive which can provide deep nourishment and renewal.

    This morphing and twisting of a beautiful human experience is the cause of many ills in the world, starting with awkward behaviours, hypocritical double standards and mighty strange relationships. This must change, we must change.

    Having said that, I agree with nityesood, I don’t believe rape has anything to do with acknowledging female libido or not. I very much doubt the Delhi rapists thought she meant yes when she said no. Likewise, the eve teasers and leerers. No, they did it / do it because they can. And that is an awful, awful state of affairs.

    I also agree with the comments that say this is a cultural, ‘segregation of the sexes’ thing. Though we really shouldn’t be setting our ethical and moral compass by movies! And certainly not taking tips/directions on self expression from them – but it is good to raise flags on anything and everything that’s contributing to the national psyche and dysfunction.

    Nor is it wise to start a movement in the opposing direction as a knee jerk reaction. We need to stop, figure out the root of this problem and go from there.

    Until there is healthy, open dialogue and respect between all of us at a human level. And until this kind of behaviour is stopped at infancy, this sort of thing will carry on. If we overhear someone talking coarsely or get a bad vibe from a friend or a friend of a friend, could be the same sex or opposite sex – stomp all over it!! Men especially, need to police their male friends and actively discourage trash talk about women. Individually it might seem harmless, but collectively, as we have seen, it does fatal damage.

    Yes, we must liberate female sexuality, but at the same time, take a martial art course :)

  56. Very apt and I so want men to read it. Just as we women openly awaken to our desires, men can become warm partners instead of suspicious ‘others’. So enriching for all.

  57. Women are considered to be more of the take whats given to type. Most men have the idea that sex and its related topics are only their area of expertise. Even so, they ae half wrong, Many women,even the educated broad minded ones go into shut down mode at these topics. Its more confined to giggle about than be serious about it.

    Its boils down to the main thing again, when any thing a woman does, if in the end she gets hurt or injured by it. Then its obvious she asked for it.
    Dumb realitt

  58. this is really very scintillating and informative piece that will make think many in India that sexual drive/ desre is seen through cultural inhibitions and mindset. Ours is a tropical land wherin hormonal growth in female is more imbalanced than in cold climate coutries!
    Good insightful article

  59. Kudos. Nicely put.

    If a women is friendly she is not a slut. If a women desires a man she is not slut. Women can have sex drive. [now reverse the gender and consider]
    Just wondering how long does it take us to actually realize and put this into practice…

  60. This reminds me of an incident: a guy I know once declared that he intends to have sex only for the sake of procreation since he is against the idea of sex for pleasure (don’t ask me what he was smoking!). So someone in the group questioned him “But what if your partner wants to have sex for pleasure?” And the idea of women wanting to have sex for pleasure was so alien that he could just gape open mouthed. This is the kind of thinking that even well-educated, urban men in their mid-twenties have. It is then hardly surprising that the is so little awareness of even the existence of such a thing as female desire.

    Thank you for this brilliant piece!

  61. Of all the humdrum ever since the tragic day last year, this is by far the best article I have read…and honest to the core! grt job!! have become a fan:)

  62. Now that the discussion has turned into one about free sex etc., I want to take the liberty of going back to what caused this article: The Delhi Gang Rape. Specifically, the love story of the girl who was out with her friend that night. For the longest time he was to be only called a friend, but he finally told us their love story. amongst other things, he says:

    On their trips, they would share a hotel room. They held hands and hugged, he says, but didn’t go further. “Regarding the man-woman relationship, I have conservative views,” he says. They sang, joked and played cards and chess. He thought about her often when they were apart. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323829504578271810720960682.html

    This is a two year old relationship we are talking about. This claim may or may not be true, but it is certainly true that the non-elite male sees the modern woman as being open to free sex, even as he imposes patriarchy and sexual morality on women around him. This is not to say the modern man does not impose patriarchy and sexual morality, or that high class men don’t rape their maids (Shiney Ahuja?). But as far as attitudes to non-marital sex are concerned, there’s definitely something about class which the politically correct are loathe to admit.

