Swet Shop Boys: A Discussion on Representation, Politics, and Entertainment

[Featured Image: Swet Shop Boys/Facebook]

by Suraiya Ali

I want to make very clear that the first time I heard the work of Riz MC, Redhino, and Heems, aka the Swet Shop Boys, I was moved. I was incredibly moved.

I am a girl who has the difference between a Muhjra Song and a Qawali down to a science. I am a girl who was forced to memorize the analytical difference between not only Aziz Mian and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan but Drake while he rapped for YMCMB and Drake while he rapped under OVO. I take music seriously. As a Sufi is it my main connection with Divinity. It was handed to me as a gift- and when I first heard Cashmere- I was utterly reduced in supplication to how divine every song was.

[Read Related: Swet Shop Boys’ ‘Cashmere’ and the Representation We Need]

Like many who come from Arab, Persian and South Asian spheres of influence, the music of Swet Shop Boys feels like the only music we’ve ever heard that belong to us fully. It is not the music of our parents, it is not the music of our other allies of color. It is ours. It attempts to undo every time one of us has walked into a bookstore, record shop, or art show and felt the desperation zero representation.

Their music is a testament to the fact that we, as “easterners,” do not have to exist in the ambiguous genre of “world music” or the grossly reductive literary corpus of “mythology.” It is representation.

That is the music. Then there are the men who make it. Recently, before their Los Angeles concert in their Sufi La tour, Heems and Riz came down to the University of Southern California to do a talk on Politics, Art, and Activism. Brown Girl Magazine was lucky enough to not only attend the talk but also get a few questions answer by Heems, before of course, attending their concert at Echoplex two nights later. Through this serious immersion into Swet Shop Boys, there was the feeling of both deep love and deep critique. As we discuss in this article what the boys discussed with us, It becomes apparent that while we love Swet Shop Boys it’s important to remain critical of the artist while we remain loyal to the music.

Politics, Art, and Activism at USC

Riz and Heems were interviewed by astounding author and academic, Dr. Sohail Daulatzai. Although several questions were asked, the boys ended up speaking candidly about the diversity of brownness, cultural heritage and how these things work in tandem to effect activism.

British Colonialism and Brownness

When it comes to speaking on national upbringing, Riz and Heems have somewhat separate experiences. The relationship between brownness and the colonialism is one that Riz has found to be both inspiring and anxiety inducing. He spoke on how he inherited both the “spoils and the scars of the [British Empire.]” This relationship coming from both a of space gratitude- as his family was able to move to the UK and benefit from certain institutions i.e. the spoils- as well as a place of degradation- that regardless of how much he benefited from a modern western society, he was still othered within it, and still ended up feeling the sadness of Pakistan’s colonial history i.e. the scars.

Dealing with these dual forces caused him a confusion of lineage, one that many first gen’s feel. He synthesized this cognitive dissonance in humor, remarking “I’m left looking at the UK and wondering ‘wait, are you my dad?’” A lot of us don’t feel like we belong anywhere, but at least we can tell a few jokes to ease the dissonance.

Media and Brownness

As both Heems and Riz are entertainers and have been entertainers for some time now. Through indie British films or Das Racist- both men have seen the landscape of entertainment change as the political appeal and political disdain of brownness has ebbed and flowed. Riz points out that “brownness is [often] absent from the conversation” in entertainment and activism. If it does surface, it “comes from Islamaphobia or the refugee crisis.” This leads to a dangerous binary- “You’re film stars and terrorists,” a middle ground is absent, and when such nuance isn’t allowed to exist it becomes “destabilizing and shocking” to the entertainment industry every time a brown person tries to take up any kind of space outside of type casting.

