As the TV interview with former porn star Sunny Leone continues to engage social media and commentators, academics in Britain flayed its patriarchal and moralistic overtones, saying it highlighted “India’s sexual hypocrisy”.
The interview has been discussed by students and staff in media studies and other disciplines. Some linked the interview and its underpinning themes with the outrage caused by the gang-rape of a young woman in New Delhi in December 2012.
Heather Bunskell-Evans of the University of Leicester told Hindustan Times that Leone and interviewer Bhupendra Chaubey articulated two generic but competing discourses. The first is a moralistic discourse that has traditionally attributed to women guilt for possessing bodies that men desire, thus allegedly rendering men incapable of responsibility for their actions. The second is that of neo-liberalism.
“Chaubey voices the modern-day version of this narrative: in her person she is antithetical to the ideal of the modest Indian Woman; she is singlehandedly responsible for transforming India into the country, according to data recently released by Pornhub, which consumed the most pornography in 2015; she threatens marital relationships because husbands spend more erotic time with her than their wives; she undermines the ordinary woman’s sexual self-esteem,” she said.
According to Sonia Hendy-Isaac of Birmingham City University, the interview is “somewhat astounding how a woman’s sexuality, and her decision to explore this (whether on camera, or otherwise), can still be framed within the notion of the moral temptress”.
She added: “The treatment of Sunny Leone in this interview reflects both the fear, and the intolerance of any woman empowered by, and through her own body, and her capacity to rationalise both her decisions and her actions; the great tragedy here of course, is as a sexually empowered, rational and intelligent woman, she should have to justify or rationalise it at all. Let alone in such a public – and let’s be very clear – morally judgemental manner.”
The most interesting aspect of the fear and intolerance seen in the interview, Hendy-Isaac said, was the “attempt to create correlation, and ‘empirical’ evidence of one woman’s (alleged and unproven) impact on a nation’s porn viewing habits”.
“This interview and personal attack, is a precise manifestation of the virgin-whore dichotomy; from a feminist perspective, I’m just relieved that Sunny Leone retained her position as someone who need not apologise for her informed decisions, her career(s) and her successes,” Hendy-Isaac added.
Linking the interview with the 2012 gang-rape, Bunskell-Evans said: “In order to make sense both of this interview and the media response I suggest we look beyond the interviewer and interviewee, and focus on the circulation of competing ideas that inform their views.
“With regard to India, the brutal Delhi gang rape and murder in 2012 of a 23-year-old, brings the cultural sexual double standard into sharp and horrific relief. (The woman’s) killers defended themselves on the basis she was asking for it’ (hanging out in public with a boy after dark like those shameless Western girls)”.