  63. I agree with veena women should be able to express their desire without ridicule and criticism and as much as I enjoyed the article it is troubling to note however the potshot she took at Saudi females . First fore most have you ever been to Saudi Arabia? If you did you would know Arab women are not shy about expressing their wants or needs and yes although there is certain amount of segregation in society women here do not turn to other women to fulfill their sexual needs…they get married and have families.. Of course there are rapes,we have robbery, bad things happen like everywhere else in the world but it is comparatively less and omg yes we do have homosexuals too so what that was their choice it was not forced onto them because of society rules and segregation. Get your facts straight before making irresponsible comments because lets face facts you read a book and just judged according to an author who knows nothing herself .

  64. You know patriarchy may be afraid to let women take the lead in asking men out for hegemonic desire of control, but how about the possibility of women being afraid of rejection? A rejection for being perceived to be too forward as to be rude or even a genuine lack of desire. Does that too stop women from being bold enough to propose?
    Women asking us men out will allow us to be the ones to decide and them to be the ones who get rejected. That will be an interesting reversal of traditional roles :)

  65. This article “When women ask for it” — is well written about a worldview which is hushed up, not quite surprisingly, by other women. This is because a condition of abundant free sex resulting from women asking for it, is more detrimental to the status quo of married women and paired women, than to any imagined male chivalry.

    Women initiated sex, is in short supply, because other women have deemed it to be so. The only interested party in such hushing up are fathers, who have a stake in their daughters and wives, to put it bluntly.

    To confuse this with patriarchy is foolish. But of course, the deeper sociological reading is of people living individually with independent values or in families with shared values.

    The article does nothing to dwell on “value unjudging” such behavior viewed out of marriage and with multiple partners, which is the next logical step for ‘women asking for it’.

    Like a weberian bureaucratic hierarchy, there is reason for little conversation about a women’s desire for sex – it is this – (other) women.

  66. Beautifully written. In the West, female sexuality takes the liberated path as wonderfully depicted in the HBO series, Girls (which Venugopal herself refers to). The distortion and misinformation in the repressed-to-suppressed societies such as India and the theocratic regimes of the Middle-East, and the doctrines as espoused by Vatican and Islam, essentially have their roots in what is misconstrued as “morality” when in fact, it is the control of the mass by those moving in hollow circles making business out of those fearful and ill-informed. Suppression of sexual desires is deemed a “virtue” in India; so the best they can do is sing and keep running around trees as patented by Bollywood and all other regional “woods”. And then there are these Hindu fundamentalists trying to outdo their Muslim counterparts as evidenced in the recent Valentine’s Day thuggery by the never-heard-before-heard (at least in the West), Sri Ram Sena! What these self-appointed morally corrupt pretend-righteous groups do not want to acknowledge, or are even capable of acknowledging, is knowing the difference between permissive expression of the natural nature of gender sexuality versus irresponsible indulgence, which is hardly a moral issue but one of personal and social consequences. Ironically, the path to enlightenment in this regard is the absolutely embracement of the virtue of openness, leading to intellectual maturation on matters of gender sex, as opposed to the artificiality of shame and covertness prompted by those speaking for their impotent gods.

  67. I had a few teachers back in school who got together and thought of giving all the 15+ year olds some much needed sex-ed classes. Interestingly, they thought only the female students needed to be educated. After an anatomical description of the uterus(and just that), we were told –
    1.Men have desire(which makes them bad)
    2.Girls donot have desire(thus making us good.)
    3.We needed to avoid inciting desire in men to stay good malayalee penkuttikal.
    4.Virginity = honour, unless you give it to your husband.

    And to think they probably are still doing this to impressionable young minds!

    Thank you for writing about this. I was hoping someone did soon.

  68. I read this article today. So after many years it’s on this site. However, the Dec D scene that you illustrated reminds me a scene from the film “Titas ekti Nadir Naam” by Ritwik Ghatak. This is a film in Bengali produced a production jointly sponsored by West Bengal and Bangladesh. In fact, Ritwik Ghatak made the part 1 and part 2 was through his assistance. He couldn’t directly direct the film in presence due to his health. The last scene of the part 1 reminds me of the intense female desire of a remote village girl. Although there was no drama, though dramatic in an usual Ritwik Ghatak’s way, however direct and powerful with no frills. The second part of the film do realm on the similar sensibility of women loneliness, expectation, desire and need. However that last scene of the part 1, strikes out with signature aesthetic sensibility of Ghatak.

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