More Tabloid Misogyny from TOI

Deepika Padukone, Times of India, Objectification

How low could one of the worst popular tabloid newspapers in India go? Well  apparently a lot more lower than we had imagined. I don’t think I have to mention the whole incident again, you can read a summary of events here (and here’s a good piece on victim blaming and misogyny in light of recent events, viz. Deepika-TOI incident and victim blaming and harassment against Suzette Jordan).

It’s one thing to engage in complete violation of privacy, objectification and dehumanization of women through tabloid journalism, it’s worse when you ask a woman to “take it as a compliment 😉 ” when she explicitly said that it’s dehumanizing and objectifying, but it’s a whole new level of douchebaggery when you follow it up with horrendous trite like this.

It’s basically entirely built on implicit slut shaming, and then rationalizing their shitty story. First they go on to rationalize their headline saying how sensationalized headlines aren’t uncommon (which was literally “OMG, Deepika Padukone’s Clevage show”) and then they dissect photoshoots Deepika had voluntarily taken part in, in an extremely crass and distasteful manner.

I think supposedly “one of the largest media houses in the world” would have people with half a brain to figure out the obvious, that she chose to voluntarily pose for those pictures, she felt comfortable about those. That’s her choice. We don’t even have to get into the murkier area of modelling industry/Bollywood etc. promoting objectification. This is clear as a crystal, and I’d have thought even if they were on a cocktail of heroin, meth and cocaine, they still would’ve been able to join the dots here.

But oh no – you, instead, poked into her real life, violated her privacy, and posted picture of her breasts in utterly dehumanizing way. The difference is as huge as harassing a woman and paying her a compliment. The original “article” was not only dehumanizing, but when it was pointed out to you multiple times, you still keep rationalizing this, and pile more misogynistic bullshit on top of that instead of, at the very least, offering a wholehearted apology and retraction. In fact, this new article explaining “their side” is so explicitly misogynistic, that the initial article pales in comparison.

But hey, by all means when a woman tells you how you feel dehumanized, you blame and shame her further and call her an attention whore (“Was deepika’s hypocrisy for publicity?” – nice touch).

Well done TOI, you’ve officially downgraded yourself further from the already horrendous TOIlet journalism you champion.

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Motherhood and Benevolent Misogyny

 

Unpaid Housework

“These days, sexism is a bit like Meryl Streep, in a new film: sometimes you don’t recognise it straightaway. You can be up to 20 minutes in, enjoying all the dinosaurs and the spacefights and the homesick Confederate soldiers, before you go, “Oh my God — under the wig! THAT’S MERYL.” – Caitlin Moran

Although I’m no huge fan of Moran, the quote is bang on when it comes to benevolent misogyny. It’s still same old shit, just sugarcoated well enough for people to swallow en masse. In fact, sometimes it makes me wonder if it’s more toxic than your garden variety misogyny for the same reason.

A video by Sharman Joshi was shared by The Logical IndianI intend to rant a bit about this page later, but they are, in my opinion, very faux liberal and now and then posts misogynistic/anti feminist drivel. You can see a sample of their latest of their misogynistic bullshit (although again, wrapped in all the apparent “good intentions” in the world) here:

Anyway, coming to video:

And as the comments suggest, conceptually, it seems to be a rip off of this highly problematic advert. However when this gets “indianized” and has been released as some sort of PSA – well that sucks real bad.

The video is basically Sharman asking his colleagues/workmates how they feel about someone working day in and day out, tirelessly, ghade ghade garmi mein (standing all day in extremely hot conditions). And then when they get tired of his “riddle” and asks him, whether his “dad will work for free” – and then he goes: “..my dad won’t, but my mom does”. Then it goes all sappy and everyone realizes how awesome mothers are and motherhood is and it’s all boo-fucking-hoo.

