Posted by Debopriya Roy and Himadri Barman
It has been repeatedly argued that how the issues of sexual violence fade into more intricacy by the victim blaming culture of a patriarchal society. The recent case of rape and murder of a young female veterinary doctor from Hyderabad has stirred the nation. The brutality of the incident made the country feel uncomfortable to accept it as an occurrence in their very own urban space. This discomfort in the time of digital media soon turned into a social media sensation. The country started schooling its women on what to do and what not to once again. Victim blaming and moral policing continued, and women were blatantly advised to learn self-defense, to carry chili spray, completely forgetting the logical reason why rape happens. And in this scenario of unabashed victim blaming culture, an eminent Bengali newspaper in their Kolkata based supplementary magazine has published an article “মধ্যরাতে একা নারী” (A Lone Woman at Midnight) which avouches victim blaming culture in the name of ‘safety tips’.
Patriarchy in The Guise of Liberalism
The article is apparently liberal about women’s night-out in the city at midnight, but at the same time, it advises women to check on certain things. The hypocrisy is torn apart from the very beginning when it attempts to categorise its target women as ‘women without any male partner’ (সঙ্গে নেই কোনও পুরুষসঙ্গী). It is of absolute irony to note that the patriarchal privilege on safety that a man enjoys becomes a beginning punch line for an article apparently based on women’s safety. Eventually, the author’s indication that a woman is less safe on the street without a man emboldens the old patriarchal idea that men are the sole safeguards of women. This idea is problematic and needs to be trashed.
Exclusion of working class women
Being a voice of victim blaming culture the entire article centers around women and their ideal deeds to remain safe. It rejects the very logical notion that sexual violence is not a women’s issue. It continues with its patriarchy-based ‘liberalism’ which allows women loitering on streets outside the home at midnight but it excludes the working women, especially the low wage working women who do not have the privilege of booking an app cab but are stipulated to be safe equally anywhere anytime! The article completely ignores the safety concern of those marginalised sections.
Safety onus on women’s shoulders
The article also attempts to put the onus of safety on the victims’ shoulders by offering suggestions such as women should keep paper sprays in their wallets and they should learn self-defense moves from Youtube. The author says, সেলফ ডিফেন্সের অ-আ-ক-খ সব ভারতীয় মেয়ের জেনে রাখা উচিত (Every Indian woman should learn the A-to-Z of self-defense). This sort of normalises the rape culture which says, rape can happen to women if they do not know how to protect themselves. This forgets the fact that safety is every citizen’s right. This remark is also insensitive to people with disabilities who may not have access to such defense mechanisms.
“Sixth sense of women”, a sexist myth
Nobody knows which research has enlightened the author about the existence of the sixth sense of a woman that always helps her to distinguish between a bad guy or a good guy. Unfortunately, applying the sixth sense while choosing your Uber driver is one of the tips. Hence it will not be the Uber driver’s fault if a woman becomes a victim of his sexual assault, she must have forgotten to utilise her sixth sense before riding the cab. Also, many of the time one’s known “good” people become sexual offenders. This is purely a sexist and unscientific remark!
Dress policing and Bashing Feminism
The writer of the article crossed all the limits while speaking of dress code as a part of its safety tips. In the point subtitled as ‘সেক্সি শুধু পার্টিতে’ (Sexy outfits only in party), it is stated what should a woman wear to remain ‘safe’ at late nights. It literally coins,”খোলামেলা পোশাক পড়লে অবশ্যই লম্বা জ্যাকেট সঙ্গে রাখুন। শর্ট ড্রেস পরলে ব্যাগে পাতলা টাইটস রেখে দিন। ফেরার পথে গলিয়ে নেবেন। বিরক্ত লাগলেও কিছু করার নেই। রাতের শহরে যারা ঘুর ঘুর করে তারা কেউ আপনার ফ্যাশন সেন্স অ্যাপ্রিশিয়েট করবে না। ফেমিনিজমের চেয়ে এই পরিস্থিতিতে বেশি দরকার প্র্যাক্টিক্যালিটি।“ (“If wearing revealing outfits, keep a long jacket with you. If donning with a short dress, keep thin tights in the bag. You can put on that while coming back. There is no alternative even if it makes you annoyed. Those who dawdle in the streets at midnight would not appreciate your fashion sense. Practicality is more important in this condition than feminism.”)
Thin tights and long jackets, according to this safety tip, are necessary equipment to keep women safe on street! Irony! Blessing patriarchy’s attributes, the article ends up with linking a woman’s dress with sexual harassment. Stated in an informal tone, these lines remind us of the hush-hush of societal rape culture that lurks under a ‘liberal-progressive’ environment.
Defining feminism as ‘unpractical’ is another hypocrisy it penned. Even the privileged women of today, who are their basic target audience in this article, can step out of their home without ‘male members’ or can wander in the city because of years of the feminist movements. The article also denigrates the truth that apparel has nothing to do when it comes to sexual harassment or any sort of sexual violence.
Bengal’s Very Own Rape Culture
Bengal’s rape culture is associated with victim blaming since a long time. Remember Suzette Jordan and what she faced as a rape survivor back in 2012. She was questioned brutally, and this article is a proof that Kolkata remains the same dark place for its women as it was before.
“Rape; It’s Your Fault!”
The patriarchal narrative of rape brews in a simple, linear and often problem-solution way where capital punishment of rape is as normal and crucial to prevent rape as victim blaming. This narrative gazes all sexual harassments to be preventable to a level by controlling its women. It never ever questions the men. The solution begins with holding men accountable. Victim blaming narrative also sells the idea that rape is an aliened phenomenon and rapist exists beyond one’s ‘safe place’ which stands contrary to what reality is.
This particular article published on 12th December 2019 on Sangbad Pratidin, an established Bengali daily, just cultivates that narrative once again.
Reactions on Social Media
After publishing this apparent mini addition to the victim blaming manifesto, the paper was addressed by us and some other netizens on their Facebook page, via e-mail and in the comment section of the article. But the authority did not bother to respond or take down the article. We request the readers to join hands with us and plead with the editors to withdraw the article immediately.
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