This has been an eye-opening Olympic season in more ways than one, we have learnt to live and cope in a new world, we’ve redesigned our sports-viewing experience and thanks to the power of social media, we’re acknowledging the step-child treatment we give to every sport that isn’t men’s cricket. What hasn’t changed is our high dose of national pride that comes around during such tournaments, along with its usual companions, blatant misogyny and toxic masculinity.
When England lost the EURO 2020 final last month, several civil society actors and media outlets pointed out how racial and domestic abuse increases during such games. Though heavy consumption of alcohol that happens during these games is believed to be the major cause behind it, we can’t help but also unpack the obvious connection between increased display of misogyny and sports. In India, female athletes have been doing the heavy-lifting in Olympic representation for the last few years but the way we look at them never changes. They’re either compulsively desexualised (“lifting weights would make women look ‘manly'”) or are compulsively looked at as ‘desirable’, by especially splashing their photos in traditional outfits on the Internet. Their value then comes from the fact that they are ‘wife material’ because they wore an Indian ethnic outfit that one time. Social media is teeming with pictures of the conventionally good-looking athletes in sports gear on one side and in Indian outfits on the other, captioned ‘Marry her if she can do both’. Would she want to marry someone with such a deplorable sense of humour is a question no one bothers to ask.
Also making a strong comeback this time (not that it was ever out of form) is the pitting of women against each other. We’d expect misery to acquaint us with this not-so-strange bedfellow of misogyny, but celebrations are also not spared. The women who won different sports competitions are the real strong women and they represent true women empowerment, unlike the fake feminists who claim to be standing for equality. The picture I had to come across was with P.V. Sindhu in a saree on one side and a film still of Kareena Kapoor Khan smoking (gasp!) on the other. P.V. Sindhu is the only choice for a role model when it comes to women empowerment, thank you very much. Everyone knows these Bollywood types are bad influences and other numerous tasteful adjectives.
My first response to this was to educate this group of people with the usual arguments. Firstly, smoking is bad for everyone, not just women. Men have lungs. Secondly, the reason women can enter and excel in male dominant fields is because feminist activists fought for those rights, all while being hounded with those tasteful adjectives and more. The women who make you uncomfortable today are the ones assuring progress in the future of womankind. A future you will end up taking pride in.
But why should I have to educate or give an explanation? Why must we continue to cater to this demographic that believes that everything has to exist for their enjoyment, for their comfort? A movement with a 200-year-old legacy has nothing to prove to a hay-brained man with a cellphone and a data pack. If the only time you respect women is when they bring medals for the country (or when they do something for you), you don’t actually respect women. If the only way you can praise women is by comparing and making a villain (or vamp) out of other women, you’re a misogynist and you don’t believe in equality. And if this thought offends you, you need to introspect the way that you think.
Also read: The Paradox Of India’s Olympian Daughters
The way I see it, there are people who do the hard work of making such graphics, and then there are people who like, share, enjoy or even ignore them. The first group is not my target audience and frankly, I am scared of them, but I do want to reach out to the second category of people. You should do better, educate yourself, rid yourself of the entrenched misogyny. True, it definitely involves more work than liking a meme that feeds your biases, but it is worth the hassle. No woman owes you anything but you owe it to the world to make it a more bearable place for women and non-binary folks.
Mohini has completed her MA in Politics from Mumbai University. She believes that it is possible to find a solution to all of life’s and society’s problems through literature and wholesome TV shows. She enjoys tea, books and calling people out on their problematic behaviours. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook.