It is difficult being a woman and read the papers or watch the news and not pull out your hair in sheer frustration at the views being expressed on gender.
On Gandhi Jayanti, Union minister for coal and Congress leader from UP Sriprakash Jaiswal got his face metaphorically blackened when he made a quip at a poetry convention, in Kanpur, about victories being like wives: they lose charm as they get older. The simple explanation, given by many, was that it was a common saying said in jest. But, should ministers be making jokes of this nature in public — especially in a state where there is already a high degree of machismo, violence towards women and ingrained misogyny?
Naturally, women took offence. The normally-inert National Council for Women (NCW) suddenly woke up and made some noises, before going dormant again. News channels, on a slow news day, found it an easy story to run. The publicity, the outrage and the uproar was enough to make the minister bleat out a qualified apology. But before you could haul him over the proverbial coals, the focus of outrage shifted. A bunch of BJP supporters took out a procession protesting the minister’s comments by conducting a fake marriage of Mr Jaiswal with actor Rakhi Sawant. An act that was not just sexist but also reeked of class bias. Ms Sawant is a self-made, independent woman with no strong family name protecting her. She was seen as fair game. Naturally, like any decent, honest person, she has taken umbrage to the slur on her reputation and is taking the party to court. The sheer stupidity of fighting misogyny with more even misogyny is mind boggling.
The problem is that neither the minister nor the activists thought that they were doing anything wrong. This attitude towards women is so ingrained and so much part of culture and ethos that it encourages a view of women that is neither independent, nor strong, nor able to survive without male protection. An extreme manifestation of this was the INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala, who backed a khap call to allow child marriages as a solution to prevent rape. There are already stories of child brides as young as 10 and 11 years, and child mothers as young as thirteen from that state. Whether the ‘leader’ wants to get all girls in the state married before they hit puberty so that they can be ‘protected’ from men is unclear, but while there is outrage, there is also support for his statement. Girls need to be protected from men.
And, rather than lock up men who rape, it is simpler to give way to centuries-old patriarchy and misogyny and ask for women to be locked up. A state Congress leader, Dharambir Goyat, incidentally, plumbed new depths of idiocy by declaring that 90% of these rapes were consensual. These views, incidentally, are a more liberal shade of Taliban, which shoot girls who go to school.
If you think that this kind of convoluted humour and insane logic is only part of our geographies, then you are mistaken. In the elections for the Presidency of the United States – the ‘leader’ of the free world — a key issue is whether women have the right over their bodies or whether they will be forced to have children they do not want. In Australia, prime minister Julia Gillard in a parliamentary speech took on the opposition leader Tony Abbot’s views, and started her blistering speech saying “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, I will not”. She then proceeded to tear his sexist views apart.
Many women across the world found themselves agreeing with her. Europe is slightly more genteel about these sort of things, but that doesn’t mean ingrained sexism does not exist.
So what is it that, despite the presence of women in positions of power, allows this sort of behaviour? The answer is that women are not a vote bank. We don’t vote either on women’s issues or for our rights. Women in politics are busy being genderless, not standing up for the rights of women. Maybe there is a constituency here waiting to be tapped.
A vote against misogyny and patriarchy and vote for safety and security, sanitation, education, equal opportunities and equal rights. One is not asking for the sun and the moon and the stars. Just a bit of regard as free individual with rights. Not as property to be decided on by a bunch of patriarchs. I would vote for a party that promised that – wouldn’t you?
The writer is a media entrepreneur, writer, blogger, teacher, & the
main slave to an imperious hound.
She blogs at calamur.org/gargi and @calamur on Twitter