In India, whenever a case comes to light of violence against women, one of the many reactions people oblige newsmakers with is that there is something wronger than usual about hurting and disrespecting women.
Women, they say, are mothers and sisters and daughters and goddesses and caregivers. Thus, the horror one experiences when something like this happens is multiplied many times over and becomes a tragedy unlike any other.
I submit that we don’t do women any favours by giving them a special cultural status. If anything, we create an environment that makes it easy for people to shame women for not corresponding to these high ideals.
The reason crimes against women should not happen is not because she is a mother, sister, daughter, or goddess. They shouldn’t happen because she is a human being.
A large part of the machinery that dehumanises women on an everyday basis involves seeing them as purely virtuous. In reality, women are as capable of being assholes as men. It is a fact borne out by the actual life experience of anyone who has ever lived among human beings.
Human beings — all human beings — are good and bad in equal measure. We do womankind a disservice by treating them as morally superior and infallible. It leads to unrealistic expectations and imaginary standards that demand that women act “honourably”.
Such standards make room for ideas like “unwomanly conduct” and accusations of a woman having acted dishonourably and/or worse — like a man. They also make it okay to penalise women who don’t correspond to the ideal of a pure and virtuous feminine.
Hence, it becomes easier for people to display bigoted views regarding crimes against women and we hear things like “she deserved to be raped because she didn’t act like a woman” or “the crime wouldn’t have happened if she had stayed home like a mother should”.
If we are to view women as equal to men, we have to learn to see and accept them as being equal to men in all respects, including aspects that are not easy to look at from a traditional perspective. Women smoke, women swear, women work — none of these things make it okay to attack them or to justify attacks on them. A large part of India’s inherent gender discrimination problem is our tendency to see women as culturally-defined goddesses figures. It needs to stop.
We need to work towards building a society where a person’s value in the eyes of the law does not depend on the position they occupy in a societal or mythic order of things. The foundation of a humanist society needs to be based on equality before the law.
Photo from a great campaign by ad agency Taproot.