The part where he says that his dad won’t, that – that precisely is the problem. This is where such normalization of such “struggles”  through imposing such notions of “motherhood” comes in. As in the implication of how these “struggles” of housework is somehow part and parcel of “motherhood”, what better way to reinforce gender roles? “Mere papa nahi karte” – the problem is very much that, how about we focus on that instead?

To be clear, I’m not intending to generalize or imply that no women choose housework. However India especially does have a HUGE problem with disproportionate number of women doing all the housework and hardly many men. This disproportionate nature of women doing all the housework should make it painfully obvious these are not just women ‘choosing’ to do housework, but rather something they’re burdened with.

What irritated me more was the fact that how the description even goes on to say “I have often seen that people do something for their mothers on Mother’s Day and then forget about it” – well what did YOU have in mind while making the video (aside from hits)?

And no, shedding faux tears and telling her “I love you Mom” doesn’t make it all magically go away. As the comments on the FB posts suggest, it just plays right into the mindset that these are all “natural part of motherhood”. And that makes it a crappy “PSA” video, afterall.

Viral Campaigns Gone Wrong

Viral video campaigns india

You know what gets my goat? The trend of a bunch of videos masquerading as “progressive” ending up screwing things so bad, that you want to tear your hair out. Especially those about sensitive topics like rape without much thought being put behind them.


The video above was passed on as some sort of a “social experiment” – while I feel if anything it’s an extremely poorly thought out “experiment”. The only thing that’s worth emphasizing in this video is if they could establish that none of the people who left called the cops. However in the given hypothetical, it’s extremely dangerous to thoughtlessly intervene – not just for them, but it could put the victim’s life at risk too. So one could understand why someone wouldn’t directly intervene in such a situation.

No excuse to not call the cops again, but that doesn’t seem to be their point when they ask: “Who was the real culprit? The beast inside the car or those who just walked off?” (to spell it out, it IS the “beast” regardless) Since it says “someone called the cops” – what if it was one of those who “shamelessly” fled the scene? They should have clarified these important aspects if one was to take this remotely seriously. And it was just a poor way to demonstrate the public apathy towards rape victims , which indeed is a problem.

And behold, it gets worse.

Let’s ignore the crass title for a second here (“Will you marry a raped girl?” – seriously?) – the video, while again, highlights the extremely misogynistic mindset of people at the beginning, goes on to state how they’ve found some “heroes” too. There’s nothing “heroic” about being a decent human being and not a misogynistic ass. While it’s a good change considering general perception towards rape victims in our society, posing it as somehow “heroic” is very problematic and perpetrates the existing notion that they’re doing some sort of “sacrifice” by marrying a rape victim. I don’t know if I can even give credit to them here for being “well intentioned”.

And finally this is the latest video that falls prey to the same thoughtlessness (although admittedly to a much lesser degree than the previous one) albeit having good potential is this video that’s gone viral oflate:


The video comes so close to properly acknowledging male privilege and ends up being borderline patronizing, essentialist, objectifying, despite the good intentions. No, women are not all “beautiful” or “sexy” – and they don’t have to be. They are NOT a monolith. They’re as complex and diverse as men are – that’s the message we should be conveying, instead of being extremely patronizing.

And while India is one of the worst place for women to be in, Saudi Arabia is NOT a safe place for women – it’s a far worse misogynistic dole than ours. There’s some perception among people that because of the harsh (and barbaric) punishments in Saudi Arabia it’s somehow “safer” for women. No it isn’t.  Rape is horribly underreported in Saudi Arabia and statistics on rape isn’t available for comparison.  

This video is perhaps most disappointing as it seeks to make a strong and relevant point and loses track big time.

So am I saying that these campaigns are useless? No, and at the same time I’m someone who thinks that projects like these are a good medium to nudge people in the right direction – it’s a good starting point. Which is why I so wish that they would put some thought into these things instead of thoughtlessly making problematic token videos that caters to the more progressive demographic (this being a fine example of how to do it right).

End of rant.

