Trigger Warning: Rape, Assault, Trauma

Trauma Centered Feminism.

I came across the term in an interview of Christina Hoff Sommers, noted author of ‘Who Stole Feminism?

It is a notion that tends to protect women from men instead of establishing them as equals. In the USA, the premise of Hoff Sommers’ views, this sheltered practice is apparently instilling fear in women; and as a result, they are becoming more vulnerable by each passing day.

Also as a by-product, allegedly this is triggering increasing complaints of false sexual abuse where the women are not being able to tell between, say, “rape” and “regretted sex”. An implied next step is that many women are starting to take advantage of the society and its laws which tend to favour the women. The men are becoming the less favourite child, and no wonder most of them are at loggerheads with the word ‘feminism’ today.

Rape and sexual harassment has become a reality today for all genders alike. However, what is the ratio of ‘real’ crimes perpetuated on women vis-à-vis “false” accusations on men? Does one incident of the latter nullifies multitudes of the former?

It is to be noted that Hoff Sommers made her argument in the context of the developed world. She herself pointed it out that the picture is quite the opposite when it comes to the context of developing countries.

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But is this really the case? Our current reality? And if yes, by how much so?

In 2015, a news that catapulted to media sensation was that how a Delhi man who was falsely accused of harassment was stripped of his professional and social status due to the indictments. And so when the Delhi Commission for Women pointed out that 53% of reported Delhi rapes in the 2013-14 window were “false”, anti-feminism squads leveraged the data to call out the “bias” that new-wave feminism was apparently spreading.

And contextually, nothing much has changed since. News threads and opinion pieces referring to the 2015 incident still pop up in social media feeds from time to time – ensuring that no one forgets how “modern feminists” are playing with power with the false façade of being weak and vulnerable.

In the same premise but the opposite end of the spectrum, a few mornings back, I came across the news of a 14 year-old-girl having delivered a baby in Rajasthan with 4 people including her brother been accused. An hour later, came the news of a man from Tamil Nadu who allowed his friends gang rape his wife and later proceeded to “cleanse” her with acid. The rate of such news also kept on and is still increasing as the hours pass by.

Rape and sexual harassment has become a reality today for all genders alike. However, what is the ratio of ‘real’ crimes perpetuated on women vis-à-vis “false” accusations on men? Does one incident of the latter nullifies multitudes of the former? So are we actually getting conditioned to sexual harassment of women: an unavoidable column in the everyday daily, the ones which we grieve for a moment to read what’s more interesting on page 3? 

But, also what should not be ignored is that false rape complaints are also rising by the day. So by Hoff Sommers’ definition, is the Indian woman too feeling traumatised and going overboard with her “rights”?

The sad reality is that some of us are. What must be understood is that rape and sexual dominance are not only a gender construct but also a power one. And, power does carry with itself the inane sense of corruption. Some women do report false claims to dupe the accused off money, dignity or whatever be the root cause of vengeance. However, there are multiple other reasons behind such false allegations which hint at deeper problems that surround us.

Some women do report false claims to dupe the accused off money, dignity or whatever be the root cause of vengeance. However, there are multiple other reasons behind such false allegations which hint at deeper problems that surround us.

In the taboo-ridden conservative Indian society, parents often resort to honour killing than accept that their daughter has been stripped off her “honour”. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many often take resort of the law to report false harassment cases to end relationships outside marriage. “Families are more willing to have the stigma of rape rather than having the stigma of their daughter choosing her own sex or life partner,” – Rukmini Shrinivasan from The Hindu.

Also read: The Need To Navigate Formal Legal Processes Through Trauma-Informed Lawyering

False allegations are often reported by parents in cases of pre-marital sex in the pretext of marriage. The idea is to coerce men in to marriage as the woman’s “honour” is a sacrosanct issue. However, this was ruled out in recent cases by the Delhi & Orissa High Courts that pre-marital sex in the face of false promises to marry will not always be considered as rape.