This continual and destructive “injection of brownness” is why, as Riz explains, “we [as brown people] can’t exist on a spectrum- [our] story gets written by other people,” meaning until this destabilizing injection ceases, and a more normalized view of the south Asian, Arab, or Persian individual is allowed to be cultivated- the very existence of brown people in entertainment will constitute as activism. In many ways, the binary of film star or terrorist does help create a merging of activism and entertainment: our attempts to break out of marginalization in one field will spill over into our politics. Sometimes bad things can have good consequences.

First Generation Experiences and Brownness

It can be very hard to conceptualize the first generation struggle into one word, Riz took this challenge in stride and has repeatedly chosen the word “Mongrel” and Mongrelism” to explain his experiences. The dictionary definition of such is defined my Merriam-Webster to be “an individual resulting from the interbreeding of diverse breeds or strains; especially one of unknown ancestry.” Which is rather fitting: many of us are forced to find ways to blend aspects of east and west in both exercises of survival and exercise of artistic expression. Going back to Riz questioning if the UK is his dad, the idea of being a mongrel latches on to the ambiguity of not fitting into the home of your parents while not fitting into the stereotypical role of a westerner. Where do we really come from? Can we claim both the global north and the global south as our homes? does such fluidity in culture exist? Riz eloquently stated that in order for such a fluid identity to exist “culture must persevere but on [our] own terms.” Riz defined these terms through a metaphor- which I’ll do my best to paraphrase, as I’m no Oxford graduate.

“Your culture is like a vase, an antique handed to you by the people who came before you. You have a choice of what to do with this vase. Some people see it and tuck it away in their attic, it collects dust, it isn’t a part of their lives. Some people understand it’s importance, but aren’t aware of how to use it; they put it on their mantle, and stare at it daily. To them, it is a relic. There are some people, however, who see this vase, and say “I’m going to use this.”

They integrated it into their lives, they drink water out of it. They embrace its utilitarian purpose. Your culture is a vase and what are you going do with it? We don’t really know what. I don’t really know what to do with it. I’m still figuring it out, but SSB is its own kind of pottery, and through this music were trying to figure it out.”

A Talk with Himanshu Suri

Many of us were plugged into the creative force of Himanshu Suri aka Heems in the late 2000’s with the birth of Das Racist. A native of Queen’s, he spoke at USC that there he was able to experience a globe’s worth of cultures right within walking distance of his childhood home. “The two airports in New York are in Queens,” he said jokingly, “the cultures that exist in the area are all similar in their diversity, it’s the airplanes that are the weird part.” You don’t have to leave Queens to find the culture. And you don’t have to chase Heems to NYC to get a word with him, BG was lucky to grab his two sense right here in LA.

BG: Conversations with you and Riz often center around brownness and what that means on a global level, yet your experience is incredibly American and then on top of that, you’re a proud New Yorker. What does American Brownness mean to you? What are the privileges and disadvantages of not having the long colonial history of the Old World?

Heems: “I wouldn’t say my experience is incredibly American. “Incredibly American” to me evokes more Ford Trucks, apple pies, and baseball than I’ve seen in my life. My experience has been incredibly New York which I think has its own set of connotations that are far more diverse. I’m connected to that same, long, colonial history of the Old World whether through my being American or my being of Indian descent. To be honest this project was about learning those differences to break them down and it’s been effective in that I don’t think about things in these terms anymore – American, Indian, Pakistani, British. They all flow in and out of each other to me these days.”

BG:  At the USC talk you mentioned that if our “oppressors” put up the physical borders between us, we shouldn’t go around and put up emotional or cultural walls. How do you reconcile the need for both distinct spaces for brown folk along with knowing there also needs to be a convergence between different people? Do you think your upbringing in Queens helped you understand the nuances of cultural convergence?

H: “My comment was more on our oppressors lumping us into one category whether Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh and how rather than reinforcing that mentality using it to strengthen bonds and fight oppression together. Instead of standing up and saying “I’m not Muslim”, to say what if I do identify with parts of Islam. I think Swet Shop Boys in many ways is about breaking down the walls between Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh many of our parents carried over with them from South Asia. That’s a lot of weight to carry around the world.”

