The Art of Hatred

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.

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6 comments

  1. These are the opinions the post above incited on Facebook:

    Joanne Nezi: The most tired line ever: ‘come on, you’re overreacting, can’t you take a joke?’ (Said to protesting Others everywhere.) We’re expected to laugh at the assumption that we are lesser, expendable, chattel. The first act of resistance is to refuse to take the joke.

    Mekhala Munshi: This hatred surfaces as women do not ‘play along’ and act according to the ROLE preassigned to them. When a man works hard to achieve his goals he is termed to be “hardworking”, while a woman doing the same is “over-ambitious” . At work, a woman might work as hard or even harder than a man, but when she returns home she is still expected to cook , do the dishes and perform all the household duties that a full time homemaker does…why? simply because she is woman. My male friends may disagree to whatever i have said above , but when the go home, they will still ask their wife/ mother for a cup of coffee…they won’t get off their asses and make one for themselves. So either i am a ‘nice girl’ who is adhering to the role essayed for her else i am ‘bitch/slut’ who should be taught a lesson. Proud to be an Indian!

  2. These were comments on the thread when this post was published as a Facebook status:

    Subrata Guha Thakurta: agree with u totally but just to play devils advocate – society can become so ‘PC’ that life becomes humourless

    Me: Indeed, GT, but the distinction between thinking and being a politically correct sheep, parroting the received standard lines is not, I hope, one too difficult to ascertain.

    Subrata Guha Thakurta: for some maybe not but there are a lot of parrots around

    Pramurto Mukhopadhyay: Women just don’t need to be funny.Female comedians on screen in India are either fat or butch who play by the men’s rules.

    Vivekananda Bose: Oh Rimi di, I have so much to say on this bt I would rather like you to remind me of this thing when we meet as a conversation in person would be convenient.
    However, for a little teaser, let me tell you that in India, law does not step in between when a man assents to the proposal of another man to let him sleep with the former’s wife. It is not illegal. But if this happens without the assent or knowledge of the husband, it becomes adultery (punishable) and if without the consent or against the will of the wife, it becomes rape (punishable).
    So (if A=man, B=husband, C=wife), then possible outcomes of an intercourse will be :

    1. Without assent from B and C, A will be punished for rape and adultery.

    2. Without assent from C but with assent from B, both A and B will be punished for rape and for abetting it respectively.

    And now the most interesting part,

    3. Without assent form A but wit h assent from C, ONLY A is punished for adultery. C WILL NEVER BE PUNISHED. NOT EVEN AS AN ABETTOR. At max, B can obtain a decree for divorce on the grounds of infidelity and/or mental cruelty.

    Further, if a man, with the intention of offending the dignity of another woman, asks her husband to let him sleep with her, then also that man is punishable for the same under Indian Law.

    So the point is that in India, law does not see women as mere chattels bt holds them in a secured and respected position.

    Diviani Chaudhuri: Rimi, pearls, swine. Having read the comments, especially.

    Anomitra Biswas: oh deary deary me.

    Me: Bile, your conclusion is exactly right, in many many ways. In other ways, however, we’ve still left our women and sexual minorities in the proverbial middle ages (although actually, the ‘middle ages’ were a time of great enlightenment for most parts of India. Anyway). The specific example you provided is very interesting, actually. I think it actually validates my point, not the reverse. Till even the beginning of the last century, female sexuality was an absent presence. They didn’t have sex, sex was had with them (unless of course they were sirens or mistresses or exotic colonial imports :-P). This is why lesbiansm passed unscathed while male homosexuality came under fire, for example. So the fact that C is not legally charged doesn’t mean the law was pro female sexuality. It merely means that C is constructed as a victim, not capable enough of even culpability or accountability. It is a way of denying her agency in things she has done herself. In this instance it might protect her from legal persecuation, but it does so by treating her as less than the male. That’s the legal angle, and I know very little of the law. But think of the social angle now: just because the courts do not try a woman for consenting to sleep with someone not her married partner — please note here that making adultery punishable is an enormous breach of personal freedom — doesn’t mean the woman isn’t judged, sentenced and punished according to social mores. How do you think her family’d treat her? Jail-time would almost be better, no?

