What’s with Indian men and the navel ?
“[Navel fetishism is] a strong attraction to the human navel (often called the belly button). Navel fetishists are sexually aroused by viewing, licking, tickling, sucking, sniffing, or kissing the navel of another person, or by having any of this activity done to their own navel by partner or to a lesser extent, by themselves. Some navel fetishists engage in outercourse (non-penetrative or dry sex as opposed to intercourse) involving the navel. Navel fetishism often co-exists with stomach fetishism”.
Growing up in India, I’ve been exposed to the two major lifelines that most of us Indians thrive on - Cricket and Bollywood. We’re home to the industry that churns out possibly the highest number of regional language films each year, in the world. Now while that is something to be proud of, what I’m not quite happy to be associated with, is the content of at least some of these films. It isn’t so much the content but the perspective and ensuing objectification that is an indelible part of some of these films that I’d like to rant about today.
Due to its shape, appearance and proximity to female genitals, a female's navel is considered as a secondary vulva by some men. In many classic paintings such as Danae and The Toilet of Bathsheba this resemblance has been considered. Thereby which the navel was used as a metaphor to denote the female's genital area. In ancient Egyptian and Syrian art depicting lovers, the vulva and navel are often interchangeable in their schematic representations. Some lexical evidence from Arabic indicate that the word "Navel" translates to "Vulva". Zoologist turned author Desmond Morris had once commented that the navel has become increasingly vaginal in the second half of the twentieth century. He further added that in older paintings and photographs, the navel was usually round, but the vertical slit seems to be increasingly prevalent just at a time when the navel is being displayed more and more widely.
Aki Sinkkonen at the University of Helsinki in Finland believes that the navel may be an indicator of mating potential in fertile women. In his article in the The FASEB Journal, he proposes that the umbilicus, together with the surrounding skin area, is an honest signal of individual vigor. He suggests that the symmetry, shape, and position of umbilicus can be used to estimate the reproductive potential of fertile females, including risks of certain genetically and maternally inherited fetal anomalies.
Picture this :
A woman and a man are sitting opposite each other. The former is clad in a sari (a long fabric, draped around the waist and made to rest over one shoulder, a traditional indian outfit) and is reading a book or engrossed in some other activity (I don’t really remember and I’m sure I don’t want to watch the intensely disgusting clip again for a refresher) . There is a table fan or something of the sort that keeps blowing in her direction. Each time the fan blows her way, her sari flies a little, thin fabric and all, giving our “hero” a glimpse of her navel, which he devours lustily with his eyes in the most crude way possible. He also touches his fingers to his lips in an absolutely derogatory gesture.
A woman and man are fighting. The woman is obviously mad at the man. The man proceeds to pinch her in the stomach while the camera zooms in on her navel. The woman then loses control of herself after the man shows her who’s boss (?) and the scene obviously breaks into a song.
The above mentioned situations aren’t porn. They aren’t even B- grade movies that thrive on nudity or sexual content for cheap publicity and quick sales. They are scenes from mainstream cinema that have gone on to draw in full houses and no, none of these scenes were censored or cut-off, even though these films are apparently “family entertainers”.
Now, I’m no moral police. I have no problem with each artist’s exploration, creative visualization and depiction of the human body in all it’s beauty. Eroticism is one thing but objectification and double standards are another problem entirely.
We pride ourselves on being a “traditional” society - speaking about sex is taboo, kissing in public is absolutely impermissable, jeans are too distracting to be worn in co-ed colleges, using swear words reflects poorly on your conduct but yes let’s all sit together as a family and enjoy watching this guy stroking and squeezing this scantily-clad lady’s navel !
I had gone to watch a screening of James Bond’s Spectre not-so-recently. Like all Bond films, the lead character loves seducing his women and is bold in his affections. But our Indian censor board decided to chop-off a kissing scene because the two characters were...wait for it...kissing with the doors open!
The offending scene was taken right off the final of the film that was screened to audiences because
“Kissing is against our culture
A 20-second-long kiss is against our culture
Kissing with the doors open is against our culture”
-in the very memorable words of Pankaj Nihalani
You know you need to seriously re-evaluate your values when making suggestive and lewd gestures involving the navel, closest in resemblance to the vulva, is family -suitable viewing material, but words like “fuck” , “penis” and “sex” are muted out of films.
When asked to comment on these double standards, the censor board chief said these words were against all that our cultural values stand for.
It might interest you to know that this gentleman, if I may call him one, was himself a filmmaker a few decades ago. He was particularly known for making songs with cheap lyrics and suggestive and lewd dance moves.
Coming back to the navel fetish, mainstream cinema cannot indulge in erotica or nudity, which carries a big taboo and an Adult certification means their distributions and collections are severely hampered. Sex sells, everyone knows that, and everyone exploits it with as much subtlety as possible, some not so much (read navel exposure).
Now the closest thing that would represent a sexual act is directed around the women's navel, Given that it will never be a taboo, it has been exploited with with song sequences such as dropping of water, flowers, fruits, ice cubes etc, a spinning top and in some cases, even an omelette. (barf?)
As someone who often writes on women’s issues, women’s empowerment and objectification in society, I am constantly curious as to where we must draw the line with such content being allowed at all. With the rise of the internet, I see so many people writing in the internet comments section against being “too judgemental” or spewing hate. But when we also complain about issues like rape (an important issue for discussion in India), and ban young girls from wearing jeans (yes, this is a rule in some educational institutions in the country) but let our boys watch films that show content including violence and such objectification of women, what perspectives are we letting these young, impressionable minds develop ?
I would love to hear a global perspective from you guys on this. Comments and opinions are welcome :)
- With some inputs from theexperienceproject.com and Quora