Misogyny, outrage and social conditioning

It’s one month since the brutal gang rape happened in New Delhi, and the entire nation has been affected in one way or another. A positive difference that has manifested is the low tolerance level for publicly expressed misogynistic statements by politicians, godmen, khapp panchayats and sundry other people. The negative side of this is that outraging on TV and social media has become an obsession.

Although all the anger is valid, even long due, we have to understand that sweeping sociological changes take time, lots of time sometimes. So instead of turning this whole thing into a “them vs us” war of words we have to understand why gender biases are so strong and how to deal with them logically, legally and socially. By the end of the day we all have to live in the same society.

Social attitudes, underpinned by misinterpreted mythological and religious texts have taken a stronghold over the psyche of the people for centuries, or maybe more than a couple of thousand years. Everybody has gotten so used to the status quo that nobody wants to change it. Take for instance the attitude that women should always be kept in the background and the most appropriate place for them is the kitchen. More than a bias it’s a matter of convenience.

For the males of our society, especially those sections where women are kept indoors and they don’t enjoy much freedom both at personal as well as material levels, it’s the best of both worlds. Mother is always there to take care of the husband and the kids. Wife is always there to take care of the entire family and when it comes to emotional and physical needs, there is no accountability to worry about. Food is always there, sex is always there, there is normally a house that is kept clean and ordered, children are taken care of, elderly parents are looked after and there is no risk of having to take on the big bad world due to the womenfolk of the household. In many families, a widow is a fair game for the male members of the family simply because she has no other choice.

Take for instance the attitude of our religious and political public figures that reaches its vertex in the form of the Khapp panchayats. Women shouldn’t go out and even if they go out they should be back by certain hours. They should wear “appropriate” clothes. They shouldn’t carry cell phones. They should always go out with some male member of the family. There is no need for them to have a male friend. They shouldn’t study much. They should concentrate on household chores. Love marriage will result in public lynching or public hanging.

These diktats are nothing new. Our women have already been living in such conditions and most of them are OK with them because they have either seen nothing else, or they find the status quo a much safer and convenient option compared to taking on the strong male community.

There is another problem for males when women are empowered. They start making their own decisions. They start exploring options that give them more choices. They move out more and consequently they are less and less available. There is neither food nor sex security. The world of the women no longer is constrained within the four walls of the house – they begin to have a wider outlook, and worse, an opinion. Since a sense of honor is attached to the womenfolk of the family, if something happens to them, confrontation cannot be avoided. Dishonor has to be avenged by all means and there is social ignominy if appropriate revenge is not extracted. This is why, the Khapp panchayats don’t have the courage to reign in the boys but they very eagerly and unanimously impose restrictions on their women.

Women in our various societies are like disguised slaves. And remember the abolition of slavery lead to a civil war in America. People don’t easily give up their slaves.

Right now the easiest solution for the women would be to demand stricter laws not just for rape, but also for social oppression. Khapp panchayats shouldn’t be allowed to dictate how women can live their lives. Strict action must be taken and culprits must be apprehended before they can cause damage. There is no use of arresting people after somebody has been lynched or murdered. Swift action must be taken before such a tragedy takes place. This is something that will give the women the needed confidence. If women want to go out, if they want cell phones, even if they want to have boyfriends, the state must provide them full protection. There should be no compromise in the name of social norms when it comes to personal liberty.

Of course the real change will only come when women take up their cause.