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The Justice Verma Committee Report 2013 on sexual offenses against women is now online. Read it here
Do send us your comments and reactions to it. Email email@example.com
A while ago, Thoughts on Sale did an interview with us.
To read the complete interview go here.
I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the topic of sexual harassment of women until a couple of weeks back. Even so, I was taken by surprise by some of the views that were brazenly put forth in this televised debate on the issue, and when I tweeted my outrage, a friend involved in the Hollaback movement in Chennai suggested that I write about it.
Having accepted this ranting assignment (and then procrastinated for a good two weeks), I found that it would be a meaningless exercise to go about articulating my outrage at statements by individuals from either side, and that it would make much more sense to look at the debate instead as a window into the thoughts of general members of our society, and put down, even if somewhat incoherently, a few of my thoughts and observations, especially those that I felt were important and pertinent and yet not sufficiently addressed on the show.
First up, I found it disappointing that this was staged as a men-versus-women debate. I find it absurd to assume that men and women are on opposite sides on an issue related to the sexual harassment of women. I have also always wondered how shows like these recruit participants, and whether all of the people in the show are somehow connected to the issue being discussed. I decided I had to write this piece, if for no other reason, to speak up for men who felt misrepresented like I did by most of their ilk who spoke up on the show.
Among the disquieting truths that the show brought to light was that a significant section of men believe that harassment is an acceptable means of courtship (!). By refusing to recognize that sexual attraction is in itself perfectly healthy and normal, and by making anything connected with sex taboo, we in our sexual repression have somehow managed the impossible task of mixing attraction and courtship with harassment. I believe that a large part of the blame for this lies with our pop culture, specifically our movies. Starved of contact with the opposite sex, a lot of men look to movies, which are replete with fantasies of men chasing after unwilling women and harassing them into falling in love with them. It sounds oxymoronic when I put it bluntly like that and yet this is precisely how the movies would have you believe a woman is wooed. Misguided and sexually frustrated young men are at a loss for ways to communicate with or hold the attention of a woman other than to sexually harass her.
Another common view amongst almost everybody on the show was that women are obliged to cover up and take care to see that they do not attract male attention, and that any woman who wishes to look attractive will inevitably pay the price for it. This of course obviously demeans women by seeing them first and foremost as sexual objects. I wish to point out, however, that this view is equally demeaning to men. It seems to imply that we are incapable of any control over our own actions and that, faced with an attractive woman, we turn into unthinking, perverted automatons in the throes of our libidinal impulses. This is the “animal on hunt” theory of human male behavior claiming that sexual harassment is some sort of natural biological response in men, and this drew widespread applause amongst the men. The thought that a large percentage of men find this opinion of themselves agreeable is worrisome.
What’s even worse is that some of the men try to claim the high moral ground by posing as moral police protecting some ill-defined notion of culture (this deserves to be the subject of an altogether different rant in itself) and punishing deviant women by means of sexual harassment This is the product of a dehumanizing view of women that holds them up to a conveniently defined ideal and expects conformity. Women have always been expected to bear an unfair share of the burden of upholding the honor of larger social structures like family and culture by giving up their personal freedoms and I have always held that the worst kind of chauvinists are often well-meaning women who believe themselves to be in the right because they play by the rules and frown upon those who do not.
There exists a redeeming possibility though, that those who spoke on the show might not themselves have actually believed the things they said. You could tell, for instance, that at least some of the men were just trying to be macho and playing to the audience. The more outrageous the statement, the louder the applause it drew. The debate may have devolved into a contest to irk the opposition. Sensible voices would have been booed out and decided to stay quiet. I fondly nurture this hope, so that I don’t have to believe the alternative.
There is definitely a problem though, and I found the closing comments by Kavitha and Revathi to be particularly sensible and pertinent – women must learn to be more assertive and feisty; weakness always gets picked on. I think, for instance, that “time enna ma?”(“What is the time, ma’am?”) or “paerazhagi pothittu pora paaru da” ( loosely “Look how she covers up her face, as if she’s a beauty queen”), even if they are unwarranted and baseless and uttered by total strangers wouldn’t disturb a strong and confident woman. She might even shoot back a stinging repartee. In the long run, a complete solution to this problem would involve taking steps towards becoming a less sexually repressed society with more healthy interaction between the sexes. Boys with close female friends do not grow up into men who view women as sexual objects.
This week, as we observe Anti Street Sexual Harassment Week, we’re inviting you to Hollaback! in a slightly different way than you’re normally used to. Take a look, and head over to our Facebook page to post or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org comments
For me, the key in this story were in these lines:
But he didn’t see what he did as wrong. He blames part of this on the normal social upbringing, where growing up, a girl is told to be careful, but no one bothers to tell a guy to keep his distance and be respectful. He knew what he did was wrong, but he felt it as a thing of young blood, hormones and maybe just a little bit bad, like his room being a mess.
We’re now more motivated than ever to start working with men and boys. Thank you, Vidyut!