Let’s get rid of the misogyny, shall we?

It’s introspection time on both sides of the globe. While America’s talking (once again) about gun control laws in light of the recent massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, India has turned its dial of outrage to the Women’s Safety setting since the last 3 days.

In the last few months, I have had quite a lot of discussion with many people about how women are treated in India. Since it is pretty unlikely that those who are reading this blog are potential rapists, this post is aimed at non-rapists. There is a lot of misogynistic rhetoric that keeps floating around even in well-educated and supposedly modern sections of the society, but no one really thinks it’s an issue because, well, the Indian threshold for misogyny is rather dismal. Here, I use misogynistic in a slightly relaxed sense. I don’t intend to say that people hate women. But it’s important to realize that respecting women involves more than just not raping or molesting them.

You could give several examples, but my favorite (mainly because it’s so common) is when seniors tell freshies in their facetiously cavalier way that IITian girls aren’t girls—they’re at best non-males. Everyone has a laugh, followed by a collective sigh over having the most testosterone-fueled period of one’s life relegated to a company of andromorphic females. Toilet-humor is common in all-male groups, but I have heard this spoken in very public settings, even on stage with several girls present in the audience.

It’s a testimony to how widespread this kind of behavior is that no one finds anything wrong with it.

The other day, I was having an argument about this with a friend. He said that most of us respect women and comments such as ‘non-male’ were made in jest. He even ventured to suggest that girls probably don’t even mind it. To that last point my only response was incredulity because I see no reason why any girl wouldn’t mind what is clearly a very derogatory and insulting remark (I am of course willing to accept the possibility that even girls are now so desensitized by this ‘humor’ that they might not only accept it as an unavoidable eventuality, but also propagate it to some extent). I asked him to imagine what he would think if someone insinuated that the only redeeming characteristic about him was that he didn’t have a vagina. Anyhow, to cross-check, I asked a few girls what they feel about such remarks. Here are two random answers:

Girls pretend not to mind because it’s not going to change

The guy’s really an ignorant idiot if he thinks girls won’t mind or won’t be hurt/upset with such remarks.

It’s true that most guys around us are largely good at heart, and would really never go as far as sexually molesting a woman, but our responsibility doesn’t end merely at keeping our dick in our pants. It is easy to forget that rape or assault are only the culmination of a long train of tiny actions or thought-processes that are centered around the basic subconscious idea that women are male property and that the sole purpose of their existence is to be pretty and sexy for men.

An inclusive society isn’t formed merely by having strict laws or strict enforcement. It’s formed by starting bottom up, and by fostering a culture where every member of that society can feel welcome and can develop a strong sense of identity, where they can feel comfortable being what they are. Since men have pretty much had a monopoly on the ‘forming opinions’ business for a lot of years, it’s been rather convenient to brand the male way as the standard way.

I find it funny (but thoroughly unsurprising) that while men judge the average woman predominantly and persistently based on how she looks or presents herself, they find it weird or worthy of laughs if women actually invest time in improving said looks (by paying attention to their clothing, shopping for said clothing, worrying about hair, or the removal of hair, and so on).

It’s pretty deep-rooted in our psyche that it’s bloody well awesome to be male. We get to expect, almost demand, good looks from women while being ugly ourselves. A guy doing anything stereo-typically associated with girls? What a wuss/sissy/how gay! A girl doing anything stereo-typically associated with guys? Wow! Such progress! (if you’re liberal) and Look at her crossing her limits! (if you’re a douchebag). Either way, as long as you are conforming to the male world-view of awesomeness, it’s cool bro. Err, no homo.

It’d be great if, while baying for the blood of the rapists, and while suggesting death penalties, chemical castrations, or (the latest fad on FB as I write this) stone pelting, we looked at many of the subtle ways in which educated and well-meaning people like us derail the progress towards an inclusive world. Yes, none of us are rapists, and most of us won’t hurt a fly, but when it comes to creating an environment where women (or any other marginalized group) can exist comfortably and at ease, it’s the tiny things that can make or break the deal.


