We are talking about a society where boxes of sanitary pads are wrapped in brown paper before the shopkeeper hands them to us, and all the ladies in the ads seem to care about is whether or not they can dance about in white jeans during the time of the month.
Literally a week after I got married, I was accosted by a total stranger while jogging at the park, who advised me to “keep trying” until I had a baby. At the time, I passed it off as a funny anecdote for parties, and when I laughingly mentioned it to some of my married friends, every single one of them had a similar story. The encounters ranged from unsolicited advice, to teasing “nudge-nudge-wink-wink” queries about “good news” to unpleasantly invasive questions about whether something was “wrong” in the bedroom. Considering that almost all of the offenders seemed to be old and experienced enough to know how babies are made, it begs the question - in a society that turns 50 shades of purple at the merest mention of the word “sex”, how come we can’t stop alluding to it?
This dancing around the topic of birds and the bees is everywhere. Got acne? You’ll either get a “ki koro? Kichu ekta to koro” (And what naughty business have you been involved in?), accompanied by a smarmy head shake/finger wag combo or the sage prescription of “Biye koro, shob thik hoye jabe (Get hitched, it’ll all be fixed)”. And no, they’re not talking about the magical healing properties of kacchi. Husband being problematic? Rents soaring? Water shortage in the taps? The maid asking for a raise? Once you’re married, the universal advice seems to be “Baby niye nao”, and the way they use the word for “take” as opposed to “have” seems to imply that childbirth, in addition to being a magical cure-all, is something you can just wish into being.
But step into a gynaecologist’s office, where a direct question is actually pertinent, the doctor will hem, haw, and woe betide you if you’re an unmarried person with reproductive questions.
We are, after all talking about a society where boxes of sanitary pads are wrapped in brown paper before the shopkeeper hands them to us, and all the ladies in the ads seem to care about is whether or not they can dance about in white jeans during the time of the month, a society where sexual harassment is given the cutesy label of “eve-teasing”, lest the dreaded S-word offend our delicate sensibilities.
And yet there’s no escaping it. Whether it’s fundamentalists comparing women to tamarinds, or popular folk singers waxing lyrical about lust being like red tomatoes (with the other national obsession being food, it was only natural that the two things would get lumped together), we clearly cannot stop talking about it.
So if we’re going to have this conversation, why can’t it be the right one? Why can’t Biology teachers stop gluing together the pages on human reproduction? Why can’t we talk about things like period stains and menstrual cramps instead of letting our young girls do the walk of shame down the school corridors when they stain their uniforms? Why can’t we have a healthy discussion about consent and safety before a child gets molested and then has to keep mum because “respectable people don’t talk about that, shame shame?” There’s more to sex education than a “forbidden” act, and all we’re doing by running circles around the word is a whole lot of harm.
Sabrina F Ahmad is Features Editor, Dhaka Tribune