In this age of the pansexual and much gender fluidity, self-love is slowly finding its place. Sex is sexy as long as it is porn or erotica or any adult literature along those lines produced for the male market. But when women get talking seriously and academically and quote research and statistics, it is a boring terrain. Even edible underwear, though for girl use, have boy buyers in mind.
Any content vetted by presumably joyless bespectacled women poring grimly over the subject is hardly considered... arousing. But with sexism finally looking all set to go out of fashion and words like ‘consent’ and phrases like ‘no means no’ going viral, women’s voices on their own pleasure is somehow rising above a whisper. It would seem women are getting a say in the matter at last.
So this billboard in Canada currently greeting passers-by is a move in the right direction. ‘Scream your own name,’ says the ad for a sex-toy. It is doing so well, raising so many laughs at the sheer cheek of it in broad daylight, that no one’s taken it down yet, this blatant hoarding. It is true that it’s a racy product, that kids are bound to ask parents ‘what is that?’ It could look, if you are of pre-libido age, a bit like a mini microphone through which, perhaps, you can amplify your identity.
But then ads have been using the female form for so long now to sell anything from cough syrup to cars, and we have successfully handled all queries from tiny tots through all of that. The strike against this one is only that it is only for women. An ad with female buyers at the other end.
Once upon a time, the vibrator had to be invented by a man, Dr J Mortimer Granville, as a treatment for hysteria in women. In Victorian times feminine ailments like bloated tummy, dizzy spells and hissy fits were prescribed a ‘pelvic massage’, which in turn was thought to relieve them of whatever their problem was. But for how long could doctors do this curing on their own? One fine day they handed it to their patients, the medical anti-hysteria instrument. One imagines the women saying, oh, ok, with a morose expression, and then dancing their way home. The instrument smuggled into the privacy of their own rooms.
From 1900 onward vibrators began to be advertised in magazines – ostensibly to get rid of wrinkles and migraines. Pictures showed men as well as women using them on forehead, double chin, belly button etc. By 1920 some understanding happened of its broader functions and the ads promptly disappeared.
Then cordless vibrators happened, no doubt helping to usher in the sexual revolution of the sixties. Now, of course, they are a common sight and of many types, including the butterfly and multi-speed, with or without bluetooth.
Medical historian Jacob Appel even had to pen an ode: "I cannot say whether more Alabama women own vibrators than own Bibles. If I were guessing, I would suspect that a majority derive more use out of the vibrators. Certainly more pleasure."
Back to the billboard in Canada – let the ad be, it is only hand-holding the women.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.