[ Gaby Miyum Damin ]
It was very interesting, but at the same time personally triggering to read the article titled ‘On responsible feminism’ in the ‘Monday Musing’ section of The Arunachal Times.
Feminism has such a long history and diverse theories that it would be impossible to discuss all that it entails, but this article seeks to only highlight the points stated in the ‘Monday Musing’ article which this writer find problematic.
Feminism is responsible
Drinking can be done responsibly and driving can be done responsibly, because their consequences are associated with negative connotations. It came across as callous and not well-researched or reasoned to use the term (in the context in which it was used) for feminism, a movement started precisely as a generation of women came together in collective action to take responsibility of their silence and suffering for centuries and embrace the pressing responsibility of creating an equal society for the generations to come. Feminists took to the streets, academics, and political activism to assert that women are not the weaker sex, and demanded equal rights (mark please, not superior) for all in a deeply fractured patriarchal society.
Feminism is already responsible in its ideology and practice, irresponsible perhaps in how it has come to be understood and interpreted in layman’s terms. Misunderstanding and misinformation as a result of its emergence as a pop culture phenomenon on social media has not helped the cause. Feminism existed as a philosophy and a theory even before the advent of social media; that is why it is of utmost importance that one must go beyond social media, oversimplification, common sense understanding, personal biases, and beyond one’s rose-tinted privileged glasses to truly understand how systemic oppression functions and affects genders differently in a patriarchal society.
Feminism is threatening (hence, the caution perhaps to be responsible) as it challenges the dominant ideology that is patriarchy. Isn’t it an irony that a movement started to build an equal society has come to be viewed as men-hating, trying to subvert men and exert female domination over the others? Why do you fear a movement and misinterpret an ideology that aims to create an equal society to suit a tone deaf and disillusioned narrative?
In fact, what needs to get responsible is our understanding of feminism. Apologists, particularly men, must stop seeing feminism as a threat to them. Feminism, in fact, has clearly identified that all genders suffer under patriarchy. From being shamed for showing emotions like crying, adhering to toxic notions of masculinity, resulting in a higher rate of violence and suicide amongst men, men clearly have not been free of suffering under patriarchy.
Understanding the politics of domestic violence
Domestic violence is deeply entrenched and widely prevalent in India. In fact, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 2019, reports that a majority (30.9 percent) of all the 4.05 lakh cases under crimes against women are registered under Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The section deals with ‘cruelty by husband or his relatives’.
According to a report in The Wire, however, despite having the largest share of crimes against women, domestic violence is known to be a systematically under-reported crime. The reasons range from embarrassment, financial dependence, fear of retaliation and victim-blaming to following a convoluted bureaucratic procedure. Determining the extent of this underreporting is useful to understand the true state of the prevalence of domestic violence in India.
According to the 2019 data of the state police, cases of crimes against women are the highest in the Itanagar capital region (ICR), followed by West Siang district. According to the same report, domestic violence against women figures as the top category of violence against women in the state, which is followed by cases of assault and kidnapping/abduction, etc. With the current pandemic and ensuing lockdown, violence against women has risen rapidly – a phenomenon observed worldwide.
The Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Women (APSCW) last year received reports of crimes against women during the lockdown from the ICR and various districts of the state through district one-stop centres and women helpline. According to the APSCW, 25 cases were registered during the lockdown last year.
Before we jump into propositions like “not all men” and “men also are abused”, one must understand that power is greatly imbalanced in favour of the man in a man-woman relationship. Simplifying domestic abuse as a simple act of aggression is greatly flawed. Domestic violence by both men and women is equally problematic. But one must understand the separate politics behind it too before simplifying it, which is dangerous.
What is different about women’s violence?
According to a cross-sectional study of gender-based violence against men in the rural areas of Haryana by Jagbir Singh Malik and Anuraddha Nadda in 2019, it was found that 52.4 percent of men experienced gender-based violence. Out of 1,000, 51.5 percent males experienced violence at the hands of their wives/intimate partner at least once in their lifetime and 10.5 percent in the last 12 months. The most common spousal violence was emotional (51.6 percent), followed by physical violence (6 percent). Only in one-tenth cases, physical assaults were severe.
Unemployment of the husband at the time of violence was the major reason (60.1 percent) for violence, followed by arguing/not listening to each other (23 percent) and addiction of perpetrator (4.3 percent). Uncontrolled anger, ego problem, etc, accounted for the rest of the cases.
According to the United Nations, one-third of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, and 18 percent have experienced such violence in the past 12 months. In the most extreme cases, violence against women is lethal: globally, an estimated 137 women are killed by their intimate partner or a family member every day.
According to a research on women’s use of violence against intimate male partners (Swan et al, 2008), it was found that (a) women’s violence usually occurs in the context of violence against them by their male partners; (b) in general, women and men perpetrate equivalent levels of physical and psychological aggression, but evidence suggests that men perpetrate sexual abuse, coercive control and stalking more frequently than women, and that women also are much more frequently injured during domestic violence incidents; and (c) women’s physical violence is more likely than men’s violence to be motivated by self-defence and fear, whereas men’s physical violence is more likely than women’s to be driven by control motives.
When a man perpetrates violence against a woman, it is not merely a physical act. It is a power display, a coercive action to assert his dominance over the woman, to make it clear that a man can hit her and break her, just as he can do with a table or a chair, because they all are his property, just another object. As the above data and several others show, emotional violence is the most common spousal violence for men, but for women, sexual and physical violence is the most common. The difference in motivation for violence for both the genders is a direct consequence of the institutionalized sexism that is deeply internalized by women and practiced by men, stemming from the idea that women are the second sex.