    Ishita Basu Mallik: what the fuck is wrong with this pramurto mukhopadhyay person anyway.

    Vivekananda Bose: On the contrary Rimi di, C is not punished despite having consensual extramarital (sexual) affair as in doing so, the law sees no crime committed by her against anybody. In a way she is excused despite being an infidel. However, the man is charged for violating the sanctity of marriage (u would be surprised if I start defining “sanctity”). It is always considered that in adulterous relationship, the female is lured by the male and thereby completely ruling out the possibility of the married female luring a man (other than her husband) into intercourse. How about that?

    Me: Yes. Sheitai bolchhi. This entire tradition of “barir meyeke/bouke ber kore niye gechhe” automatically imples je meyeder toh kono motamot thaake na, buddhio thaake na. Chhelera ja korte bole, tai kore. So jodi elope kore ba affair thaake, meyetake shashon kora jaaye, kintu legally punish kora jaaye na because after all, women are not capable of decision-making. Tai oder charge kore aar ki hobe? This is the essence of what I’m saying.

    Dhruva Ghosh: Mystic tradition insinuates that the Beloved speaks through one’s object of affections. Indoctrinated religions convert this into divine togetherness. Traditional gender powerstructures, which form toxic cocktails with material signifiers of wealth and social standing, reinterpret this as “Pati Parmeshwar” and “Ghar ki Lakshmi”. Interesting to note how the equivalence of Shiva and Shakti or the Bhakti discourse where Radha is the greater other, and Krishna is a paralyzed priest are forsaken in favour of one particular symbol system which, not inherently, but more conveniently socially interpreted thus, elevates the male to a greater god.

  3. Ajit Saxena: Maybe its in our culture and we introspect and retrain ourselves for this modern age of equality, which is of essence ofor the survival of humanity.

    Nina Rao: HDI is bullshit, you have to go to BD to see that this isnt true.

    Me: Ms. Rao, indeed it isn’t. Some of us HAVE been to B’desh, and while it’s very far from peaches and vanilla ice-cream, it’s certainly better than what we see here (except in Kerala and TN, maybe).

  4. We have seen the uproar that has been happening in India and we really hope that something is done. You have made some very valid points and I think you are so correct when you suggest that people don’t understand that the remarks are sexist and shouldn’t be make. Ownership of females isn’t really a problem just for India however, even here in our so called “western” society women still struggle to get equal rights, women are still rarely paid the same as men. We have a female prime minister but the press seem more concerned about what she is wearing, or her hairstyle than her political opinions,. We never talk about male politicians the same way. I have often wondered if we will ever be equal.
    It is the same on my blog, the people who are patronising and always telling me how to do my images are always men.
    Very thought provoking Priyanka.

    • Thanks, Leanne. It’s always nice to hear your thoughts.

      I’ve lived briefly in the US, and now the value-women-by-their-bodies culture is catching up in urban India as well. But it hasn’t yet made a dent in the Indian mainstream. Yes, we obsess about fair skin — a combination of our ‘Aryan’ history and colonial rule, I suspect; we think if it’s fair, it must be great — but our female politicians don’t face any fashion scrutiny at all. Indeed, when Pakistan’s very well-dressed foreign minister visited us recently, the newspapers were all, ‘Goodness, is this a serious politician? Looks more like a coddled model to us!’

      We oppress women far more with the weight of our ‘traditions’. An lawyer friend of mine, who works for international aid agencies and is the very embodiment of a modern, empowered woman, was labelled ‘useless’ because she hadn’t learnt to produce a five course hot dinner for a large family at the drop of a hat, like her mother could. People also informed her that she wasn’t a ‘real’ woman, and warned her that with all her travelling and refusal to become respectable by marrying, she was inviting violence on herself. Such lovely things for friends and family to say, isn’t it?

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