30 Responses to “Let’s get rid of the misogyny, shall we?”

  1. Jaiyam Sharma December 20, 2012 at 4:06 am #

    In theory, it looks quite goody goody. “Teach men to respect women”, but how would we go about doing it? And who would be responsible for the rapes occurred while we’re at it? It should be understood that incidents such as gang rapes occur when every male in the group tries to establish himself as the alpha-male. In that brief moment of heat, all values and respect disappear. From a sociological point of view, its true: we’d be better off with a misogyny free society. But while we’re at it, lets make strong (read brutal) laws which make no distinction between rapists and terrorists

  2. Vasuki Narasimha Swamy December 20, 2012 at 4:31 am #

    Was wondering about the sudden outburst of _hang rapists_ movement on FB and had very similar thoughts. The last line hits the bull’s eye. It’s really the small things that matter 🙂

    • Anon_motherfucker December 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

      That’s what she did _not_ say.

  3. Anon December 20, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    Very well-written post. On the subject of rape laws, I read a nice article here: http://www.firstpost.com/india/delhi-gangrape-nypd-and-london-might-offer-some-solutions-561803.html

  4. Anon December 20, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    Okay, while I agree with your analysis of the male-dominated psyche, I don’t know if we can call that the ‘root cause’ of rape. If it were, then the incidence of rape per capita should be much lower in the progressive countries, which I don’t think holds.

    From the wiki page, I get the impression that India is actually one of the countries with the *lowest* per-capita rape cases. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics

    If these statistics are correct, that can mean several things:
    1.What you mention could be one of the factors responsible for rape, but there may also be others, which are the ones responsible in western countries.
    2.The ‘progressive’ countries are not really progressive in this aspect, they suffer from this unequal mindset as much as we do.
    3.There is a lot more under-reporting in India than other countries; so much that the real statistics are very different from the ones shown.
    4.Other reasons?

    We should, of course, get rid of the misogyny in any case; but I’m not sure if that is going to decrease the incidence of rape.

    • Antariksh Bothale December 20, 2012 at 9:50 am #

      Agreed. Most sociological phenomena are complex beasts with several causal layers and anyone attempting to explain them with one-liners is talking through their hat. Ditto with solving them with one-liners. KILL RAPISTS! CASTRATE THEM! PELT THEM WITH STONES! STOP EATING CHOWMEIN! I mean, what bullcrap!

      That being said, I didn’t give any single cause for rape nor did I give a single point solution. The purpose of this post was to suggest to my friends, almost none of whom will ever commit a rape, that respecting women and creating an inclusive atmosphere for them goes beyond merely believing that they shouldn’t be raped.

      If the best of us are still party to the marginalization and disrespect that women face on an everyday basis, then we are contributing (not that we are the sole cause of) towards delay in their emancipation and progress, and delay in reaching the point where people would stop thinking of women as their property.

    • DK December 24, 2012 at 10:06 am #

      Any per capita statistic falls flat in India because of the sheer number of people in the country.

    • Anon December 26, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

      You’re assuming that the ratio of reported rapes to unreported rapes is constant across the world. This is not true. I’d guess that India has far more rapes but they go unreported.

  5. Aarti Dwivedi December 20, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Just to add to your comment about the ads and messages doing round on FB, I am quite sure none of the people asking for stone pelting or similar stuff on FB would actually stand up against eve teasing or rape. Moreover, we need to teach men “not to rape” instead of feeding women with the notion of “don’t get raped”. Also, we need to stop treating women’s body as on object in which a family’s honor is vested.

    A sensible article on this topic http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/time-to-be-ashamed/article4214334.ece

    • Milind R December 29, 2012 at 6:32 am #

      Why do you think none of the people would stand up for it? Because they’re told by everyone to be “sensible” and not involve themselves with a crime? Or because they’re all not “alpha” males? I believe this is an important point.

  6. Anon December 20, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Could you explain why you say that when a woman makes an effort to improve her looks, she is usually laughed at? I have personally never seen this happening. More often than not they are usually admired for the effort they have put in.

