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Misogyny Is A Red Flag For Violence Against Women. Why Aren’t We Taking It Seriously?

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Trigger warning: Mentions of rape 

When news broke that Indian rapper Honey Singh’s wife had accused him of domestic violence, I don’t think any of us were genuinely surprised. Since 2013, the rapper has been on activists’ radars for glamorising violence against women with songs like “Main Hoon Balatkari”.

I remember being in the 9th grade, riding the school bus home and listening to this song blaring from the speaker up front, right above the driver’s seat. There was a boy in my class who had become hopelessly besotted with me and, much to my chagrin, had taken to following me around and propositioning me.

It had become a running gag in high school; kids used to joke about how much time he spent staring at me every day instead of the teacher during lessons. I don’t think I’d ever heard of Yo Yo Honey Singh; I’m certain that my taste in music was unusually sophisticated by that age and ran more towards alternative, angsty, classic rock. You know, the kind that veers towards Linkin Park and somehow ends up back with the Eagles?

So when I heard my deeply amorous yet clearly troubled friend humming the song to himself, I made the mistake of asking him what the song was. Looking back now, I see how egregious that was, asking a boy who was socially stalking me about a song that was not exactly pro-women. He then proceeded to gleefully sing the song and enunciate the lyrics so that there was absolutely no doubt in my mind as to Honey Singh’s intent or the impact his music was having on men.

In the song, the rapper describes in graphic detail how he would rape a woman, because, and here’s the rub, he’s a rapist! Not only that, he then goes on to talk about gang-raping the same woman as if rape were a hobby that could not satiate the appetite of an average healthy male and it needed to be cultivated as a masculine, hedonistic, Machiavellian sport for all men.

Representational image.

Machiavellian was not the word that I was searching for but it’s definitely the word that I’ve landed on. It means being cunning, manipulative, power-hungry, indifferent and apathetic. If you’re someone who identifies as a feminist, I’m sure you know that feminists seek to correct the imbalance of power between men and women so that the dynamic between them is equal. Because at the end of the day, rape, the very same act that made Honey Singh a pop-culture icon, is not about sex. It is about power.

When you go through the allegations his wife has made, it is clear that power plays a huge role in the dynamics between husband and wife. His wife has made allegations against him over adultery and alcoholism along with mental, emotional, verbal and physical abuse. Quite the repertoire, if you ask me. If any of it turns out to be true, then Honey Singh will have transformed from a ballsy, cheeky, impish rapper to a drunk, philandering, wife-beater in the public eye.

But here’s my problem. It is not the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll that annoys me. Violence has been a part of our zeitgeist for a very long time. It is that we, as consumers, have normalised it.

There Are Red Flags

There are red flags everywhere. And yet, women such as myself continue to date, court, marry, copulate and cohabit with such blatantly misogynistic men. I’d go as far as to say that I think we find their toxic masculinity endearing and we don’t take it seriously enough until we are literally facing the barrel of a gun or the edge of a knife or a heady whiff of kerosene.

And here’s where I need you to take my word for it, if misogyny is where the story begins, femicide is where it inevitably ends.

In nearly two years of working as an independent legal consultant, out of fifteen cases that I took on, 10 were of domestic violence and 5 were of rape. This had a lot to do with the pandemic and the hazardous living conditions it created for women at risk. It also had a little to do with a basic lack of awareness about misogyny and why it is a red flag and should be a deal-breaker in romantic relationships.

The last case I worked on, my client had been a victim of attempted sexual assault while out on a date after which I had to have a long and comprehensive conversation with her about consent, boundaries and respect. At the end of it, she admitted that she had no idea that her date and potential rapist had actually shown so many red flags before he tried to rape her that had she set an alarm for every red flag, it would have never stopped ringing.

Representational image.

Calling Our Misogyny In Everyday Life

We, as women, have to start calling out misogyny in everyday life. I have been on dates where I’ve been told to lose weight, smile more, get married, have kids, learn to cook, not read books, stop working, not come off as too confident, avoid wearing low-cut blouses, make an attempt to curb my sense of humour, refuse to let on how smart I really am, called a prude for not putting out/slut for putting out, warned to never offend a man’s honour and advised to generally assume the qualities of a very agreeable fish rather than a real, living, breathing woman.

Discrimination, double-standards, inappropriate questions, personal comments, catcalling, stalking, harassment, threats, coercion, extortion, exclusion, sexist language, shaming, objectification, rigid gender roles and rape jokes are all instances of casual sexism, micro-aggression and rape culture that we all need to have a radar for.

I’ll boil it down to one simple thing: every woman needs to install a bullshit radar in her system.

Let me put it this way: If it isn’t funny, don’t laugh. If it isn’t fair, don’t yield. If it isn’t safe, don’t doubt it.

In a court of law, the judicial system will now process a singer to ascertain the veracity of the charges against him. There will be viral memes online, a full-blown media trial, a rabid press corps, irresponsible reportage, unethical journalism, a fanatic fan base that will decry the plague that is feminism and passionately defend the accused and uphold the virtue of innocent until proven guilty.

Lastly, there will be the influencers, comedians and quacks who will make Instagram reels about domestic violence. When it all blows over, and we’ve all moved on from this story, I just want you to remember that it is women like you and me who will go back to doing exactly what we were doing before: ignoring our instincts.

In his book, the Gift of Fear, Gary De Becker talks about pre-incident indicators or PINS: definitive patterns of behaviour that can often precede seemingly random acts of violence. By looking out for these PINS, at home, in the workplace, in relationships, it is not only possible to predict violence but to also take action to protect oneself against it.

In my line of work, misogyny is probably the greatest PIN of intimate partner violence. 9/10 times when I was assisting a client in making a safety plan, it was clear as day that the abuser had an innate fear and a deep-seated hatred of women and only looking out for that could help me keep my clients safe.

Misogyny is not a liar. It does not masquerade as feminism. It does give a polite nod to respect. It appears to be absolutely oblivious to consent.

Misogyny is a dead giveaway and there is absolutely no need to excuse it, tolerate it or forgive it. When I’m out with a guy, I’m not sitting there with a butterfly net and a magnifying glass, trying to catch every off-the-cuff remark like a wayward moth so I can pass judgment and make him feel like a loser. I’m sitting there to understand how I want to be loved by men as opposed to how I am being loved by them.

Ultimately I’m asking myself the one question that women have been taught not to ask: Do I deserve better?

Yes I do.

And so do you.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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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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