Labeling across cultures

In the Western world there is a necessity for labeling anything and everything including our sexual identities and desires. It is interesting to look at how different cultures label sexual identities, and what they consider to be for example feminine or masculine. After the 19th century people begin to construct a definition of what it is to be masculine and what it is to be feminine. Consequences emerged for people who did not fit perfectly into the definitions of masculinity and femininity that were imposed by our society. People who didn’t fit in these categories were believed to have biological/ physical differences to people who were heterosexual, and later were believed to have psychological issues that could be cured somehow. Even though these thoughts have changed throughout time, and people are now learning to accept others who are not heterosexual, and that have different sexual desires, the labels that developed in the late 19th century still exist. The idea that people’s identities are based partly on their sexual desires is still in place, therefore labels of who is queer, gay, lesbian, travesti, transsexual, etc, becomes important in our western society.

As I began to think about labels and sexuality I remembered a conversation I had with a friend who was telling me about the issues Indian women go through in the present day concerning sexuality and feminism. My friend told me about a film called Fire (which I have not watched), in which two sisters in law fall in love with each other while their husbands mistreat them. Apparently the film was viewed terribly by a group of extreme right wing Hindi’s who said that lesbianism was alien to Hindu culture and that it should not be recognized, implying that it did not exist in their eyes.

I think that Western culture sees occurrences such as these an occasion to emphasize the oppressive nature of countries such as India, and accentuate the superiority of the United States and Western cultures because they are “egalitarian” and completely modernized, and accepting of every sexual preference. Being that there is no word in Hindi to explain lesbianism, it seems as if Western cultures were more modernized and accepting. However, I would argue that even though it is ignorant in certain ways not to admit or acknowledge that different sexual desires exist, it is also wrong for us to assume that because there is no word for it, it means that they are the ones being ignorant. This got me thinking which is worst? Us in the western world who have to put a label on everything even our desires or the Hindi culture that doesn’t even have a name for people who have different desires. I don’t think there is a clear answer, except to say that both are ways of subtly discriminating against people who have different sexual desires than the regular norm suggests.

 

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