Over years, wars have been fought and borders have been drawn by weaponising the trauma around the woman’s dignity: from the Indo-Bangladesh war of 1971 to the Kathua rape case of 2018, all being cases in point. There was a time of political power switchover in West Bengal where rape and molestation were channelised as a weapon of political agenda. Women used to count themselves lucky if they returned home at the day end without being raped. All wanted to believe in freedom but really couldn’t afford to. No wonder as noted feminist Kamala Bhasin quotes, the society has indeed come to place its honour in the woman’s vagina.

The balance is not in favour of men either. The legal loopholes in the Indian Penal Code Section 375 till date holds forceful penetration tantamount to rape. Clinging onto the traditional notion of rape, this completely discounts assault brought upon by women, and is in essence, insensitive in nature to the sensitive nature of consent.

At present, false reporting of rapes is indeed rising considerably, however academic Nithya Nagarathinam posits that “this is a distraction from a more pressing issue, the under-reporting of rape” resulting out of dominance, threat and other sorts of power-backed trauma induced by the powerful on the powerless.

However, this again is just the tip of the ice-berg. Trauma is a multi-faceted demon. The average Indian girl notice that they are being sexually noticed by the time they are 13. I was molested in the back seat of an auto rickshaw when I was 14. And, this knowledge I have not being able to share with my mother even as more than 14 years of the incident has come and gone by now. I really do not know which one of these two is more traumatising.

On asking around, one would easily find that the average Indian woman spends most of her young-adult life woman covering her developing breasts with her backpack, while availing public transport. Gender and body sensitivity are mostly discussed in hush-hush tones and within close quarters. Girls are asked to steer clear of the male gaze from a very tender age even without knowing the reason why.

Community-based studies and studies of treatment seekers by NCBI indicated that women are, on average, 2–3 times, at greater risk to be affected by a Common Mental Disorder. Apart from hormonal factors that makes women more vulnerable to depression, general gender disadvantages such as excessive partner alcohol use, sexual and physical violence, being widowed or separated, low decision-making autonomy and low levels of family support are other responsible factors.

Men are also victims of assault and rape yet no one is telling them to lay off the alcohol or wear clothes with better coverage or not to roam about at night from the standpoint of sexual safety. So, it is paramount to understand that the current reality is grey and skewed at that.

Psychiatric epidemiological data suggest that one woman for every three men actually attends public health psychiatric outpatients’ clinics in urban India. Officials have labelled this as “under-utilisation” by suffering women which is arising due to women’s mental illness being highly stigmatised that restricts active help-seeking in public health facilities. The lower importance that is accorded to women’s health in general, can also be responsible.

In India, the responsibility of caring for the mentally-ill women is more often left to her own family than to the husband or his family. In a study spearheaded by Dr. R. Thara, on women with schizophrenia and broken marriages, it was found that the stigma of being separated/divorced is often more harsh on the families and patients than the stigma of having a mental illness. The associated feelings of loss, guilt, grief and fear about the future of their daughter make the parents miserable.

Also read: Dalit Trauma: Why It Is Important To Address Its Intergenerational Aspect

Men are also victims of assault and rape yet no one is telling them to lay off the alcohol or wear clothes with better coverage or not to roam about at night from the standpoint of sexual safety. So, it is paramount to understand that the current reality is grey and skewed at that. The vision is to establish a society with equality of rights and opportunities but in order to achieve that protecting women from men will only get us thus far. And so as Ms. Nagarathinam insists, our country indeed needs better and transparent data on gender and gender-related violence to understand the true scale of the problem.

If you don’t have hard data to base your arguments on, the result is the emotion-driven men’s rights versus women’s rights arguments that are going on now.

So trauma may have a female face, but its body is primarily male, making the entire body of trauma as we have come to know today – fundamentally a feminist one.


Featured Image Source: GenderIT.org

About the author(s)

Taniya Roy hails from Kolkata, the city of sepia dreams. A paw-rent, semi-colon enthusiast and wordsmith, she writes for a living and lives for writing her thoughts out. She has done her Masters in Economics from the University of Calcutta.

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