Do mothers just morph into their daughters because they bring them up in the same mould as themselves? Do they transmit their dreams and fantasies and hurts and despair and desires so completely and quietly that however hard we try, under the layers of who we are lie other women with their own stories and beneath them yet others? How much of us is really us and how much our mothers and our grandmothers and their mothers and grandmothers? Is that how we form a collective consciousness of women? Is that why there are little empty pockets in our souls where we’ve forgotten the story. Is that why when we don’t have stories of our own, we manage to understand other stories and adopt some as our own? Shouldn’t that make women the best story tellers? It doesn’t always seem so. Perhaps we women tell our stories to our sons and husbands and lovers, and leave them to tell the tale. In our daughters we just breathe out our lives. And our daughters live them further tending the world as they co-create it. Sometimes some emerge to write about it. It’s a different kind of writing, the writing of women authors. I wonder why some women don’t like to be called women authors. Isn’t author enough, they ask. No, it isn’t. It’s like leaving out the essence, draining out the flavour, squeezing out the fragrance.
But that’s yet another story. We women did a trade-off. In return for the freedom to be whatever we wanted, we were ready to be stripped off the magic if necessary. It was a cause worth fighting for, but the giving up of an unasked-for gift was unnecessary, and eventually damaging. After a few generations of finding ourselves externally empowered with hard-won concessions but essentially compromised by ourselves, the bareness of our collective being scrambled around to clothe itself with a femininity we had denied ourselves, a femininity of spirit. But by now our belief seems to have only external tools and skills, and so we resort, almost thoughtlessly, to slaving towards a cosmetic beauty and suddenly the world is flooded by the very image of woman that three generations fought against – the sex symbol. What men did to us centuries ago, we do to ourselves today, and justify it by insisting that it is our voluntary (and hence, free) choice. No, we women don’t hurt each other – we hurt ourselves collectively, and voluntarily.
We also cry for each other. We weep for women who are raped and abused and beaten. We reject outrageous suggestions that ‘women ask for it’. We now display conservative and drab clothes of victims of abuse to prove they didn’t ‘ask for it’. No, they didn’t. But as women, we do. Every day. I sometimes wonder why men don’t make such a big deal about their bodies and looks and sex appeal and attractiveness as women do. Not for want of trying – there are enough male bod mags and TV shows and a desperate attempt to label men right up to uber-sexual. But it never quite cuts it, does it? Never quite stands up to the continuous deluge by women, we just don’t stop. Sex and the City could somehow never be about men, could it? Rakhi Sawant couldn’t really have had a male equivalent of an item-boy, could she? Why do women in our movies walk around in their bras (well, practically) while the men aren’t on screen in their underwear? Every second programme on television has a focus on women’s bodies – calendar shoots, beauty pageants, soaps, music videos, even people-to-people shows where the male anchor will out-clothe the woman thrice over. Magazines and the print media tell similar stories, advertising and promotion focus is once again back on the woman - how glamorous, how sexy, how slim, how free. Brands are using women all over again and we’re not objecting this time. Because this time we are convinced women are making decisions to participate out of choice and their own free will. So, if we do to ourselves what men did to us, it makes it all right?
Life, unfortunately, but realistically, lives within many contexts. So, where freedom exists, should it not do so in response to those contexts? I have a hypothesis. Ramu, a young man from a remote hinterland village has grown up with a common mix of realism and tradition and deprivation. He is attracted to women, but shy and respectful, still young enough to be affectionate with his mother and sisters. This is a society where the man is lord and master, the woman works at home and in the fields, the man probably drinks, the community goes through its travails together and maybe he’s seen his share of female infanticide or dowry abuse. He manages to fail the 10th Standard. There is no more money and no coherent plan of how the family will support him or itself. He then moves to an urban (not even necessarily metro) city or town where he apprentices or works at a meager salary, sending most of his money back home and living in a tiny, sweaty room, often shared, with an illegal cable connection on a TV set he watches whenever he’s there. He watches barely clad women on foreign channels like FTV, but increasingly on Indian channels. The Indian woman is available – look at the way she is with the guys on the music videos and even in movies about families; and they want to show it off all the time. The girls in the market where he works walk past him in jeans that pull down and show their panties; the boss’s young teenage daughter goes out at night with young men his age – just looking at her and her skimpy little clinging sexy black tube top gets his blood pumping. He’s trying to take all this in his stride. He’s not a bad guy, not a deep thinker, he isn’t too educated, he’s just completely out of his depth, young, confused, very horny and frankly, everything around him is telling him that women want it as much as he does. He doesn’t dare be anything but polite, even deferential, with the boss’s daughter or the smart working women or the housewives. He’s not that sort of guy. He’s tried getting it off on his own most of the time with the TV on, but the onslaught is too provocative. To cut a long story short, almost two years later, early one morning, after he has spent the last evening as a waiter at a fancy party where flesh brushed past him constantly, and the boys danced with the girls like they were doing other things, which some of them were in corners of the landscaped garden, he just cannot contain himself. And when Geeta, the sweeper’s daughter comes to collect the garbage from the alley at the end of the colony, he pins her down, clamps her mouth and has his way. He rapes her. And no, Geeta didn’t ‘ask for it’. And yes, Geeta was wearing conservative, drab clothes.
Now, in this story, I absolutely agree that societies evolve, surely we are free to dress how we will, yes, I am against censoring of media, and of course, women are free to go out when and where and how they will. And yes, I'm thinking of how the violence needs punishable deterrents. So, why do I feel that some other women asked for it for Geeta? Why do I keep thinking that if I am free to wear this sexy attractive shirt, then the guy next to me is free to look down it? He’s only looking, isn’t he? Why am I getting upset? Our freedom surely means we take responsibility for consequences – some good, some bad; and we also take responsibility to preserve and cherish that freedom. It comes at a great cost and we have to fight for it continuously in different and evolving ways. So, why are we collecting clothes? Why aren’t we putting our energies to get to the real roots of what threatens our freedom. Why aren't we talking about stringent laws and immediate punishments? Why aren’t we talking to media, television channels, producers, parents, teachers, employers? Why aren’t we talking to other women? Does the item-girl define your freedom, much like the pin-up girl of the last revolution? She doesn’t define mine. But she sometimes defines Geeta’s rape. Because life lives in the contexts of cultures, traditions, biology, urges, psychology, economics, deprivation, the politics of power and many other blurred boundaries.
I have many such hypotheses.
Perhaps they are responses to the layers within me deposited by my mother and grandmother and women before them who fought to be free so that I am.
This is in response to other responses to abuse of women, responses that look to place blame in blurred terrains and rocky ground. It in no way undermines or contradicts efforts being made by good men and women who work in areas of child abuse, trafficking, domestic violence, rape and other forms of abuse against women.