On Preity Zinta, Misogyny and Intersectionality

Preity Zinta

Recently, Preity Zinta lodged a formal complaint against her ex Ness Wadia, for alleging intimidation during the IPL. You can read the full content of her official complaint here.

Now it’s very brave of a woman to come forward and do this in India, considering proportion of the misogyny and how inevitably worse it gets in proportion when you’re a celebrity who is in the spotlight. And to put things in context, she’s also someone who refused to retract from her testimony in 2003 Bharat Shah Case while major figureheads in Bollywood “chickened out”.

Later on she posted this status asking people and media to stop humiliating her over this :

Every human being has a limit to how much they can take ; some of us foolishly call it strength and try to look ahead focusing on the positives of work and life. All these years i have never said anything about him in the media but now i have no choice.

I humbly request the media and my supporters to pls focus on the issue and the incident that happened in Wankade and not turn this and me into a TV soap. This is not easy for me and my intention is not to harm anyone but simply to protect myself and to stand up for myself. I don’t want any sympathy from anyone but i will sincerely appreciate it if people do not try to take away my dignity in the process of my fight for respect at my workplace. I think after all these years i deserve it and I’m not asking for too much.

Now unsurprisingly, many people characterized this as “celebrity drama” (because what’s more fun for a woman here than reporting harassment right?) and rest, as evident from the comment section (lead by “Masculinists”) are engaging in blatant misogynistic douchebaggery calling her a “gold digger” and accusing her of lying. Business as usual.

Most of this backlash seems to be born out of the usual, garden variety misogyny, which comes with the notion that since it has to be her simply “whining” about it, because her ex harassing her is nothing but a woman making a “big deal” out of a spat between her ex. But female celebrities being at the worse end of it in many ways because people can’t stand the thought of a successful woman, being able to stand up for herself and not putting up with this shit.

However there’s another section of people who shame her for lodging a complaint because “little girls are raped and hanged for nothing”:

 

Now this is a whole different type of douchebaggery. There were a bunch of comments on Preity Zinta’s original status which said more or less the same (which seems to be cleaned up now) – i.e. how she should stop making a “big deal” of harassment while worse things are happening in the country.

The worst thing about these comments are, ironically, how they smack of classism – i.e. turning rape of underprivileged women/children to our own desi version of “starving children in Africa have it worse” meme. While class (along with caste etc.), no doubt, plays a huge role in discrimination against women (and intersectionality is hence important) using this to put a woman down is not only terribly misogynistic, but also incredibly classist. Discrimination faced by underprivileged women are not some sort of leverage for you to trivialize misogyny.

What this case reflects is how, even for a female celebrity with class privilege, has put up with this terrible level of misogyny for merely filing a formal complaint against harassment. And the same people who create an environment where misogyny is desensitized wonder where all these “monsters” who commit these “brutal rapes” come from.

 

No Country for Women

Douchebag Duo - Mulayam and Abu

Douchebag Duo – Mulayam Singh Yadav and Abu Azmi

What on earth is going on here?

First Mulayam Singh Yadav made the remarks of how “boys will be boys” when it comes to rape, and perpetrated the rape myth of how women “friendzone” men and level false rape charges against them. Then Abu Azmi followed suit (for worse) by remarking how survivors are too guilty in rape and should be hanged along with the rapist. And then he had the nerve, after spewing all this bronze age rubbish, to say that “here, nothing happens to the woman..”

(Oh by the way, slight heads up Abu, considering we’re a secular nation – well at least in theory anyway – is it okay if I don’t give a shit about your sickening misogyny, which you present in the guise of “religious belief”? Thank you.)

These are not even worth commenting on. Actually, there is nothing to comment on, you just read the remarks of these two and get depressed. Or queasy. Or both. It’s out there in plain sight.

However, the most horrifying part about this is, how they have absolutely no shame or reservations in making in these remarks. Let that be anyone, politicians or authorities. And this is despite having two of the most publicized rape cases all over the world last year couple of years. Last year, the defense lawyer in the much publicized Delhi Gang rape case, openly said that he would burn his daughter if she were to have premarital sex and urged other parents to adopt the attitude. This is one among more blatantly chilling examples of how deep rape culture and misogyny runs here.

