“Jahaaj me baitha tha, mere bagal me ek behenji baithi thi (In the plane a woman was sitting besides me).. Baatchit hui, jab maine unko dekha to neeche gum boots the (when we talked, i looked at her, she was wearing gumboots), jab aur upar dekha to ghutne fatey the (when i looked a bit upwards she was wearing ripped jeans), aur haath me dekhiye kahi kade they. (also she was wearing bangles). Jab unke ghutney fatey dekhey, bachey do sath me they, maine poocha kaha jana hai, husband kaha hai, kya karti hain.. (when I saw her ripped jeans with two kids along I enquired regarding her personal life)...”
The real problem began, when the newly appointed chief minister of Uttarakhand said, “ghutney fate dikhte hai, samaaj ke beech me jaati ho, kya sanskaar dogi? (with your ripped jeans, and public work with kids along, what kind of example will you set?)”
Early mornings usually involve discussing the front page news, especially with state elections right around the corner. Amidst a steady chaos, Tirath Singh Rawat, the newly appointed chief minister of Uttarakhand gathered headlines for days after his misogynistic and sexist comments questioning the parenting and profession of a woman sitting next to him in ripped jeans, came to light.
Female politicians, across parties, are censured for their physical appearances and choice of clothing, while sexist comments about them hardly evoke any response. The same discrimination goes around in workplaces, from corporates to hotels, which make them even more toxic. Studies show that younger women face appearance-based discrimination the most which overshadow their merit and talent. This being said this is not the first or the last time that a politician has indulged in sexist and misogynistic rants against women, but it is definitely a rare instance of them being called out for it by the general public. The problem is far more deep-rooted than it appears to be at a cursory glance. It is not simply about the audacity that these “male” politicians possess to make such remarks about colleagues and strangers alike, but also about their essential nature and ego getting bruised when they see women rise to power, equalling or even bettering them. This shattering of set patriarchal notions, where they believe that ‘equality is not the way how society functions, and for a balanced world women have to be at least a level below’, is trodden underfoot by educated and strong female role models. Unsurprisingly, they get disturbed when they see independent women challenge them.
What do Politicians think?
Here are some sexist, shameful, saddening, and scornful comments that give an insight into what politicians think.
In 2014, Mulayam Singh Yadav spoke against capital punishment for rape and trivialised it by saying, “Ladke ladke hain, galti ho jati hai. (Boys are boys they tend to make mistakes)” “Ladkiyan pehle dosti karti hain. Ladke-ladki mein matbhed ho jata hai. Matbhed hone key baad usey rape ka naam dey deti hain. Ladko sey galti ho jati hai. Kya rape case mein phasi di jayegi?” (Girls go ahead and make friends with boys and then, when they fight they, charge them of rape) The former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh dared and had the grit to come back to power even after making such disrespectful comments against rape survivors and victims in a country where statistically every 22 minutes a girl is raped.
Yadav is not the only one with such opinions. Back in 2012 after Nirbhaya’s Rape, Botsa Satyanarayana, Andhra Congress Chief said that India being independent doesn’t mean women have the right to stroll free in the dark. Though the rape was a condemnable act, the girl should have been more careful and should have thought twice before boarding the suspicious private bus.
Another solution for preventing sexual harassment was provided by Om Prakash Chautala from Indian National Lok Dal who asked to get girls to married off sooner as in Mughal times.
BJP’s Gopal Bhargava on hearing of Deepika Padukone’s visit to JNU, asked her to go back to Mumbai and ‘dance’ as she is a heroine.
The list can go on and on, with good “sanskar” being an oft-cited platitude imparted to girls in order that they may ‘avoid rape’, and suggestions rife that a ‘woman should commit suicide if she is raped more than once.’
What do we infer?
Through all this and through more that cannot be mentioned due to the paucity of time, we can conclude that sexism and misogyny lie at the root of gender inequality in Indian politics.
