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Home > 2021 > Kerala’s Culture of Misogyny | Sukumaran C V

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 6, New Delhi, January 23, 2021

Kerala’s Culture of Misogyny | Sukumaran C V

Friday 22 January 2021, by Sukumaran C.V.

A new generation Malayalam actress has recently revealed a groping experience through her Instagram account. She says in the post: “I am not the one to rant often on social media. But what happened today is something I can’t seem to let go. Two men walked past me in a generously spaced aisle in Lulu hypermarket which barely had people crowding and one of them not so accidentally grazed his hand on my back while walking past me. Because it caught me off guard I couldn’t react immediately.”

The police registered a suo motu case based on the Instagram post; and inspecting the CCTV footage, the culprits were identified and nabbed. And yet, there is no doubt, men will continue to behave like that to ladies in future too.

Kerala is often called the most educated of all Indian states. But misogyny thrives among this most educated people in almost all spheres of life. In 2019, the renowned feminist scholar of Kerala, J. Devika (a professor with the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram)was insulted during a seminar conducted by the English Department of a government women’s college. She was the invitee to present a paper (Feminist Modernism? Madhavikutty in Malayali Homoaesthetic Circles). After the presentation, in the question and answer session, a male teacher of the college aired absolute misogynistic remarks against her. He even said that until he is there with lingam (penis) between his legs, he won’t allow such anti-male harangue. He was trying to reduce the renowned feminist’s deconstruction of literature and patriarchy into mere anti-male grudge. Viewing feminism as animosity against the males not only expresses the ignorance about feminism but also denigrates it. People who don’t know that males can also be feminists and feminism doesn’t see males as the enemies of the females are the best examples of the patriarchal and mysogynistic moorings of our ’higher education’ and to see such people as the faculty of a women’s college is quite disastrous. All his remarks were off the topic which the feminist put forth in her paper and his blabbering amounted to sexual harassment.

The feminist wanted to lodge a complaint with the Internal Complaint Committee of the college. But to her astonishment, she learnt that there was no such Committee in the college. The UGC Regulations 2015 (Prevention, Prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment of women employees and students in higher educational institutions) make it mandatory for all institutes of higher education to have Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs) to deal with incidents of sexual harassment. This college didn’t have an ICC even in 2019 means that it has been violating the UGC norms since 2015. And we should keep in mind that it is a government women’s college! ICC was formed on the insistence of the feminist. The fact that a committee to deal with sexual harassment was formed in a women’s college only when the victim of a harassment perpetrated by an employee of the same college insisted tells volumes on the gender (in)sensitivity of the college and the ’most educated’ people! And the irony is that it was formulated not to redress the grievance of the victim but to protect the abuser!Smt. J Devika is still unsuccessfully trying to punish the male chauvinist, and the committees and bodies that are supposed to support the victims of (sexual) harassment and punish the culprits are assiduously helping the culprit to go scot-free!

Why the female is always sexually harassed in our societies? Why this happens even when we are the most educated people? Why the female, from the ordinary women to the prominent persons in the academic circle, faces the same intimidating, belittling and abusive experiences?

The female can’t appear in the public sphere without fear. The female can’t fearlessly travel by train or bus without fear. “If any woman, anywhere in the world, hears footfalls behind her on a darkened street, she has reason to be afraid. Robin Morgan called it the democracy of fear under patriarchy,” says Derrick Jensen, in his book Endgame (Volume-1, Chapter 12—Predator and Prey). In our movies we often see the heroine being harassed by ruffians and we are thrilled to see the hero smashing those who misbehave with the heroine. But we don’t think why such misogynistic scenes are portrayed in the movies. Women are always portrayed as frivolous, flirting and depending on the males. And we hear the dialogues of the male characters about the female characters as “What a piece!” etc. In reel life, we see the female as a ’piece’ to be enjoyed by the male, and in real life too the female is generally seen not as an individual but as a piece. Real life is exaggerated in reel and reel life is enacted in real life.

Almost every female can narrate the experience like that of the actress and almost all (bold) ladies narrate such experiences on their social media platforms. My wife has told me she has had to pierce a man’s hand with a safety pin to stop him groping her aboard a bus when she was a college student.

The sexual harassment the female has to suffer in public places is a ubiquitous menace in the so called God’s Own Country (the general picture of India may not be qualitatively different) and I wonder why the men-folk who indulge in such abominable practice are not ashamed of their indecent behaviour.

It seems our culture is basically misogynistic. Our religions, our upbringing, our education, our print and visual media relentlessly inculcate misogyny in children and male chauvinism thrives in almost all fields of life and, as a result, the female has to suffer the ubiquitous menace of sexual harassment.

To fix what the real problem is, let me borrow the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir’s words from The Second Sex, first published in 1949: “Humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being. Man can think of himself without woman. She can’t think of herself without man. And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called ‘the sex’ by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex—absolute sex, no less.”

One of the many manifestations of the working of this ‘absolute sex’ culture was witnessed by me recently. I have been assigned the duty of distribution and reception of election materials in the recently concluded local body elections in Kerala (December 2020). The ‘distribution and collection’ centre I have been asked to report at 7 am on the distribution day was a Higher Secondary school and there is a spacious ground in front of the school. I reached the school at 6.55 am and there was nobody there. Generally when asked to come at 8 am, people reach at 9 am. Hence the time was shown as 7 am to make the people reach at 8 am. And I had to waste a full hour standing in front of the school! I had nothing to do and I whiled away time by observingthe activities in the ground. There were many people—middle aged men were seen walking; little boys were seen playing football and young men were seen running and doing other exercises. Not even a single little girl, or young lady or middle aged woman was seen playing or exercising or running or walking! In Kerala the population of the females is more than that of the males and yet the female is totally invisible in the public places—whether it is the playgrounds or beaches or clubs or village roadsides. In the evenings, we see young men whiling away time sitting on the culverts on the side of village roads and little boys playing on the village grounds. But the female is missing everywhere.

Our culture meticulously excludes the female from all freedoms the males are privileged to have, and hence the female appears in the public sphere only when the necessity pulls her out and on such occasions the males harass them in umpteen ways and reinforces in her mind that she is sex—absolute sex, no less!

To live in this male chauvinist world is really terrible and harrowing not only for the female but for the male who sees the female as an individual too. The name of the chapter which deals with the gender issue in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is “The Intimately Oppressed” (Chapter 6) in which Zinn quotes from the Declaration of Principles signed by 68 women and 32 men at the first Women’s Rights Convention held on 19th and 20th of July, 1840: “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.”

All around us, even today, even when we claim we are the most educated and the most progressive, we see the female is subjected to repeated injuries and the tyranny of the male over the female is still intact. As long as women continue to be harassed in public and private spheres, the humans can’t claim themselves to be educated or civilised. As Sarah Grimke, one of the pioneering women’s rights activists, wrote in 1830, “...it is perfectly clear that whatsoever it is morally right for a man to do, it is morally right for a woman to do.”

It is high time we Indians realised this truth and treated the female as an individual just like the male is, with all the feelings the male is having; and deserving all the dignity, respect and status the male is entitled to have.

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