    • Shweta December 21, 2012 at 12:31 am #

      Wrong. She is admired for the final result, never for the time or thought or effort that went into achieving it.

      If anything, that is a subject for mockery. Nasty stuff. “You mean you laid out your whole outfit the previous night? That notwithstanding, you needed over an hour to get ready? What were you doing, expecting to join a wildcard entry to a beauty pageant?” Have you seriously ever heard anything like “Wow, getting your hair to shine and smell nice and fall in place like that must’ve been rather difficult and time consuming. I’m honoured that you thought this occasion merited that kind of attention to detail”? At best, it’s “Having a sexy lady at my event/ on my arm is awesome. Thanks!” – again, for the final result, not the time or effort.

      Oh and woe betide the lady if she isn’t particularly liked by her audience, because then she is reluctantly admired for the final result and privately called a bitch for trying to go all out to impress the guys and sleep her way to the top. “It’s not like she can get the guys/promotion/validation just by being herself, in all her natural glory. This woman needs all her layers of fake to be even reasonably attractive and worth talking with. Bitch.”

      • anon December 21, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

        Chill out. Stop confusing different kinds of behavior! It’s not like you don’t want men to look good, as if you would rather go out with someone who is ugly. And what is all this babble about “they don’t value the time and effort”? And how is making fun of this in a childish way even harmful? As if girls do not think a lot of boys’ behavior is unwarranted. Stop making this such a generic and omnipresent issue. Men should not disrespect women’s personal space. They should not offend them in any manner. But you are telling me playful and harmless jokes are directed towards belittling your kind?
        I can quote the less civilized in your kind as well, “That guy has guts to ask me out! Such a looser.” So let us not resort to bashing each other? Grow up!

  7. Gautam Agrawal December 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    Agree with the article broadly. I always found the IIT-B tradition of passing derogatory remarks about female IITians to be quite lame. Its not as if the guys were any better looking and hence, by a similar logic were merely, non-female. Also, these supposedly non-males are actually quite in demand on campus by the same IITians. How many valfies in H10 didn’t have a guy on stage. I would say less than 20%! Compare that with the guy valfies, I would say 60-80% are single at the very least.

    Btw, I would even venture to say that non-male or non-female and hence everything in between, ought not to be derogatory in itself but I guess that level of liberal utopia is still decades, if not centuries away.

    Anyways, back to the original point, I just feel it is just something that people just hear over and over and regurgitate even if they may not fully agree with it, just to fit in the group. This is similar to another disturbing example of IIT-B lingo that I have seen, which commonly has a form like, “H8 rapes H5 in footer”. Now, “rape” is not really a word that ought to be used in this sense of expressing a male domination/victory and definitely not something to be proud of. But it is still used commonly. I have personally tried to avoid using both of these derogatory forms of IIT-B lingo of late but, I haven’t really raised an issue about it with my friends/batchmates. Maybe I should have done so. Perhaps, Insight article would help bring this topic to the attention of the junta.

  8. Rakesh M December 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    you seen to have taken a very small sample called iitians and kind of generalised it ! And infact you are correct on one point..creating a good environment where we respect each other while the sample you have collected is largely for urban sections..I personally feel media ( magazines,movies,tv etc) should be rather censored a lot ! Look at movies in bollywood..Not good for ppl amng masses who are illiterate generally… while good police-ing, strcter laws, educating men/women/post trauma support, etc are all important…this one point alone holds almost 30% valus..it can really be productive to us as a society !

  9. Sumeet December 20, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    I am one of those who obviously wouldn’t rape a woman, nor would I crack such a joke as a senior. If I were a freshman listening to one, I wouldn’t get the joke, and I’d probably chuckle just to be part of the group. But honestly, I’m still having a hard time thinking about the statement from a female perspective. What does it imply so as to make it derogatory? To put myself in a female’s shoes, I tried imagining being a male model in the fashion industry (dominated by females), and a female commenting that I’m at best a non-female. I’d interpret it as she commenting that I don’t exhibit the typical culturally-associated masculine characteristics of dominance and aggressiveness. I wouldn’t so much mind that – according to this definition, Gandhi wasn’t a male either. Extending the analogy, what “girls are best non-males” means to me is that they are tomboyish. Why is that so hurting? Am I missing something?

