KAMLA BHASIN | 17 AUGUST, 2014
KILLED BY MACHISMO ADVERTISEMENTS AND ATTITUDES
No war in the world has maimed, brutalized and killed more people than the patriarchal war against girls and women, going on in MOST, if not ALL, countries of the world.
This is a global war, a global indecency, a global atrocity. We are ALL implicated in it, in one way or another.
The Constitutions of most countries today say women and men are equal. Some of these countries have had these constitutions for over a century. However no country is free of sexism, abuse of and violence against girls and women.
The worst and most painful aspect of this war against women is that it is waged mostly within families and by people known and close to us (mainly men and boys, but women too).
Feminist research claims that between 16th and the 18th centuries, a large numbers of women were killed in the name of witch-hunting. The culprits were NO less than the Church and the emerging male, medical establishment. Professor Amartya Sen wrote some 15 years ago that 100 million women were MISSING (killed) by patriarchy in South Asia and China, One hundred million !!! Which other war has killed so many?
Since Professor Sen wrote this, more, not less girls are being killed in India through female feticide. Female feticide assisted by well off, but endlessly greedy, doctors is being done in economically advanced States (like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi) and by well off and educated families. Districts where this crime is the least, are those where “uneducated”, “uncivilized” adivasis (indigenous people) are in the majority, who do not consider daughters a burden.
The myth about the Bhadra Samaj or “civilized” community being more women friendly is finally being demolished, but only for those who care to know the truth.
Although it is the Khap Panchayat leaders who are being ridiculed and criticized by the ‘educated’ elite and corporate media, the “cultured” men are not far behind in their patriarchal views and behavior.
I have over heard suited-booted men using Maa, Bahan, Beti (mother, sister, daughter) abuses in every other sentence, tell hundreds of anti-women jokes, make lewd remarks in elie clubs, airports and/or in flights. These men do not look as if they are members of any Khap panchayat!
Every other day we hear what outrageous things Chief Ministers, Ministers, DIGs of police, Judges think of and say about women, rape, abortion rights, women’s dress and mobility etc. not just in South Asia, but also in the US, Australia, Italy.
Ma, Bahan, Beti abuses are condemning the abused as an incestuous male. These abuses may have been coined to discourage or curb incest, which must have been prevalent. The most common abuse, Saala (wife’s brother) is actually much more offensive and abusive, because the abuser is claiming a sexual relationship with the sister of the abused. The Saala abuse is not even considered an abuse by most people. People say this to each other all the time. I am amazed at this sexual obsession in men. How much violence is constantly connected to some thing as beautiful, natural and necessary as sex and sexuality?
Can such abusers ever have non-aggressive, non war- like sex with any one?
On a road in Himachal Pradesh, there was a small advertisement for a local brand of Viagra nailed on many trees. The ad said: Mardaangi ke liye COMMANDO Capsule!! ( Commandi Capsule for Masculinity) It is frightening even to think of having COMMANDO like husbands/ boyfriends in bed but unfortunately,such commando like and commanding men do exist all around us.
In Sri Lanka, I saw an advertisement for a very popular brand of beer “which brings out the LION in you!!”
Corporate media, which do not stop pontificating when a brutal rape takes place, are constantly spreading patriarchal and misogynistic (women hating) messages.
Celebrity actor Akshay Kumar has done this advertisement for some Banyan (vest) in which he is pretending to be blind. Then suddenly leaving his pretension he tackles some anti-social men and comes out a Hero. Impressed by his power, a woman by stander admiringly says “oh he is not blind”. At this, the NOT blind man Akshay Kumar says in an insulting way “Button Khula Hai”, referring to the top button of her blouse.
A man in a Banyan, half naked men in baniyans and chaddies (vests and under wear) have the right to admonish women who have just one button open, who may not cover their head, who may be wearing jeans, sleeveless tops etc. Men always have the moral high ground, irrespective of their own morality.
Then there is another demeaning advertisement, demeaning especially to senior citizens and all men, in which an elderly man shares his pain with a male teenager. He tells the teenager that long time ago one of his male friends had insulted him by forcibly kissing his wife. If only he could find that horrible man and take his revenge. The teenager activates his social media and within minutes finds out that, that horrible man lives in the same neighborhood. The man and the teenager rush to that culprit’s house, who happens to be standing at the gate with his elderly and fragile wife. The aggrieved man rushes to the wife, kisses her forcibly, runs away jumping up and down gleefully, saying he had finally taken his revenge!!
