A 22-year-old female student was allegedly stabbed to death by a classmate in the Kottayam district of Kerala on October 1st. The incident took place in broad daylight, within the premise of the St. Thomas College, Pala, where the woman had come to give her exam. Eye witnesses recall that the accused and the deceased were seen arguing under a mango tree, post which the man slit her throat with a paper cutter knife. She was immediately rushed to the hospital but she succumbed to her injuries.
The police, upon investigation suspect that this was a planned murder since the man had purchased the paper cutter about a month ago. Both the deceased and the accused were third year students of Food Technology in the same college. The accused had been stalking the woman, and had recently sent threatful messages to her mother.
An incident of this nature, where a woman is stalked and attacked by a male acquaintance is unfortunately not an isolated one. In August, a 24-year-old medical student was stalked and allegedly shot to death by her former romantic partner, who shot himself thereafter. The two were in a relationship from which the woman had earlier withdrawn. She resorted to mediation by the police in the presence of the parents of both parties when the man was relentless in his refusal to accept her choice to part ways. He then stalked her for a month to ‘pursue’ her to get back together with him before shooting her at her place of residence.
If it is not already upsetting to witness the violent loss of young women’s lives as a consequence of their choices in personal relationships, it is more devastating to note how a large section of people on social media respond to incidents like this. Numerous users defend male violence against their female partners or love interests citing the emotional pain a man goes through, when rejected by a partner. The destructive energy of a man who has been told off or broken up with by a woman is often romanticised, glorified and normalised through these narratives.
Mainstream media further sensationalises such incidents by investigating the ‘demeanor’ of the woman, whether her refusal to be with the man was ‘legitimate’, or if she had other relationships. The motive of such reductions is to gauge if the woman ‘brought violence upon herself’ by triggering an otherwise ‘well-meaning’, ‘lovestruck’ man’s sentiments.
When a woman decides to put an end to a romantic relationship, we are quick to caricature her personhood, morality and agency. We feel entitled as a society to judge the personal choices of women and assume collective custodianship of their lives. As we continuously demand justifications from women for their actions, and weigh whether or not they deserved to die at the hands of a jilted lover, there is a very fundamental question we fail to ask – do women owe us anything in the first place?
The concept of women as ‘perpetual debtors’
Australian philosopher and academic Kate Manne, in her latest book Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women, contextualises the socio-political position of women in a patriarchal economy. Women are expected to transact goods that are traditionally assigned as ‘feminine’, like care, nurture, subservience and acceptance. They are conditioned to refrain from ‘masculine’ pursuits such as power, authority and assertion.
Professor Kate argues that this creates an inherent, discriminatory dichotomy of how women are placed in a male dominated economy. They are by default denied access to bigger pursuits, ambitions, and are made to feel they always owe their lives to someone else because it is their duty to serve, without partaking in autonomous decision making. This in turn, encourages men to develop a sense of superior entitlement which convinces them that women owe them their time, energy and autonomy. Consequently, in a gendered economy, women become perpetual debtors.
Professor Kate’s extrapolation of the gendered economy and her positioning of gender roles as ‘goods and services’, throws valuable light on why most men feel they deserve to call the shots in every equation – public, personal or professional where a woman is involved.
The dominant conscience of male entitlement is reflected in all social, cultural, political and popular culture narratives, because these avenues which act as centres of knowledge production are predominantly managed, controlled and presided over by men.
This foundational conscience elbows us to think that in romantic relationships, women owe men their unquestioning presence. Anyone who tries to break this cycle by asserting agency is deemed to be deserving of consequences. When we juxtapose intersectionalities like caste, class and sexuality into this power dynamic, it can be observed that male entitlement is directly connected to male violence on women, non-binary and trans individuals.
Crimes against women are crimes of male entitlement
In the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau it is cited that thirty per cent of crimes recorded against women in the country are crimes of cruelty by the husband or his relatives. If we scrutinise the reportage of crimes against women that appear in the media, we can see that most of them have titles like ‘Revenge killing’, ‘Acid attack’, ‘Domestic abuse’, ‘Dowry death’, ‘Love crime’, ‘Cyber abuse’, and so on.
The common thread that runs steady through all these instances is the hostility towards the bodies and lives of women who do not serve male interests the way they are ‘supposed to’. The fact that most men feel entitled to abuse their wives, or stalk their female love interests, threaten their ex-partners with acid bulbs, or dehumanise them on social media when they move on in their personal lives and ultimately use fatal brute force to claim women’s bodies dead or alive, is a dangerous indication of patriarchy’s unfettered validation of male privilege.
Patriarchy sanctions male entitlement as acceptable masculine behaviour, thereby leaving no room to take cognisance of the damage it does to women and minorities.
These crimes are not just crimes against women, but also crimes of male entitlement. We must look at them as violence ensuing from the agitation of the bruised, proprietary male ego that simply cannot accept the prospect of not being in control.
The shift in perception of crimes against women as crimes stemming from unchecked male entitlement places the onus of violence against women on the problematic possession of female identities by patriarchy. This also offers a counter narrative to victim blaming, one of patriarchy’s beloved defence mechanisms to further ascribe the blame of male violence on women’s conduct.
Women do not owe us anything
Popular morality brands the woman who chooses to walk out of a relationship as impatient, unforgiving, vile, and if she is a mother, unbecoming. We stress on the ‘misgivings’ of the man and collectively urge women to ‘give them chances’, despite constant gaslighting, abuse and manipulation. If not, we chastise them and assassinate their characters. This is not only condescending, but also extremely toxic.
Women are people of their own who can choose to move in and out of relationships on their own terms, just like anyone else. They do not require to carry an excess burden of morality or wait for social sanctions to exercise agency.
As difficult as it is for a patriarchal society to stomach this, there are no two ways about the fact that women do not owe us anything. Responses like ‘she deserved it’, ‘she should have not enraged him’ or ‘he was deeply hurt by her’, do not, in any context justify the brutalisation of women who make their rightful choices, whether one likes it or not. We must seek out healthy coping mechanisms to navigate complicated situations in our private lives, because violence stems from a need for control and the territorial attitude of one gender over the other must not be validated in any society.
We might like to believe women must deliberate on their choices so as to not usurp the established gendered power dynamics, because that is not very ‘womanly’. This is nothing but our conditioned morality taking over our capacity for an egalitarian conscience. Female assertion threatens male privilege and this leads to the increase in the subordination of women who question status quo, and the glorification of those who confirm to it.
Women appear as defiant and deserving of punishment when they assert their personhood because we expect them to be passive. We want women to internalise a feeling of moral and material indebtedness, a sense of responsibility to make sure everyone is happy with their choices – a filter that is seldom applicable to men.
Women do not owe their choices, bodies, time, wardrobe, ambitions, identities or existence to anyone. It is not on women to endure unfulfilling relationships and ‘mother‘ their male partners until they mend their ways. This might be a difficult fact to accept even for women, since all our social and political structures train women to be givers not takers, or even negotiators. But this is a battle we must fight internally as individuals, and systemically as a society.
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