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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, June 4, 2011

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.


Pundit said...

Precautionary measure: I joined Blogger and Twitter 9 weeks ago. I chose a gender neutral moniker and did not upload a portrait photo.

Kaustav's World said...

I think your article makes a valid point here.
I have taken time to think about why is it so though ..Why is it that sexuality is the central point of all abuse ?
After much thinking though, i still go by my gut feeling.

I think it is mainly because the intention while abusing anybody or gender for that matter is to show the abused as low as possible and commenting on one's sexuality or absence thereof gives a sense of victory in the quarrel or argument. Even though it may sound irrational in respect to the topic under debate between the abuser and the abused.

Also the abuses seems to multiply a sense of satisfaction (although again pointlessly) when he/she making the comment wants to have the upper hand and at the same time realizing he/she doesn't have the wit/reason to do so. The abuses I think makes them feel they have better enforced their opinion.

The point you raise about women though is a little more of lamenting a lost cause. Call it sad or unfortunate, nature who has bestowed women with such wondeful gifts of love and motherhood has also placed a price tag of vulnerability for the same.

And hurting the fairer sex at that point again tends to do what I have earlier emphasized. Also I think calling any girl by those names gives a man an edge in the sense that if the girl calls a man a 'gigolo' or anything of the likes in return, it doesn't really hurt show him down, does it ? Rather some men pride on that fact that they are tremendous womenizers. After all winning over a woman is considered a thing of pride amongst the youth since time immemorial.

The point you make about abusing men by their relation to their women relatives is also , (I think) mistranslated. I agree the abuse is to the women (and even women resort to those abuse)in those cases, but look at the fabric of the society before taking a flimsy stance.

The society has framed itself (esp. Indian society) on the point that women are the most valuable in the society, in the sense that there are innumerable instances in the history right from stone age when men fought for the protection of their women.

(There may be cases to the contrary but those are minority if you consider the knowledge we have right from evolution barring the special case of mother protecting child, which could be a male or female).

Besides, I will refer to the point i made earlier about the reason abuse is used in the first place. Nothing underrates a man more than insulting their mother,sister etc..so its not who is the target of the words, it is the man's prestige which is at stake there.

So, I think no matter what be the words used by the GenX, Y, Z if a woman's liberation is linked with liberation from relating to sexuality from their male counterparts, it could only have been possible if we somehow manage to get to a feminist society..but since Nature has not favored that for this human civilization..

Sadly, I think that liberation may not ever be possible, even though in some cases it can be glorified.

Also, the fact that women themselves don't miss an opportunity to hurl similar abuses at each other will cause a negative feedback even if some massive measures were to be taken on that front.

Just like you have said before..I may draw flak for my remarks but I think I have sighted a rational view point using cold logic.

Aditi Gupta said...

Good point, but its also not that hard to get into shape. I was miserable for a couple of years when I was doing the grind but now I know its the easiest way to shut men up.

Anubha Gujral said...

I like the comment by Pundit Commentator. If someone has to target, then they can even call him/her a coward, or a eunuch etc (I am just trying to say that internet hooligans leave nobody, they need no reason to abuse)

Seema its the time of internet hooliganism & like you rightly said that its like traveling in a public bus. The youth is crazy for their 5 minute of fame. They want reply from any person who is anyone. Today my husband de-activated his twitter & FB account as people were misbehaving on his POV. If we are a democratic nation, then everyone can have a POV.

Yes when they think they are losing to a lady on any matter, they use sexually perverse remarks to belittle her & kill her opinion & thought process.

I am not surprised because you again point out that its often a woman against a woman. The men are since babyhood taught that how lucky the family is to have him, I often hear my own friends who have sons telling me that they went to "A" certain temple to wish for the son. That's the birth of an arrogant man & his thinking gets fueled by his mother who discriminates the daughter & son. This situation will never change. As cynical I may sound, but its true. :(

Manish said...

Actually, you just need to go to the kitchen and make a sammich. Lol
(That is an internet meme, Google 'sammich' and you'll get it.Also Google rule 30 of the internet while you're at it.)

Women are slandered based upon their sexuality simply because they are also praised upon it. The day women are stopped being objectified based on their sexuality will be the day people stop having sex.

So yeah, women face these kinds of things all the time, but there's really nothing to it. Men face the same thing, if they are physically strong or not, et cetra , et cetra. Taking the Indian Politicians is a really bad parameter for judging this. Bollywood, is a better one. (Watch the Coffee with karan episode with Ranvir Singh and see what Karan said the first time he saw him.)

