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Navigating sex as an Afghan woman: sexual pleasure and the political body

03 Apr 2018

“You are a very sexual person”, my friend told me.

She is right; I do love sex. But why did I feel weird about someone pointing it out?

Because, as an Afghan woman who openly admits to loving sex, I’m a curiosity and a taboo. Within this confession, I have to come to terms with the fact that Afghan women face very specific political circumstances around which our bodies and our sexual pleasure are weighted against.

I am not ashamed of being sexual but, like most women, I have learned to watch myself from the outside. Yes, sure, we are currently experiencing the golden era of women’s sexual liberation. I know the arguments: we live in a world where women are agents of their sexuality and can be sexual while retaining their multifaceted identities. But in reality it isn’t that simple.

Not only does the sexual liberation paradigm turn a blind eye to trauma, but it also continuously seems to make the same old mistakes that white feminism usually does – essentialising women’s experiences. Trying to express our sexuality as women from formerly colonised countries means having to confront the various ways in which our bodies are seen and valued. And this complicates sexual liberation.

“The political reality is there’s currently no other body whose sexuality is more feared and tabooed than the Afghan woman’s”

When I initially encounter men, they are usually full with ideas of me that seem to be pre-scripted. Men have the tendency to impose sexual fantasies onto me that project aggression and sexuality as thrilling, exciting and desirable. In an attempt to be flirtatious with me, a British man recently asked me what it’s like to live under sharia law. When I told him I wouldn’t know, his next comment was about how much it would suck to use Tinder under sharia law because all women would be veiled.

Some are curious as to how an Afghan woman can be so “free” and so “modern”, while other interactions use “milder” variations of racism by using classic terms such as “exotic or “intriguing. Well, I am a human being, not a mango or an ancient piece of scripture like the Rosetta Stone. I am also not a tour bus sent to guide you through unknown places until you return home to what you know and is familiar to you.

All these comments – whether it is men sexually relying on the idea of me as a victim, or rooted in some fascination of “exotic” women – stem from the political reality that there is currently no other body whose sexuality is more feared and tabooed than the Afghan woman’s.

Our public images are dominated by faces hidden behind the blue burqa, so our mere occupation of space is trivialised and our existence becomes materialised – from the screen into the real world. At the same time, there is no other body whose oppression is more integral to a political strategy. There is no other body whose framing as the victim, as opposed to the freed, is a vital condition for the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

“This has not only been harmful to women, but also marking Afghan men with a continued toxic masculine identity”

The reliance of the Afghan woman as inherently victimised lies at the very core of our modern neo-imperialist wars in Afghanistan – this is the most convincing argument within the Western public opinion as it reproduces a moral rationale for intervening.

This translates into the rise of Malala Yousafzai: the West applauding itself for its mission, the West needing our bodies to stay within this specific framing. It politicises our bodies – the oppressed, the one without agency in need of saving – and upholds global power dynamics.

This has not only been harmful to women, but also marking Afghan men with a continued toxic masculine identity – the aggressors, the violent, wife beaters – reproducing the idea of brown people as different and from a backward civilisation; a rationale that is far from liberating.

I refuse to be either option. I am neither a victim nor the West’s “freed” subject when I decide to admit to my sexual desires. Yes, within my community I felt stuck between denying my sexuality as a means to remain respectable, and embracing my sexuality and being a “whore”. Yet, I refuse to be labelled as being saved and “more free”. I refuse to represent a political result that was only made possible through intervention and the demonisation of Afghan men. This feeds into the right-wing political agenda which exploits women’s rights and feminism as the basis for their military agendas.

My decision to occupy a space of sexual agency – which is in opposition to the Western political narrative, as well as the narratives existing within the country –  is an attempt to bring down a constructed political dialogue. It comes as an urge to assert my sexuality. It is an act of resistance against the external politicisation of my body. In this way, I can construct the narrative on my own terms.