BG: Talking about India, you pointed out the concept of fossilization- the India you now know is not the one your parents did, as they are now 20 or so years removed from the nation’s fast growth. You’ve seen the nation boom as you’ve grown up. How does that affect the relationship you have with your parents? Your culture? Your understanding of your nation’s history?

H: “Fossilization to me is more about my parents carrying that older India with them to New York and raising me with that set of understanding. Often I think about this in terms of communalism from U.P. being carried to New York. For me, in a way, traveling to India on a regular basis the past 5 years has been about un-fossilizing that way of thinking. Although, a lot of the conversation isn’t just about where you are but what class you’re a part of. While my folks watch a lot of satellite TV and understand that India has changed culturally, to them it’s only the rich people who have become more Western. And while my family in India and my parents in New York have seen financial growth, as middle-class Indians their beliefs are the same as they were 30+ years ago. So much of the focus of raising children in the diaspora has been growing financially while culturally remaining rooted in the past.”

BG: Brown kids aren’t usually allowed to dream big, and if they do, dreaming big as artists are even more taboo. You’ve accomplished a lot of your wildest dreams I’m sure- but what else is there? What’s that really crazy big dream or idea that you don’t even mention to people because on so many levels it’s f*cking insane?

H: “I still often feel like I shouldn’t dream big. Although if I want to do something I have no qualms mentioning it and then trying to achieve it. In the next ten years, I’d like to work on a novel and a restaurant. Then eventually I’d like to be some kind of spiritual guru figure who capitalizes on the spiritual insecurities of white people.”

April 20th, Live at Echoplex

To be completely honest, this concert was my first concert. I got there early, got right to the front, and screamed the entire time. It was, in many ways, life altering. The two are fantastic performers, their energy is invigorating, to say the least. The 4/20 crowd was, in all senses of the word, high on life. New music from the Sufi La EP debuted along with favorites from Cashmere. The crowd was also treated to a spoken word piece by Riz which very eloquently showcased both his leftism and his militancy towards oppression. It all seemed perfect — a 4/20 night in the illustrious Los Angeles with your favorite South Asian rappers, hot boxing a venue to their hatred of capitalist oppression and qawwali hip hop beats, two days after a conversation on the intersections of brownness. It sounds as good as a joint feels.

The gag is, the very dissonance The Swet Shop Boys speak on breaking, they also seem to create. The day of the USC talk Riz posted a picture of him with the less than popular Lena Dunham. The comments of the photo ranged from disgust to disappointment — as Lena has not only been hailed a white feminist, but also a rapist and an emotional abuser. Many would argue affiliation with her proves show-boat tendencies. At the USC talk, a black Muslim woman boldly went up to Heems and asked if he was ready to own up to the fact that he very openly used to use the N-word and tried to defend his right to do so. Of course, he apologized and regretted those decisions that very moment, but that doesn’t mean we erase the fact that it happened.

The Swet Shop Boys said at the talk and convey through their music a hate for the systems that oppress them, yet they make decisions that fit into patterns of disenfranchisement. Especially when it comes to their own fame. Riz, who has actively crafted lyrics about brown girls “being sweet as baklava” and makes music video content trying to normalize the concepts of young brown love, takes roles, such as those in “Girls,” that exoticize him to fit into romantic relationships with white women. Understandably, HBO is a huge break, but where does his politics actually stand? That’s not to say brown people should only date brown people in fiction or in reality — but such decisions affect how the rest of us will navigate not only the entertainment industry but any industry we enter.

Do we discount our politics and creative expression for the chance of more representation? Does that not uphold stereotypes and disparage us further? Riz’s music and his acting work don’t always seem to reconcile. The same goes for Heems, while “I’m getting paid to lecture at uni’s that turned me down” basically explains the reason to come to the University of Southern California, one of the most expensive private schools in the nation. That choice doesn’t compute with their repeated message of toppling the “isms” that create hardships for black and brown people: as participating in and thriving in capitalism, and coming to a school like USC, which upholds very intense standards of whiteness, does the exact opposite of that.

