Sunday, May 11, 2008

What makes a good 'abuse'?

Now that's a question I never thought I'd actually try and answer in my blog. It's not as if the question never crossed my mind before, but hey, there are certain things that make us chuckle, we leave it at that and then think of something else.

It would have been left at that if not for a very interesting post on Shakespeare & Company (S&C), a writers group on, a business network.

The post was something of a writing exercise and the subject header was titled 'inventing new abuses' and asked S&C members to come up with a range of strong (but NOT obscene and NOT to do with an act - which, let's face it - is reproductive in nature and has the capacity to be sublime) abuses which are gender-specific, but from a woman's perspective?

I thought that was a very interesting topic for a discussion on a writers group, of all places. A good abuse, if one can call it that, usually brings out the very best in metaphors, similes and oxymorons, which have always been - let's face it - the sole preserve of writers. Those who abuse on a daily basis hardly spend time admiring the linguistic and stylistic richness of what they utter. To them these are words that need to be flung at, and if the words achieve their objective, fine, and if not, oh well, there are always other words that could be unleashed.

As a warm up, take a look at this video that sheds an entirely new perspective on the "F" word. It's quite funny because it shows how the "F" word can be used in a variety of ways while still managing to retain its punch. And yet, something about the video makes us smile because it rings a bell. A connection is established because we can identify with what's being said. Our irreverent side is immediately tickled and we find something familiar and accessible in the profane.

Now let's hold on to that thought for a while. The "F" word, as we all know, denotes a sexual act but when we use the word we don't usually think about that... do we?

I find it incredibly intriguing that in almost all cultures... please note 'almost all' and not 'all'... abuses tend to have sexual overtones and undertones as far as their favourite choicest phrases are concerned. It's like sex is fair game for a phrase or a noun or a verb. I often wonder why the entire realm of sexuality is seen to be easy picking for 'bad words'.

Maybe this is where the word 'abuse' comes into play... the wrong or incorrect usage that transforms a 'use' into 'abuse'. But it still raises the question: why sex of all things?

Most choice words revolve around suggestions of incest, illegitimacy, and a few organs (that's how subtle I'm going to get here) ... these words in themselves should rightfully invoke pity or nothing at all, but in most languages (or at least the ones I'm familiar with), they are so spiced up that they no longer retain their original meaning but acquire a naughtier edge.

In patriarchal cultures, abusive words are used against those who violate a woman's honour and consequently, the 'family honour', as if the two go together. A man can do anything sexually but the family honour is never taken into consideration, but that's another topic altogether.

I suppose, it is for this reason that in such societies and cultures the most common 'abuses' are coined with a totally male perspective because it is 'man' who is supposed to use them. Women are simply expected to continue being a bunch of helpless creatures eternally grateful for the protection they receive from male members of their society. But to even suggest giving these abuses a neutral perspective would be tantamount to emasculating a gun. Now which hardy male from a ruggedly patriarchal society will allow that to happen?

In a way, it would be interesting to see how the same dynamics could be pulled out from their male template, turned around, and given a feminine slant. Will it work? Will it be effective enough? Will it carry a punch? Or will it serve no other purpose apart from providing fuel to ones creative glands?

One would assume - going by the rules of patriarchy - that women won't be able to come up with abuses because they are expected to be more 'motherly' and have a 'nurturing' spirit within them. Men, on the other hand, are the cavemen who 'shoot first and talk later'. Hence, the ground rules have already been laid out. Men are the attack machines and women are the ones who sing the lullabys.

Of course, reality is something else.

As Shakespeare said, 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'... so going by that dictum, one would speculate that part of this fury would involve 'language' and 'phrases', and yes, 'strong' ones at that. After all, the tongue is a mightier weapon than a fist and phrases provide necessary ammunition for any verbal blitzkreig.

So perhaps, if women are such furious creatures then it's safe to assume that they always had in them to come up with creative and STRONG 'abuses' but patriarchy chose to sideline women, push them into a corner, and silence them so that no one could ever hear their 'scream'. I suppose there is also an element of convenience since allowing women the freedom and the space to use language so creatively and colourfully would basically force men to recognise women as their equals in the machismo sweepstakes and compel them to surrender their dominance. The solution to this problem was quite simple. All that had to be done was to honour women as symbols of purity and goodness. It was necessary to deify them as the first step in silencing their scream because 'saints' are not expected to lash out.

