Very often we see or hear incidents of violence occurring around us, ranging from ‘eve teasing’ on the street to direct physical violence towards women in our homes, and equally often we ignore it, thinking of it as a private matter. Violence is never a ‘private matter’, irrespective of what the person’s relationship or where it is happening.
Next time, don’t be a bystander. Stand up against violence, tell your friends/family member that it is not okay to raise their hand or shout at their wife. Ring your neighbor’s bell when you hear shouting and ask if everything is okay. Intervene when a woman is being harassed on the street. Call the police when needed. Even a small gesture can go a long way in making people feel less alone and give them more strength towards tackling violence.
Patni: “Aapne pichle saal salgireh pe mujhe lohay ka bed diya tha, Iss baar aapka kya iraada hai?”
Pati: “Iss saal uss mein current chorne ka iraada hai.”
Did you find the above joke funny? Such jokes are perfect examples of how violence against women gets normalized and perpetuated. It often manifests in casual conversations often in men-only Whatsapp groups. It grows when we share music videos like ‘aaoooun kya aunty’, when male actors stalk female actors in movies and that is portrayed as love, when advertisements selling cement have women pose in a bikini, when pubs give out awards for the best booty. And the worst part is we brush away all this with adages such as ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘this is just locker room talk’ or ‘ it’s just a joke’.
This approach is harmful not just to women but also to society as a whole. For what may be a joke for someone may be a reality for so many others. By laughing about it, we are only normalizing such behaviour. next time, think twice before laughing at a joke about wife beating or before forwarding that lewd message to the boy’s gang. Listen to the lyrics of that song that encourages harassment and ask yourself would you be okay with it if this song were about your sister, girlfriend, wife, or mother? Would you be okay if you were treated this way?
Consent is key. Consenting adults are the basic requirement of a healthy relationship; Whatever all the Bollywood songs may have been telling all these years, a no means ‘No’, it does not mean ‘yes’ or ‘keep trying till I say yes’. Following women around, calling or texting or harassing them when they have said no (or shown no interest) is stalker behavior. Even if someone is your girlfriend or wife, they have the right to say no when they do not feel like having sex with you.
Nobody owes anyone sex in any circumstance and consent is always a precondition. Tell the friend boasting about kissing his reluctant girlfriend that it was not cool. Yes, a few friends may laugh at first but will get the point eventually if you make a habit of it.
Knowingly or unknowingly we often do or say things that are sexist. Some of the everyday words and phrases that we use are often discriminatory against women. Ranging from childhood fairytales about a-damsel-in-distress-waiting-to-be-rescued-by-a-prince (girls are vulnerable), girls like all things pink and fluffy (girls are soft), girls must learn how to cook (not because they need to feed themselves but that they need to run households), girls must dress properly (not to ‘provoke’ men) are all sexist beliefs that often form part of our everyday lives. These beliefs then lead the everyday acts that propel violence against women – you can hit women as they are soft, women run households and so do not need to be out and about, a woman in a short dress is inviting rape…. so on and so forth. To end these acts of control and violence, we need to route out the beliefs that lead to these acts in the first place.
Women too often uphold patriarchal ideas and need to question their own beliefs and behavior. Every time women degrade/judge other women for their choices (why is she wearing that short dress, why does she talk to boys, why does she step out at this hour), every time they they expect a man to pay for dinner because he is a man, they reinforce the sexist beliefs that lead to acts of violence against women. Sounds extreme but so it is.
Gender equality is not about women becoming like men, it is about making the world a better place for men and women. A world where everybody can live their lives to their fullest potential; where men and women have a right to their bodies, actions and lives. One of the problems with the mainstream discussion against violence is that it frames men and women into unchanging categories of ‘men as perpetrators’ and ‘women as victims’.
These categories see men only as part of the problem and makes violence only as a women’s issue. The 'male is supreme' culture is also harmful to men and boys, it portrays unrealistic ideals of masculinity and what it means ‘to be a man’ putting a lot of pressure on men to behave like men, often leading to acts of violence (can’t you control your wife!). Men too need to be free of this pressure and get equal opportunities to be what they want to be without having to hurt anyone.
If you are a survivor of violence, know that you are not alone. Violence against women is as much a political issue as it is a personal trauma. Sharing a personal story helps connect the political issue to people’s lives and bolster support for present and future survivors.
The silence around violence feeds further violence. Most perpetrators act the way they do because they feel they can get away with it and that the victim will remain silent. This belief too needs to be broken. It often takes a lot of courage to share these stories. Reach out to that friend or family member who can help. If you cannot rely on a friend or a family member reach out to organisations that can. But often the starting point is for the victims to make the decision to share. It is difficult but that’s the one thing victims of violence can do to support those who may be in similar situations.
*This article was first published on Nov 21, 2017. The person in the picture is a model.
Love Matter India calls on all its readers to take a stand against all abusive behaviour. Raise your voice with us on our Facebook page as we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November). If you have a specific question, please visit our discussion forum - Let’s Talk