    • Anon December 21, 2012 at 3:14 am #

      I sort of feel the same way. I don’t think there is anything inherently derogatory about the statement/word. Innocently, it just means someone who is not a male in a male dominated society like IIT Bombay. It’s just a cultural thing at best, something that is bound to arise in a place with a dismal male to female ratio.

    • Sai Kulkarni December 21, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

      The intent is the issue here. You interpret it as tomboyish, but often, the context in which such statements are used, it becomes derogatory. Another example, “kya figure hai yaar” can be both good spirited and derogatory.

      The larger underlying problem is this: Looks and physique are the major, if not only, things discussed about women. No matter what a girl does, how she looks is an issue.

      I agree that, to some extent, such discussions are natural. But it should not be the center-point of one side’s view of the other side.

  10. reader December 21, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    While we are on the topic, what about the prevalence of MC/BC gaalis? Of course, they are defended with “no bad intention”, still can one argue *for* their usage?

  11. Preeti Bhonsle December 22, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    All very ideal talk and none of that which has been discussed below/above is going to happen anytime soon. It would be great if the recent gang rapists get punished, but if they don’t i really would not be surprised. You talk about a paradigm shift. Stop hating women. Start respecting them. Really? How do we get there? Women hate women.

    Its too hard wired in our brains. That females are inferior. And then it is a little bit of our culture, our society and then media takes care of the rest. The best way currently seems to simply avoid such situations, atleast for us girls ( http://www.newsyaps.com/how-to-confront-a-sexually-abusive-situation/1997/ )

  12. Karthik December 24, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    We could discuss the male psyche and its shortcomings to no end and while part of the problem might lie there, the solution certainly cannot be limited to reforming the mind. In other words while sensitizing and maturing the male attitude towards women is needed, it’s not the complete solution. Moreover, it’s not even the place where we should look for the solution.

    The only way such society can be cleansed from violence and injustice towards women is when they have a voice. Analyzing the mind of a rapist, intellectualizing over whether some misguided remark objectifying women is *really* hurtful or not and patronization and promises of change in attitude are pointless.

    Is there something well meaning, liberal men can do? Yes, show genuine empathy and comradeship, minimize intellectualizing over the male psyche looking for reasons and excuses, and realize that while we can be partners in this change, progress can be made only if we create a space where women can express themselves freely and fearlessly. They need to lead from the front and men should follow. This concerns their being and only they can bring the requisite energy, vigor and imagination to fight this.

    Well-meaning English liberals who were intellectual descendents of John Stuart Mill did not liberate India and neither did compassionate White Americans bring civil rights to the blacks. Gandhi did not remove untouchability from India. Let us take some lessons from history, and soon enough shut our traps, and let the woman speak.

  13. Abha Avinash Kulkarni December 26, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    Very well written and well thought. I wish all men thought this way, world would be a better place for women. All this negativity causes a lot of unnecessary chaos even in a non-victim’s life.

  14. Neeraja Abhyankar April 26, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    Precisely agreed with most points! except the non-male part..
    I’m an IITian girl myself, and while most girls here don’t like the term, I personally don’t mind being called a non-male.
    I infer that it means they’re not thingking of me as a ‘girl’, but as a human (who is incidentally not male). That’s exactly what I want, isn’t it?
    Whatever the context of usage, I’m not being thought of as someone who they’ll consider ‘hitiing on’. Peace 🙂
    If I’m missing what’s derogatory in this, someone please enlighten me!

    • Antariksh Bothale December 24, 2013 at 12:03 am #

      You are free not feel offended by it. I find it a bit lame to force someone to feel offended. But I can assure you that the ‘non-male’ title is not a product of treating girls as humans but as accentuating the fact that a girl is not good looking (or whatever).