But while this may be the case with the gender equation (or lack of it), I'm equally intrigued to know why sex finds itself comfortably placed in the abuse vocabulary... what is it about sex that makes it so easy for both men and women to find in it a rich reservoir of inspiration for all of their 'abusing' needs?

Is it fear of what sex is all about that compels people to use phrases borrowed from 'sexual acts' or 'conditions' or 'consequences'? Or is there a deeper issue here that needs careful analysis?

Most fundamentalists, for instance, pick on sex as their pet peeve while coolly ignoring other fundamentals of their faith - theological issues, caring for the poor, etc. It's almost as if 'sex' can only be included in public discourse either as an abuse or as a moral offence, but never for itself.

I'm not sure if patriarchy alone is the problem, but it's more to do with 'denial', I think. We are 'gregarious creatures' who are 'made to live within communities', which means, we are not meant to be alone. Modern culture has been pushing people inwards and making it increasingly hard for physical contact to take place. Taken at its extreme, one can live comfortably without being in close physical proximity to anyone... you could even order food and grocery over the net!

Modern culture also worships 'self made individuals' and a myth is gradually built around empowering people with 'a sense of autonomy' so that they are brain washed into thinking that being 'self made' is all that it takes to be a success.

Hence, sex comes up as a completely contradictory force to the prevailing ideology because sex, by its very definition and act, involves the inclusion of another person into our physical space. It rejects the notion that one can depend on oneself alone for the experience of pure pleasure. Sex involves another person to make it complete. Masturbation is not the answer because it is a deception since it only attempts to replicate something that is basically meant to be enjoyed by two people.

I don't know if there is a certain fear involved in letting people in to our physical space, or if there is some deep seated revulsion towards this very idea... I don't know if this very act of denying the existence of this fear makes people go the other extreme. That is, to articulate the same ideas but in the form of abuses... hoping that it would demonstrate that one is not actually ignoring the topic but is able to blurt out without any 'hangups'.

Abuses with a sexual slant, hence, are a way of saying things without actually saying them.

Maybe it is this act of being cool while being in denial at the same time which is responsible for pushing abuses into a whole different realm.

So are they purely male oriented? As long as men have the sole monopoly over the cultural narrative, yes, it will remain male oriented; but am sure, even if women take their rightful space, the focus will remain just the same.

This is because the denial that I'm talking about is not a male problem or a woman problem, but it is a human epidemic that has been going on for years and years. We are not going to address it ever because doing so will force us to confront our deepest fears and that is something no one will ever do. We are never going to entertain the idea of, or even, the possibility of being 'chronically untouched' and that modern life and modern technology could be responsible for it. Sex, we are told, is the magic potion that could rectify this anomaly and yet we avoid any serious discussion because it might just open up our vulnerabilities for the world to see.

So what's our standard response?

Well, most of us simply smile it off, and if that's not possible, then, we just say, 'just f*** it'.


Pragya said...

Always enjoy reading these pieces and always impressed by the reflection that goes into every one of your posts. Very engaging.


Joel Indrupati said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel Indrupati said...

I am sure that coarse swearing or using words-of-abuse are not habits of only the 21st century. Human frustration, throughout history, has seeked out and used these phrases and words as the main outlet to release pent-up anger. Who knows? Maybe many a murder was perhaps averted when in - a fit of anger - people resorted to using abusive words rather than physical injury.

But I am definitely against the excessive use of swear words in movies. On the pretext of being 'close to reality,' the movie scripts are now having what I feel - an extreme overdose of expletives. They seem to forget that movies also shape the
society and its not always the other way round.

If a hero's or heroine's script is littered with four-letter words, the viewers (and specially the fans) might end up thinking its fashionable to arm themselves with brickbats such as the F word.

Check this[link=]link here for its usage[/link]in movies.

Joel Indrupati said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Author of this Blog is home at last, and he has something to say... said...

I've enjoyed your posts and the varied topics. What a surprisee it was to click on your blog and see the same template and color combo's that I use in my blog. You obviously have good taste( ha..ha)

Seriously, keep up the writing, I'm waiting for new posts.

Biser said...

Very thought-provoking. I like the fact that you're willing to address the topics people rarely discuss, aka "taboo." Was your "word map" was created from this one single entry or all your entries combined? I've got to read on...but pa, pa for now.