It’s impractical to demand they remain underground and relatively poor to keep their music politically correct. But understandably, as a fan base, as a brown woman, seeing your role models pander to the very thing phasing you out of art galleries and record shops is confusing- just as confusing as trying to figure out if the UK or Pakistan is your cultural dad. How do we as a fan base react to music and spoken word about creating an inclusive world when the group that we look up to takes roles that Orientalize them and do gigs at institutions that work to the exploitation of people with their skin color? I don’t really have an answer. I really just wanted to call attention to the question. It will probably come up again and again as more of us start to reach new heights in entertainment.
Their fame does allow for levels of normalization- as stated at the beginning of this discussion, their music is us. The relationship between representation and disenfranchisement, however, is a dance over a very very fine line. Striking the perfect chord, no pun intended, is going to be a serious challenge for our generation’s brown artist and entertainer.

The Sufi La EP was released just last month as a digital copy; the music has already been played, either on the white vinyl released in April or on the very tour that sparked this discussion. As a child of a mystic lineage, asking questions is part of connecting to divinity. The Swet Shop Boys’ rappers have shown a love for Rumi, a trailblazing name in normalizing Sufism in the West. As their next work is titled Sufi La, and from now on they will not only be under the critique of the white man but also their brown fans. The Rumi quote “Do not look at my outward shape, But take what is in my hands” becomes very fitting. We must remember to remain critical of the creators while remaining supportive of their craft i.e. what is in their hands.

Heems and Riz MC are in many ways defining the very landscape of south Asians, Arabs, and Persians in entertainment and politics. Along with Jobrani, Minaj, and Kaling, their names will go down as trailblazers. We must question these names. We must be responsible fans. If we want to help them blaze a trail of inclusivity- where “brown boy” and “boy” mean one in the same, it starts by not putting these two men on a pedestal. It starts by letting them be nuanced. It starts by asking hard questions about their work, and harder questions about their politics. We are all fans, but we are not gullible fans- and judging by the music of these two mystics- they wouldn’t want us as to be anything but critical.

 [Photos: Swet Shop Boys/Facebook, Videos: Suraiya Ali & Keertana Sastry]

suraiya aliSuraiya Ali is a student currently living in Dallas, Texas. Her interests include feminist theology, mystic poetry, and the pursuit of the perfect matte lipstick. She wants to eventually couple a business degree with one in linguistics and theology. 

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

‘The Black Rose’: British Asian Shweta Aggarwal Voices her Truth Against Colourism and the Battle to end her Skin Whitening Cream Addiction

Black Rose

I was a mere 14-year old on the fateful night of 22 April 1993. The night that witnessed black teenager Stephen Lawrence brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack as he waited for a bus. The night that cemented my fear, that the colour of my skin does matter. The same night that confirmed my indifference as a British Asian in the United Kingdom — were we really united? Fast forward to May 25 2020, the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white policeman was the turning point for British Asian author and my lovely friend, Shweta Aggarwal to finally break her silence and narrate her story of colourism, in her new book, “The Black Rose.” 

Aggarwal’s gripping memoir emits so many emotions; that of an awakening, a voice that has been suppressed for years, filled with anger, mistrust and guilt. But most importantly, “The Black Rose” successfully disrupts the narrative that consistently allows society to box someone as indifferent based on a visibility factor. For Shweta, this factor was the colour of her skin. The injustices she consistently endured via some family members and fellow South Asian peers throughout her life, was as a result of her skin tone failing to qualify as ‘acceptable’, or as she often quotes in her book, not ranking high enough on the ‘fairometer.’ Whether she was in India, Japan or London, the scale was never too far behind. 