      You will in fact even hear stuff like: IITs have boys, non-males and females.

  15. Anon June 11, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Yes, it does hurt when guys talk like this. Being an IITian girl myself, I have experienced this. In our college, if a girl is found to be friends (just friends and not dating) with more then one male, then she is portrayed as a s*** or a w****, which I don’t think is justified in any form. I know that none of them will ever commit a rape but these talks don’t support their stand for women either.

  16. Priya December 23, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    Very well written. I think It’s not just about IIT but engineering and similar fields where women get mocked because they are low on numbers. I’m very happy that atleast one guy on the campus thinks like you do. Of course IIT has it’s own culture and most of the boys are definitely ‘not rapists’, but it can not and should not stop at just that. I was surprised to know that one my very good friends(IIT-ian) thought that women dress up or take care of their looks to ‘attract’ boys! How ignorant-I thought. We dress up and want to look pretty because that ‘feels’ good- just like you would feel good about a long ride on bike early in morning or a football match with chilled beer. There are many misconceptions that are there, even the nicest boys I have know have preconceived notions. I think it starts from openly talking to your female friends, as you said- small things make a difference.

  17. Abhijit December 25, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

    I agree with most of your points but here I some I’d want you to answer –

    1 – Calling girl by names such as non-males in IIT is limited to it. The girls do not have to suffer any non-inclusive or unfair treatment due to this stereotype. In fact, I’d go on to saying that girls have a fairly easier life in IIT(B). There is a stereotype that all sardars are stupid, but that doesn’t mean that the ones who are intelligent are denied opportunities because of that stereotype being so prevalent in society. There are many well known great thinkers who are Sikh and the fact that they are Sikh never really translate to them being stupid. Similarly, (I’m going to make a very politically incorrect statement here – since all men and women are created equal aren’t they?) the fact that there exists a stereotype against IIT girls doesn’t mean that the ones who are beautiful do not “enjoy the benefits” associated with having such accomplishments. Then again, I’d go on to say that IIT guys are in fact make it way easier for the girls (even the unattractive ones enjoy disproportionate attention compared to what they would in a regular college).

    Something that again goes against prevalent belief but is quite logical is the following statement- Why care about what other people say? You do not derive your power or beauty from the comments of others.

    2 – “Look at her crossing her limits! (if you’re a douchebag)”

    Here, I would like to disagree with you. Every person is entitled to an opinion (not trying to say that I do not believe in freedom for girls, I do) but branding someone a douchebag just for making that statement is downright wrong. Dismissing people as “by putting them into certain categories using very limited information” had been suggested by yourself in another post of yours and I agree with it. This line is contrary to that belief.

    • Agratha Dinakaran January 1, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

      Good sir, when you say something like “the unattractive ones enjoy disproportionate attention compared to what they would in a regular college”, you’re reinforcing the author’s points saying that you believe we exist solely for the male gaze. If you think that male attention is a “benefit” and “accomplishment”, I’m sorry to say that you couldn’t be more wrong. Maybe you could look at women as independent human beings first with their own identities before you jump to such pointless conclusions? We don’t exist for male attention, and trust me, a lot of us are simply better without it.

      Second, while I get where you’re coming from about broadly categorizing people for the douchebag comment, simply reflect on the statement – “Look at her crossing her limits!”. To me, anyone who says that indeed has to be douchebag and has misogyny so deep rooted within them that they don’t even realize it. Have you ever, in your entire life as a male, been told that you “crossed limits” when you did something? I doubt it. That line is reserved exclusively for women, when we get aggressive, argue on things that are important to us, are unafraid to stand up for ourselves, want to marry late and be selective about our partners, hell, expect a partner who puts in as much effort into his appearance as we do, etc. (maybe the last one was extreme, but you get my point).
      Thing is, there’s no crossing limits for either of the sex, so I don’t understand why that statement is used at all. It simply exists to remind us women when we indulge in something that doesn’t conform to society’s standards of being feminine; hence anyone who says it is indeed a douchebag.


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