By Jason Jayology:
‘India’s Daughter’ opened this week in New York City, receiving the affirmed support from one of the United States’ biggest celebrity feminists, who spoke on the film premiere’s panel, veteran Hollywood actor Meryl Streep. Not only did Streep, whose newest film is an account of the women who fought for women’s right to the ballot in England – ‘The Suffragette’, speak on the film alongside veteran feminist Gloria Steinem, but also went one step further to say, “I’m on the campaign now to get her nominated for best documentary,” speaking for the film’s director, Leslee Udwin.
Jyoti Singh’s death became the world’s tragedy, and a universal cry through which an entire planet identified with their own misogynistic, diverse, and common structural existences of a culture that belittles women to sexual objectification through the tragedy of rape culture. What all women know from their experiences with this culture, and sadly all women have experience with, is that we live in a violent, marginalizing, alienating, and exploitative patriarchal culture. Patriarchy unfolds into diverse weaponry that circulates through man’s insecurity targeting women building a pyramid scheme that leaves men at the core, and women of colour at the bottom. This weaponry is assembled in the steel sexism, the industrial sexual exploitation, the racism, of white supremacy, nationalism, caste based brutality, economic exploitation, and list goes on and on. These weapons ignite and execute a blanket of protection for a social order by siphoning the potential of women, into this artificial but intrinsic social order. It is important to mention this because the documentary, ‘India’s Daughter’ is a commentary on the role of India in upholding these structures in Indian society through the brutality which Jyoti Singh was subjected to. So the film is a challenge, or is supposed to be a challenge to the social order.
December 16th, when this blight of hyper-masculine violence left blood on the streets of Delhi, defying Gandhi’s maxim of ‘a few drops of dirt in the ocean,’ by transforming one woman’s blood into an ocean which awakened the world to the daily blood spilled by women all over the world, all of our hands became dirty. As Jyoti Singh took her last glance of this earth in a hospital bed in Singapore, Delhi erupted. The women of India, again, born out of a long line of history of women who refused to accept the social order of violence, shifted the tectonic plates into and earth-quaking global consciousness. This is also the subject of the film, the family of Jyoti, the rapists, the activists, and the society. ‘India’s Daughter’ put India on trial. Every institution had its day in the court of global public opinion. We saw you, every girl and every woman, as India’s daughters, whether or not society did. We translated the words on your posters, became better acquainted with your history, your iconography, your posters became our posters, your art electrified the currents that had become the revitalization of feminism into a massive inter-sectional movement, born out of our tears. So, for those of us who were invited to attend the premiere of India’s Daughter – which was very few activists, we had one question as the panel opened: Where are India’s daughters? Where are the women who were and have been fighting rape culture, sexual violence, caste violence, misogyny and patriarchy on the ground in India? Why is Meryl Streep, the feminist who announced last week that she is not really a feminist but a “humanist”, a word often confused for humanitarian but actually translates to atheist, speaking on the politics of this film? What is her connection to India? We all have to take an interest in one another to end rape culture, because misogyny and patriarchy have no respect for man-made boundaries, but this also requires working together with the people doing the actual fighting. Learning, sharing ideas, and knowing the politics. It means challenging the social institutions that protect the unnatural order of patriarchy.
As Meryl Streep’s film ‘The Suffragette’ opened in England last week, women activists took to the red carpet in protest, being pulled away by security for challenging the unnatural order of Hollywood’s racism. Why would women be protesting a film shedding light on women’s rights by a woman who was handpicked to speak to ‘India’s Daughter’? That’s because there isn’t a single woman of colour in ‘The Suffragette’. Now, some argue, there weren’t as many women of colour involved in the movement for English suffrage, which isn’t true, because many women of colour from India were involved in the English suffrage movement. Nonetheless, why would Hollywood produce a film without any women of colour, given the global climate of violence and the fight today of activists on the ground? How could Hollywood cast shadows over the laborious role that women of colour – Black, Hispanic, Latin(x), Trans, the diverse Asian women from various subcontinents, and indigenous women play in culminating knowledge today to a bloody and brutal reality, make a film specifically tailored to a not so all-white moment, but historically relevant moment in history, constructed on a plot line which would consist of an all white cast?
Because Hollywood is a misogynistic and racist institution that upholds patriarchy. Then why would they champion ‘India’s Daughter’ if they are misogynistic? Hollywood is interested in your rape culture, and perhaps the politics of it, because it doesn’t challenge or connect the dots to the social order of rape culture here. Have you ever heard of anyone in Hollywood saying, ‘I’m not doing this film till under-represented women from India have a place in Hollywood’?
So, when we went to the opening of ‘India’s Daughter’, and saw Meryl Streep as the host and panellist our question was: Where are the women who were fighting on the street? Where are the narratives of how India’s politics of nationalism compare to ours, so we can come together and dismantle our societies, leaning on one another…But that’s not the point. Notice, no one said, this movie is a cinematic time bomb aimed at the conscience of misogyny. “I’m on the campaign now to get her nominated for best documentary,” not ‘I am on the campaign to change the social order.’We need to get together in a unity which discredits patriarchy, but unity requires us to do the listening, it requires hearing, learning histories and experiences, and not co-opting, the fight. In the creating of a culture the fire burns at the micro level and the smoke spreads. We have to avoid the reality of the fight being a utility of a complex market of an integrated economic system that commercially exploits everything it can through sophisticated public relations and marketing enjoined by a media who is catering to a demographic-sales point, while supporting the mirrors that mirage a confrontation not happening to placate to our anger, or worse deceive our will. This formula only dilutes the wisdom we have been inherited and are entrusted with from one another. The only way to break the culture of rape is to break the institutions that uphold rape culture, by every means necessary, and we can do that in this life existence. There is no easy way out but the reward will a new social order conceived by the courage and will of women, not one that breaks the will of women. It is time we ‘break the lock’ and unfold a future without rape culture.