Who pays the real price? Men! Really?
I am from the same Arunachal Pradesh society, and there is no doubt in my mind that it is a patriarchal society. Hence, I have a completely different observation when it comes to who bears the brunt of indulging in extramarital affairs. As several incidents in our state itself show, women who are involved in extramarital affairs are witch-hunted, beaten mercilessly, their heads shaven, paraded naked, their videos made viral. It is mostly applauded. In a particular case, in 2009, chilly powder was put inside a woman’s private parts by the wife, her relatives and friends and the videos were circulated to shame the woman. Last year, in Changlang, a similar incident took place. When did a man ever have to suffer the same consequences?
How quickly we absolve men of their moral and sexual transgressions but do not uphold the same yardstick of morality for women! That’s not only sexist and misogynistic but also highly hypocritical. If both the parties are equally responsible then why is the punishment not equal? Husbands are embraced back by their wives, who go out of their way to abuse, violate and hold other women responsible but not her own husband?
It is harrowingly sexist to suggest that if women tell men to leave them alone, stop enticing men, men will get the point. This assumption itself suggests how the onus is never on the men but the women (unlike what the article suggests). If it is really as simple as that, if it does really come down to women not enticing men, not encouraging, not making them ‘super charged’ (to use the exact words that the article accused women of doing), if men really understood the concept of ‘No’, I have just one question: Why are there rapes, acid attacks, child abuse, sexual harassment at workplaces taking place all over the world, in our own homes, towns and villages, if a simple rejection (again as the ‘Monday Musing’ article suggests) of their sexual advances would have sufficed? This horrendous notion of victim/slut shaming is what feminism precisely seeks to dismantle by putting back the onus on the perpetrators. Also, no data or research suggests that all of these crimes are exclusively being committed by only single men (because as per the reasoning of that article, clearly all married men are saints and only being seduced by women). This very same deplorable idea that it is the women who seduce men in cases of extramarital affairs (as if men are some passive creatures with no shred of agency or sexual autonomy) comes into play when a rape occurs and one is quick to retort: “Who told her to go out at night?,” “Who told her to wear short clothes?,” “She invited this to herself.” Shame the women and don’t hold men accountable. That is how this misogynistic idea works.
Never has feminism claimed that men are the only carriers of patriarchy; women are equally responsible. The ‘responsible feminism’ article rightly pointed out that women are women’s worst enemies – but for a lot of different reasons. It is not because we are having affairs with married men, not because we are seducing other people’s men, not because we are not saying enough clear and loud ‘no’s, but because we put men on a pedestal and become apologists and spokespersons for their criminal and toxic behaviour. We seek their approval despite all their wrongdoings. All of it provides women a false sense of power in the hierarchical order where women would otherwise be always placed way down below men. All these serenading and upholding of patriarchal values while we go on oppressing, slut-shaming and dehumanizing our own kind and never hold their experiences at par with men’s.
Why beti bachao, beti padhao?
According to census data, the child gender ratio in the age group of 0-6 years was 927 girl child per 1,000 boys in 2001, but there was a steep drop in the ratio to 919 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2011.
Around 39.4 percent of girls in the age group of 15-18 years do not have access to basic education, and around 65 percent of them are either forced into handling household chores, are dependants, or have been engaged in beggary. These figures were released by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ (NCPCR) in 2018.
According to the United Nations Population Fund’s state of the world population report in 2021, India accounts for 45.8 million of the world’s 142.6 million “missing females” over the past 50 years.
The data and numbers can go on, but it is only when one juxtapose son preference, female infanticide, sex selective abortion, dowry, child marriage, violence, rape, abuse, sex trafficking, lack of access to basic health, education, hygiene and other life chances, in intersection with poverty, racial, caste and other forms of discrimination in a patriarchal society, one can truly envisage why beti bachao, beti padhao is important, not beta bachao and beta padhao (because it is already in practice since centuries).
Hence, what we need in India is not beta bachao (as the previous article suggests, because, honestly, nobody is killing male children because of their ‘sex’ identification) but beta ko sikhao, teach your sons. We teach our daughters all the things in the world, household activities, how to sit, what to say, how to please others, how they should be, but we never make our sons aware of the privilege and access to resources (like inheriting property) he has as a result of the sex he is born with. We must hold them accountable, make them emphatic and aware of the gross inequalities that exist in our society, so that he grows up to be a good human being who is sensitive to the needs and problems of the less privileged. The world would indeed be a better place but with a feminist father, a feminist brother (not necessarily protective, because that again is a gender stereotype attached to men and some its consequence have been honour killing, but that discussion is for another day, another article) and a feminist husband. (Feminist = if one truly understood what feminism stands for, just not in definition but in praxis.)
Feminism, with its varied theories and philosophies, has essentially envisaged an equal world for all the genders, sexualities and people who suffer systemic oppression. If one misunderstands it as otherwise to conveniently suit a narrative based on personal prejudice and common sense, then it is that particular individual (irrespective of gender) who is being irresponsible, not feminism.
To put it in Nivedita Menon’s eloquent words in her book Seeing like a feminist: “Feminism is not about that moment of final triumph, but about the gradual transformation of the social field so decisively that old markers shift forever. This shift is what enables many young women today to say, ‘I believe in equal rights for women, but I’m not a (shudder!) feminist’. Feminist struggles have made much that they fought for yesterday, the baseline beyond challenge today. In effect, those privileged young women who float through their empowered lives in the wake of over a century of feminist struggles simply disown their own heritage. But they are not the last word, are they?” (Gaby Miyum Damin is a PhD Scholar, Department of Sociology, NEHU)