December 15, 2013

Men's Sexist Statements Being Drowned Out in Gender Conversations

Simply because I seem to have been flooded with people saying: “What about the Seema Goswami piece on men’s voices being drowned out?”... I thought that the piece was a waste of my time, so didn’t think it was worth responding to anyone who messaged me in any detail. I do think she raises valid points about the tone of outrage in India. I’d written about that both after December 16, 2012, (here) and more recently, focussed on it, with reference to the Tejpal case (here).

Where I have a problem with what Seema Goswami’s piece is her running down feminism — convenient scapegoat, eh? — referring to “...the newly-minted feminist narrative in which a woman is always considered to be right and the man is always seen as being wrong. .... In which a man is assumed to be guilty until he is proved innocent, turning the principles of natural justice on their head, if a woman were to level a rape or dowry charge against him.

I am not aware of feminism having one narrative, newly-minted or not. I am aware that feminism has been pushing to have women’s voices heard, though I’ve never heard any feminist saying that men should always be seen as wrong. Should there actually be such a narrative, I don’t believe it’s a good idea. Also, I think it's worth pointing out, that in all the noise, feminist voices have been amongst the more moderate ones; for example, it was feminists who spoke out against the death penalty for rape.

The author goes on to say that feminism is a humanist issue; I’m not entirely sure that that’s true; there are good reasons to say it’s not just a humanist issue, especially (to my mind) since humanism has been around for centuries and has had little impact on women’s rights. Personally though, I don’t especially care about the terminology, and would be happy to settle for ‘Play fair’ to rip off ‘All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten’ by Robert Fulghum.

The true equality ‘without conceding any special privilege or concession simply because they are women’ the author refers to (assuming I've understood her correctly) was tried out in the 1970s in the West, and its impact was found to be limited. Removing formal barriers and discrimination (although valuable and necessary) may not be enough to cut it given that those barriers operate within social and cultural contexts and not in vaccuums. Other forms of feminism became more prominent after the inadequacies of liberal feminism (which suggested this and focussed on neutralising formal barriers) became apparent. Personally, I don’t believe in absolute equality but in substantive equality (as I've said earlier). That said, I do recognise that women can also be abusive, but also think that the discourse on subjects like the misuse of 498A, IPC, needs to be more honest. I was unimpressed by recent exchanges I've had on the subject.

Finally, I’m not certain that there’s a valid argument to be made against the countering of sexist statements, especially when those statements are made by public figures (whether men or women although the author has chosen to focus on men). I don’t believe that persons should have the unfettered right to make statements (about anything) without having those statements be countered or challenged. Yes, (assuming they are not being abusive to specific persons), everyone has the right to speak and be heard. However, as Hubert H. Humphrey put it, “The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.” Neither, to my mind, does it include the right not to be challenged.

(Addendum: And, no, that doesn't detract from concerns about outrage and tone of our public discourse on gender issues; see para. 1 and the links there before you message me.)