Lifestyle & Belief

India needs Camille Paglia, or This is SO Spinal Tap

Nobody said bringing sexy back is easy. Just ask Justin Timberlake. Or Mamata Sharma, the head of India's National Commission for Women (NCW).

The leader is under fire from all quarters for her comment at a weekend rally where she announced, Timberlake-style, that women should take being called "sexy" as a compliment, because these days it means "beautiful and charming."

As they say in India: Point!  Amid the near-constant assertions from policemen and politicians that rape victims are to blame because they were out late at night, they were drinking, or they were dressing procatively; in a country where the broadcast minister once attacked MTV's "butt-shaking videos" for driving the youth into a hormone-crazed frenzy; where Poonam Pandey can actually become famous for stripping off her clothes (to a bikini) and Mallika Sherawat can become a poor man's Marilyn Monroe because she actually speaks her mind, as well as showing skin -- Sharma might not have come up with exactly the right words.  But she's on the right track.  The NCW should be encouraging women to take ownership of their sexuality, not be ashamed of it.  I'd argue that the sexual revolution was essential to women's empowerment elsewhere in the world, and, given that a similar phenomenon is going on under our noses here in India, we could use a good old-fashioned bra burning or two.

And, as to Ms. Sharma: This country could use a Camille Paglia to go with all its Gloria Steinems, too.  Or at least a Spinal Tap to go with all the desi electronica.  ("What's wrong with being sexy?" you may recall the band's frontman, Nigel, asking with regard to criticism of its latest album cover. "SexIST," comes the reply. "They're calling it sexIST.")

Here's the Hindustan Times:

"It's shocking that Sharma is commenting on how women and girls should receive the word 'sexy'. We're outraged and shocked," women's organisations in Rajasthan said in a joint statement.

"It is a ridiculous statement. Even the law says that sexually coloured remarks are tantamount to harassing women. Such irresponsible remarks promote violence against women," said Kavita Srivastava, general secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties.

Already, folks are calling for Sharma's resignation, though the leader has since qualified her statement, saying that she was not referring to "strangers or roadside Romeos who use the word 'sexy' to tease girls. That is condemnable."