[Read Related: Liam Neeson’s Week of Rage is Every Person of Colour’s Truth]

Within the first chapter, she recalls as a child in India, the distinct lack of subtlety displayed by certain family members through direct taunts of her duskier appearance in comparison to her parents. She realised that she wasn’t in complete isolation from this prejudice, as her maternal aunt and uncle were also harshly nicknamed on the basis of their skin colour — Kaali (black) and Savla (wheatish). Aggarwal was left mortified by what many South Asians sadly still continue to casually exercise. Echoing similar incidents within my social proximity, it’s infuriating witnessing the recipients of such remarks surrender to laughing at themselves too. 

Except it isn’t funny. Born into a culture where conversations on religion, caste and hierarchy in India are still so prominent, the comparison of Aggarwal’s skin colour being as dark as that of the domestic help (often from poorer families), prematurely planted seeds in her mind that she simply didn’t belong with her family, especially  when she was sent to boarding school. Her lack of self-worth coupled with these taunts, gave her a whole new vocabulary for the letter B, that grew in parallel with the ongoing prejudice and anxiety. B for blackie, beggar’s child, bedwetter! Not funny, but derogatory. Post her book launch that Brown Girl Magazine attended, she tells me,

I personally feel we are way behind when it comes to understanding the importance of mental health. Name-calling was normalised and if you objected, you were ridiculed further with remarks such as ‘So sensitive! Can’t you take a joke?’ Body and colour shaming can lead to a feeling of inadequacy in the victim, which can further lead to depression and much worse mental illnesses.

During the 1984 Hindu Sikh riots in India, where over 3000 Sikhs lost their lives, Aggarwal recollects the frightening moment when she and her classmates fled into hiding to escape the violence during a school trip. As a means to save all the students from harm, the Sikh boys were forced to remove their turbans and long hair — their visible identities stripped to keep them alive. Yet, ironically, even in this horrifying situation, Aggarwal felt least at risk, attributing this self-assurance to her darker appearance. 

The crux of her self-loathe was the love-hate relationship she formed with skin whitening creams. The birth of Fair and Lovely, India’s most renown brand (now known as Glow and Lovely following a backlash) was notorious for selling the damaging message that fairer skin equated to a happier and fulfilling life. For it was fairer skin women that would qualify for marriage — clearly their only sole purpose! 

Tactfully using famous fair-skinned Bollywood actresses in television ads and posters, their so-called perfection would scream out to vulnerable young girls. (Men were targeted much later on, but the importance seemed less). Akin to the wretched beach body posters plastered on every corner in January — because apparently bikinis only look good on a certain body type —  the damaging message remains the same. Social acceptance comes at a cost, and that cost is to look a certain way. 

[Read Related: Dear Priyanka Chopra, Endorsing Colorism and Discrimination is not ok. It Never was and Never Will Be]

It’s an extension of the dated methods imposed on women from the womb, where mothers are lectured on drinking milk with saffron to ensure the baby is fair, traditional matrimonial sites asking women to specify skin colour, and women being told to stay out of the sun. These socially ingrained views are eventually developed into modern day methods in the form of cleverly marketed consumables. Aggarwal admits, 

Most people only use the cream on their face just as I did. At that time, I didn’t even think about the rest of the body. I felt that if the face becomes fairer, that will be enough for acceptance. My mum noticed the difference for sure and I was lighter by the time I met my husband, Amit. I must admit the addiction is a combination of three factors: the justification in your own head, the strong marketing message that ONLY fair is beautiful, and the ‘compliments’ from those around you. 

I admired Shweta’s honesty on admitting what essentially was a dangerous obsession that she remained faithful to throughout her teenage and adult life. A ritual that, whilst prompted gradual results in her appearance, was never going to eliminate the insecurities she felt within herself. Moments of joy with her husband and children on holidays abroad, would be broken up by the need to ‘fix’ any damage the sun may have inflicted i.e. reverse her tan. The booming tanning industry in U.K., her now home, and admiration of her ‘sun-kissed’ look by Brits initially surprised Aggarwal — as if her colour had now gained acceptance. 

