Mansplained! *Misogyny alert

Ruchika Sharma

Ruchika SharmaRuchika teaches history at undergraduate level in the Delhi University. We are publishing her personal facebook note here.

She can be contacted at https://twitter.com/catchruch

“Too many people seeing Santa Barbara (near University of California) tragedy as misogyny,” The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty tweeted. “It’s about mental illness.”

‘The officer (Badaun) rejected the possibility that the girls may not have been murdered by the accused. “This is no case of honour killing or any other theory. This is a case of mental criminality. They were sick minded people who did this. The family will get justice,” he said.’

The two incidents may have happened in two different parts of the world, one in US and other in a village in India, there is a similarity between the two. There is an attempt to brush aside the social reasons for the brutal violence, both costing in death of innocent individuals. Trust me they are not simple crimes of mental illness. Usually mental illness is used as a reason to brush aside a deeper understanding of the problem at hand, here misogyny.

Misogyny seems like a faraway word, feminism is a new abuse to be hurled at any woman who decides to have an opinion. I was recently told that women have it easy now-a-days. ‘They have metro and even the laws are pro-woman’, a young lady snorted. Another one I heard was that privileges (that women have) leave very little for ‘it’s giving men very little opportunities now, like it or not.’

I wonder whether those saying the above mentioned politically gross and humanly criminal words read the news I mentioned above. Well we have our tch tchs and sad emoticons to say, see in urban areas it does not happen and well in US, ‘oh come on dint you mention mental illness bit. Why is everything to do with gender with you? I know what feminism is, it’s the right to wear what women want to, that’s it. You conservative!’

cartoon misogyniSadly we are living in a world where objectification of women becomes a champion of women’s rights and Femina (and many other glossy magazines) in English become self-proclaimed ideologue of modern women, talking about different sex-positions to please ‘him’ in bed, overuse of the word sex as their claim to modernity. In a Hindi movie Kambakkht Ishq Indian actress Kareena Kapoor portrayed a feminist, says of her role, “I am a feminist who hates men.’ Late Nikhat Kazmi, a writer and famous movie critic responded, “Oops! A feminist who doesn’t mind being repeatedly addressed as ‘bitch’? A feminist who doesn’t raise a brow — or a hand — when the guy she supposedly detests shuts her up with a kiss? A feminist who doesn’t think twice before pulling up her hemline and pulling down her neckline to seduce the guy she ostensibly hates? A feminist who… Oh forget it, Bollywood, when have you actually been kind to the modern Indian woman.”

The globalised mainstream media has most of the times demonised anyone talking about women’s liberation. We prefer catty women stereotypes, women jealous of one another, pouting and getting her way, getting up in full make up and her favourite day being Karva Chauth fast when she gets to save her man’s life and so on. So either a woman has to be sati savitri, an ideal, homely character of Sita or be the sexualised, vampish, catty Shrupnakha who lied and caused havoc in Ramayana. We forget that the scriptures were written by men just as most of the advertising industry is run by men. There are women there, but one, they are part of a system that says, ‘women’s bodies sell stuff’ (see all the beer commercials) and second, women are perpetrators of patriarchy too. That is why the stereotype of women hating women is more acceptable than a woman standing up for her rights or for those of other women.

Last two semesters I taught students from other streams than history and social inequality was a part of our syllabus. Many students decided to do projects on the same and came up with such issues that one would be surprised to hear about. Like there are so many versions of fasts women keep for the long lives of their menfolk. Each region probably has one – Karva chauth, Chhath, Hoi, etc. are the names I knew. And then there were some tree being worshipped and in Banaras some other fast and eastern UP has Teej and what not! One of the students asked what if women choose to keep the fasts on their own, what if it’s a free choice? So, I asked her, by that logic, not keeping it ought to be a choice too. How many women are given that choice? Can a woman skip that fast once or twice, not because she is ‘impure’ on the account of her menstruation but because she is a modern woman and it is her ‘choice’ after all?

One of my friend’s friend who had kept karva chauth for two years after her marriage didn’t want to keep it after her daughter was born. She said that she never believed in it but her in-laws insisted so she kept it. Now that she had a daughter she wanted to be honest about being who she is and what she thinks. There were problems; the same modern family blackmailed her emotionally. ‘It’s just about a day, can’t you do that much for your parents-in-law, or what will other people say’ etc.

Now I wonder, where is the goddamn choice that we keep talking about? If a woman really has a choice she should be free to say no, with a similar comfort and you should hear it normally and not freak out. What if a woman stands to defend other women, all hell breaks loose. What if I find someone’s language misogynistic? Do I, as a woman, as a feminist, as an activist and basically, as a human being, have a right to say what makes me feel uncomfortable? NO! It seems I don’t.

I have never heard Hilary Clinton makes sexist jokes about Sarah Palin. And they are political opponents who argue on political ground. So here in India why do we see that people jump at you when you defend a candidate whose political ideology I would never stand. I consider her party’s stand on women regressive and I would say it out loud, even when I am told to censor my political thoughts. I defend a woman candidate whose ideology I have strictest reservations for. I do not want people refer to her as a sales girl, Mac Donald’s waitress or post pictures of her modelling days as a way to put her as ‘sexual object’ who as an obvious conclusion cannot be an HRD minister. Yes her educational qualifications are dubious, but is there a less sexist and classist way to criticise somebody, no there isn’t.

And strangely there is no better way than being a threatening bully to point it out. I was told that I don’t know what ‘misogyny’ or ‘feminism’ is. That I am shallow and ill-equipped about what feminism is (Mansplainer alert. There is much more to say than this. I guess I will need another note. As of now, do we think women’s day was started by Archie’s gallery? Or do we take normative scriptures written by men as gospel truth, especially their views on women? Do we think that a woman’s experiences are less important to your ideas on women coz you have a penis? D we accept that as a man you are entitled you everyone’s opinions but others are not entitles to theirs? Do we agree that we may love certain song or find it catchy we would never call the lyrics misogynistic if they claim to rape women and come on their face?

I guess we need our history lessons along with gender study classes. Let’s discuss privilege, class, caste, gender and hierarchy, else we would live within patriarchy and end up calling it mental-illness to brush it aside!