Written by Parnika Gupta, a grade 11 student
“Equality will always feel uncomfortable for those who once benefited from inequality.” – Michael S. Kimmel, The Gendered Society
When I mention the word Feminism to a group of boys, I’m usually shot down with two stock salvos. The first is an immediate response that goes “So if men and women are equal, does that mean I can hit a girl?” Yes, the instant reaction is violence against women. Not equality of opportunities, or rights, but violence. This itself is why we need feminism.
The second salvo is an elaborate rolling of eyes and a groan of “ditch this political debate”. For me to make a real impact through this article, I want the people reading this to understand that when women bring up feminism, sexism or rape culture, it is not just political or philosophical discourse. It is our lived experience. It’s about our lives that have been shaped by misogyny since the day we were born. It is the daily relative of constantly living under the fear of violence. It’s not a joke. It’s not a fad. It’s our lives.
I think that most of these responses result from people having different definitions of the word “feminism” in their heads. The dictionary definition of feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes.” This definition is often confused as people assume that providing women with the rights and opportunities they duly deserve is the same as stealing them away from men. When are people with this belief going to realise that equality is not like a pie? Just because women intend on gaining more rights and opportunities, does not mean we are stealing them away from men. We are claiming what is inherently and rightfully ours and liberating ourselves from social, political, and economic oppression.
So, why do we need feminism in the 21st century? Why do women need feminism when there are now laws in place like Article 14 of the Indian Constitution that grants every person equality before the law and equal protection in India or Article 15 that prohibits discrimination based on sex, religion, caste, race, or place of birth? Although these acts provided women with fundamental rights starting from the year 1949, the problem did not disappear. Protection of women from sexual assault and sexual harassment was untouched. It was not until 2013 that the Criminal Law Amendment Act and then the POSH act (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace) were enacted to protect women. Although these acts are in place, this issue continued to be a major concern. In 2019, 32,033 rape cases were registered, out of which the conviction rate was only 27.8%. These are only the reported cases.
The National Crime Records Bureau report of 2006 mentions that about 71% of rape crimes go unreported. In most unreported instances, the perpetrator is the husband of the victim. As for all sexual assault crimes, including child abuse, marital abuse, rape or another kind of sexual violence, an analysis by Mint done based on the data from the National Crime Records Bureau and the National Family Health Survey, an estimated 99.1% of sexual violence cases are not reported.
As a 15-year-old, I have never met a single girl who has either never been a victim of sexual harassment or has never felt the need to consciously hide or protect herself from sexual harassment. Before I talk about this further, I think it’s important for my readers to understand that sexual harassment can be verbal, physical or visual. It is any kind of unwelcome or inappropriate sexual remark towards a man or woman. It is against the law. It is not a compliment and it is not flattering primarily based on the motive. When one compliments another, they intend to make the person feel valued or appreciated. When someone harasses another, it is a violation of the person’s boundaries and an attempt to gain power through intimidation.
Ever since we were 5 or 6 years old, we’ve heard all kinds of things and been given all kinds of rules that boys were not restricted by. As a girl, the world was always a lot more dangerous for me. I was never and am still not allowed to go to a friend’s house with a driver unless a family member is there to accompany me. My brother, on the other hand, was allowed to take Ubers with complete strangers whenever he wanted. After a party, my girlfriends and I are all asked to come home by 10 because it’s not safe to be out in the dark while our guy friends can stay out till past midnight because they have less to be worried about. I’m told to cover up my legs and arms or go to my room when a man comes to our house to fix something but it’s okay for my brother to hang around in shorts. The same holds if I want to go to the market or the mall to buy something. My parents have to constantly lookout to protect me in ways they never had to do with my brother.
And, school? School is no better. Girls are often pulled aside by teachers and told that their skirts are too short while right behind us a boy is taking his shirt off on the football field. I’m told to not show too much skin because it’s distracting for the boys but why aren’t more boys taught to not sexualise girls for their every move? We’re often afraid to walk past a group of boys in the school halls because the boys think it’s okay to shout out comments about our bodies. Boys think it’s okay to touch our waists when they want to walk by us. They think it’s okay to call us sluts. They think it’s to make jokes about rape. They think it’s okay because no one ever told them it wasn’t. When we do, then it’s our fault for taking things too seriously because like they always say “It’s just a joke. Loosen up.” But is it a joke? Is making a girl feel uncomfortable and afraid a joke? I don’t think it’s very funny. Even though this behaviour isn’t common to all men or all boys, it is enough of them for it to be a problem. I acknowledge the fact that this is not all men but it’s almost all women. By pointing these incidents out, I am in no way trying to be misandric. This is not a prejudice against men.
Our parents have often told us that we should never walk home alone in the dark when we’re older because we’re making ourselves targets for violence. We’re told that if we do find ourselves in such a situation, we should ensure we’re wearing bright clothing, find the quickest or safest route home and call a friend or family member to have some form of company. Some of us are even told to carry pepper spray, tasers or sharp objects in case we need instant protection. Somehow, this still isn’t enough.
Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman from Brixton, London went missing on March 3 of this year. She was soon found to be kidnapped and murdered by a police officer. A police officer. A man who’s job is to protect us. This instance sparked a nationwide outcry over violence against women. Women are afraid. We’re afraid of going out alone. We’re afraid of walking on the streets once the sun has set. We’re afraid of being in a room full of men. We’re afraid of being on public transport alone. We’re constantly afraid. When I’m on walking on the roads, even in my own neighbourhood, I have to be careful of every unfamiliar man I see. It doesn’t matter how old, how young, how educated or how wealthy. In a country, where a woman is harassed every 12 minutes, we have to be wary of all men. The only people who can make us feel safe are the people that make us feel unsafe in the first place. Men.
It is so important for men to speak out against sexism because a sexist man will never listen to a woman. He doesn’t respect her so why would he ever listen to her? However, he will take into consideration something a man says to him.
Our everyday language plays a huge role in the internalisation of sexism. We often casually throw around phrases like “Boys don’t cry”, “Man up” or “You throw like a girl” without considering the negative impacts of these words. We create distinctions between what masculine and feminine ideals are by teaching boys to place importance on traits like strength and dominance in order to become a “real man” and reserving kindness and compassion for women. This teaches boys to suppress their emotions until they are released through anger, aggression and violence, often directed towards women.
Generation Z is the future. It is in our hands to make sure that the people we grow up to be are not dangerous to the next generation. It is important for us to speak out against these issues. We girls need to stand up against boys when they make us feel uncomfortable and ensure that they understand what they did was wrong. Parents need to teach their sons about respecting women the way they teach their daughters about safety against men.
Stop victim shaming. If a woman gets catcalled on the streets, it was not her fault because she was in a dress. She was not asking for it. She was minding her own business. It was completely the man’s fault because he has no control over himself.
It’s important to report all harassment, assault and violence. Hold the men accountable. Take legal action. One person standing up for themselves will trigger a chain reaction. When one woman gathers up the courage to talk about her rape story, it empowers other women to do the same.
Bystanders, speak up. If you see someone in trouble, take action. Do not just stand there and watch. Help.
Sexism does not have an overnight solution. It took centuries before this issue was recognized and centuries before any change was implemented. Now that the process has begun, it is in our control. It is our responsibility.
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