But who are we seeking acceptance from? A society that is still deep rooted in patriarchy forcing women even now to adhere to dated rites of passage that holds no relevance? Or a society that seeks to point out one’s indifference because of how they look — their skin, their religious attire, their weight? Or a society that passes judgement on a woman’s self-worth, and continues to abuse that same woman behind closed doors under the eyes of Goddess Kali? Aggarwarl goes on to explain,

The more damaging perceptions of colourism, are that ‘fair is rich’, ‘fair is successful’ and ‘fair is better educated’. Essentially, ‘fair is supreme’ in every sense. And if that’s the case, where does that leave dark-skinned people? In Ukraine, for example black and brown people were discriminated against and  not given a fair chance to save their lives. Is it fair to be denied a basic human right — survival — based on your colour? 

I personally was curious to know from my family what the definition of prejudice in the Hindi vocabulary is and how it is/was applied to in India. “Pakshappat” (taking sides) or “poorva dhaarna”, were the closest pure Hindi definitions known to my cousin, yet rarely used. However, my dad stated that “hum bedh bhau nahin hai” was the common term used to state amongst family and friends when someone was not biased and believed in equality. Somehow, colourism never really came under that category. A sentiment echoed by some of my Chinese and black friends . Even in parts of China and Africa, the belief that darker skin is perceived as inferior, is accredited to stereotyping certain groups of people as manual labourers working under the sun, and therefore of a lower class or caste. Does Shweta believe we can change this attitude?  

A couple of my aunts are still reluctant to help me with my mission. One even said ‘it’s pointless fighting it’, while one said, ‘everyone has the right to define beauty for themselves and being fairer is what beauty is for some.’ The problem with this is that people then start to look down on people who aren’t. Colourism, casteism and classism divide people, creating more unrest in society. If we continue to aspire to be fairer, we’re still encouraging white skin privilege, and encouraging colonial values. The more we allow ourselves to succumb to these social constructs, the more enslaved we feel internally. Melanin is crucial for protecting our skin against the harmful radiation of the sun. Feel blessed that you have it and wear it with pride! 

I wonder how we can dare to walk shoulder to shoulder with our black friends in the Black Lives Matter movement, if we refuse to face up to our own biases against colour? We seek equality in the U.K., but deny our deep-rooted prejudice, whilst a white privileged man lectures the world on the difference between racism and unconscious bias (yes Prince Harry, I’m looking at you!). “The Black Rose” has paved a way for many more voices to speak out against the damaging impact of colourism, and in my view, rightly belongs under the definition of prejudice in the collective South Asian vocabulary.

“The Black Rose” is available to purchase on Amazon.


Photo Courtesy: Shweta Aggarwal

By Sejal Sehmi

Brown Girl Magazine’s U.K. Editor Sejal Sehmi is an IT consultant by day, whose passion for writing stemmed from challenging … Read more ›

South Asian Masculinity and Mental Health: Can we Find a new way Forward?

toxic masculinity

What is South Asian masculinity?

Masculinity and mental health have come under greater scrutiny by researchers, particularly as traditional masculinity is often cited as the reason why men are less willing to reach out for support regarding psychological issues. However, the influence of masculine norms on well-being has been insufficiently viewed through an intersectional lens and is understudied within South Asian mental health. From a South Asian context, traditional masculinity can include focusing on material success while displaying suppressed emotionality, which can be manifested through anger or practicing other harmful behaviors.

