TW:- Mention of sexual abuse
It is hard not to notice the deeply ingrained patriarchy when you are confined to your home for an extended period. From television soaps to neighborhood gossips, patriarchal values manifest as unsolicited comments (or should I say mindless shaming) about your personal life, body and choices.
Indian television soaps are a breeding ground for patriarchal values. Female characters are supposed to cater to the highly fragile male ego; if not, well, they come under another category of actors — the villains. Does it not disturb you to see that all so-called progressive female characters are required to work in near-slavery conditions both in the office and the house to be called ‘good’? Imagine doing a 9–5 job and coming back to attend to all the household chores. And by the slightest chance, if the male member does the bare minimum, there is an instant glorification of how ‘empathetic’, ‘progressive’ and ‘understanding’ he is. Women are depicted to survive in an environment where their in-laws won’t respect their boundaries (give me grandchild, why are you sleeping on a different bed). Yet, if a woman wants to move out of her in-laws’ place, she becomes a homewrecker, a devil that separated the son from his parents. You could argue that the soaps exaggerate reality, but seriously, is it wrong to expect something with an extensive reach to air responsible content? The soaps are not trying to portray these as problems that need to be addressed by society. It is aired as a primer to women on how to behave submissively, tolerably, and fetishizes suffering, deems it a need to become the ‘ideal woman’.
I watched a movie by Samudrakani, titled ‘Aan devadhai’. Well, I guess the film was supposed to inform how toxic the corporate work culture and human greed are. Spoiler alert, I will be bringing up a few scenes from the movie to make my point.
Honestly, I got a bit too hopeful when the hero decided to give up his job and care for his kids to let his wife pursue her career. It didn’t take me ten minutes to realize that my hope had jinxed it. As the movie goes on, we see a mother paying no heed to her daughter’s sexual abuse for the sake of her image and growth in the company. Let that sink in. We see another woman, the actress’ friend, caught in a vicious cycle of debt because of her ‘desires’. She says, ‘I wanna buy a luxury car of my own. My husband’s does not belong to me, right?’. So, essentially the movie made a point that ambitious women are greedy, immature, stone-hearted and dumb. The film also portrays sexual violation in the corporate ladder casually. In a nutshell, after the actress fights with her husband, he leaves with his daughter, works in a hotel and becomes successful. In contrast, our heroine, who has a stable income and house, gets crumbled by the pressure of loans, sexual remarks of her boss, and in the end, gives up her job and reunites with her husband. Women face abuse and discrimination daily, and the best way to deal with it is to give up our jobs, ambitions and let a man be the breadwinner of the family. Hats off to the thinking. Before anyone fights for the movie saying that the movie smashes the corporate culture and not women, let me tell you, you can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that most of the problems in the movie arose because of the ‘greedy’ female characters who were pushed to the desperate situation due to sexual rights violations and call it an unbiased narrative to encourage a healthy work-life balance.
After watching all these fictional bs, you would expect at least the news channels to portray their (biased?) news without a tinge of sexism. But, could I be more wrong? It is always, ‘the woman was raped’, ‘ the woman’s private pictures got leaked without consent.’ ‘ woman faced domestic abuse’ and not ‘ the man raped the woman’ ‘the man leaked the woman’s private pictures without consent’ ‘ the man abused the woman’. Another interesting aspect to note is that the news headlines will read, ‘ the wife killed the husband and eloped’ ‘the woman stole the man’s money and eloped’ and not ‘the man’s wife eloped’, ‘the man’s money got robbed’. Why does the thought of holding a man accountable fear us so much? Indirectly, society holds women responsible for every damn thing. We are made to feel that our privacy, sexual rights, and bodily autonomy violations are our fault by society, neighborhood aunties, journalists, and politicians. This narrative instils fear in women and their families, making it harder to access public spaces peacefully. Think about it; we constantly say and hear, ‘ Streets are getting unsafe for women’. What does this mean? Does the god of dusk hate women that he traumatizes her while she walks on the road? Or is there an invisible creature lurking in the dark waiting for women’s flesh? (though this is metaphorically true). Do you ever say, ‘ Men make the streets unsafe for women’? Even if you manage to do so, the gatekeepers of male honor will pounce, saying, ‘Not all men’. The most disturbing thing here is we don’t even acknowledge how problematic these things are. People consume content and get influenced by it. Every time the topic of my safety comes up, my grandma always says, ‘Don’t you watch the news”. I wonder if the news reports hold the criminals accountable, she might tell a boy, ‘Don’t talk that way about girls, don’t you watch the news?’
I recall a time from last year when people were hooked to the news channels to understand the pandemic. Surprisingly a reputed news channel managed to report, ‘ Women who wears immodest clothes and does tik-tok videos is refusing to get tested for COVID’. A series of questions popped up in my mind. I want the clothing control association judges to tell me what her dressing choices or her tik-tok career have to do with her reluctance to get tested. Also, I have seen shirtless men doing tik-tok videos. Will you refer to their clothing choice as immodest? Will you ever put up a headline saying ‘Immodestly dressed man…’ There is sure a difference between criticizing a person’s actions and mindlessly shaming them. For women, it is their clothing choices, character, number of romantic relationships, the time they come back home, etc. that get targetted. Character assassination and mindless shaming is society’s go-to trick to describe, blame and criticize women.
I remember imbibing patriarchal values right from my childhood. I have observed people saying that men can’t marry women who are taller, more educated, more salaried than them. My actions are always out there, openly inviting judgements. Look at your feet; they’re too wide apart, you look like a demoness, sit properly, adjust your dress, don’t run, don’t jump, don’t make too much noise, look at your nose, who will marry you if you are like this, I pity your future husband, Oh, you have gained so much weight. When you constantly get slapped with these harsh judgements from childhood without realizing that the flaw is in society and not you, you develop a negative relationship with your body and emotions. I come from a relatively privileged background with well-educated people around me; I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for countless other women who had to fight for their fundamental rights like education. One of my well-wishers suggested I do commerce and become an accountant to do a work-from-home job so that I will be able to spend more time with my kids. Have you ever thought about how not a single soul tells a man to choose a less demanding job so that he can spend time with his family? I mean, if you’re worried about the toxic work culture, then why spare men?
If you have ever eavesdropped on gossips, you’ll be surprised to know how casually and easily women get blamed. A divorce, damn, that woman must have tortured the guy so much. Adamant kids, their mother is always indulged in herself and doesn’t care for her kids. Whenever kids don’t get enough attention in a family where both parents work, they blame the woman. Man, the traditional breadwinner, is not held accountable even for the well-being of his own kids.
Well, on a broader level, this is just another long rant about how shitty patriarchy is. But if you happen to have the time and mental space, please ruminate over all the things I wrote about and try to make this place easier and better for us. We don’t have to have it hard just because we are women.