My mother informed me over tea this morning that Amartya Sen, speaking at IIT Bombay, has said that for improved performance as a nation, India needs to change the very core of its attitude towards women. A change, he says, that Bangladesh has already achieved, according to its human dev. indicators (and despite the ‘OMG Islamic state!’ stereotype).
The trouble is, when we speak of changing ‘attitudes towards women’, we speak, most of us, about ‘those boys’ — who tease, humiliate and molest women on our streets — or ‘those men’ — who decree that mobile phones, a hairline slit in the niquab or the consumption of ‘foreign’ food like chow mein — causes women to be raped. We demand death and dismemberment for these men and boys, sign online petitions, join and ‘like’ Facebook pages, and go home happy, glowing with the righteous satisfaction of being part of an angry democratic assertion of justice. Power of the people, man! Hang those rapists!
Real hatred for women, however, goes far deeper than that. It’s not even apparent as hatred, because frankly, most men would be deeply uncomfortable actively ‘hating’ the gender of their mothers, lovers, wives, daughters, sisters and friends. They would think it repulsive, unnatural, and alien (and more power to them). The same men, however — and many, many women — would casually indulge in communications and activities every single day that, while apparently ‘normal’, are rooted utterly in misogyny, classism, ethnocentricism or queer-phobia. Yet precisely because they’ve been made ‘normal’ — by the powers of majoritarian normativity — it’s very easy to think of the people objecting to suchlike as whiny, entitled, hysterical, and with no sense of humour.
Yesterday, for example, quite an upstanding young man — a bit of a Facebook wit — posted a joke about friendship. “Friendship is nothing but sharing”, he said, “so can I have your girlfriend?” Now, of course, my humourlessness is well-documented, so I was predictably less than amused at this quip. It’s too bad, I told him, that these girlfriend-types aren’t inanimate little dolls you can trade and barter at will. But I’ll tell you a way around this irksome sitch. Why don’t you slaughter these chicks en mass, have them stuffed, and then, voila! You no longer have to worry about their stewpid consent or *opinions* about being treated as pwetty thingies that their boyfriends can toss about amongst themselves.
The man was shocked. Goodness, are you mad, he said. That’s what you got from my joke???
But of course. When one ribs a male friend by asking if he’d ‘let’ one sleep with his hot wife or girlfriend, one doesn’t really notice that the entire joke is based on the premise that wives or girlfriends are pussy a man owns, and can give, lend or let out at will like all his other dead property. I mean, there’s no need to go that deep, right? It’s just a joke. Come on!
But one might wonder why women seldom make such jokes about their female friend’s male (or female) partners — or if they do, why they’d be SO much less than funny. Such women would sound wannabe and stupid at best, and disgustingly crass at worst. And yet from a heterosexual male, it’s just a funny line.
Sterner folk than I might also wish to point out at this juncture that the treatment of people as properties of other people is technically called slavery, and has been made illegal with extreme prejudice in all parts of the civilised world. I doubt, however, that much attention would be paid to such people. The real trouble with our world is not that we are evil, vicious and maddened by constant bloodlust. It’s that we don’t think, consider, reconsider, and analyse our own realities enough.
Nearly every religion there is asks people to look deep within and evaluate themselves at length. Add looking without and evaluating *that*, and there might be some salvation for religions yet.