[Read Related: Brown Boys Do Cry: How Toxic Masculinity Screws With Us, Too]

In order to understand its influence, it is critical to examine the impact of traditional paradigms of masculinity across the diaspora. For instance, some traits associated with traditional masculinity among South Asian men include displaying control over others. A Sri-Lanka-based study found that most male participants “associated manhood with dominance…” A Forbes India article asserted how boys in India are “taught to … apply themselves to the task of growing up to be a strong, unwavering support system for their families,” which in turn forces them to be silent about topics that may make them seem weak. This pattern of behavior becomes manifested in a particularly harmful way because boys grow up with the inability to handle their emotions or formulate healthy coping strategies during challenging circumstances. 

These norms can have drastic implications and harm other community members. For instance, a focus group conducted among Nepali men found that failure to deliver for their household economically as breadwinners eventually resulted in heated disputes, which escalated and led them to engage in domestic violence. The presence of domestic violence can also be observed through media stories on the pervasiveness of gender-based harm within South Asian communities, as seen in the murder of Sania Khan. 

Traditional masculinity also hides the wounds that South Asian men may be battling within themselves. One paper asserts that for a sizable number of Indian men, “…sadness and despair find a distorted manifestation in destructive behaviors that deny their emotional pain to themselves and to others.” Thus, performing conventionally masculine behaviors can mask deeper mental health issues. 

Repercussions of South Asian masculinity on mental health

Because of the pressure to adhere to such strict standards of conduct, traditional masculinity has significant, greater repercussions for mental health and well-being. For instance, because of the narrow ability of men to compartmentalize their feelings, this restrictive emotionality can result in an inability for others to recognize their mental health issues, thus failing to target the deeper causes of men’s behavior. Furthermore, men themselves might engage in fewer help-seeking behaviors. This is also further complicated due to gaps in culturally competent services that can serve South Asian men when they do utilize support systems. 

Additional social forces experienced by South Asian men might explain mental health outcomes, particularly when considering the role of immigration. Among South Asian American men in the United States, one study noted that “a lower social position” within their community was linked to higher distress, indicating how critical it was for first-generation men to be leaders and actively participate in their ethnic community’s organizations. Thus, social expectations of men within South Asian communities influenced their well-being, as did their social status and relative power. 

What we can do to change the status quo on South Asian masculinity and mental health 

In order to ensure that men in South Asian cultures can embrace their mental health, it is important to formulate a prudent, welcoming paradigm that encourages greater help-seeking behaviors. Greater attention to this topic can also contribute to theories on feminist and sociocultural therapeutic frameworks, which both offer the following includes suggested remedies:  

Challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging mental health care as a means to discuss issues about well-being

It is imperative to encourage South Asian men to show more emotion, thus changing the existing narrative and social pressure they face to limit the expression of their feelings. Fortunately, there is a platform, known as @BrownManTherapy, that posts content about the struggles South Asian men experience. Furthermore, therapy ought to be recommended as a means to deal with mental health concerns, which should be combined with support from the community. 

More South Asian male clinicians

In addition to instituting changes in community norms, there needs to be more diverse representation in the mental health field. In doing so, there will be greater platforms to have conversations about the negative repercussions of traditional masculinity that are unique to South Asian men. Furthermore, it is critical to challenge the social stigma that mental health is a female-dominated profession or that seeking therapy is emasculating. 

More research studies examining cross-cultural differences in masculinity across South Asian cultures

The connection between masculinity and mental health ought to be investigated much further. Studies should particularly assess masculinity within non-white contexts in order to examine the standards of manhood across several communities and truly understand the unique stressors men face across different cultural backgrounds.

[Read Related: These 5 South Asian Men Are Opening up About Their Mental Health and Toxic Masculinity]

While the connection between South Asian masculinity and mental health is not discussed among psychology professionals, it is critical to study the association since it plays a role in South Asian gender inequities and in mental health behaviors among South Asian men. More broadly, given the prevalence of intimate partner violence within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the role of patriarchal norms in inflicting this harm, it is now more important than ever to reimagine expectations surrounding men’s behavior. 