What does one do with such ads and their mentality? What does one do with such ad-makers and with corporate media airing them?
There is another sexist and offensive t.v. advertisement involving a senior citizen and a younger man and this is for a motor cycle . The sound of the young man’s motor cycle annoys the elder man because the bird he was trying to watch through his binoculars, had flown away. To make up for his “fault”, the young man invites the old man to sit on his motor bike and go for bird- watching with him. And of course he goes and stops near a group of young women talking to each other!! Instead of scolding the young man for his sexism, the old man starts leering at the young women and making “sexist” comments.
I wonder how many people are upset by such advertisements or by similar comments at home or in social gatherings. So much sexism, so many insulting and demeaning statements about girls/women pass as “just a joke”. Those “jokers” (people telling such sexist jokes!!) are offended if a woman takes offence at their sexist remarks. Such a woman is labeled as a “humorless feminist”.
Once I heard one of my friends, a senior IAS officer, ask his two teenage nephews, how the “chicks “in their class were and if any one of those “chicks” was fun. He kept giggling more than the teenagers. He, an uncle, belonging to the most elite service of India, instead of teaching his nephews respect for girls and women, was trying to become a “buddy” a ‘cool guy’ by hurling abuses at girls, and objectifying them.
I object to these “harmless” jokes because they are most harmful. This is how you commodify women, define them as “lower beings” and “bodies”, and de-humanize them. The ‘Upper’ castes do the same to Dalits, the “cultured” do this to indigenous peoples, and the Whites to the Black people. Once you de-humanize and commodity a community, it becomes easier to insult and violate them; your mind, your sensibilities are now blunted, prepared, and you are ready to abuse, insult, harass and rape people who have been defined as not quite human.
The corporate media are desensitizing us, they are making “sexism” acceptable and a part of life. While they commodity girls and women, they glorify machismo and romanticize aggressive masculinity. Men become larger than life. Men are ‘dabangi-fied’. They are above rules and decency (tameez). They make their own rules. Whatever they do becomes decent. Such machismo and toxic masculinity with the right mix of obscenity in a film with a big Hero, makes over a hundred crores at the box office, each time.
From reel life this machismo and violence spreads out in to real life. The filmy orgies with one Shila or Munni and dozens of men in the films turn in to gang rapes in Delhi, Gawhati, and Bangalore. After exciting the men/boys, after producing countless wet dreams and aggressive irresponsible sexuality, and after earning their crores, the women playing Shilas and Munnies, get in to their guarded cars and go to their ‘decent’ homes. The less fortunate Shila’s and Munnies who have to be on the streets of India to make a living, face sexual harassment and rape.
All of us need to see these connections. All of us need to take responsibility. FREE market economy should not mean freedom from all responsibility, giving up all decency. The only VALUE in our lives cannot be dollar or rupee value.
I feel hegemonic masculinity is behind all major problems in the world today, namely destruction of nature, conflicts and wars, terrorism, religious and sectarian intolerance and all other kinds of violence.
Masculinity is indeed NOT biological. All men are not aggressive and violent. Women can be and some women are “masculine” in their attitudes and behavior. In pursuit of power in the present system, some women are also becoming aggressive. Instead of transforming the mainstream with feminist values, they are joining the MAN-stream.
I think the present world needs heavy doses of “feminine” values like caring, nurturing, mothering. Actually all these negative and positive values are human values and both men and women have them, though in different quantities.
Some 10 years ago this is what I wrote in my book ‘Exploring Masculinity’ (published by Women Unlimited) about what boys and men could do to escape negative masculinity.
‘I believe, one way for men to become gentle is to get involved in child rearing and housework. I believe we need a movement of men towards parenting, household work and family kitchens. Let us give ladles and spoons to our boys so that their hands are not free to pick up toy guns or real ones; give them children to look after and play with, so that they have no time to play with death; make men mothers so that they have no time and desire to be rapists and murderers, looters and terrorists; make them “home-makers” so that they stop being “trouble-makers”; create “love instincts” in them to drown their “killer instincts. The world cannot tolerate any more rapes, wars, any more violence, any more cut-throat competition, any more violent men and masculinities”(pg.59)
Men’s participation in household work and child-rearing will also make marriages and families much more equal, participatory and joyous. Our daughters are looking for Partners not Masters (i.e. pati or swami).