Storm in a T-cup
Despite all our hard-won freedoms, a woman’s sexuality still remains the best way to target her
As some of you may remember I wrote a column a few weeks ago that mentioned Sourav Ganguly’s refusal to go off quietly into the sunset. To be honest, I expected to attract some flak for it. After all, Dada’s supporters are famous for their fanatic devotion to him, so a certain amount of abuse was likely to result for saying that it was high time he retired.
So, yes, I was prepared for being told off for a) not knowing anything about cricket; b) being guilty of ageism; c) being anti-Bengali; or even d) being anti-Sourav.
What I did not expect was that most of the attacks would be waged on such a personal level. That they would be couched in terms of how old, fat, unattractive – and, as would follow – sexually frustrated I was. The comments and mails took in everything from references to bestiality, frigidity, even nymphomania. But no matter what kind of perversion they referred to, they all centred on my sexuality (or, perhaps, on the lack thereof).
In retrospect, perhaps, I should not have been surprised. We may have come a long way, baby, but a woman’s sexuality still remains the easiest way to target her. Want to shut her up? Easy. Just call her any one of the following names: slut, slag, bitch, whore, or that other ‘c’ word that is so deliciously taboo.
And while not everyone descends to this level, a certain casual misogyny has become a marker of our modern culture. We think nothing of it if a woman is referred to as a ‘cow’ or a ‘dog’ in private conversation. And when this sort of thing spills over into the public space of the blogosphere or twitter, well then, hey, that’s just another manifestation of free speech. Deal with it.
Certainly, the hate and the bile on the Internet is an equal opportunity game. The men are targeted just as much as the women. And yet, for some reason, it’s only the women who face sexual abuse, no matter what the original provocation may have been.
No man is ever told that he deserves to be raped by dogs. Or that he is so ugly that he will never have sex with anyone other than himself. No, not even if he pays them.
The women, on the other hand, are fair game. It doesn’t really matter what you are commenting upon. It could be Sourav Ganguly. It could be cricket. It could be politics. It could the movies. It could be music. It could even be something as innocuous as the weather. But if anyone doesn’t like what you say, then you are an ugly, fat bitch who needs to be taught a lesson (and yes, you can well imagine what that lesson would be, even if I can’t refer to it in a family newspaper).
It’s a bit like walking down a crowded street or through a busy market. You can be sure that someone will ‘accidentally’ brush against you and that somebody else will make some crass comment about your derriere.
In that sense, putting yourself out there in cyberspace is a bit like travelling in a crowded bus in real life. Sooner or later, you are going to get your bum pinched – or worse (speaking metaphorically, of course). Or even going to a party where some men will spend the entire evening having a conversation with your breasts. Yes, we’ve all been there – and had that done to us.
No matter how liberated we may feel, no matter how hard we may have fought for our freedoms, a woman’s vulnerability is still tied up with her sexuality. And so it remains the easiest way to attack her. The abuse may be physical or verbal – but the target remains the same.
Part of it is down to the fact that as a society, we are so subliminally attuned to objectifying women that we do so even without realising it – and sometimes women are just as guilty of this as the men. (In fact, recent research suggests that the first thing women notice about each other is their waistlines – how slim or thick they are.)
Look at the way our politicians are portrayed in the media. Most of our male politicians are not exactly oil paintings. But for some reason, it’s only female politicians like Mayawati and Mamata who are derided because of their physical appearance. It’s never the men who are told off for their lack of grooming or good looks.
Even when men attack one another, they do so through the medium of women. The most common abuses – whether in Hindi or English – remain ones that involve having sex with the other man’s mother or sister (for some reason, it is never the wife). When it comes to name-calling, then again we have the classics: ‘son of a bitch’ and ‘bastard’, both of which are more about the mothers than the sons.
So, I guess despite all our talk about women’s liberation, we are still in some measure prisoners of our own bodies. And the best way to attack us is to violate them – through speech, if not through actual physical violence.
In that context, the torrent of twitter abuse about the Sourav column is just the proverbial storm in a T-cup. But what it says about how women are seen in our world is what is truly shaming – and worrying.