By further examining the problems caused by adherence to traditionally masculine norms and implementing certain solutions, these ideas can be challenged and dismantled to create a progressive and more inclusive model of manhood. Above all, identifying and eradicating toxic ideas rooted in traditional South Asian masculinity will lead to liberation for all people.

If you need additional resources, please visit:

Photo: Shutterstock/Roxanne 134

paritosh joshi
By Paritosh Joshi

Paritosh Joshi is a graduate student in Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. His background includes a Master of … Read more ›

Painful Sex is More Common Than you Think

Close up on couple having intimacy moments

Ten to 28% of the world’s population of women experience painful sex. Keep in mind, that this is just what is reported. As embarrassing and as vulnerable as you may feel, you are absolutely not alone. The good news is that in addition to your traditional medical care to treat painful sex (also known as dyspareunia) such as medication, injections and surgery — a conservative approach is effective and long-lasting. Conservative care ranges from pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture which are beneficial in treating the root cause of painful sex, as well as symptoms, for long-term healing. 

Some of the signs to look out for if you experience pain are:

  1. Deep pain/burning during or after sex
    • Pain descriptors: sharp, stabbing, deep, dull, burning
  2. Vaginal Dryness
  3. Low Libido
  4. Tightening at the vaginal opening

[Read Related: 12 Beliefs About Sex That South Asians Need to Throw Out the Window]

Treatment Options 

Treatment options for painful sex such as pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture provide a long-lasting and profound effect on the pelvic floor and address your entire physical well-being.

The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles that range from the pubic bone to the tailbone. The purpose of these muscles is to assist in bowel and bladder control, support a baby during pregnancy and contribute to sexual sensations. Just like any other muscle in your body, these pelvic floor muscles can become tight or weak which can be a contributing factor to pain.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Pelvic floor therapy can assist by strengthening and relaxing the muscles which is necessary to relieve pain during sex. 

[Read Related: My Awkward First Time at the Gyno]

Chiropractic Physician

Chiropractors can be extremely beneficial with assisting in helping relieve pain. Associated pain and discomfort can originate from the lower back and buttock muscles. Chiropractors are trained in taking a history and performing a neurological, orthopedic and soft tissue examination to identify treatment options. Deep tissue massage, skin rolling, Active Release Technique, muscle energy technique, ice, heat and electrical stimulation are just to name a few.


Acupuncture can activate the human dopamine system which helps regulate hormone levels and can assist in psychological factors. Acupuncture can improve mood, decrease pain and can be vastly beneficial in managing pain and mental health symptoms. 

Ask for help

“Everyone is having pelvic pain and no one is talking about it”

  1. Start with seeing your gynecologist who you trust for a history and examination of current symptoms to rule out any other medical conditions that could be a contributing factor to symptoms. 
  2. Locate a pelvic floor physical therapist through Apta Pelvic Health or Pelvic Rehab.  
  3. Locate proper chiropractic care that is trained as a licensed acupuncturist; look for credentials such as DC, LAc. 

[Read Related: Not Your Auntie’s Tips: 5 Sex Myths Busted]

How to talk to your partner about this in a safe/healthy way

Being open with your partner about your symptoms and painful sex may seem like a difficult conversation. Intercourse should never be painful and learning when to stay ‘stop’ is important in communication. Talking about pain before, during and after sex is important also in your own health diagnosis to see if pain symptoms are improving or becoming worse. Having open communication does not only benefit your relationship but most importantly, your own health.

To experience these symptoms may seem taboo or unheard of but quite frankly, they are common in many women. Women deserve to be directed to proper healthcare. 

Disclaimer: These are based on recommendations from a board-certified chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist. If symptoms become new or worse, consult with a primary care physician and or OBGYN to co-manage symptoms.


Reference: Tayyeb M, Gupta V. Dyspareunia. [Updated 2022 Jun 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562159/


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jasmine bhoola
By Jasmine Bhoola

Jasmine Bhoola DC, LAC - A chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Midtown East Manhattan. A graduate from the University … Read more ›