Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sluts, bitches and whores…is it just me or are they everywhere?

Exhibit A:
“She aint nothing a girl you've ever seen before,
nothing you can compare to your neighborhood whore
I'm trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful
Damn! you's a sexy bitch, a sexy bitch
Damn! you's a sexy bitch…”
– Sexy Bitch by David Guetta

Akon does not want to be disrespectful, but he is ok with calling her a ‘bitch’. And suddenly calling a woman a Bitch becomes acceptable. It is a respectable term. Look around you, words like Slut, Bitch, Ho (as a stand in for Whore) abound in all the songs that are becoming hits. Google ‘superman that ho’ from Soulja Boy’s ‘Crank That’ and you will see.

Exhibit B:
There’s a television commercial doing the rounds nowadays. A women in a bus is getting eve teased by a creepy looking man, there is physical contact bordering on molestation. She looks bothered but not unduly, as the voice over tells her that it’s nothing that can’t be forgotten or set right with a nice hot shower. Victim of harassment? Eve teased? Buy Racold water heaters.

A while ago, there were hoardings all over the place for a range of office watches for women that proudly declared ‘From 9 to 5, you can stare at my brains’. Titan Watches – If a woman is wearing them, you can stare at her bosom, but only after 5pm mind you.

What I am getting at here is based on the basic premise that the words we use – and their connotations and denotations – our language, shapes our thoughts, influences our actions and shapes our reality. A whore is a woman who sleeps with a man for money. A slut is a promiscuous or a disreputable woman of loose morals. A bitch used to be a female dog. Not tell me if you would want your sisters, wife, girlfriend to be referred to as such. Ladies? Are you ok with being called a ho, a slut? Just because you are a girl. And these are terms that – if we don’t stop now – will become synonyms for girl. Am I being extreme here? (or as they say ‘old fashioned fuddy duddy’?) Perhaps, but I was brought up in a home where I was taught that such words are not just disrespectful but demeaning. I was taught by my teachers to respect women and these extreme terms are to be used only when required and only in extreme cases, if at all. Not as terms of endearment or as a compliment to girls.

What I am also getting at is that our seemingly innocuous, commonplace portrayals of women are shaping a society where women are being shown as someone who is ok with things like eve teasing. It is this slippery slope that leads to people saying ridiculous things like ‘she was dressed provocatively’ or as I read in an article where a policemen said, ‘she had gone to a party with boys and was drinking, so she had it coming’. Now people who think like this are weak minded morons and stupid dickheads, yes. But these are exactly the kind of people we are surrounded by is it not? Do they not outnumber by their sheer numerical strength? The solution is not the ridiculously absurd ‘girls should not go out at night’ or ‘girls should dress properly’. Heck, girls should be allowed to go wherever they please, dressed in whatever they are comfortable with. It’s the people who need to be told it’s perfectly ok if girls do that, and that it’s none of their business. But what about that person given to eve teasing who’s been shown – many times, on television, loudly – that the woman looks quite fine with it. You may counter this by saying, ‘shouldn’t girls be allowed to listen to whatever they want, just like they have the freedom to wear whatever they like?’. Not quite, the difference being that when you listen to, enjoy and share a song that denigrates women, you are in fact condoning and/or encouraging and endorsing the objectification of women. Extreme example, it’s tantamount to sharing a rape video and heartily endorsing it. But when women wear a dress, all they are saying is ‘I like this dress and I am comfortable in it’. And it’s not just about women I talk here, even the men. Who either come up with such stupid commercials or make such songs. After a while, watching women dance to and sing-along to Crank That stopped being funny and I’ve made it a point to tell women around me when it plays if they are ok with it, and they’ve all said no and deleted it from their playlists.

I contend that it’s not just the rapists who are treating women as sex objects. It’s our songs, our advertising, our films too that portray them as such. And each of us who enjoys and shares these songs encourages such objectification. We who buy these brands endorse such lines of thinking are equally culpable. Yes, it’s the artists right to express himself in whatever way he feels like, but that doesn’t mean we have to endorse it. It has to stop sometime, somewhere. A line needs to be drawn. Voices need to be raised. People need to be told. But sadly we live in an era where if someone gets into the lyrics of the song instead of just grooving to its catchy hooks and tells people is called a wet blanket, a bore, one who thinks too much. But I think, correct me if I am wrong, such small things, each in isolation, build up – in kind, and in degree and in number – to a mindset that subconsciously objectifies women, is ok with the degradation in their treatment and borders on condoning or explaining heinous acts. Quick to politically correct outrage, but just as quick to forget.

It is one thing to ensure that there swift and harsh punishment for rapists. That matters hugely. I wholeheartedly recommend castration. But we also need to look at things that are at first glance inconsequential, but lie at the root of such issues. We need to treat the symptoms and not just the disease. Companies and advertising agencies that condone things like eve teasing and/or objectify women need to be taken to task just as harshly. Songs that demean women should never be played on radio, in public and should be boycotted by listeners. It is equally important that in our daily lives, our conversations and words, we take corrective measures before our children are born into an age where my daughter’s friends call her a ho in public. I pray that I would have brought up right enough for her slap the guy who calls her that….and walk out of the club should the DJ play songs about bitches and whores.

Perhaps all of what I have written is more applicable in an urban set up, not in places where Khap Panchayats blame chowmein for rapes. But look at the statistics, it’s the urban metros and large cities where rapes are just as common. And even one single rape is a tragedy, not a statistic. And as someone who lives in a city that I think currently ranks second in terms of reported rapes, these are my thoughts.

PS: If you didn’t wince when you read the first part of this post’s title or didn’t feel even a little offended, ask yourself ‘why’. If you were, then good. All is not lost yet eh.