From Surpanakha To Helen Of Troy: How Women Have Been Wrongly Accused Of Starting Wars

By Mahitha Kasireddi:

Surpanakha, Sita, Draupadi and Helen of Troy.

What are these women analogous to today? Haven’t you and me grown up hearing it from women-damning men and women?
Women are the cause of all conflicts, wars and adversities.

helen of troy

The Iranian clergymen blame promiscuous women for earthquakes! Really? If we really had so much power to bring down the heavens and break hell loose, then why all the fight for equal rights for women?

I am guessing that the imagery of a ‘slut’ or a ‘whore’ was first derived from the Indian classic literature with the characterization of Surpanakha. The demon she was who openly expressed her desire for Lakshman. The kind of treatment that was meted out to her was typically casteist and patriarchal. She was a victim of the regressive Hindu social structure. Don’t we virtually do the same today? Don’t we judge women who become the initiators for a relationship or a fling. Then, as an act of vengeance, Ravan abducted Sita which in turn lead to the great war between gods and demons to bring back Rama’s wife. But, Ravan’s interest in Sita was more than that, he was attracted by her aesthetic divine composure and radiance.

What are we to conclude here? That women and their biologically entities such as sexuality and external appearance are the cause for conflicts between men, among communities and between countries? A majority subscribe to the opinion that a woman’s beauty can even make a beast to fall in love. Film makers, song writers and authors make this as their central themes. Will a day ever come when people are no longer ready to buy this argument? May be never.

The infamous Helen of Troy, famous for her electrifying beauty, is remembered as an example of adultery. History was and will keep judging her for her promiscuity, will hold her responsible for the ten year long war, for the blood bath, for the loss of men, resources and the fall of Troy. Her name will continue to come up at every debate around boys versus girls. An indefensible point men cite to win arguments.

Who validates this notion? It should be left to our rationality. After all, ignorance is a choice. To understand this, the ancient past and the history right from evolution of humans, needs to be revisited.

Kingdoms didn’t just prop up overnight. They evolved from the times of primitive societies, from small and large tribes and clans. Cultures and civilizations evolved with the discovery of cultivation and domestication of animals. They were a nation among themselves, on their small areas of land. The life of people in different parts of the world then may have varied, except in one aspect, that is, ‘Gender’. Men went out to hunt, gather wood and food. Women stayed back at home, either they were pregnant or looked after the children and households. Men always had dominance over women physically and economically. They declared themselves owners of possessions such as land, animals, fodder, agricultural tools and got to have many sexual mates, they drew pride and status from it. They preferred group based social hierarchies.

I might disappoint many or end up vilifying the male ego if I said that wars are caused not because of women but because of the male sex drive. Whether it was Zeus, Menelaus, Theseus, Achilles, Paris or Ravan, it was a very male like weakness that fate laughed at. These alpha males fought for power, glory, riches, sexual mates. Only then they thought women would desire them, or maybe women were told to desire such men. Just as Ravan had expected Sita to be impressed by him.

There’s nothing more ridiculous than blaming beauty, blaming women for their bodies, blaming them for being themselves, for being women. Those who say ‘stay away from a woman she brings destruction’, or ‘lock up women for they cause wars’, should have actually been preached to have the intellect and mature mind to respect beauty for its existence. The world would be doomed with depression if not for such feast to the eyes. They should have been taught where and when to arrest their instincts. They should have been taught that lust is a poison that could rob man off his respect, sanity then his life and real men are those who win the heart of women with humility and honesty. If these men went on war for the sake of a women, they were ignorant, irrational, pudden- headed and sexists who made women a subject of dispute like their other non-living resources such as land and money. Forgetting women weren’t just pieces of flesh but also carried souls and were the very source of their existence.

Even before shaming Helen as seductress and dangerous. The same legend has a tale of how Theseus, king of Athens and Pirithous, King of Larissa had kidnapped Helen when she was still very young because they wanted to make love to a daughter of Zeus before they died. Importantly, how was Helen born? Zeus, the god-king was known for his lecherous want for beautiful women. He transformed himself into many forms to woo females. He had raped Helen’s mother Leda, who was a married woman. All the alpha males in history got away without consequences for having many partners. They were just having fun, rather it made them more masculine and powerful. Rape, since time immemorial, has been a normalized mistake by men. I was wondering if there was a male version for the word ‘whore’ and yes there is, it is ‘manwhore’.

Who was Helen? For me she is an Alpha Female! I am proud of her. Aphrodite hadn’t cursed her, but had made her very powerful. An English dramatist Christopher Marlowe described Helen as “Having a face that could launch a thousand ships!”. Sure she had one. At the times when women were seen as mere child bearers, as sexual object and conditioned to taking care of household chores. At the times when women were distributed as spoils of war among victorious troops. When there was no difference between a queen and a slave women when it comes to submitting to male biddings. Helen controlled men by playing over the very weakness of men. She took them over by her unrivaled logic and brought their downfall. I am glad she ran away with Paris willingly, she deserved to choose her love, exercising her right to choose, to liberate herself. Had she been loyal to Menelaus she would have remained his object of play till he got bored of her. Why? Because it is better to be a slut than a slave!

Has anyone heard of “Male Warrior Hypothesis”? The tribal mentality of men was that they formed coalitions with other men to fight off inter-group conflicts, to defend their tribe from outgroup males. They viewed outgroup men with prejudices and jealousy. Men, and not women, practiced tribal warfare. In fact, inter group aggression predates agriculture, there is enough evidence in Chalcolithic period and its contemporary cultures. From anthropology and evolutionary biology, it seems apparent that men may be biologically programmed to be war minded because of deep ancestral history and inter tribal conflicts perpetrated by men. Men have been both perpetrators and casualties of wars. There was definitely an innate difference of psychological impact of war on men and women. Some may give examples of women warriors such as the Amazons who fought in the Trojan war, but not anymore as there is enough declaration that though ruins of Troy have been found, Amazons were only mythical characters and did not exist. Also, there can always be exceptions like the female ninjas.

Even today men show traits of tribal mentality. The authors of male warrior hypothesis asked a few men and women to name their favorite color. It was found that men liked a particular color because their favorite sports team was represented by it. None of the women came up with tribal reasons. If a woman likes Blue, it would be because she feels touched by the warmth of it.

Iliad, Odyssey, Ramayana and Maharabharata – whether these were real or just figments of imaginations, were again composed by male poets. Homer and Valmiki should definitely be appreciated for showing how man has less reason with his unholy desires. The characters of free women they designed spoke of fears of every man that lie in their subconscious minds. The fear being captured by unquenchable, unsatiable female overtures. The lava like heat which even waters of seven oceans can’t cool down. Why should women be ashamed if they drew their feminine power out of their skin, body and beauty, their natural inheritance? Until humankind exists, men can never match up to the intellectual faculties of women. Their understanding of love, pleasure, humanity and life is unmatchable. Wars don’t happen because of women, but because of stupid men!

If life tests you by offering ready riches, fame, pleasure and power. If you fail to pass these tests by choosing greed over righteousness, it is not these intangible attributes that are to blamed. They exist for a reason, they are double edged swords which could be wielded for doing good to mankind. But it is the human mind which gets easily bribed by attractive gifts and avarice to possess more and more. That is why wars happen.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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