One night he came with two of his friends and forced his wife and the daughter to sleep with them.
A lady who fights domestic violence in Rajasthan told me this story when I was still a college student. What bothered me the most wasn’t that this man let someone rape his teenage daughter and his wife, but that he considered them his property.
The challenge with sexism isn’t the same as racism or communalism. Which race, religion or community is oppressed changes from region to region. But somehow women always get the raw deal. And it isn’t a recent phenomenon – think sati or dowry – nor is it concentrated in only some regions of the world. It’s pretty much a worldwide phenomenon with the rare exception of minuscule matrilineal communities.
When talking about sexism and women’s issues, we think of articles on gang rapes and documentaries on sex trafficking. While these are horrifying, we need to introspect and identify the core issue at hand. The reason these crimes happen is because, fundamentally, perpetrators look at their victims as objects that they can use as they please. They don’t see them as fellow human beings.
Unfortunately, objectification is omnipresent in our society. That’s why when Serena Williams returns a lovely backhand, my friend comments on how unattractive she looks instead of the timing of her swing. When friends disagree with Barkha Dutt, their comments include the words ‘rape’ and ‘whore’. Imagine using those same words for Arnab Goswami or commenting on how unattractive Dhoni looks when playing a shot. Oftentimes objectification isn’t intentional or obvious.Like the examples above, it is subtle and that’s why it’s hard to stop.
At Tofu Clothing, we work on reintegrating survivors of sex trafficking – women who used to have price tags on their bodies that rose and fell depending on how they looked. So it makes sense their self-worth is closely tied to physical appearance.
On a daily basis my team and I fight against self-objectification because, at its extreme, it leads to self-harm – even suicide. It can also result in waning levels of self-respect, self-confidence, hygiene, discipline and interest in one’s life or future.
For years, our candidates were forced to submit their bodies to the wishes of 20-30 different men. That’s why 28-year-old Priya cuts herself at night. She resorts to self-harm because it’s a way for her to feel some sort of control over her body, and to feel something — anything — even if it’s physical pain. Her body is an object that has caused her enormous pain and she wants to punish it.
When I heard about how trafficking victims are treated by their abductors – chili powder rubbed in vagina, cigarette burns and acid attacks – it seemed clear to me that these women were mere objects — sex toys for clients to use and dispose of.
Sadly, that mindset isn’t restricted to pimps who profit from the flesh trade. It’s an attitude which permeates every segment of our society, from boyfriends who think dictating what their girlfriend wears is a sign of love, to politicians who believe restricting access to abortions is indicative of their concern for human life. Our country still can’t pass a law against marital rape because even in the 21st century women are considered the property of their husbands.
In a world where we are bombarded with sexualised images of women’s bodies, in the form of item numbers, magazine covers, pin-up calendars and online pornography, it might seem impossible to steer clear of objectification without wearing a blindfold 24/7. But we can at least be aware of the larger ramifications of society’s obsession with women’s physical attributes.
To be clear, its perfectly fine to be attracted to a person, even sexually, as long as you realise they are human beings whose feelings are just as important as yours. There is a vast difference between appreciating beauty and reducing a living, breathing person to an inanimate object. It’s the difference between a Shakespearean love sonnet and a catcall.