The Enrique Iglesias concert ‘Sex and Love’, held in Colombo on 20 December 2015, has been in the news for days and remains a hot topic of conversation.
Alas, for all the wrong reasons.
The concert got off to a rocky start with many complaints about its poor logistics, but once the Spanish singer took to the stage, the audience went wild! Caught in the thrill of the event, one woman threw her bra at Enrique and another managed to get on stage and steal a kiss from the pop star.
In the days that followed gossip websites — and some outraged Facebook warriors — took it upon themselves to track down information about the woman who kissed Enrique and reveal her details. And they didn’t stop at that. She was attacked online for “behaving inappropriately”, i.e. in a way that is “culturally unacceptable” in Sri Lanka.
This trail of events is nothing out of the ordinary in the island nation. We have seen a similar turn of events with the Wariyapola girl, the lady in the BMW who yelled at the police, and even Suji’s wife.
What stands out is that ultimately, these women are shamed publicly and disparaged for failing to uphold what are projected as “cultural values”.
What exactly are these values but restrictive norms where women are expected to do nothing besides being good domestic wives and daughters?
We spoke to some young people to find out what they make of this latest furor.
Culture evolves, we need to accept that
Tharindu Jayawardena, a youth activist, feels that most Sri Lankans seem to have a misguided opinion of what their culture is.
“For me, culture is an evolving thing. How we represent ourselves right now is our culture. As for the backlash that the girl received, I don’t think people should make a big deal of it. If it’s culturally unacceptable to run on stage and hug a male performer and throw bras at them, then how is it culturally acceptable to track down the individual and attack them online for their behaviour?” asks Tharindu.
In his view, the reaction has little to do with culture. “It’s the Sri Lankan mentality to isolate an incident or a person – especially a woman – and to deride her under the pretense of culture. It doesn’t help that social media users and the mainstream media revel in sensationalizing incidents like this. It was one concert, and the performer didn’t seem to be offended by it. The whole ruckus is unwarranted”.
We’ve got our priorities crossed
Women’s rights activist, Yasasmin Kaviratne, says she understands that hugging Enrique and even throwing a bra at him is new to Sri Lankan culture. She admits that there is a wide generation gap in Sri Lanka. The older generations are either less aware or disapprove of pop culture and new trends of the youth. But she wholly disagrees that what happened at the concert was against our culture.
“Our culture is being destroyed when a hotel owner rapes a tourist taken resident at his hotel, or when a mother strangles her child because she is too poor to feed him. Our culture is destroyed not because a woman hugged an artist in public, but because some who act as ‘culture-police’, hiding behind the Internet, attack a girl personally, not just herself but also her parents and all people known to her”.
She explains that culture is a system that changes with socio-political trends. “In early 1900s and before that, women in Sri Lanka didn’t cover their upper bodies. There was a clear difference between sexuality and nudity. With the British establishment being strengthened throughout the country, the women were asked to cover their upper bodies, and with that we merged sexuality and nudity together and think that there’s a sexual connotation whenever there’s nudity of an adult is involved. Just because one girl threw a bra at a singer, it doesn’t change the way things are in the society. Women will still get harassed on the streets, women will still be subjected to gender-based violence at homes and work places, and women will still be neglected in matters related to economic empowerment and social security. If you want this ‘bra incident’ to be a bigger issue than it is, make it so. But remember that there are worse harms in society that need solutions”.
Yasasmin says that cyber-bullying is something that requires urgent attention by the authorities. “We don’t seem to understand the severity of the harm it causes.”
Is Sri Lanka regressing and becoming sexist?
Pointing out that a man also went up on stage but this seems to have been overlooked by everyone, Aisha Nazim, an undergraduate, says that it is clear that the whole episode is sexist.
“It’s definitely sexist, because there was a boy who went up as well, but he’s not getting any hate. What happened was normal given the nature of the concert, and it wasn’t an R rated type of kiss – it was a peck on the cheek. And since when did hugging become such a bad thing? The subversive hype over it is hypocritical and exaggerated. The backlash she had to face is disgusting and shouldn’t ever be encouraged. The president could have spoken up a bit about that, about harassment and bullying and slut-shaming, instead of proposing a blanket ban on concerts”.
“It is ridiculous”, says Anjana Dharmasiri, a young web developer. “This was a private event. And there are worse things happening is clubs and casinos every day, but no one bats an eyelid. The only reason that this girl got humiliated was because there were a lot of people to see and capture the scene. Kissing an artist is nothing new in international concerts. I remember the something similar happening during the Bryan Adams concert which took place back in 2004 and nothing like this happened back then. It seems that Sri Lanka is heading backwards in the world”.
Not all young people share these views. Many who have commented on photographs of the woman on stage and of Enrique with the bra that has appeared on Facebook seem to think our culture is being “destroyed”. What it comes down to however, is that everyone is entitled to their opinion and they should be free to express it. But it is unacceptable to attack and publicly shame others who hold different views and choose to live life differently.