Today, I have had the (dis)honour of watching two panel-discussions involving Indian women’s discussion on #metoo. In both these panels, ludicrous comments which exhibit everything wrong in terms of approaching the topic of sexual harassment, like victim blaming and shaming, is heard.
Last month, Preity Zinta faced flak for her insensitive comments on the #metoo movement when she said, ‘People will treat you the way you want to be treated’ and ‘Aajkal ki Sweetu kal ki metoo ho sakti hai’. Maybe it is the lack of awareness or the rigidity of the brain which refuses to evolve as per the changing times, but Rani Mukerji is the latest person to join the brigade.
In the past, whenever Tavleen Singh or other women dissed #metoo and Time’s Up, I tried to ignore them. In this case, we have a woman dominating a panel, making the same problematic comments like ‘Women should protect themselves’ and that ‘women who feel cornered and not strong enough to retaliate, are the ones who need to change’. When Anushka Sharma pointed out that her comments are similar to victim blaming, Rani said ‘At some point, we have to take responsibility for ourselves.’. Meh!
Wake up Rani! This is exactly what is happening. This is the reason why girls have stricter hostel rules as compared to boys, the reason behind socially constructed 6 pm curfews for both urban and rural women, early marriage, male guardianship and what not. Women are held accountable for their own safety.
There is a massive problem with the whole idea of instilling the necessity for self-defence. I am not against women or their family’s desire to learn the same. After Dec 16th incident, my family (including my grandmother who was initially against the idea of learning martial arts as ‘it is meant for boys’) prompted me to take lessons in self-defence. I learned Karate for one week and Kung Fu for 4 years. Although it did instil a sense of confidence, I promise you, my complete safety cannot be guaranteed because at the end of the day, so many things like circumstances and number of perpetrators are to be considered. Also, self-defence is taught due to the notion that there are men who will rape no matter what.
So, do both Rani Mukerji and Tavleen Singh think that women could simply slap their way out of harassment? Do they think that it will stop the whole culture that perpetuates harassment? Does Rani seriously think that kicking a man between the legs will end the threat and that the man will simply stand there and get slapped or kicked?
When it comes to the circumstances, I want to give an example. I watched a Malayalam movie named ‘Mummy and me’ where the character played by Archana Kavi was sexually harassed by her college mate. She retaliates by hitting him. We might laud her for doing it, but the problem is that the situation didn’t end there. He follows her with (hyper) masculine male friends to confront her. One of them says ‘Women should remember their place’ and goes on to harass her further. She slaps him again, but the situation is neutralised thanks to her friend. When she narrates this incident to a male friend, she is warned. ‘Men’s ego might make them react violently. It was a bad idea to hit a man’. One day they confront her again and this time the man who was slapped, hits her and says ‘You will hit men? Do it again, I dare you’. He was exhibiting his physical strength and dominance, which is still an advantage men have over women, assuming that he is taller and heavier. Men tend to see women overpowering them, as an insult to their masculinity which leads to them retaliating severely. Although this is just a movie, it reflects a real-life scenario.
A friend of mine once slapped a man for sexually harassing her while she was on her way back home from school. She faced the same situation as mentioned in the movie; where her perpetrator showed up again with more male friends to ‘teach her a lesson’. If it weren’t for the people at that spot, they could have done worse. She narrated this incident as her #metoo story when the movement broke out last year.
I saw this kind of culture in educational institutions where girls were always taught to be careful and to not ‘provoke’ with their words. During a discussion about #metoo with Faye D’Sousa and Barkha Dutt, Tavleen Singh said, ‘#metoo but I slapped the man’. I am glad that she was able to react the way she wanted to and the result was in her favour but little did both Rani and Tavleen Singh know that Jyothi Singh Pandey too fought the six rapists when they attacked her in the bus. And, what did they do to her when she tried to fight back? Many people, including one of the rapists Mukesh, said that she shouldn’t have fought back, could have saved her intestines. This also doesn’t work in cases of domestic violence, and as per a survey by Anita Raj and Jay G. Silverman in 2002, from a pool of women aged between 18-60, 65.2% of women reported being sexually abused as a part of domestic violence.
A Trivandrum based girl once hit a man who harassed her, but she was arrested for assaulting him. She couldn’t prove the harassment and he was seriously injured by her assault. Padukone added to the invalidity of the statement; ‘Unfortunately, everybody is not constructed with that DNA. People who haven’t faced this, they’ve either been lucky or have had the strength,’ she said.
While Rani mockingly made martial arts noises during the discussion, Deepika Padukone finally made a valid point; ‘Does it always have to reach the point till women have to taught martial arts?’. Women are drugged and raped. Girls as young as 2 and 3 years of age are raped. Babies are raped. One of the worst cases recorded in India’s history involved the gangrape of an 8-year-old inside a religious place by multiple men. This was a horrifying example of malevolent power structure as the perpetrators’ intentions were to scare the Muslim community and the victims’ family. Many girls and women are raised to believe that they can’t say no. Marriage as a system has perpetuated the husband’s right to have sex more than wife’s right to say no.
Rani belongs to an industry that has made movies after movies in which heroes forcefully kiss heroines and where heroes persistently woo women who reject them until they fall in love with them. The biggest problem with the whole scenario is that the same power dynamics will shame a woman for having consensual sex. Tanushree Dutta was shamed for speaking up because she did an ‘erotic’ scene in ‘Aashiq Banaya Aapne’. During a panel on We The Women, Dutta explained that she gave her consent to do the song while she refused to give the same to Nana Patekar.
I came across this satire line ‘Algebra is confusing but then the society was introduced to the idea of consent’. Consent became a term that is only associated with feminism or ‘feminists and their convenience’. No, it is very important, and it is the only thing that can save generations of women and children from sexual harassment and assault. Kirron Kher screamed at the parliament in 2015 that boys should be taught in schools that consent belongs to women. Self-defence alone won’t solve the problem because we know that if one person in that bus had chosen not to rape and had instead protected Pandey, then she would have been alive.
In yet another WTF moment, Rani says, ‘It’s the women who are raising these boys’ and ‘You can’t tell mothers how to bring up their children’. Irony died in that sentence. Well, it is just sad to see influential people make ludicrous comments. Women are agents of patriarchy. You can see that when Tavleen Singh said ‘He likes women’ while defending allegations against MJ Akbar. Women with the wrong idea about consent will end up raising children with similar bad ideas.
The whole point of #metoo is to question the power structure surrounding the sex-based crimes and to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions, instead of questioning the circumstances of the victim. Whether it is a stranger who attacks a woman who is alone or an authority who asks for sex in return for favours.