It begins in our childhood when boys are encouraged to play, run, jump and be active, but girls are socialised to be ‘ladylike’, passive, and pleasing. It is rife in homes where women still perform more unpaid work, in workplaces where women are silenced, ignored, or commented upon, and everywhere when women are defined to be mothers or wives before their individuals with achievements. Before it’s too late, we need to realise that sexism and misogyny takes a toll on everyone, and create unsafe societies with no space for diverse voices, talents, and leadership. Stating facts will help us acknowledge the reality:
63% of women journalists have been confronted with verbal abuse
Women spend almost twice as much time as men on unpaid housework
80% of women stated that they have been confronted with the phenomenon of “mansplaining” and “manterrupting” at work
According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Centre, 42% women face gender-based discrimination at work.
McKinsey and Company’s report suggests that while the ratio of women at entry level is above 40% but it reduces to merely 18-20% at higher levels, like the vice president, C-suite etc.
Women comprise about 50% of the world’s population, and their inclusion will help in the economic and social prosperity, still only 6 countries give women equal legal work rights as men.
What female politicians think?
Female politicians have been the easiest targets of chauvinistic ideas prevailing in India. From Mayavati being called a Vaishya, the public of Uttar Pradesh ‘being hailed’ for’ tolerating’ her for five years, and remarks asking if ‘she was actually a he’, jibes against Mayawati’s appearance and ‘womanliness’ were a regular brand of campaigning resorted to by the opposition.
From Jayalalitha being alleged to be a ‘temptress’, to her political mentor MG Ramachandran being called a lesbian (with negative and derogatory connotations) involved in a relationship with her aide Sasikala, it takes a special kind of endurance to be a woman involved in politics in India.
Not too far gone are the days when Smriti Irani was attacked upon her appointment as Textile Minister with the jibe that ‘it will help her cover her body’. In a male-dominated India, women are expected to abide and follow serrated and parochial platitudes of ‘modest presentation’. Indian politics is not about intelligence, opinions, and policies, but about charisma and personality.
The solution to this raging misogyny lies in greater participation in politics as well as other domains. When it comes to female political representation, we as a nation are far behind our neighbours Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The condition of involvement worsens as we go down to the state levels, and some relief is encountered only at the level of local bodies.
Also, we see that the female leaders that we do have, like Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Harsimrat Kaur Badal or Poonam Mahajan, come from politically influential families which brings us the question: why not common women? First, because politics doesn’t provide livelihood until elected, so one needs to have financial backing; second, in a patriarchal society where home is considered to be a woman’s primary domain, to get involved in a full-fledged profession, the women require their spouses’ or family’s support; and third, Indian political scenario is extremely sexist. This is one domain where political parties across the spectrum are united. The way out from this slap of gender inequality is more participation. Male politicians are afraid of women leaders like Mayawati, and Jayalalitha gaining power, hence instead of appreciating them, they try to smash them down. Unless women come forward to fight the male-dominated political system and make their presence felt in the Parliament by having a say in the policies that impact them, no real and lasting momentum can be achieved in the social-economic and political empowerment of women.
We see a fresh change in the air, where women are speaking up and against age-old customs and norms, and aren’t ready to accept everything in the name of a “joke”. Etiquette expert Susie Wilson says, “Shutting down these comments isn’t just about standing up for yourself, but for all women. Everyone who takes a stance against sexism not only promotes gender equality, but also helps women of this and future generations to lead more empowered lives.”
For a more equitable environment, we should not dictate what women should do, and instead correct the ones being chauvinist and sexist. We should raise our voice against every wrong: be it female politicians being called out on their appearances, marital or sexual status, or females being insulted for wearing ripped jeans and not adhering to the stereotypical notions of womanhood.
We look forward to the day when women will be respected and criticised based on their work, will be accepted for being themselves in this male-dominated world and still great leaders, not berated for not being “feminine” enough, and won't be expected to be Iron ladies, Goddesses, and the epitome of righteousness as defined by patriarchy. We look forward to a gender-equal political domain, and India at large, where female politicians won't have to take up the title of “amma, or didi” to be accepted into the fabric of our society and clash against male gaze.
We look forward to an India where everyone rises for any woman of any or every sexuality, race, colour, occupation etc. to support her rage against patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny.
By Anushka Pandey
Anushka is a first-year student at Hindu College, pursuing her majors in Economics. She takes a keen interest in social issues, especially those concerning women and feminism, and loves digging upon them.