HBO Max released their highly anticipated new show “Sex Lives of College Girls,” last week.
The show, which was executive produced and co-written by Mindy Kaling, centers around four young women as they navigate their college lives. One of the characters is an Indian-American 18 year old girl named Bela, who is played by Amrit Kaur, a Canadian actress originally hailing from Markham, Ontario. ]
Initially, Kaur and her character received positive feedback for breaking barriers and representing young brown people outside the archaic and outdated tropes. These tropes have been prevalent for too long and mostly center around comic relief, thick heavy accents, and a character’s whole identity circulating around stereotypes associated with their race -- think Rajesh from Big Bang Theory and Ravi from Disney Channel’s “Jessie”.
The show portrays Kaur’s character as “extremely sex-positive” as she navigates her college life along with her sexuality and desires. Audiences were especially expressive on Twitter immediately after the show premiered.
However, the celebration and kudos were short lived after Amrit Kaur came under fire for comments she made during an ensemble New York Times interview with the cast.
Kaur was asked “Why is our culture so obsessed with the sex lives of young women?” To which she responded: “Black women get over sexualized; brown women have the exact opposite experience. We’re not sexualized at all — we’re virginal. So to now have a character that has sex and has all these ideas about sex, that’s all really important. She gets into a lot of dangerous situations as a result, but also learns a lot.”
There’s a lot to unpack there.
First of all, there is no need to compare and contrast two minorities in this context.
There are similarities in the experiences of brown and Black women, but there are many more nuanced differences, which this statement completely neglects.
Black women have long been seen as hypersexual beings, dating back to the era of slavery. Enslaved women were often raped by their owners and the horrific acts were justified because the women were presumed to have had “insatiable appetites for sex”.
One example that comes to mind from that era is Sara Baartman, also known as the “Hottentot Venus”, who was tricked into slavery, and then paraded around Europe in “freak shows”. Crowds gathered to gawk at her ever-exposed “huge” buttocks and she is considered the “epitome of colonial exploitation and racism, [and] of the ridicule and commodification of Black people”.
It is easy to think that era is long gone but it isn’t that far removed from the present day because Baartman’s remains were on display in Paris until 1974. It took until 2002 for her remains to be finally buried -- 187 years after she passed away.
The over-sexualization of Black women didn’t just happen by accident; it was a product of intersecting forms of oppression, discrimination and objectification. It is painful and unfair, not something to just casually reference in order to try to make a point that honestly doesn’t even make sense to begin with.
In addition, Kaur has no authority to speak on the experience of Black women, or even Black culture, or to correlate it to her own experiences, just because she is cast alongside Black female leads -- who can speak for themselves, by the way.
Furthermore, Kaur’s comments suggest that if given the choice, brown women would choose to be over-sexualized rather than being represented as “virginal” or “not sexualized at all.” Why are those the only two options?
I simply don’t understand the need to bring race into a conversation regarding culturally screwed up ideals around sex and gender. It would be amiss to disregard race when speaking about feminism and “women issues” because intersectionality is important and race plays a massive role.
However, in this particular case, it is completely unnecessary because women shouldn’t have to choose between being sexualized or de-sexualized. It’s not just one or the other -- women can choose to break that binary & question the patriarchal notion altogether, and redefine their sexuality on entirely new terms.
Besides, isn’t the supposed point of the show to empower women and show them as sexual beings who have choice and freedom rather than sexual objects to be vilified? Kaur’s comments go against the premise and purpose of the show.
And lastly, in what world are brown women not sexualized?
There is literally a history of sexualization that brown women have had to fight against.
Just this year, the chief minister of Uttarakhand (a state in India) said that women wearing ripped jeans and exposing their knees are “symptomatic of moral turpitude”. He criticized women for “running towards nudity” and blamed parents for not controlling their daughters and allowing them to wear ripped jeans (gasp).
The Thomson Reuters Foundation conducted a survey of 550 experts on women’s issues in 2019 and found India to be “the most dangerous country in the world to be a woman because of the high risk of sexual violence”. The leader of the opposition in 2019, Rahul Gandhi, referred to India as the “rape capital of the world” while imploring the governing party to take the issue seriously.
Of course, brown women don’t just exist in India, and one can find similar statistics and incidents in other parts of the world where brown women predominantly reside.
Women of colour are not only sexualized but are also exoticized, often by white men but also by men of their own race. Exoticization is a racial and gendered experience that is very isolating and psychologically distressing.
Women of colour are considered a minority, and therefore “other,” which scrutinizes their identity, self worth, self image, and heavily impacts how they navigate their everyday lives.
In an interview with CTV, Kaur said “There’s a lot of Brown girls, especially in Brampton and Vancouver, that have not seen a Brown girl exploring her sexuality on screen, so this will be great for them.”
Representation is great and we love to see it, but with great representation, comes great responsibility.
As somebody with Kaur in my name, it’s really sad to see another Kaur let us down.
On a side note, I don’t know if Amrit Kaur is just a giant troll, because an IG story of hers also had people up in arms and baffled:
What? Who says that?! Is this supposed to be a joke?
Maybe she’s trying to be “woke” and it just isn’t landing correctly? Where is her PR team? I have so many questions.
I am sighing a thousand sighs because it is truly unfortunate to see a woman of colour regurgitate backwards ideals that we’re constantly trying to fight and condemn. These comments also completely negate what the show is trying to achieve and forces women back behind the barriers that are supposedly being broken.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see whether brown Twitter claims Amrit Kaur or not once the dust has settled.
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