The problem, aside from having such misogynistic windbags like these peddling rape culture, is primarily the social setting that breeds rape culture which gives them the confidence that they could get away with such remarks. They don’t even try to make an effort to hide their vile misogyny. Because they very well know that this is not something that people would react to all that much, and even if they react, they are confident that people will move on. And sadly, they would be right.

We are disproportionately outraged over everything. Over politics. Over religion. Even over cricketers who fail to perform. But what about women? Why should we really care about them? Why should we care about addressing a social system which gives douchebags like these excellent platform to openly promote rape culture without shame?

I guess it’s about time we’ve openly admitted this.

Women, we don’t give a shit about you. Thank you very much.

Remembering Carl Sagan

Happy Birthday Carl SaganToday (November 9th) is the 79th Birthday of Carl Sagan, eminent astronomer, humanist, and popular science writer. I intended to blog about Camus on his 100th Birthday (which was on 7th), as he is probably the philosopher who has influenced me the most on a personal level, but I think I owe Carl Sagan a post as my respect and adoration towards him is hard to describe.

I think there is a point in many people’s life when they do self introspection, and are left with a hell lot of unanswered questions and existential crisis hits them hard. I can’t speak for everyone, but that was true in my case too, and that was when I found Carl. His views have profoundly influenced me, and as most literature intended to inspire has no or little effect on the ever so cynical me, I should thank Sagan for putting me right on track, his words struck a chord with with me right away. I am against idolizing anyone, but Sagan is one such person I admire so much, to the point that you could say that I idolize him. His views on science, skepticism, humanism and other social issues are so profound, that it’s hard not to recommend his work to anyone.

Sagan, arrested during the protest at a nuclear site in Nevada

Sagan, arrested during the protest at a nuclear site in Nevada

He was also involved in various activism. Image on the left shows him being arrested anti-war activism in a nuclear testing site. Something we, who advocate for scientific progress (and rightly so) should always remember, the equal emphasis he placed on humanism and it’s core values. He was not only an activist, but in my view, in many ways, a rebel. Him, along with his wife Ann Druyan (whom I will hopefully write about later) were arrested three times at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. To quote Ann Druyan here:

During the 1980’s we were arrested three times at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site while protesting US underground nuclear testing. This kind of activism cost him many of the glittering prizes and honors that he might have gotten if he had played along with things he thought were wrong. He turned down three invitations to dine at the Reagan White House. He couldn’t be co-opted. His opposition to the Star Wars swindle drew a lot of fire. I wish the world had a Carl Sagan now to publicly argue against the new Star Wars proposals. He could spot the phony technical arguments of the Department of Defense and bust them publicly in a way that we could all grasp.
[..]

Carl took on the military-industrial complex. He campaigned around the world for an end to the production of weapons of mass destruction. To him it was a perversion of science. So yes, it’s true that Carl was frequently denounced by televangelists, astrologers and The Wall Street Journal. Even so, it wasn’t much of a price to pay. He was the happiest person I ever knew.

 He expressed his feminist perspectives quite clearly at various points of his life, and through his sole novel Contact, where the protagonist was a female scientist, which he co authored with Ann. Here is a great excerpt from his letter to Explorers Club, which used to be exclusively male till then:

When our organization was formed in 1905, men were preventing women from voting and from pursuing many occupations for which they are clearly suited. In the popular mind, exploration was not what women did. Even so, women had played a significant but unheralded role in the history of exploration — in Africa in the Nineteenth Century, for example. Similarly, Lewis and Clark were covered with glory, but Sacajewea, who guided them every inch of the way, was strangely forgotten. All institutions reflect the prejudices and conventions of their times, and when it was founded The Explorers Club necessarily reflected the attitudes of 1905.

