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In a post-Trump world, women at JLF weigh in on misogyny, manelists & mansplaining

Jhinuk Sen | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:45 IST

Monday is as good a day as any other to talk about misogyny, mansplaining and 'manelists'. Even if it is the first thing in the morning at Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, before a LOT of hipsters have had their coffee.

Day 5 saw almost a full-house at the session called Manelists, Misogyny and Mansplaining with Antara Ganguli, Anuradha Beniwal, Bee Rowlatt, Ruchira Gupta, and the 'token man' on the panel Suhel Seth, in conversation with Amrita Tripathi.

Definitions

The session began with something that is a vital necessity of the hour - definitions of feminism and misogyny.

So what exactly IS feminism? Is it the belief that women are better than men? Is it just about the advocacy of women's rights OVER those of men?

No.

"If you believe in equality you are a feminist," said Antara Ganguli - author Of Tanya Tania - giving a lot of 'feminists' in the crowd a reality check.

And so what's misogyny? The dictionary defines misogyny as 'dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women'. But the issue of misogyny is not so simple.

This is where Ruchira Gupta helped - "Misogyny is men hating women because they are women," she said.

Men, women and spaces

Author Bee Rowlatt played a man for a day, complete with a stubble and a socks stuffed into her underwear. She got to scratch her balls and she got to manspread. Stellar opportunity you say? For the world we live in, yes, for it is a little opportunity to occupy a space with the comfort that only seems to be reserved for men.

Men dominate a space and enjoy that, Rowlatt said, adding that it was 'fantastic to own a space and feel that' priviledge. Had she not played a man, she would not have enjoyed that for now.

Gupta weighed in on this bringing in the issue of the new American President Donald Trump and the brand of toxic masculinity he stands for.

Along with that came the mention of the 56-inch chest, the turban in place, the addressing of masses from the high-stage.

The fact that PM Narendra Modi,while addressing the crowds, assumes this look like the archetypal 'head of the family' coerces people into treating him as one. And like in most patriarchal family structures - the head of the family is always right.

And just like that, not only India, but America voted in a man who looked like and spoke like the head of a (white American) family, vainglorious with his power of aggression and the power to intimidate.

This 'toxic' masculinity is about an aggressive occupation of space - given weight to by one of the most powerful men in the world saying that he wants to acquire more arms and join the nuclear race - which is now, rather scarily, becoming mainstream.

And if toxic masculinity becomes mainstream, we have much more trouble on our hands.

But need we talk about America?

Yes, we do need to talk about America, said Gupta because the American 'problem' was about a powerful country armed to the teeth and a man, one of whose campaign slogans was - 'Lock her up!' - becoming its president.

Also, this man pulled down the violence against women and the LGBT website within hours of entering the White House. Other countries would soon follow suit.

The fact that Trump's campaign in its entirety was organised around misogyny and people in one of the largest democracies in the world were more scared of a female leader than China or Russia, goes to say a lot about a tipping point that is fast approaching.

The fact that Trump got away with saying things like - 'Grab them by the pussies', 'Lock her up' and 'Nasty Woman' - it was not one electoral candidate speaking about another electoral candidate.

The fact that Hillary Clinton's personal life was laid bare in public to demean her work as a politician was proof that this was nothing but misogyny in one of its most terrible forms.

Rowlatt brought in Britsh PM Theresa May into the debate by saying that she knew that she was ruled by a woman because people talked about her shoes all the time. The problem is with the "intolerable scrutiny of our private lives" said Rowlatt - "We are crucifying our Wollstonecrafts".

Rowlatt added to the America discussion by pointing out that mansplaining is something that is common to both Hillary Clinton and a teenage girl in Bihar. Mansplaining is not a funny hashtag anymore - it is a serious issue.

So why did women vote for Trump?

Race trumped gender for the white women. Desperate for approval from the men in their lives, the white woman chose her white privilege over her fundamental rights.

But clearly, this issue is not limited to the American debate. While it is all good to talk about it in the cosy tents at JLF, where does it go from there? asked Amrita Tripathi.

Tripathi mentioned that while we can still talk about these 'issues' in such cosy places, some women still do not have the courage to bring it up and call it out in their own families.

The 'token man' in the panel Suhel Seth weighed in his bit - it's all about education and upbringing he said talking about misogyny.

Like Mulayam Yadav brushed off rapes by saying that 'little boys make mistakes' - it depended massively on how the men are educated and how they are brought up, Seth said.

"We can talk about beef and the national anthem, but we cannot talk about misogyny!" said Seth.

Where did the 'bhodro' (gentle) of the bhodrolok (gentleman) go?

"Respecting women is not the order of the day, it is just who we are," said Seth invoking the Kolkata gentleman. There is no misogyny in Kolkata said Seth, we weren't brought up like that.

Ganguli shut him down by saying that West Bengal continues to have one of the highest numbers of child marriages, and misogyny is not absent from the hallowed clubs of the bhodrolok.

"Gentleman is a sexist word!" said Ganguli.

The problem with the world, and India in particular, is the culture of impunity. Men are committing crimes and getting away with it, they are also being glorified, said Gupta.

And of course there is the tradition of blaming the woman - for wearing the wrong clothes, for stepping out at the wrong time...the list is long and never-ending.

Anuradha Beniwal, born in a Haryana, talked about 'kharcha paida ho gaya' when a girl is born to a family and how a girl child is not a matter of celebration and happiness and that is exactly what she is hoping to fight out.

"Don't go to shady places" - women are often told. But what if you are born in a shady place? You need to get out said Anuradha. We need to go out to make the shady places 'safe' again.

"Women are trying to occupy public spaces, but women are still in the most danger in spaces they are supposed to be safe in - inside their homes," said Gupta bringing up the hushed-up issues of domestic violence, incest and sexual abuse.

Is there a way to fix it?

Seth claimed he had a solution.

He had two questions to ask and a suggestion to make, and if answered, these could probably fix the misogynists.

- What is going to make the change happen at the grass-root levels?

- When will the laws change?

And, if the discourse is to go further, it cannot be man versus woman, it has to be insanity versus sanity, incivility versus civility. But, he said, he is no expert.

And that gave Rowlatt the chance to ask him what he was doing on a panel for misogyny if he was not an expert.

Rowlatt - 100, Seth - 0.

Ganguli added to this by saying that she can't not make it about the sexes at war when a man attacks a woman.

Ganguli - 100, Seth - Still 0.

Ok, we can give him about a 10 for trying to make the misogyny issue bigger than just a man versus woman thing.

"Mary Wollstonecraft said in 1792, 'I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves,'" said Rowlatt.

This is probably what women need to start with, fresh, post the session.

First published: 23 January 2017, 8:24 IST
 
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