Let’s play a game! That game would be victim-blaming, female shaming, target naming, scapegoat framing. All of them sides of the same multi-dimensional terrestrial entity known as misogyny.
There have been several high-profile cases in the public eye and national media, each of them an instance of one or more of the above. Most recently, a certain B-town actress, recently in the news for her latest film release, was featured on the front page of the country’s most widely circulated and read national daily in what can only be described as the most crass, appalling way possible, in a tweet that has since been removed. [It described ‘OMG, Deepika’s cleavage!’]
Some attempted to pass it off as a ‘marketing ploy’, ‘strategically placed’ to market Ms. Padukone’s new film. While I appreciate that film marketing can often stoop rather low, the use of the female body in the basest of attention-seeking ways by a leading publication was beyond repulsive.
Fortunately, in an extremely positive move for not only herself but for women across the nation, the star in question did not stay silent, instead choosing to respond to the article in kind.
Historically, in India, women have been taught and conditioned, generation by generation, to be ‘ashamed’ of their bodies, that their bodies are something to be ‘hidden’. It is a regression to the ideals of a woman’s body being a ‘gift’ to be given to one man and one man only: the woman’s husband.
Regressive, misogynist and attempting to not only impinge on but entirely destroy a woman’s self-will or own right, this sort of ideal continues to persist in 2014, and unfortunately not only in rural pockets of the nation.
Worse still is that it is because of these years of being repressed and pushed down that women have begun to believe these ideals too. That their bodies are to be ‘kept pristine’ and ‘gifted’ to one man, that their virginity is a prize that goes to the ‘highest bidder’, in a way like the mizuage of the geisha of old Japan.
Most Indian women, unless from specific socio-economic strata and levels of education, are neither free nor comfortable with their own sexuality, because they are brought up and taught not to be; that it is something they should not possess, or ‘preserve’ for the man. Openness, self-belief, one’s own mind, opinions, thoughts; all repressed in the repression of the expression of their sex, of their womanhood, and of their personalities.
Breasts existed, but they were meant to be covered. Hidden in their entirety. In existence for mankind to look. This ideal persists in the behaviour of men in public to this day, even in the most cosmopolitan of areas. Even in the least low-cut of tops, cleavage and breasts will be stared at, ogled in the most vulgar way just because, in a way that many men here seem to consider their birthright.
In personal experience: I was walking down a street to find an auto-rickshaw to take me home from a friend’s at 9 a.m., not by any means an ‘ungodly hour’ in our great ‘Indian culture’. A man on a bicycle drove past, shouting ‘arre khulla hai, aam dikhte hain!’ – roughly translating to something too disgusting for me to want to explain, but I will try “It’s open, I can see them mangoes”.
I was wearing a regular t-shirt.
While it is entirely irrelevant what I was wearing, a lot of the Indian public (men, women, ‘upstanding, educated’ members of society) use the way a woman is dressed as a reason to lech, ogle, or take it further to molestation and rape – everything from end to end on the spectrum of sexual harassment.
The star in question, however, questioned the publication, letting them know she was a woman with breasts that she was not ashamed of, a first for women in public in the country.
And in an extremely heartening move, the country stood behind the star, who has since gone on to publicly admit how violated she felt after the tweet. The publication responded with a rejoinder that only worsened the situation, but the actor stood her ground.
However, women, whether in the public or private eye, are rarely spared the ignominy of being taken apart like this, judged for their situations, their sexuality, blamed for being the victims in this Circus de Chauvinism, with the trapeze acts of the tabloid media.
A former actor, an incredibly talented young woman who has been in a few films before, was recently found to have been involved in what was described as a ‘high profile’ prostitution racket involving ‘rich, high-profile industrialists and businessmen.’
I appreciate that there are countries where prostitution is legal, but I also believe a very small number of women currently choose willingly to engage in the profession, at least in South-east Asia. Trafficking is a very, very real, very pressing issue that needs to be dealt with, and unfortunately most women, sadly of all ages, are forced into prostitution. Until that issue is even slightly alleviated, which does not seem like a reality in the current situation, and in consideration with several other factors, this will not happen in my opinion.
In the press, however, really all over it, was the name of this starlet, which, although it is open information, I choose not to repeat out of respect. Not the ‘high-profile rich businessmen’, the ‘industrialists’, the men who paid the prostitutes, because their ‘identities needed protection’, because they were ‘not to be exposed’, because ‘their family lives would be ruined’.
The young girl whose acting skills and life fell by the wayside, the young girl who was forced into the flesh trade. Her name was emblazoned across publications, headline news, lurid details all over the media. The men’s identities were hidden, protected, secret as they continue to be.
The excuse? The men deserved privacy, according to members of the public and press. The men paid a ‘premium’, and deserved to be protected. The men had families, they said, that would be broken by this revelation. Their lives would be completely altered, they said.
Do none of these apply to the young woman who was the obvious victim? Does she not have a ‘life that would be completely altered’? Privacy that she deserved, a family that would be affected? The judgement that invariably seems to follow? Yet it was HER name, not theirs, emblazoned across headlines, it was she who was blamed for being forced into the sex trade.
Finally, there is the recent case of Suzette Jordan, who was the survivor in the horrendous Park Street rape case. She was on her way home from an event, and brutally raped in a car by her attackers. Instead of protecting her, taking down her complaints and pursuing her attackers, police and ministers dismissed her, lambasted her character.
Due to the fact that she had been drinking (shock, horror, only a man is supposed to do that in India!), she was dismissed as ‘characterless’, a drinking single mother? “Devoid of morals”, they called her. The chief minister of West Bengal, where the rape occurred, dismissed the case as a ‘sajano ghatana’, or a made up story.
Suzette was accused of being a prostitute, and that the ‘deal had gone wrong’. She was merely a single mother going out to a discotheque.
What ministers, police, lawmakers, locals, the chief minister even, failed to understand was that it was a violation of her personal rights. No person had any right to do anything with her against her own wishes. The so-called ministerial diaspora thought that was the ‘excuse’. Suzette’s family were judged, her daughters stared at.
Recently, Suzette and her fiance visited a Kolkata restaurant for what seemed like a routine meal. They were however refused entry by the manager, who labelled her the ‘Park Street Victim’, and refused her entry on that basis. She was sent away from the restaurant after being derided and shamed by the management.
Yet again, the second time for Suzette, the survivor, it was she who was blamed. The first time, for being raped. For being ‘loose’ and ‘going to a disco’ and ‘drinking’, things the “aadarsh bhartiya naari” is not supposed to do, haye haye!
This culture of shaming the woman, this idea that it is the woman’s fault, must stop. The ideal of the man needing to exert and assert his ‘power’ over the woman, which is what rape really is (it’s not sex!) must end. This sexism, this easy selling of women’s sexuality must stop. Women must have their own right over their own sexuality, not permission from anybody else or the right for them to do with it as they please, for games to be played with those who are helpless.
Women are not men’s to be sold or bought in any way, shape or form. They own themselves and everything that comes with it. And that is something they should be proud of, not need to hide behind closed doors out of fear.
Fingers need to pointed, publicly and legally, at the true perpetrators of the crime, not the scapegoats who can be easily framed, not those whom it is most convenient to blame.
Sadly, when the wheel of fortune is spun, the arrow of the blame always lands squarely on the woman. We must stand up, as many have recently done in each case, protesting against this blame-the-woman culture, and change the way the wheel spins entirely.