|So he gets a rap, naughty boy!|
A man makes a sexist statement. We cry misogyny, and rightly so. But, who is this man and why are his utterances so important?
Abhijit Mukherjee is one of those political 'leaders' who has inherited his career; his father is the President of India. A phrase from his remarks about the protestors in Delhi saying that they were "highly dented and painted" women has become the pivot of a war. This should tell us a lot about such wars. Here's a chunk from the quote:
"(These are people) who have little connection with the ground reality. In India, walking on the street with candle, going to discotheques...Those who are coming in the name of students, pretty pretty women, highly dented and painted, giving interviews on TV, as if they have come to show their kids and others..."
Two important points here:
- His speech was in Bangla to a Bengali channel, but this phrase was in English. It means that he wanted it to immediately reach a wide audience. What he may never earn by way of fame, he has got through the notorious route.
- The analogy is primarily of cars. I have no intention of giving him the benefit of doubt, but dent also means "to make a dent (an impression)". However, clubbed with painted it is obviously a scratch/abrasion. Intriguingly, while running down some women he actually believes that despite such reductionism they can "have an adverse effect on" those around, which is what the word denotes in a larger sense.
His words are kneejerk. So, unfortunately, are most reactions. In fact, the speed with which serious Op-eds are churned out and live panel discussions are arranged makes one wonder as to who is really making a joke of it.
I am afraid, but holding up an individual's comments may serve the valid purpose of making it into a showpiece, but the very space that women wish to reclaim is being handed over on a platter for such nonsensical debates. Are women learning something new about male attitudes?
A few weeks ago, another politician, Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam said to BJP member Smriti Irani on a TV discussion:
"Char din hue hain aur aap rajnitik vishleshak bani firti hain (It's been only four days that you have entered politics and you have already turned into a political analyst). Aap toh TV pe thumke lagati thi, aaj chunavi vishleshak ban gayi (Till about some time ago, you used to dance on TV and now you have become an analyst)!"
He was insulting her. What was the media response? To refer to him as a would-be rapist. Aren't we concerned about how a serious crime against women is being used as a metaphor for just about everything? It is cringing to read pieces by women about how they were touched here and there at different stages in their lives.
The derogatory aspect apart, aren't there women whose job it is to dance? I had said this when Imam Bukhari made a similar statement about Shabana Azmi. Would the more appropriate response by women not be to dignify the profession rather than feel 'defamed' by it? Or are we seeing a neat hierarchy in which certain women have natural rights as opposed to those who will fight for the 'lesser' ones?
I watched one of those debates on 'dented and painted' on Times Now last night. It was absurd and sheer theatre. To the incessant queries of “What do you have to say”, Mukherjee kept up a monotone, “I’ve already withdrawn my statement, I have nothing more to say”. The anchor, Arnab Goswami, kept repeating, “I think you are nervous”, when the host had the nervous tic. Did it achieve anything except to prove that the media could outshout Mukherjee and look even more ludicrous?
His sister was shocked and according to the host said that she as an emancipated woman had been to discotheques. Honestly, how is that a sign of emancipation?
It was curious to see a representative from Slutwalk on the panel. Would the studios bring women from the red-light areas to discuss women’s issues? About Slutwalk, I had earlier written here:
“How grounded are they in such real issues and what about the already educated men in the BMWs who commit date rape? What about marital rape and the silence of emotional rape?”
It is also quite hypocritical that while one person is made an example of (a few others are mentioned by turns), we forget that many people refer to painted, artificial, botoxed, plumped up women who are considered lower down in the entertainment industry or when we discuss socialites. Terms like cow, bitch, cat fights are the stuff of social media and Page 3 chatter, and we have all at some time used these. How, then, does our conscience revolt for a group? This is clearly about acceptability. By accepting them we legitimise ourselves as superior in some ways. In the initial days of the Anna Movement, people assumed they were upholding a Gandhian prototype.
Do men become sensitised by seeing one of their own become a public square exhibit, when many of them probably talk like this in private?
If any woman imagines that a male feminist renaissance is possible due to such display news, she needs a reality check. She might also like to examine her own position. There are women who run down others for wearing makeup or for being haggard. Advertisements use envy or competitiveness rather effectively to market cosmetics.
And cars are sold with a woman as a sexy mascot. Is it fine because they aren’t quite dented enough to be painted over?
(c) Farzana Versey
(c) Farzana Versey