He also argued for reproductive rights in Billions and Billions (which again, he co-authored with Ann Druyan). Some excerpts:
By far the most common reason for abortion worldwide is birth control. So shouldn’t opponents of abortion be handing out contraceptives and teaching school children how to use them? That would be an effective way to reduce the number of abortions.
[..]

In its first decade, the AMA began lobbying against abortions performed by anyone except licensed physicians. [..] Women were effectively excluded from the medical schools, where such arcane knowledge could be acquired. So, as things worked out, women had almost nothing to say about terminating their own pregnancies. It was also up to the physician to decide if the pregnancy posed a threat to the woman, and it was entirely at his discretion to determine what was and was not a threat. For the rich woman, the threat might be a threat to her emotional tranquility or even to her lifestyle. The poor woman was often forced to resort to the back alley or the coat hanger.

Here is his response the question about lack of diversity in Science education and it’s implications:

We also might ask how it is that of the first ten or twelve questioners only one was a woman in an audience in which women are much more strongly represented. These are wide-ranging, difficult questions. I don’t claim to have the answers except to say that I know of no evidence that women and what in the United States are called racial minorities are not as competent as anybody else in doing science. It has to do, I think, entirely, or almost entirely, with the built-in biases and prejudices of the educational system and the way the society trains people. Nothing more than that. Women, for example, who are told that they’re too stupid for science, that science isn’t for them, that science is a male thing, are turned off. And women who despite that try to go into science and then find hostility from the high school math teacher—“What are you doing in my class?”—find hostility from the 95 percent male science classes, with the kind of raucous male culture in which they find themselves excluded, those are powerful social pressures to leave science. I wrote a novel once, Contact, in which I tried to describe what women dedicated to science have to face, that men don’t, in order to make a career in science.

So yes, again it’s hard to put in words to what extent Sagan has influenced my life and my character development in the latter part of my life. And I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that.  So thanks for everything, Carl. You have taught be to be humble and skeptical, you’ve helped me lose a lot of prejudices and dogmas I had held, combat my existential struggles, and shape up the way I perceive the world.

Happy Birthday!

An Open letter to Guardian

Cultural relativism

My last blog was a rant on shit post modernists say, and I thought that would have just ended there, I had no intention of taking that any further. And then Guardian just published  this horrendous article, by Ahmed Abdel-Raheem, defending Saudi’s refusal to grant women the right to drive on cultural relativist grounds. I’m just lost for words here – the last time I had read a nearly dire article was a Tribune piece defending slavery. But this is Guardian, one of the most reputed papers in the UK, which published this – and that worries me so much more.

I just loathe cultural relativism. No amount of ‘genuine concerns‘ would take away the stink of cultural relativism. And when it comes to fundamental human rights, it’s just unacceptable for any reasonable person to support cultural relativist nonsense. This article precisely demonstrates why, and hits a whole new low by engaging in explicit cultural relativist apologia, and horrendously faulty reasoning.

Lets see what his arguments are:

Westerners should be wary of trying to impose their version of feminism on Saudi women. It’s not always welcome

Yes, how dare the western feminists shove basic human rights down our throats? It’s certainly problematic. Because whether women deserve basic human rights is now a “western feminist” concept. We are having none of that, surely.

The Saudi economic newspaper El-Iqtisadiah ran a front-page news story suggesting that women’s driving is just a luxury rather than a necessity and that protesters against the ban seek to undermine the kingdom’s stability and create sedition.

Seriously? Women having the right to drive is a luxury? And oh yeah, sure – those brave women who stood up and protest against were obviously conspiring against Saudi Kingdom’s so called “stability” which are well aware about.

That wasn’t just propaganda. I conducted a survey of my former Saudi female students at Al-Lith College for Girls (at Um al-Qura University, Mecca). They helped me distribute a large-scale questionnaire to their colleagues from different departments of the college and to their female relatives and friends. It wasn’t exactly scientific, but their responses are worth considering. I offered them anonymity in their answers, but even so, some wanted to be recognized.