As for the web, go on IRC or 4chan(in case you don't know, 4chan is the arguably the worst place on the internet) and you'll really understand why all this happens.
Anonymity is the single greatest weapon available on the web. This is why people behave this way online.

And about the 'name calling' as you called it being about women, you should obviously understand that these curses have been around for quite a while, from a time when taking revenge meant stealing your enemy's wife. Also, as someone else said, the target for the said abuses is the man himself, and his prestige, you are simply nitpicking.

Anonymous said...

What surprises me most is Sourav's silence on the issue. It seems Sourav himself enjoys this fanatic fan following. He never restrains them from making these lewd ,ugly comments on such a personal level which reflects their up bringing. Out of curiosity I went through some background checks in the Facebook and other sites and found that most of these people are inter-related and or connected with event management groups.I got my answer.

Pundit said...

Thanks Anubha Gujral.

Suffice it to say this ain't my first time at the rodeo.

I deleted my Orkut profile for related reasons (profile photo stolen by a "pictures of Indian girls" site - dating? soft porn? who knows?).

When I returned to the internet with a new energy and purpose and started blogging in mid-March, I knew I'd comment on politics and while I have no intention of kicking up a storm, I am obviously aware that political debates get heated and civility can be a tough concept for many to grasp.

A gender neutral moniker dissuades jerks from making ad hominem attacks. Since they never learned how to debate, they just can't help themselves.

In fact, I've already observed people getting upset about my anonymity. After a discussion at Indiblogger.in that unearthed sexist views self-confessed without any provocation by a member, other members were upset that I had an anonymous ID while the member who exposed himself as a sexist did not. Indubitably, they were frustrated that they could not comment on my physical appearance.

A volunteer moderator at Indiblogger.in exposed his own sexist views during a debate about policy making to tackle rampant plagiarism at the popular and well known Indian blogging community.

I started a new discussion thread to expose that comment (it was along the lines of - women should be "submissive" and he found reading my comments advocating for a tough policy on plagiarism found within the blogging community a "headache"). A few members weighed in so he apologized to bury the matter. (funny thing: I always immediately inform everyone who refers to me as "he" and I used to be active on the forum and this moderator is also always present because it is his volunteer job to "police" the forum so he knew me and already knew I was a girl and used to tell new members on my behalf all the time. He made the comments knowingly to a girl(me) in the middle of the big plagiarism discussion because he didn't know his views were sexist and he didn't feel his views were wrong)

It's all documented on my blog if anyone's curiosity has been piqued.

kiranchraivadera said...

It is so embarrassing to read this..the only thing one can say in reply is SORRY on behalf of all those scoundrels, though the only thing common between is that we are all males. Yes, I have read some of these outrageous posts.
But madam, on a positive side, let me tell you it has always been a pleasure reading you; even this piece is brilliantly written. Some gems: even going to a party where some men will spend the entire evening having a conversation with your breasts or 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)Great observations. You are the winner, so let them rot wherever they belong and keep writing. Cheers

Anonymous said...

I so so so agree with you Seema...I feel these things so much on my own...that I feel almost shocked when I read about them in your column....its almost a translation of my thoughts. Very well said...and yet again...couldn't agree more!

Anonymous said...

"Even when men attack one another, they do so through the medium of women."

Or men don't care about other men as much as they do about women?
Which imho is a much easily provable assertion.

"The most common abuses – whether in Hindi or English – remain ones that involve having sex with the other man’s mother or sister "

I thought so too, but it's etymology is more complicated.



Maybe during that time it became more insulting to say that you will have sex with a wrinkled woman. Men's egoes, huh?

"we are so subliminally attuned to objectifying women that we do so even without realising it "

huh? We realize it, otherwise how could we be shamed by it?
Men, success objects, Warren Farrell.

"In fact, recent research suggests that the first thing women notice about each other is their waistlines – how slim or thick they are."

Everybody checks out competition...

Rahul said...

It is shameful that they posted such stuff against you. I myself had read your brilliant article and had commented in appreciation. Good people need to out-number these biased little humans.

For a person's sexuality being targeted - I don't think it is the case for women alone. Even when a brash a man targets another, he would use some terms which would make fun of the other person's sexuality. For women, even when two ladies would cat-fight, one would target the other from that angle - it happens many a time.