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Patriarchy, Female Desire and the Cyber World

  • October 7, 2022
  • 6 min read
Patriarchy, Female Desire and the Cyber World

A disturbing phenomenon witnessed in many parts of the country in recent times is the manner in which the female body is being shamed in the digital domain by predatory males. Taking advantage of the anonymity offered by the social media in the cyber world, there is a transgression of ethical and legal norms through the use of violence and misogyny. 

What could be the answers to such criminal behavior? How could we as parents, educators and concerned citizens address such issues without taking recourse to the traditional moral discourse unsuitable for modern times? How could intimacy among young adults and consensual relationship among adults be promoted in the face of the dangers lurking in the cyber world?

Janus–faced approach to Sexuality

Despite the legitimate space given to sexuality and bodily desire in the Indian texts, iconography, sculpture and temple art in ancient India, it must be admitted that our society and popular culture have for long suffered under a repressive sexuality largely influenced by Victorian prudery and Puritanism. Historians of the 19th Century Victorian England have testified to the presence of the ‘Other Victorians,’ namely those in their life and life values who had radically departed from the dominant puritan culture.  It is also true that movements like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood attempted to restore the balance by the rightful recognition of the body and the life of the senses, but such movements, though important, were not long lasting. On the whole, such attempts could not drastically change the spell of the Victorian Puritanism. It required the arrival of the British novelist D.H. Lawrence, aptly described as the ‘priest of love,’ by his celebrated biographer Harry T. Moore, to reclaim the bodily self and sexuality as an answer to the malaise of the Western civilisation. Contrary to popular perceptions, in works like Lady Chatterley’s Lover he did not advocate an unbridled or amoral sexuality as an antidote to the conservative class consciousness and morality; rather, he stood for a new body-mind-spirit continuum in opposition to the dominant asceticism and a life-denying religion/ spirituality. In modern times, such tendencies banefully continue throughout the world despite the emergence of a liberal culture.

Domineering Male Behaviour

There are two-ways by which the legacy of D.H. Lawrence may be seen in the modern world. While one strand of Lawrence resulted in the notion of the domineering male ideal leading to proto-fascism, his larger teaching, based on the importance of recognising the life of the body and that of the senses, has been affirmed by Western feminism. The argument that sex is not only for procreation but is integral to the pleasure principle was affirmed by the feminist movement. Consequently, the right of the woman over her own body and the right to female sexual pleasure was accepted as axiomatic, an approach that found greater acceptance through the use of contraceptives and safe sex practice in course of time.

D H Lawrence


The right of the female self to her body that has come center stage in a democratic order was rudely disrupted by the late 1990s in India by the ambiguous role played by the Internet revolution. While the Internet and the cyber world revolutionised the means and modes of communication and facilitated friendship among men and women, across geographical spaces, it also led to the rapid spread of pornography. The response to the latter has been divergent in the Western world, including the feminists. While some, including women, treat it as a source of pleasure and gratification, viewed as a consensual act; others have drawn attention to the exploitative nature of the medium, especially the manner in which actors/actresses/viewers are subjected to male gaze and voyeurism. Yet others have pointed out that pornography inevitably leads to violence and misogyny. Concerned citizens have, therefore, urged the modern state to clamp down on pornography while advocates of free-speech have defended it. The state, they argue, has no role in the private life of citizens. There is a consensus, however, that both child porn and revenge porn, widespread in the West, and increasingly manifest in India, work against the basic principles of the civilised order; both violate the rights and dignity of children and women, and therefore come under the criminal act and invite punishment. There is thus a grey area in the cyber world when dealing with the question of friendship and intimacy. 

The Indian Situation

The Indian situation is markedly different from that of the West, especially while discussing the question of female sexuality. There is a reluctance here to talk about sex and sexuality in the family and the community. The growing up process of Indian youngsters/youth is marked by a degree of uncertainty and awkwardness. Learning of sex and sexuality here takes place largely through the peer group and popular culture. Teenagers tend to turn to the social media for their knowledge of friendship and intimacy. It is in this context that there is the paramount need for education, not through a culture of morality and abstinence, symptomatic of the belief systems of the earlier times; rather our approach should be contemporary, taking into account the reality of the present situation of adolescents and young adults who are exposed to the Internet from the early age. Education and orientation need to be given in a non-coercive manner so that the people concerned know the pros and cons of using social media and the cyber world and could consequently make informed choices. 

Entrenched Patriarchy

The real danger here comes from an entrenched patriarchy that governs the behavior of predatory males who exploit the anonymity of the digital domain. Under the guise of friendship and intimacy, there is entrapment and exploitation of unwary women and female victims. Such crimes are manifest not just in the small towns but in cities as well, where men and women of different age groups live away from home and family circles. The state of isolation, the desire for friendship and intimacy often lead to unwelcome encounters resulting in tragedies including depressions and ending of young lives.

Conclusion: Friendship and Mutual Trust

There is thus a need to take urgent steps to prevent such tragic occurrences in contemporary India. It is not by outrage and condemnation, or through exemplary punishment that we can hope to deal with such malaise and aberrations. Introduction of sex education and the teaching of acceptable and unacceptable sexual behavior should be part of the school and higher education. Through orientations and workshops, we need to sensitize our young to seek a life of freedom and friendship based on mutual trust and confidence. We must be conscious of the alluring and predatory nature of the internet and the social media so that we may use the technology of the present and the future for a new culture of friendship.

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About Author

Prof. Sachidananda Mohanty

Prof. Sachidananda Mohanty was formerly Professor and Head, Department of English, University of Hyderabad, [an Institution of Eminence], Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Odisha and Governing Board Member of Auroville Foundation, administered by the, MHRD, Government of India. He was a Member of India’s Commission of Education to the UNESCO, and Senior Academic Associate at the American Studies Research Centre, [ASRC], Hyderabad.

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Smita Patnaik
Smita Patnaik
1 year ago

Astute and incisive. Congratulations!