As interesting the survey results might be, why does it matter? Having the right to drive doesn’t mean every woman is compelled to drive. Do we have to spell that out for you, if that wasn’t obvious? And of course, there is still peer pressure etc. to overcome for women who choose to drive, and all you care about this poll?

Also two words for you: Internalized Misogyny. They live in an oppressive regime which refuses to grant women their basic human rights, so why are you surprised that women have internalized this themselves?

Now this is where it really gets horrible and where I couldn’t make sure if this was a satire or an actual opinion piece:

To my surprise, 134 (out of 170) respondents said female driving is not a necessity and that it opens the door for sexual harassment and encourages women to not wear the niqab under the pretext that they cannot see the road when driving. Some also fear that it gives husbands a chance to betray and agree with the assertion that it creates sedition in society.

Mashaal El-Maliki, a housewife:

Female driving will destroy family life because it will give husbands a chance to know other women who (as drivers) will be free and without guardians.

Bedoor Elmaliki, a student:

In my point of view, female driving is not a necessity because in the country of the two holy mosques every woman is like a queen. There is (someone) who cares about her; and a woman needs nothing as long as there is a man who loves her and meets her needs; as for the current campaigns calling for women’s driving, they are not reasonable. Female driving is a matter of fun and amusement, let us be reasonable and thank God so much for the welfare we live in.

Maqbula El-Malawi, a student:

Honestly, I don’t like women to drive. This will create sedition … I agree that there are already different kinds of sedition we see every day, but the right place for a woman is her house; this will really save her from what is happening in the outside world.

A Saudi mother:

If they allow women to drive, there will be many negative effects on the whole society (eg, sexual harassment). Furthermore, there will be many things that don’t comply with our Islamic principles. This will open the door for women to imitate men in everything, and who knows … there would be calls for banning niqab. This way a woman will lose her femininity; and if a woman goes out without a guardian, she may lose her honor.

Banaader Elmaliki, a 4th year mathematics student:

[The driving movement is] just a crazy imitation of America, and doesn’t mean more liberation for women. It rather means liquidation of the society and inferiority of its moral values. The biggest evidence on this is the liquidation of American society; we don’t want this in our kingdom.

That’s right, he just quoted a bunch of horrible, bronze age misogynistic perspectives (albeit from women themselves), some of which  engages directly in victim blaming. Letting women drive “opens the door for sexual harassment” – oh yeah – lets shift the burden of not getting harassed on women now, totally. Because men have absolutely no role to play in it – so lets just deprave women of their fundamental rights they’re entitled to. That sounds just about perfect, because after all, we know that women are not people and are at best sub-human slaves, so makes sense.

Now one would have thought someone would have used these quotes to merely demonstrate the horrible state that Saudi is in, to highlight how much misogyny women themselves have internalized. But oh no, he apparently thinks this supports his “argument” in some way, while it merely demonstrates the dire need of addressing the misogyny.

Whether or not women have the right to choice that men already have is not open to debate. Period. I find it quite baffling that a person with half a brain would have any difficulty in grasping this exceedingly simply premise, you don’t have to be a feminist to know that. You have to a total misogynist douchebag to not only remain oblivious to it, but also defend the oppressive laws that refuses to grant women the choice that they already should have.

What is most baffling is how Guardian thought it was somehow a good idea to publish this drivel. This is cultural relativism at it’s worst, and giving a person platform to spew his half-brained apologist nonsense is a massive fail of some basic journalist ethics on your part, let alone a massive fall in your credibility. Sort your shit out, pretty please. Being the “liberal” variant of Fox News or Daily Mail is not a good way to stand up against prejudice against Muslims or racism. To quote Nietzsche here: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.

Women”s rights are human rights, and not a matter of debate. If you stand against it, or promote views that stands against it, then you’ve lost perspective (to put it mildly), regardless of your “intentions“.  Get that into your thick skulls please. Thank you very much.